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Raising dual-purpose rabbits.

We've all heard about dual-purpose cows, sheep, etc., but how many ave heard about dual-purpose rabbits? Meat and fiber, or fiber and meat, how you interpret is depending on your perspective. Rabbits are one of the most economical forms of livestock to feed, to house, and are easy to handle for women and children, the infirm and the elderly. Their needs are fairly simple, and easily met.

There are three distinct types of dual-purpose rabbits, Giant or German, French and Satin Angoras. All Angoras are on the "watch" list for endangered species, and the Satin Angoras are the fifth rarest breed in the U.S.

To be honest, most breeders of these rabbits aren't interested in the meat aspect of the breeds except in body types. And there are some breeders not really interested in the fiber except as part of the show package. That's fine, as they are mainly the breeders who've kept and developed these rabbits into the wonderful critters we can find today. But there are a few of us who breed and show these fuzzy beauties for their original purposes, as well as the fun!

The Giant or German Angora type is the largest, and requires shearing to harvest the wool. They are mainly white, but colored varieties are showing up more often.

French Angoras are the most common, and have a smooth head, fuzzy body. These come in many colors, and are either sheared or hand plucked for harvesting fiber.

Satin Angoras are the newest Angora type, characterized by the "sheen" in their coats, and a smoother "hand," something like silk. They are also the rarest of the Angora types, and therefore harder to find. But the folks that see them are in awe of the coats, truly the favorite of all the hand spinners, and commanding a bigger price for the fiber. This is also because they don't produce the amount of fiber that the other types do. This breed is still being "perfected" but it is showable and recognized by the ARBA.

The fiber is harvested by either plucking when the rabbit is in molt, shearing at any time the coat is long enough, or by frequent combing and on a regular schedule. None of these processes hurt the rabbit if done carefully. If care is taken to keep the rabbit's coat free from matting, and debris from feed and beddings, the fiber can be marketed. Normally this is done to hand spinners via local advertising, or the Internet. Any reputable breeder should be willing to show you how to groom your new pet, but don't expect them to share customers for the products!

And in breeding these beauties, even with discretion and restraint, you can get too many, or ones that just don't "shape up" or fit into your breeding program. What do you do? Sales of the kits seldom keep up with the number produced. And keeping them all soon taxes the most forgiving barns, families, feed bills, etc.

Not to offend the squeamish or those among you that are vegetarian, but this is the other half of the dual-purpose. Some areas have processing plants that will buy rabbits. Pet stores may buy either to re-sell as pets, or "feeders" for the reptile folks. Zoos will take your extras as well, usually for feeders, and some breeders just dispose of the bodies after a quick euthanasia.

But let's consider the benefits of rabbit meat. Domestic rabbit meat is recommended for folks on special heart and low fat diets. The meat is all white and has a mild flavor that accepts seasonings happily as much as does chicken--in fact, use it in any chicken recipe!

It is possible to develop a local market for the meat, but care must be taken to comply with all the legal aspects of selling home raised meats.

Angora rabbits require a bit more care than their short-coated relatives. Their cages should have wire floors instead of solid floors, cage sizes should be roomy for a 7-10 lb. adult rabbit, and room for kits with the does you breed, and they need to be groomed frequently. They also need a higher protein feed for both wool and kit production. I have my own feed blend, based on nutritional research for the Angora breeds.

But the rewards can be quite satisfactory. I harvest each bunny's wool every couple of months and sell some of it via the Internet, and send the rest out to be processed with wool (blended) to create beautiful custom rovings for hand spinning and felting, that I market also via Internet or use myself. Those same rovings make wonderful gifts for my hand spinning friends, and of course the yarns and garments made from them make wonderful gifts as well.

We don't sell our meat, but do use it for our own consumption. From a few rabbits, I get luxurious yarns and fabrics, food for my family, brown gold for the garden (manure), and enough income to pay for their care and feed. I think that's a great reason to include dual-purpose rabbits on your homestead!

If you are interested in becoming an owner of Angora rabbits, I would suggest doing a bit more research and join some of the Internet groups for Angoras. These groups welcome newcomers, and are chock full of information from some of the most knowledgeable breeders in the world! The American Rabbit Breeders Assoc. (www.arba.net, PO Box 426, Bloomington, IL 61702; 309-664-7500) is also a good source for basic information and a referral to breeders, and meat packers that accept rabbits near you.

For my feed recipe (see below, too) and some cage building ideas, you may check out my blog at http://360.yahoo.com/knitltat2. I would also be happy to answer questions pertaining to these fuzzy cuties.

My personal feed recipe is as follows:
 175 lbs. Ultimate 32 (a very proteinrich
 dairy cow pellet, including vitamins
 and minerals.)
 147 lbs. Whole cleaned oats
142-1/2 lbs. Whole barley
 25 lbs. Wheat bran
 1/2 lb. Vitamins A, D and E
 15 lbs. Molasses (sometimes more,
 just to hold things together)


This makes 505 lbs. of feed, which bagged into 50-1b. bags costs me about $105-$110 depending on the season, etc. When I'm having litters, I go through the whole 500 lbs. in a little over a month. But everyone likes this, feed from 1-2 cups/day with free choice grass hay, and the bunnies stay in good flesh and are quite happy.
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Title Annotation:The rabbitry
Author:Banks, Lorna Jean
Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Date:May 1, 2007
Words:1089
Previous Article:Poultry experiences the books don't warn you about.
Next Article:Viewing rabbitries & butchering tips.


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