While chickens are the gateway animal to homesteading, rabbits make the most sense in terms of an easy to maintain meat animal on a small holding.  They take up very little space, they are absurdly easy to breed, their droppings make for great compost, and it is relatively inexpensive to get started raising rabbits (just some wire cages, a hutch, and waterers and feeders required… read: no fencing or large space requirements!).  And did I mention they are delicious and easier to process than chickens (read: no plucking)?  I am a rabbit evangelist.

In March, we were gifted a breeding pair of New Zealand Whites.  Two weeks later we had six adorable bunnies.

Now here is where my mind is absolutely blown.  A mere four weeks after giving birth, you re-mate the mom and four weeks after that you have even more bunnies.  That’s new bunnies every eight weeks.  Crazytown!  At six weeks, you wean the bunnies from their mom (who is due with their younger siblings in a mere two weeks – I know I am dwelling on this but Come On!).  We moved our bunnies to a rabbit tractor to get them on fresh pasture.  Trust me, they aren’t this cute by the time they’re at market weight, around 12 weeks.  In fact, the extreme lack of cuteness is the reason I couldn’t find a decent picture of a full sized rabbit.  I blame the freaky albino red eyes.

Even Alston at the tender age of 2 and a half could not get over the rabbit liver pate Will perfected this year.

Unfortunately, mama rabbit had her third litter in the midst of July’s record breaking heat wave, so neither she nor her babies survived.  This fate seemed to have struck much of central Virginia’s domesticated rabbits, as we had to drive two hours to Winchester to pick up replacement does of the California variety.  The older California doe (Big Mama) was mated before we bought her, but none of her litter survived a cold spell in mid September.  Will built a new rabbit house so that the bunnies were better sheltered from the cold of winter.  Turns out it wasn’t quite warm enough, and the younger California lost her litter of two (which is a very small litter).  We’ve since added heat lamps and re-bred everyone.

Just last week, three of the four does gave birth.  Big Mama California and one of the New Zealands are doing fine, but the younger California ate her litter.  We’ve read that’s not a behavior they get over, so she’ll be fricasseed soon.

Once spring of 2012 comes with its warmer weather and fresh grass, rabbit breeding will kick into high gear.  I even got a crock pot for Christmas, with hopes that I’ll perfect my rabbit ragout.