My daughter and I just returned from a two-day trip Outside. “Outside” to us means outside of the house, outside of the yard and clear outside of the state. My kid hasn’t been out since she was too young to remember much, and I haven’t been Outside that I want to remember. This was to be a business, educational excursion.
The idea was to go to Washington and pick up some pedigreed rabbits. Alaska has some purebred rabbits. Why fly 1,500 miles to get Washington stock? Because, there are a lot more to choose from in a place where there are oh so many more people. My daughter has a meat rabbit business. Domestic rabbits are looked on as pets by most folks, but reality is that they are a very nutritious, easy-to-raise food source. Alaska has wild hares that live off willows, grasses and various shrubs.
The domestic critters can do the same. They get bigger (much bigger), faster and taste like chicken. Really. The meat is not as dark, nor as stringy as that of hares. Whether you raise cows, dogs or parakeets; you get what you pay for. When you purchase an animal that you can see the lineage of there are no surprises. Alaska has a few people who raise backyard rabbits for their own use — and that is good. However, if you wish to make a business of rabbits, folks that buy want to know exactly what to expect.
Almost every kid, at some time in their growing up years, wants a pet rabbit. Heaven forbids them to eat the poor little thing. Parents will ask the kid, after the new wears off, “Did you feed your rabbit today?” A few weeks of this and the rabbit gets returned to the dude who talked them into getting the rabbit in the first place. Parents; don’t give up. It took us a couple of years. Now, she is selling 200-300 rabbits a year. The majority of which are breeding stock.
Granted, the Seattle trip was on a mileage ticket — not exactly high-roller action. But it is an activity that is out of the house and isn’t a video game. There are some guys who actually make a living selling rabbits. Most of the rabbitries we visited were run by people who showed and kept 30 or so bunnies. We did visit on person who sells 800 rabbits a month and ships rabbits all over the U.S. and beyond. My daughter and I stopped at 10 different rabbitries in two days and learned something from all of them.
One thing we were reminded of is that pedigreed anything ain’t cheap. Seattle and the I-5 corridor aren’t cheap either. We used up our two days. Sleep time amounted to seven hours out of the 55 hours we were away. Eight good-looking rabbits moved to Alaska. A well-bred meat animal will reach butcher weight in a couple months. States like Pennsylvania breed and sell a lot of rabbit. Alaska, not so much.
Things are beginning to improve for rabbit farmers. Farm-raised food is getting more popular in our state. Alaska could be a great home for the small backyard farmer. Unlike chickens, which to be efficient egg layers, need high-protein grain, rabbits can flourish on hay. Granted, if rabbits are your business, they will need a higher-quality diet. However, the backyard operation can provide a reliable food source on no more than cut grass and willows.
A decent doe will produce half a hundred kits per year if fed and bred properly. Feed her hay and twigs and one will get half that production. The yield is 75 pounds of meat annually for a couple rabbits. Spend 60 bucks on pellets in addition to hay you cut, and your production will double. An adult rabbit used for food production will eat its way through 120 pounds of feed (50/50 hay and pellets) per year. Go figure the time and money you spent on that caribou hunting trip. Did you get skunked?
Raising critters for food is a healthy, constructive activity in which the entire family can take part. Responsibility and self-reliance are only two of the valuable lessons your children will learn. Chickens, turkeys and hogs are the best-recognized food animals. Add rabbits to that list. The best advice I can give you? Don’t name them.