Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Coney Garth: Effective Management of Rabbit Breeding Does on Pasture

SARE Farmer/Rancher Grant

FNC10-824 Madison, WI – Julie Engel

Objective: Rabbit meat is healthful — high in protein but low in fat, cholesterol, and sodium. I want to graze, breed, and manage meat rabbits in a cage-free, hare-pen-free colony setting where they thrive entirely on grass and vegetable scraps.

Results: My rabbits rely solely on the pasture for their nutrition in the summer, and on hay, vegetable scraps, and sunflower seeds in the winter. Rabbits actually are very efficient grazers, shearing grass at about two inches and chewing the stem to the end.

Feeding rabbits a grass-based diet reduces feed costs. I first tried raising them on fresh pasture, using the hare-pen method, which is a pen set up in a pasture that allows them to graze grass. I found that unsatisfactory because the does are still caged, feed must still be purchased, and the pen doesn’t allow the rabbits to graze effectively. After two years I came up with a new system, using pasture land already in rotation with other animals, providing an opportunity for owners of these lands to diversify. My Coney Garth (i.e., rabbit yard) system uses a mobile, intensely managed pasture allocation where rabbits thrive entirely on grass and vegetable scraps.

I experimented with several fencing systems to try to keep rabbits from escaping, discovering after much trial and error that a physical barrier fence worked better than an electrified one. I had zero percent escape loss during the months of October, November, and December, the only months the fence was in operation. However, this fence is heavy and time consuming to work with. I will look to make improvements.

I did not achieve my goal of 400 fryers slaughtered in 2011, in part because of dealing with escapees. I am hoping the new fence will improve production.

One downside: Rabbits dig holes in the pasture, perhaps escaping or causing danger to other animals in the pasture.

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