Pastured Rabbit for Profit

Project Overview

FNE15-822
Project Type: Farmer
Funds awarded in 2015: $12,694.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2017
Region: Northeast
State: New York
Project Leader:
Nichole Carangelo
Letterbox Farm Collective

Annual Reports

Information Products

Commodities

  • Animals: rabbits

Practices

  • Animal Production: general animal production

    Proposal summary:

    In a 2010 article published by Salon Magazine, locavore kingpin Michael Pollan makes the
    following claim: “Rabbits make more sense than chicken.” In a country with a $41 billion broiler
    chicken industry, Pollan is making a pretty bold statement. Alas, Time Magazine agrees in their
    piece, “How Rabbits Can Save the World” and The New York Times has been quick to jump on the
    bandwagon with catchy headlines like, “Hip-Hop Cuisine.” The world is abuzz about the supposed
    super-protein, yet very few farmers are stepping up to meet the increasing interest in
    sustainably-raised rabbit meat. We at Letterbox Farm suspects this to be an issue of inadequate
    research and available resources in the field of sustainable rabbit husbandry. To remedy this issue,
    we will research the economic feasibility of raising rabbits using practices that are consistent with
    the goals the small, sustainable farm. The ultimate goal of this project is to fine-tune Letterbox’s
    own 2 year-old pastured rabbit operation so it can be used as a glass-walls model for other farms.
    Emphasis will be on executing high animal welfare standards while demonstrating real economic
    viability. The project will culminate in an easily digestible, practical resource for farmers that will
    guide them through the start-up phase of their own pastured-rabbit operation. This resource is to
    include a full enterprise budget along with other replicable materials including a tried and tested
    AWA-certifiable hutch design, a pasture rotation plan, a sample breeding schedule and feed
    guidelines.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    We see an opportunity to create a resource that closes the above information and accessibility gaps and equips farmers with the information necessary to create a pastured rabbit operation from the ground up. We seek to create an a comprehensive guide that can be utilized by both professional rabbitry operators looking to switch to pastured production and by farmers new to raising rabbits all together who wish to tap into this growing market.

    We envision a 15-20 page PDF Enterprise Guide, “Pastured Rabbits for Profit” that is based on thorough primary research methods, not second-hand information or anecdotal evidence includes information gathered from a number of farms with established rabbit production systems details a system that is relevant to commercial-scale farmers, combining financial feasibility with humane and sustainable practices presents a comprehensive management system, detailing all major aspects of meat rabbit production including breeding, kindling, housing, feeding, disease mitigation and management, processing and pricing for market - within a pastured management system
    includes numerical data on feed conversion ratios, costs, and labor time includes replicable building plans for mobile hutches in an easy-to-follow format is made available through extensive outreach, including both online sources and in-person demonstrations and workshops.

    Our goal is to execute thorough primary research in raising rabbits on pasture, combine it with the best existing rabbit husbandry resources and to make a comprehensive enterprise guide with our findings. In order to accomplish this, several accompanying steps will be taken.

    Resource Development. After all of the research is complete and the data from the 2015 season has been collected at Letterbox, we will compile everything we’ve learned into a complete guide to raising pastured rabbits for profit. This 15-20 page resource will be structured with its audience in mind and it will be written and designed with an emphasis on clarity and ease of use.
    Pastured Rabbit Housing Development. Since we have been raising rabbits on pasture for two seasons in our pilot program, we have already developed a tractor that is 95% of the way to where it needs to be. Our current design

    Provides access to pasture
    Prevents virtually all escape through digging
    Allows does to kindle safely on pasture
    Protects from weather extremes
    Is relatively inexpensive to build
    Requires minimal labor from a single farmer to move and service

    In all of these regards, we are completely satisfied with our design. What our rabbit tractor lacks are Animal Welfare Approved and Certified Humanely Raised approvable specs and we feel it is important that we demonstrate a model that will not require modifications from farmers who are planning to seek these certifications.

    Because of this, we will be researching these guidelines and adjusting our plans so that our tractors meet them. Since our farm is located in the Northeast, it is also imperative that we design our model tractor so that it can be relatively easily and cheaply converted into winter housing for the snowy months when the pasture in inaccessible. This issue is overlooked in virtually all pastured-rabbit resources despite the fact that this situation applies to the majority of farmers.

    As we build our model tractor, we will be taking step-by-step photographs as well as tracking all costs and labor hours involved in its construction. Our final project will include a full set of clear and easy to follow building plans complete with a materials list and budget.

    On-site Research. The comprehensiveness of our final resource is dependent on the thoroughness of the research we conduct on our own pastured-rabbit system. For this reason, we will be collecting data from all aspects of our rabbit enterprise, including:

    HEALTH: We will record

    Our breeding and kindling schedule
    Our litter sizes and their vitality
    Our disease problems and management
    Predation issues and other incidents

    FEED CONVERSION: We will closely monitor our animals’ feed intake and weight gain by measuring feed and taking weight samples weekly throughout the season. Our results will then be compared to industry standard FCRs, allowing us to benchmark our growth patterns.

    LABOR. We will carefully track our labor throughout the seasons by recording time spent managing all aspects of the enterprise, including:

    Tractor construction and maintenance
    Daily chores
    Monitoring breeding and kindling
    Catching and transporting rabbits to be processed.

    COSTS. Since our project has an emphasis on financial feasibility, we will track virtually all of our costs involved with our rabbit enterprise, including the cost of:

    Breeding stock
    Feed
    Equipment
    Labor
    Processing fees
    Marketing fees

    SALES: Including how many rabbits we had available, how many we sold, what outlet they were sold through and for what price. We will use this information in order to do a complete Financial Cost-Benefit Analysis of our own pastured rabbit enterprise that will include the following steps:
    Determining monetary costs (ex. feed, labor, housing) and non-monetary costs (ex. physical damage to the farmer caused by moving tractors) Examining the monetary benefits (income made) and non-monetary benefits (ex. increase in animal welfare, better pasture health) Comparing alternatives - we will compare this enterprise with our pastured poultry enterprise that has similar labor requirements and investment in infrastructure making a determination as to whether or not it makes financial sense to operate a pastured rabbit enterprise.

    Off-site Research. In addition to researching how our own model for pastured rabbit production performs on an economic level, we will also be researching other pastured rabbit systems in order to widen our pool of information. We plan to visit four farms that have demonstrated consistency and scale in their rabbit operations. These four farms include Polyface Farm in VA (raises pastured and caged rabbit), Black Willow Pond Farm in Cobleskill NY (pastured), Stone and Thistle Farm in East Meredith NY (pastured) and John Fazio Farm in Modena NY (caged). We plan to photograph their systems and to gather information on their:

    Ability to successfully raise rabbits
    Daily labor requirements for their rabbitry
    Expenses, sales and profit margins
    Plans for growth and expansion

    The financial data collected from the five farms surveyed will be used to demonstrate the viability of a welldeveloped rabbit enterprise. The addition of a traditional cage-based rabbity into the research pool will serve as a point for comparison, and since John Fazio’s Farm has a well-reputed, expansive rabbit operation that has been in business for many years, it is a prime candidate for single source comparison.

    Online and Print Research. Since the goal of our project is more than just to test the economic feasibility of pasture raised rabbits, but to, in addition, author a complete resource for farmers who wish to start their own rabbitry, our process also involves researching and compiling the best information available into one allencompassing publication. The resources to be studied and cited will include the most reputable sources from both conventional and pasture-based rabbit philosophies. This research will have a focus on general rabbit husbandry best practices that apply to both caged and pastured systems, such as breeding cycles, diet and nutrition, breed selection and disease prevention. Some of the resources that will be used include Storey’s Guide
    to Raising Rabbits by Bob Bennett and Cindy Welche’s, “Pastured Rabbit.”

    The project will take place over the course of eleven months, April 2015-February 2016.
    The Process Objectives are scheduled as follows:

    Research AWA/CHR guidelines for pastured rabbit housing and modify plans for the demo rabbit tractor. To take place during the first week of April and be performed by Nichole Carangelo (owner/operator) and Laszlo Lazar (owner/operator).
    Build and document demo rabbit tractor. To take place during the first two weeks of April and be performed by Laszlo Lazar.
    Onsite Research. This aspect will be ongoing from the beginning of April, when the rabbits are first put out to pasture until the middle of November, after they have been set up in their winter housing. This research will be conducted by Nichole Carangelo.
    Off-site Research & Site Visits. These 4 visits are to take place during the height of the rabbit farming season and will therefore be made between the months of May and September. Each visit will take approximately 3 hours, plus travel time. Site visits will be made by Nichole Carangelo.
    Online & Print Research. This aspect, while ongoing throughout the entire length of the project, will primarily take place October-December and will be conducted by Nichole Carangelo.
    Evaluation and Cost-Benefit Analysis of Letterbox Farm’s pastured rabbit enterprise. This will take place at the end of November, when all of the expense and sales data from the 2015 is available and will be performed by Nichole Carangelo.
    Resource development. This will take place at the culmination of all of the onsite, off-site and print research and will be completed by February, 2016. Resource development will be conducted by Nichole Carangelo and edited by Faith Gilbert.

    Our research team is committed to a robust outreach plan that makes the above research widely accessible. Our guidebook will be created with a broad audience in mind, using accessible language and visual aids.

    ONLINE:
    Upon completion, our PDF enterprise guide will be available online through the following:
    Hosted on Letterbox Farm’s website
    Hosted in the Greenhorns website’s PDF library
    Hosted on Stone Barn’s Virtual Grange
    Submitted to ATTRA’s publications page.
    SARE’s publications page and newsletter
    Distributed through Cooperative Extension’s service provider network.

    IN-PERSON
    We will host a minimum of one field day on our farm, in partnership with NOFA-NY and Cornell Cooperative Extension. We will lead workshops at NOFA-NY’s winter conference, CT NOFA’s winter conference, and Stone Barns’ Young Farmer Conference.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.