Rabbits and Worms
I had two pet rabbits growing up – a white dwarf named Speedy and a black dwarf named Harley. Bones’ family kept rabbits that occasionally “disappeared.” One night she asked why their fried chicken looked different, after that the family stopped keeping rabbits. I am not opposed to raising rabbits for meat. For a small homestead trying to be self-sustaining, raising meat rabbits actually makes a lot of sense. Rabbits are relatively inexpensive to raise and they reproduce like, well… rabbits. I suspect that our family will raise rabbits for meat one day. Just not yet.
In January we got two rabbits. I was very clear that these two are pets. They came to us already spayed and neutered – one male and one female – Cinnamon and Nutmeg. I love having them around. Ella Grace and the kids I nanny very much enjoy feeding them and playing with them during the day. Nutmeg is especially bonded to me and we both enjoy sitting quietly together while I stroke him. They live on our back deck in a mansion of an enclosure that also came with them. Having them has confirmed for me that any animal we intend to raise to be eaten one day cannot live that closely to our house. I will surely bond with the animal. We will need a bigger property where livestock can be raised apart from the household giving me some physical and emotional distance.
Their pet status, however, does not mean they do not contribute to the working life of our small homestead. Cinnamon and Nutmeg produce, prolifically, valuable inputs for our garden and help us reduce our overall waste production. I give them many of our kitchen scraps – carrot tops, stalks from greens and lettuce, turnip and beet tops, extra herbs and bits of fruit. Our garden is currently producing far more lettuce and greens than we can eat and the bunnies get all the extra. When I weed the garden, I keep the weeds I know the bunnies can eat as food for them – grasses, chickweed, henbit, wild strawberries, dandelions and plantain. The rabbits are happy to consume everything I bring to them, and I am gratified not to waste those scraps. The rabbits came to us on a strictly pelleted diet and I gradually converted them to a mostly fresh diet. They still get a small portion of pellets but they primarily eat our scraps and weeds/grasses I gather on our twice daily dog walks.
My system for managing their waste has evolved. It started with keeping a litter box in their cage that I emptied a couple times a week into a compost bucket. The rabbits were accustomed to the litter from their previous home. This was okay at first and not too offensive smelling in the winter, but as the temperature has begun to rise so has the smell. I tried using more straw for bedding to keep down the odor, but the rabbits scattered it and began pooping everywhere which made a huge mess and smell. Finally it occurred to me to figure out a way to put worm bins under their cage. Their cage is 3 levels so I decided to take away the bottom level from their use and stick two bins in for worm composting. I filled the bins 1/3 full with some wormy dirt and straw. The rabbits and worms have done the rest of the work for me! I feed the rabbits on the level directly above the worm bins, since the rabbits seem to do most of their bathrooming while they eat. Everything falls into the worm bin and the worms graciously turn it into beautiful compost. Periodically the bins fill up so I partially empty them, take the compost to the garden, and add a few more worms, if needed. The smell is drastically reduced, I only have to do minimal sweeping of rabbit mess around the cage, and I get a wonderful byproduct in the compost.