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Start with good stock when raising meat rabbits.

I have been wanting to write for a long time. We have been getting COUNTRYSIDE for many years. We live on a 73 acre homestead in West Virginia. We have been here for a decade and I have learned a lot along the way. I could write books about all the things I have learned, but I feel prompted to write about the articles on rabbits.

I have been raising rabbits for over 30 years now, and have seen little practical advice for those interested in raising rabbits in a homestead environment. I have written articles for rabbit raisers in a newsletter for our now defunct co-op. I am the vice president of the Southern West Virginia Rabbit Breeders Association and run a board for anyone with an interest in rabbits on Yahoo Groups under SWVRBA. Anyone can join this board, as long as the subject of rabbits is adhered to. Rabbits play a role on our homestead providing us with food and pelts for our own use.

Some advice: Plan what you want out of your rabbits. Are you interested in rabbits as a business or do you want tasty sausage for your own table?

If you are looking at rabbits as a business, bear in mind that it is called the "six month business." People come and go in the rabbit world all the time. Sure, some make a living raising rabbits, but most don't make it past six months.

If you're interested in high-quality, low-fat meat raised on your own land with your own hands, then I am more than happy to help with sound advice. I have a pool of experience to draw on from contacts I know and books I have read.

Start off on the right foot. Start with good rabbits. What is a good rabbit? A good rule of thumb is if the person you are buying from has had success with his herd, then you stand a good chance of succeeding with that line. Don't buy from someone who medicates most or all of their rabbits--trust me, you don't want their rabbits. Look for healthy stock throughout the herd. Turn tail if you see runny noses and wet front paws. You don't want the heartbreak of snuffles. Check eyes, ears, noses, and look over the vent area for signs of diarrhea. Unless the rabbit is free of all signs of disease, don't buy it.

Rabbits come in many breeds. If your interest is in raising meat, then the choices are down to just two breeds, New Zealands or Californians. I raise New Zealands, although I have raised both.

Before you buy, have all of your equipment ready. Make or buy your cages. I prefer wire cages, but they need a building to go into. I lost my rabbit barn to goats a long time ago, so they are now in wooden cages. (I look forward to having a new barn built, but like many, I have to make do.)

What do I feed my rabbits? I choose pellets. It's not rocket science to feed a complete nutritious ration to rabbits, but I opt for the experience of the scientists at the feed company. I am also very choosy about which feed I buy. I never feed animal by-products if I am aware of them. Read the labels. I have gone so far as calling the feed companies to discuss the contents of their feed. Remember that you will be consuming the end product in the form of meat, and poisons are multiplied each step up the ladder in the food chain.

Very good friends of mine feed hay and mix their own feed. I have too many things to do on my homestead, and I am disabled. Give your rabbits free access to clean drinking water--good water is just as important as good feed.

Read books on rabbits. Like any other animal on your homestead, you need to be aware of all their unique diseases and cures. My personal cure for illness is to cull--I only sell healthy rabbits.
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Title Annotation:The rabbit barn
Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Date:May 1, 2004
Previous Article:Rabbits require proper feed to perform well.
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