How does one start raising rabbits?
“Well, no surprise, it starts with two. Thanks, Easter Bunny.” Educator and homesteader Caroline Eidson acknowledges her adventures in rabbit breeding started with a cliche.
“Just before Easter, I saw two bunnies at Southern States (a North Carolina farm supply store) and thought they’d make a great surprise for my daughter. I thought they were the same gender, but I was obviously wrong about that,” Eidson laughs.
The expression “breeding like bunnies” is no joke. Rabbits reach sexual maturity as young as 3 month old and the gestation period of a rabbit is just 30 days. Although as little as ten percent of a litter of twelve is likely to survive, the reproductive rate is staggering. For Eidson, her two Easter bunnies had multiplied to dozens after the first year.
For those thinking about nestling a cute bunny into the Easter basket this year, it might be wise to reconsider. Keeping rabbits is an endeavor not everyone is ready to undertake and kits (baby rabbits) left at animal shelters are unable to survive without the nutrient-rich milk provided by their mother.
Keeping rabbits has it advantages though. “My daughter learned so much about biology because of the bunnies,” chuckles Eidson. “Once we set up a space for them with a hutch and enclosure, it was easy to take care of them. Keep them fed and clean the enclosure and they can pretty much take care of themselves.”
Eidson eventually started a small side business selling rabbits, but was especially pleased by the impact raising rabbits had on her substantial garden.
Many of us have fought an ongoing battle against hungry rabbits in the garden, destroying crops and tunneling in the soil. Eidson agrees a wild rabbit presence can spell catastrophe for the home gardener, but keeping rabbits has a garden upside many have not considered.
“The rabbits go to the bathroom a lot and they tend to leave their droppings in one or two corners of the enclosure,” explains Eidson. “And rabbit manure is absolutely fantastic for the garden!”
She’s not kidding. Loaded with nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium and potash, many gardeners have discovered there are few better fertilizers for use in the home garden. Like other fresh manures, it can be broken down in compost, but composting isn’t necessary to put rabbit droppings to use in the soil. Chicken droppings and some other homegrown manures are considered “hot,” due to a high nitrogen content and cannot be applied directing without burning developing plants. Rabbit pellets will not burn plants and the firm consistency means nutrients will slowly release into the soil. This natural “time-release” fertilizer can’t be beat for feeding plants and improving soil structure.
“If you want to see plants grow,” says Eidson, “just clean out the rabbit enclosure. Rabbit manure is awesome for the garden. You can just till it into the soil or just dump it out there. It’s small and doesn’t need to sit very long before it starts to break down when it rains or the garden gets watered. So much easier than composting and you don’t really have to do anything with it. It’s a hidden perk of keeping rabbits.”
Eisdon relocated to Texas this year and has not yet started a new herd of rabbits, but doesn’t rule it out.
“We’re looking more toward chickens and goats this year,” says Eidson, “but if there is a market here, we’d think about doing rabbits again. They are super easy to take care of if you know what you’re doing. We really enjoyed having them and the garden never looked better.”
“I loved raising rabbits,” Eidson adds with a final word of caution, “but know what you’re getting into when you buy bunnies for the Easter basket.”