Monday, January 26, 2009

Garden Journal: 25 Jan 2009: New (To Us) Rabbit Hutch

We have been getting more serious about raising rabbits in our little urban homestead so I started checking Craig's List for people selling or giving away rabbit equipment, in particular, hutches.

While I could of course build a hutch (I built one for a friend back in North Carolina some years go), I know the time and materials required and given that you can find used cages for 20 bucks or less and given that I didn't have the required materials on hand, it just didn't make sense to try to build one.

We were in no particular hurry either, so we started watching and waiting for an appropriate opportunity to present itself. Worst case, we would break down and order some cages from Murray McMurray or something.

A few days ago I found a listing on Craig's List for a variety of rabbit raising items being offered by a Jo Wilhelm, who lives out near Perdenalles Falls State Park, about 45 minutes south of us.

I made an appointment for 10 a.m. Sunday (today) and showed up not knowing what to expect. I was met by Jo, a woman somewhere in her mid to late 60's. She asked me why I was interested in the rabbits and when I said for poop (for worms) and for eating, she really perked up.

She explained that her husband had passed away and she had sold the property and now had to get rid of all the stuff on it, including her rabbit hutch and whatever of the accumulated "junk" she could before she had to pay somebody to haul it off.

She showed me her chicken house and then the coop. Everything had been hand built by her and her husband as part of their attempt to develop a low-impact, sustainable farmstead with the goal of being Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farmers.

The hutch was just what we needed: space for a breeding herd of three does and a buck. It looked like something I could have easily built myself and even included repurposed realtor signs for cage floors (Jo is a Realtor by trade). It included the requisite accessories: water bottles, hay mangers, etc.

I said I would take it, at which point Jo said that I was the first person who had expressed an interest who was interested in raising rabbits for food and profit and not as pets and for that reason she would give me the hutch. I was floored and grateful.

That just left the challenge of getting the darn thing out of the barn. Long story short, we had to cut some bits off and shorten the legs and take apart part of the barn door but we got it out.

I also got a small finishing hutch, which is used to raise young rabbits (technically "bunnies") to eating weight, which you can see in the picture next to the main hutch.

It turned out that Jo was even more into sustainability than we could ever be, living in an straw bale house with composting toilets and rain water as the only water source. She had even raised tillapia at one point, although she said she gave up when she couldn't keep their pool warn enough (tilappia perish below about 40 degrees F, so you have to be able to heat their water if you want to keep them year round here in Central Texas--easy to do with a small tank but a tall order for a big pool).

I had the opportunity to explore the junk pile and came home with a rain barrel already plumbed and two water softener tanks that will make excellent rain water catchments to expand our front-porch capacity. In addition, I snagged two aluminum-framed, double-glazed windows and a wooden-frame window, which will make excellent cold frame covers. I also got a stack of 5-gallon buckets and various other odds and ends.

I paid Jo 20 dollars for everything, which seemed like a great bargain to me. I was disappointed that I didn't have more time to explore or more cargo space. As it was I had to borrow Joanna's pickup to go back and get the hutch itself (breaking inbetween trips for another birthday party in Dada's busy social schedule).

The hutch will require some cleaning up: it needs to be hosed down, cleaned out, and disinfected before we put any new rabbits in it, but that shouldn't take too long.

Now we just need to find a source of rabbits to put in the hutch and let them do their thing....

And I have verified through a bit of online research that the going rate for red worms is $30.00/lb and there does appear to be a ready local market. I found one listing on Craig's List for worms being sold by somebody in north Austin and their listing said "they go fast". I took that as a good sign. If I could sell even just enough worms to cover the feed cost for the rabbits, that would be pretty cool, since we'd get meat and high-quality compost out of the deal. That would be about 1 or 2 pounds a month, I think.

Oh, and I'm thinking of raising meal worms, just because it's really easy to do.... They would be primarily a supplemental food for the chickens and (should we actually set up a little fish farm) fish.

And one more thing: Jo has a yard full of old refrigerators and dishwashers. I'm starting to form an idea of a constructed wetlands built using refrigerators as the tanks--they're water tight (or can be made so), are about the right capacity, insulated, and can be easily finished out so as to be attractive as a water feature. Just an idea for now--I need to keep thinking about this.

In any case, in one busy day of hauling, we have gotten a long way toward our goal of raising rabbits, doubled (or better) our rain water capture capacity, found a potential source for other useful bits of junk, and made contact with somebody who has lived the life and made the mistakes and knows a few things about raising rabbits.

All-in-all, a good day's work.



At 8:26 AM, Anonymous Mom said...

You were just about four years old when I fed you rabbit for Easter dinner. I should have known it would come to this.


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