The owner of a small garden can find room for a few rabbits, but keeping rabbits for food is not like keeping pets. They breed well in captivity and take up little space, for their natural home is a burrow in the earth, and by nature they are adapted to confined quarters.
There are two ways in which rabbits can be kept::
(a) In close confinement in a hutch, which can be placed in a shed or outhouse if available.
(b) By what is known as the Morant system. By this method a well-built hutch is constructed, and has attached to it a run, similar to a chicken run, for placing on rough grass or a lawn. The floor of the run is made of wire netting, and the rabbits graze on the grass which comes through- the meshes.
Both hutch and run are portable. This is certainly the better method, since it increases the health of the animals. During winter some form of protection can be laid over part of the run and a layer of straw on the floor of the hutch, which should be raised from the ground by means of 2-in. battens.
The number of rabbits required to keep a family of four in rabbit meat for say one day a week, would be four does and one buck. The average litter is from four to eight, and a doe in good health will produce at least three litters a year, roughly at the beginning of March, in mid-June and late September. If there are young members of the family, a boy or girl from twelve to fifteen, one of these might well undertake the management of the rabbitry. It should be run on business lines with a double-entry in which expenses and credits can be entered, the rabbits being charged to rabbit hutches in tiers, arranged to get the maximum light.
The house account at the current market prices. Sentiment and petting by younger children should not be encouraged.
The hutch for each rabbit should be approximately 3 ft. in length, about 2 ft. 6 in. wide, and 18 in. high. For a colony, hutches can be constructed in a single unit. If they are to stand against a wall or in some sheltered corner in the garden they will have to be made of waterproof materials; but if they are stood in a shed they can be constructed in lighter wood.
Cleanliness is necessary, and a daily clean out of the hutch is absolutely essential. Some people fix in wire netting over the floor and place under this a sliding tray of metal or wood as a false bottom, which can easily be removed for cleaning. The litter makes excellent manure for the garden.
Many of the rabbits sold in the market for breeding purposes are mongrels. One of the best of the pure breeds is Giant Flemish or the Belgian Hare; or a cross between the Flemish and Dutch rabbit is excellent for the table.
To breed, introduce the doe into the buck’s hutch and allow a day between services. Where a number of does are kept arrange the services in series and keep a diary of expected litters. The period for gestation is about thirty days. During this time keep the rabbit hutch locked. At the birth of the litter care should be taken not to frighten the mother in any way, or she will kill her young. Mice and rats will have the same effect, and the rabbitry should be protected against these rodents. This means extra cleanliness and the setting of traps.
After the birth of the litter they should be left alone with the mother for about a week. In about a fortnight the youngsters will be skipping about, and they begin to eat on their own account a week later. They are ready for the table when about three months old. Rabbits are killed either by dislocating the neck, or by a sudden blow behind the ears with a heavy stick. Skin while warm and cut the throat after removing pelt. The carcass is then hung head downwards so that the blood drains into the neck. This leaves the flesh white in appearance.
It is essential to keep the rabbits in good health and to encourage rapid development. When mature a good size table rabbit should weigh 4 lb. To 5 lb. You cannot expect large rabbits from a small doe and for breeding purposes size should always be considered.
With regard to food, rabbits will, eat greenstuff ‘of all kinds. This can be gathered from the garden or hedgerows. They are especially fond of dandelions, groundsel, chickweed, sow thistles, cabbage leaves, clover, lettuce run to seed, luscious meadow grass and pea tops. They like small cooked potatoes and roots can replace greenstuffs in winter.
Those who keep rabbits near towns where a supply of this green food is difficult to get, might arrange with a greengrocer to supply a sackful of his waste’ material twice a week. A certain amount of rations will have to be purchased. During the winter hay makes useful food with a little wheat or crushed oats in the morning. The suckling mother does need extra food, and a saucer of bread soaked in tinned milk will be beneficial. Bran is liked by rabbits and is always welcome. It contains some protein and augments greenstuff. Clean water in a pan fixed to the side of the hutch should always be available.
Rabbits are easily made ill if fed upon wet greenstuff, and frosted greenstuff is equally harmful. A feed twice a day is necessary, but unwanted food left about will only encourage rats and mice.