Here at Good Life Ranch, we want everything to be as pasture-based as possible. Not everything can eat 100% grass, of course – chickens, turkeys, and pigs can only utilize grass supplementally, for example – but we do want all of our animals that can digest pasture forage to be doing so. Therefore, we want to get our newly-acquired rabbits out of their elevated hutches and down onto grass.
However, we can’t just let the rabbits loose like we do with the poultry. Rabbits don’t tend to come back inside when it gets dark. I think the predators would also have an absolute field day. Our rabbits do not run from new things – they investigate. The coyotes would never have it so easy. Electric fencing is also not an option because the rabbits could go right through it or dig under it.
So no free-ranging or fenced enclosures for the rabbits, but we still want them down eating lots of green grass and getting all of those nutrients into their system.
Here’s our solution in picture/caption form:
Tomorrow we’ll determine the genders of all our rabbits and put a good number of them into the scooters in groups of 3 or 4. The rabbits, for obvious reasons, will not have c0-ed quarters unless it’s breeding time.
I do anticipate some initial temporary issues with pasturing the rabbits. Wild rabbits get nothing but pasture and do fine, but modern commercial and pet rabbit breeds are so far removed from the pasture that they don’t typically handle it very well. They no longer have a digestive system capable of handling lots of fresh greens; they have a digestive system bred to ingest easily managed pellets. We won’t be taking them completely off pellets right away, but I still anticipate a good number of rabbits with upset tummies. These rabbits will have access to pasture at all times along with free-choice to eat the pellets they have been eating so far.
What we want to do is select the rabbits in each generation that grow best on pasture and use them to create each successive generation. Over time that will hopefully create a line of rabbits that can get a high percentage of their nutrient requirements from the grass. Daniel Salatin over at Polyface Farms (www.polyfacefarms.com) has been breeding rabbits for pasture for almost 20 years now and has come pretty close. Hopefully we’ll be able to go over and buy some of their rabbits in order to add their genetics to our herd as well. I’ll stand on someone else’s shoulders if I can – there’s no need to reinvent the wheel every time someone needs to go somewhere.