It was the late 1930s, the Nation was still in the throes of the Great Depression. Jim’s grandparents and their three young children were getting by on Grandfather’s teaching salary. Then he died suddenly of a heart attack leaving Grandma Julia a widow and the children fatherless. Julia had to go to work. But, not only were women’s wages lower, but she had the added expense of hiring child care. Jim’s mother tells us that they raised rabbits in pens in their backyard to supplement their mother’s meager grocery budget. She and her little sister gathered grass from vacant lots to feed the rabbits. As we can learn from our parents and Grandparents, rabbits can be a good source of protein for your family during tough times. They do not need much space. They can multiply quickly. They do not eat much food. They are easy to handle and to butcher.
Rabbits are one animal you can start raising right now. A generously sized rabbit pen is two feet square. You will need at least two pens. One for the male rabbit (buck) and one for the female (doe) and her babies. (Adult rabbits are extremely territorial and will kill each other in defense of their territory.) I have a number of friends who raise their rabbits inside their homes. But most people raise them in a shady spot in the back yard. Rabbits are the only small livestock you can raise in a suburban neighborhood. They make no sound, unlike hens that cackle and roosters that crow.
Rabbits can be very prolific. I will write more about selecting prolific rabbits in a subsequent blog post. A doe can produce five litters a year. An average litter is eight bunnies butchered at eight weeks old.
Most people feed rabbits commercial pellets. They are convenient and fairly inexpensive to feed. But, if you believe things are going to get really bad, you might consider raising your rabbits on forage like Jim’s grandmother did. Today’s rabbits have been bred to thrive on a pellet diet. So you might want to select for rabbits that are productive on freshly cut grass or grass hay for a long term survival situation.
Because of their small size, rabbits are easy to handle and easy to butcher. The trick is to handle them very firmly. A rabbit held tightly by the scruff with one hand and the other hand supporting its feet will not kick and thrash. Don’t be timid, but hold your rabbit firmly so to avoid getting scratched by the toenails on their powerful hind legs.
I have found butchering rabbits to be much quicker than butchering chickens because a rabbits skin is extremely loose. I can skin a rabbit much faster than I can pluck a chicken. No, it is not pleasant to butcher any animal. But there is a certain sense of satisfaction knowing you can feed your family even if the grocery store shelves are bare.
Rabbits are an excellent small livestock to get started with. Even if you don’t have the ability to move to the country, you can still gain many valuable skills by raising a few rabbits in your backyard.
A great book to buy and read before buying any rabbits is “Raising Rabbits the Modern Way” by Bob Bennett.
#1 Son Adds:
I recently read in Bradford Angier’s book How to Stay Alive in the Woods that a diet of rabbit meat alone will cause diarrhea, due to its leanness. Be sure to have some sort of fat in your diet to avoid “rabbit starvation”, which can cause death in less than a week. How to Stay Alive in the Woods is published by Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, Inc.
It has also been published under the title Living off the Country