- Animals: rabbits
- Animal Production: feed/forage, housing, free-range, grazing management, livestock breeding, grazing - rotational, stocking rate
- Farm Business Management: new enterprise development, marketing management
The problem was not selling the rabbit meat. (The 2011 season may be different as rabbit will no longer be available at the JenEhr market stands.) The problem is insufficient saleable product. Inherent in that statement are four other problems I’ve identified and will address individually. First, kit mortality rate: Previously, I bred all does at the same time in order to have kits of the same age to send to Quality Cuts Meats to be slaughtered all at once. This made sense in that I wanted to make one trip to the slaughterhouse. This tactic worked fine when I had 10 does, but with 37 it is difficult to keep track of mothering skills. Therefore, my solution is to breed does on a rolling basis, 3 does per week, and when they kindle I can evaluate each doe specifically and cull does that do not work in the system. Second, inability to effectively keep track of data collected on does: Currently I collect all data into a MS Excel workbook that is cumbersome and nearly impossible to navigate. I have one sheet for every doe with a picture at the top that eats up gigabytes and slows down my very old Mac computer considerably. In addition, I do not have the ability to synthesize the data onto one sheet in order to analyze it. For example, I have to go to each sheet to see if a doe is pregnant, there is no master list that allows me to see all rabbits at once. Yet the individual sheets are necessary to keep track of litters and doe performance. I have researched relational databases specific to the needs of rabbit breeders and have narrowed it down to two: Evans Software Services Rabbit Register Deluxe Edition and S.A.F.A.R.I. which was developed with SARE funds, grant number FS01-129. I plan to try a demo of each program over the winter and use that which best fits my needs. In addition, I plan to purchase a new PC computer to support this software as neither operates on a Mac. Third, escaped fryers and does: Currently I have a 23 percent escape loss for fryers and a 20 percent loss for does. To solve this, I plan to sew a skirt on the bottom of my electric netting. It will be 16 inches wide, lie flat on the ground either inside or outside the enclosure depending on how it is set up, and made from solid black cloth used to ship canoes that I get for free from a local canoe shop. It is inevitable when setting up electric fence that a knob of grass or a furrow will create openings at the base of the fence on which rabbits capitalize, even if you mow first. The skirt will visually block these openings and also act as a physical barrier should the rabbit attempt to skirt under the fence. Ideally, it would also eliminate the need to mow and therefore save time. In addition, I would purchase a stronger energizer to keep the fence consistently above 3,000V, the bare minimum required to keep rabbits in (a much greater charge is needed to keep rabbits in rather than out). Fourth, inability to catch and handle does efficiently: Because my does have a lot of space, it is not easy to capture them to breed, collect data such as body condition or assess who’s missing. I can catch them all myself but it takes quite a lot of time. I am a full time employee at JenEhr and my current responsibilities prevent me from spending more than 20 minutes per day with the rabbits. Therefore, I need to build handling equipment that will consistently and efficiently herd the does in a stress-free manner to a box that will allow me to easily handle them. I have designed this system on paper and believe it will be effective. Finally, rabbits have a habit of making fools out of people and my goal is to make this system foolproof. This system is easily scalable and once I figure out the quirks, it has the potential to be adapted to a number of different farms, as evidenced by the fact that is has successfully been on two already. It has the potential to be an excellent source of supplemental income, most likely to that of pre-existing rotationally grazed systems. There is already an interest in this type of management and it would be invaluable to those who want to raise and eat rabbit that is cared for humanely.