Pastured Rabbit for Profit
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 is on executing high animal welfare standards while demonstrating real economic viability. We are likewise developing an easily digestible, practical resource for farmers that intends to guide them through the start-up phase of their own pastured-rabbit operation. This resource includes a full enterprise budget along with other replicable materials including our moveable hutch design, our breeding stock and winter housing, a pasture rotation plan, a sample breeding schedule and feed guidelines.
Steve Hadcock, the project advisor, has participated thus far by helping Nichki connect with other pastured rabbit producers in the area. To date, Nichki has executed site visits at Black Willow Pond Farm in Cobbleskill, NY, Polyface Farm in Swoope, VA and Deep Spring Farm in Earlville, NY. At each site, Nichki met with rabbitry managers to gather information on production methods, sales outlets and profitability (or lack thereof).
In Spring, 2015, Letterbox farmers Nichki Carangelo, Laszlo Lazar & Faith Gilbert began keeping records on their experimental rabbitry consisting of 7 breeding does and 2 bucks. Over the course of the season, these farmers have closely tracked production, labor, sales, expenses and profits of their pasture rabbit enterprise – data which they are currently reviewing as they work to put together a complete guide to raising rabbits on pasture for profit.
In an effort to diversify their data pool, Nichki visited three other rabbit producers to gather information on each producer’s:
- Ability to successfully raise rabbits
- Daily labor requirements for their rabbitry
- Expenses, sales and profit margins
- Plans for growth and expansion
A site visit to John Fazio Farm in Modena, NY still remains, due to scheduling conflicts with the producer.
As of the fall, 2015, Nichki has begun executing an extensive review of the existing literature on the subject of rabbit production, with a focus on pasture-based systems and economic viability. In the fall of 2015, the farmers at Letterbox expanded their operation to include 30 breeding does and 2 bucks. In January of 2016, Nichki will be sharing some of her research as a speaker at the NOFA NY conference.
We began our first breeding cycle for this project the end of February, 2015. We have since produced 134 rabbits for market, falling 34 rabbits short of our 1-year goal of 168 rabbits to market. Out setbacks arise from unanticipated breeding issues. We had a total of 10 missed litters of the course of the year. In order to remedy this issue, we have since replaced poor performing does and unproven bucks.
While the circumstances are unfortunate, it has provided us with valuable data about the very tight margins in rabbit operations and the utmost importance of each breeder’s’ ability to reliably mate, kindle and keep kits well-tended.
Aside from these specific issues, our research rabbitry has been very successful. Except for the sudden death of one breeding doe, all rabbits on our farm were healthy and performed as expected. Our growers reached finishing weights within the time frame we anticipated and sales exceeded our expectations. We were able to sell every rabbit we produced easily and for a good price.
Labor requirements were as expected, we did not lose any rabbits due to predators or escapes and we had zero instances of disease throughout the course of the 2015 season. The livers and hearts from our grower rabbits came back clean and salable each week, and shown no indication of parasite damage or stress.
Enterprise research and resource development has continued as expected, although the Letterbox farmers have been unable to secure a consultation with John Fazio of John Fazio Farm to date. They intend to reach out to him again in early 2016. The literature review is underway and will continue through the winter in addition to the development of the guide.
Cornell Cooperative Extension
479 Rt 66
Hudson, NY 12534
Office Phone: 5188283346