Delicious Rabbit Breakfast Sausages

Yes, we raise meat rabbits. And I will confidently stand by our many reasons for doing so. I have always found our rabbit meat lean and delicious, and then this week I discovered a new and amazing way to enjoy it- breakfast sausage!!!! It is so so so so so good! It's a good thing it's lean...

Here's how to make your own!

- 1 rabbit deboned and ground (prepping the rabbit is by far the most time consuming part if you are starting from a whole rabbit, but so worth it!)
- 2 tsp. salt
- 1 1/2 tsp. sage
- 1 tsp. pepper
- 3/4 tsp. nutmeg
- 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
- 1-2 granny smith apples, peeled and finely chopped
- vegetable oil

Mix the ground meat with the spices (the next five ingredients) and refrigerate overnight to let all of the meat soak up that awesome spice flavor! 

The next morning chop and add the apple. Form the meat into 3 inch in diameter patties and cook in a skillet with a little vegetable oil for about 5 minutes on each side until browned to your taste. My husband likes a quick but hearty breakfast, so we made a triple batch and froze the extra to be reheated in the microwave. This idea turned out awesome! Now we have a bug country breakfast every morning before work without making a mess in the kitchen.

This recipe may seem to have some strange ingredients (nutmeg, cinnamon, and apples?), but trust me, they are DElicious! Not dry at all, full of flavor, and so much healthier than sausages made from other meats. One more reason I love, love, love our rabbits!

P.S. If you are wondering why the scrambled eggs in the picture above are so orange (almost the same color as the orange juice), that's the beauty of free range chicken eggs! So much nutrition packed into those dark orange yolks! And yes, that is a buttermilk biscuit with homemade apple butter :) 
Don't worry, that recipe will come soon...

How to Build and Maintain Rich Garden Soil Naturally

As a gardener, I get really excited about dirt. I love playing in the dirt, and I really love seeing rich dirt, full of little composted pieces of nutrient filled particles. There is just nothing as wonderful as tilling up loose rich soil to plant in the spring. I have always heard stories of people who started growing vegetables on land with terrible soil and were able to slowly build it up over time to become very rich, well composted soil. I always wondered, how is that possible? Wouldn't growing vegetables further deplete the soil of nutrients? Is it really possible to build bad soil back up to awesome, rich soil without just pumping it full of synthetic fertilizers? 

After doing a lot of experimenting with self-sustaining backyard homesteading, I have discovered how simple it is to build up the soil and keep a highly productive garden while not stripping the soil of necessary nutrients in a natural way. Here's how it works!

Think of your yard like a bank account. Everything that you do either counts as a deposit or a withdrawal in terms of nutrients. In nature, all of the deposits and withdrawals balance at the end. A tree grows leaves in spring using the nutrients in the soil, then drops its leaves in the fall which decompose back into the soil, replacing the nutrients that then go back into growing new leaves. God created a beautiful system! In your yard and garden, there is a lot of human intervention which can sway the balance to your advantage or disadvantage, depending on how you interact with the nutrients you have.

Let's look at some withdrawals that we make on our yards and think of ways to limit those withdrawals or not make them at all.

Nutrient Withdrawals
1. Mowing the grass
Grass grows using the nutrients in the soil. If you have a lawnmower that spits the grass back out, then those nutrients go back into the soil and you're fine. If you have a mower that bags the grass and then you leave it at the street to be picked up, you are gathering up your nutrients and throwing them away! Bagging the grass is still fine (we bag our grass) but don't let it go to waste! Use it as mulch around garden plants or put it in your compost pile to be used in the garden later.

2.  Bagging leaves
This is the same idea as the last one. When you rake up leaves, don't bag them and leave them at the street- use them as mulch around plants or compost them. If you don't care what your yard looks like, you could always leave them on the ground and let them decompose right where they are. Consider mowing the leaves to mulch them into little pieces so that they decompose even faster.

3. Growing vegetables
When you grow vegetables in the garden and then eat them, you are making a withdrawal. Since this particular withdrawal is the reason we even care about nutrients in the first place, it is the most necessary one we make. By all means, eat all the vegetables! There are other nutrient-consuming parts of growing vegetables that we don't eat, though. What about all of the plants that you pull up at the end of each season?

4. Prunings, Branches, and Sticks
At the end of each season when cutting back bushes, trees, and perennials, chop up all of that stuff and put it in your compost rather than putting it out at the street. If you trim trees or end up with a lot of sticks and branches, the easiest way to keep some of the nutrients is to have a bonfire and add the ashes to your compost. If you want to keep even more of the organic matter in your yard, buy a mulcher and run all of your branches through it (leaves and all!) to add to your compost pile. The mulcher we bought on craigslist gets a surprising amount of use at our house.

Basically anything that grows in your yard and then goes somewhere else is a withdrawal, including the fruits and vegetables that you eat. Now let's look at ways to make deposits back into the yard.

Nutrient Deposits
1. Composting
Instead of throwing away organic matter, keep a small compost pail by the trash can to collect your kitchen waste- fruit peelings, vegetable ends, and egg shells- and put them into your compost pile. There are nutrients all around you that other people are throwing away that can be yours, too! When your neighbor puts out their grass clippings or leaves, drag it to your compost pile and dump it in there! My neighbor, after seeing us do this several times, now puts his bags over the fence into our back yard instead of at the street. After we have dumped them in the compost, we put the empty bags back over the fence until next time. If my neighbor wants to make a withdrawal from his yard and put a deposit into mine, I won't stop him :) You can also get compostable material from stores. Most coffee shops collect and save their coffee grinds for individuals to pick up for free. Some grocery stores throw away old produce, but will keep some aside if you ask them. All of this is great to toss into your compost pile. Check around your area- you will be surprised how much organic matter is thrown away that can be yours!

2.  Mulch
Many places have free mulch available through the city. The city picks up all of the branches, leaves, and grass clippings, mulches them into huge compost mountains, and then offer free truckloads of mulch to anyone living within the city limits. We have gotten LOTS of free mulch over the last few years to build up our soil. So if you got excited about taking your neighbor's leaves, you should be thrilled to know that you can now have a helping of the whole city's leftovers!

3. Store bought dirt
I rarely buy bags of dirt. If you compost a lot then it may not ever be necessary, but every now and then the garden expands faster than the compost pile can support and we have to buy a few bags of dirt. Store bought dirt doesn't have a high content of organic matter in it, but adding it is still better than nothing.

4. Manure
Animal poop is great for the garden! Why? Think about it- they eat up all the organic matter and then spit it back out into a compact form of nutrients that are already broken down! If you have a friend with a horse, cow, goats, etc. see if they will give you their manure. Most people with large animals have more than they know what to do with, and will give it to you free if you offer to get it yourself. Just remember to compost new manure for around six months before using it in the garden. This natural fertilizer is so hot it will burn your plants!

5. Fertilizer
I try to avoid this at all costs! As long as you know and understand the deposit/withdrawal cycle and make good use of what's around you, you may avoid this altogether. If the soil is so depleted that you must bring in fertilizers to give it a jump start on the road to recovery while your compost matures, look into organic fertilizers. I like my dirt as natural as possible.

Creating a Self-Sufficient and 
Highly Productive Nutrient System

Now that you know which things are withdrawals and deposits, let's look at creating a cycle that can repurpose as many nutrients as possible to get the most out of them and wasting as little as possible. There are ways to introduce other components into your yard that will create systems of nutrient self-sufficiency!

1. Chickens
A great way to give nutrients back to your lawn naturally is to free range chickens. Chickens will eat the weeds and some of the grass, as well as bugs and insects, and in turn deposit those nutrients (in the form of poop) all over your yard. While free range chickens eat a lot less feed, it is still important to buy some high protein laying feed for eggs or regular feed for meat chickens. The feed you buy and add into the system counts as the deposit that will balance out the withdrawal of you eating the eggs or meat. You will also buy some hay to put in the bottom of the coop, and when you clean that out it all goes in the compost for another deposit. Chickens play a role in transferring matter efficiently while also producing more food for you!

Withdrawals- eating grass, eating bugs, laying eggs for you to eat, becoming meat for you to eat
Deposits-  feed that you buy for them, poop in the yard, hay bought to put in the coop

2. Rabbits
Rabbits are amazing little composting machines! And an added bonus is that rabbits are one of the few animals whose manure you can put into the garden immediately- no composting or waiting necessary. While you can put your green plants in the compost to break down, a much faster way is to feed it to a rabbit. When I pull up old plants in the garden (broccoli, tomatoes, beans, you name it!) I feed it to my rabbits. Then I scoop out that manure from under the cage the next day and till it back into the garden where I pulled up the plants. That's a one day turnaround of green plant to nutrients in the soil for the next season of planting! On top of that you will buy rabbit feed as another deposit into the system. We grow our rabbits for meat (an added level of productivity), but if you don't want to go that far rabbits make great pets and will do the same job.

Withdrawals- Meat that you eat, eating garden greens
Deposits- Best poop for gardens, rabbit feed

3. Aquaponics
I won't go into all the details of aquaponics here, but aquaponics is a system of using container raised fish (more specifically their poop) to fertilize plants growing in water rather than dirt. The plants clean the water which cycles back to the fish in a completely self-sustaining system that grows fish and vegetables with the only input of fish food! If you have never heard of it, do a little research- it's awesome!

Withdrawal- Fish to eat, vegetables
Deposits- fish food

4. Bees
Bees are sneaky little nutrient ninjas! They fly around and take all of your neighbor's pollen (I don't think they will miss it- besides, they do them a favor by pollinating everything) and then bring all of the bounty back to your house where they turn it into honey and beeswax. This system creates a lot of output for a little input while increasing the productivity of all of your plants by pollinating them.

Withdrawal- honey, beeswax
Deposit- your neighbor's pollen

5. Goats
Backyard dairy goats can also play a role in nutrient making. They will be a fats composter for leaves and tree branches in the same way that rabbits are for all things green. The food you buy is a deposit for the manure they create as well as the milk and/or meat that you will get out of the system.

Withdrawals- Making milk, meat, eating leaves
Deposits- Feed, poop

Each time you add a new animal or system to your yard, the cycle becomes more complex, but also more complete. You will be amazed how adding just one animal to your yard will transform the way to use and recycle the organic matter to create even more output for the input while keeping your nutrient balance stable.

Do you have any other ideas to add to the list of deposits and withdrawals? What creative ways do you use to build up your soil?

How to Cut Costs on Rabbit Feed

Raising meat rabbits is a great way to grow and process your own meat for urban homesteaders. They are quiet, don't take up much space, multiply quickly, and are very cost efficient. After the initial set up of cage and watering and feeding systems, the only cost for raising rabbits is the feed. While the feed isn't too expensive, (about $15-$20 for a 50lb. bag), there are some simple ways to cut even these costs pretty significantly.

Rabbits can live healthy lives in captivity with up to 90% of their diet consisting of greens and natural materials. By feeding them greens, they have a more balanced, varied, and natural diet for your rabbits. Here are a few easy ways to cut food costs with minimal effort.

1. Trees and Leaves
My rabbits love eating leaves from trees. We have several "trash trees" that grow little saplings around the edge of our yard. No matter what I do to cut them back, I can't seem to kill them for good. Once I got rabbits, I started cutting off the new shoots and small branches and putting them in the rabbit cages. They nibble off all the leaves, and then we put the wood through the mulcher to add to the compost. Not only does this replace pellet feed, it adds mulch to the compost, and keeps my icky weed trees in check. They can't grow faster than my rabbits can eat! Also, after a storm sometimes branches of bunches of leaves will fall out of my oak trees, and the rabbits love those. So I just gather them up and fill the cage :)

2. Weeds
Weeds always annoy me because they take nutrients from my plants, are a pain to pick, and can't be composted unless you want them all to multiply. Lose, lose all around. But with rabbits, weeds can actually serve a purpose to replace feed. When I weed my raised beds, I put all of the weeds in a bucket, and then dump it into the rabbits cages. They LOVE eating weeds, and I love having a place to dispose of them where I know they wont end up back in the garden :)

3. Kitchen Scraps
I have always composted my kitchen scraps, but now I divide my scraps into to different containers- one for the compost pile (which usually becomes chicken food) and one for the rabbits to eat. Rabbits will eat carrot, radish, and turnip tops, any vegetable ends like celery, and some fruit rinds like watermelon and pineapple. Oddly enough, lettuce isn't good for rabbits, so just toss that in the compost. You may be wondering how your compost pile will ever grow if you feed it all to the rabbits, but trust me, rabbits compost these items MUCH faster than the compost pile would, and they make meat while they're at it!

4. Garden Waste
At the end of a season when pulling up your plants, instead of tossing them in the compost, toss them to the rabbits. My rabbits favorites are the leaves and stalks of bean, peas, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, cauliflower, broccoli, cucumbers and peppers. The only thing I have found so far that they didn't like was green onions. Also, sometimes I have plants that get destroyed by bugs and can't be eaten or that have leaves at the base of the plant that turn yellow. I trim these leaves off and give them to the rabbits as well. Giving them too much of one kind of plant all at once can mess with their digestive systems, so I usually pull a few plants a day for several weeks instead of emptying the garden all at once.

5. Lawn Clippings
We have a lawn mower with a bag so we can collect our lawn clippings. We put most of it into the compost (where the chickens happily slurp up the trimmings), but we also put some in a bowl in each of the rabbit cages. They love grass (go figure) and will eat as much as I put in there.

6. Prunings
At the end of each season, I cut back all of my plants, pruning, dividing, etc. This is a great time to find some treats for the rabbits. My rabbits eat banana leaves, ginger, and fruit tree trimmings just to name a few. I would look up some of the plants in your yard before giving it to them just to be sure, but most things make a great treat for the rabbits.

7. Free Ranging
My rabbits love to hop around in the back yard and nibble in the grass. We try to take the rabbits out of the cages every so often and let them run around in the fenced in yard. We do have to stay out with them to keep an eye on them, but they love the freedom to hop around, play with the chickens, and nibble all the different things on the ground.

Some of the plants that I feed my rabbits can supposedly cause diarrhea, but I guess it depends on your rabbits because mine have never had any problems. Keep an eye on your rabbits though to see is they have a bad digestive reaction to any plant in particular.

Food Determines Mood
Now that we have been feeding our rabbits greens pretty regularly for a year now, we have noticed that they have become much more friendly and cuddly, especially our breeders. They ignore when we fill up the pellet container and wait at the cage door for their treats. The greens are what they really want! Now, raising the baby rabbits for meat on mostly greens will slow down their growth rate, so I would give them greens in moderation if you are on a time schedule, but for the breeders, the more greens the better!

Do you have some tips for cutting the cost of feed for your meat rabbits? Feel free to share!

My First Year of Homesteading

So this week marks the end of what I would consider my first year of homesteading. While I had a small vegetable garden and got my first few chickens last year, the chickens didn't really start laying until this year, and we have expanded a lot in the last 12 months, so I would consider 2014 our first year of true urban homesteading.

I know what you may be thinking- I wish I could have a "homestead"! I wish I could have some land and grow some food and get some animals and be self-sufficient! Let me clarify our situation to encourage you. We do not have land (well, unless you count the 0.2 acre lot our house is on), and we do not live in the country (the exact opposite- we are smack dab in the middle of a city), and we are not self-sufficient (although more so than we were last year!). You can be a homesteader no matter what your living situation is. Don't wait until you buy a farm, start where you are with what you have.

To give you a little inspiration and celebrate how far we've come, I would like to share a little of our journey this year with you- how we started small and grew little by little, and how we can't wait to continue growing next year.

Our progression into homesteading has been slow but steady. Some of the things that we are doing are things I never thought I would consider a part of my daily life. Here is how it happened...

Vegetable Gardening
First I started a small raised vegetable garden a few years ago just to grow a few tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers- it's just sort of something you do in the south. It was 5' x 10', and later I expanded it to 5' x 15'. It was small, but manageable. I bought plants at Lowe's or Home Depot for $3 each. Some years we harvested a lot and other years we didn't get much at all. Monetarily speaking we usually broke even or ended up a little ahead.

Starting Seeds
I then decided to branch out and try a few plants from seeds- I was pretty intimidated by starting my own seeds! Carrots worked out, and beans and peas were so easy and produced a ton! I started experimenting with more and more plants from seeds until almost every plant in my garden was started by seed. Now the gains were much higher, because seeds produce many plants for a fraction of the cost of plants from the nursery. Plus, I now had a much wider range of plants to choose from! Click here for a handy vegetable starting guide.

One of the most expensive parts of gardening is the dirt! We starting composting all of our kitchen scraps and yard waste to make our own compost, and haven't bought any dirt since! I wish I could tell you how many pounds of nutrient rich "waste" I have composted instead of put in a landfill this year, but I know how much dirt we have made and used, and it has been significant! Composting is too beneficial and too easy not to do :)

Laying Chickens
I had been reading a lot about backyard chickens, and we decided to get a few to experiment. We talked about getting 3-4, but knew they wouldn't all make it so decided to get 5, and then somehow came home with 7 :) We built a coop ourselves from pieces leftover from other projects for pretty cheap. The chickens free ranged in our fenced in backyard which cut on feeding costs and make for a happy flock.

Fruit trees 
In the fall of 2013 we put in several fruit trees around the edges of the backyard. There was a mulberry tree there when we moved in, but we have added a satsuma, kumquat, lemon, grapefruit, pomegranate, grapevine, 5 blueberry bushes, 2 apples, and 2 pears over the last year. While this sounds like a lot of trees, placing them strategically around the edge of the yard or as a part of existing gardens and landscaping has made up hardly notice them at all! The price of fruit in the store is crazy, and we are loving the addition of fruit in our yard!

Raised Beds and Square Foot Gardening
Around this time, we discovered something terrible. All of the vegetables that were our favorites, were also the chickens favorites, and the garden was the perfect place for them to dust bathe. Suddenly almost any gardening became impossible, and we rigged up some netting to keep them out.
This system worked for the rest of the season, but I wanted to make a significant expansion to the vegetable garden, and fence it in to keep out the chickens. We worked all fall of 2013 and were able to put in the first plants in March 2014. We made the new garden all raised beds and planted using the Square Foot Method.

Meat Chickens
After an unfortunate accident involving our flock of chickens and the neighbor's dog, we had to start a new flock. As it turned out, some of our hens in this bunch turned out to be roosters. We knew that crowing in the suburban neighborhood wouldn't go over well, and needed to get rid of the offenders quickly. That is how we happened upon our first meat chicken. Of our 12 chickens, 5 turned out to be roosters, and we quickly learned how to deal with the queasiness and process our own chickens. They turned out to be really delicious! At the same time, we began researching the inhumane treatment of chickens in meat processing plants. We decided not to buy anymore chicken from the grocery store and added meat chickens to our flock. While many people we know consider us raising our own meat to be mean, anyone who eats meat gets it from an animal somewhere! At least this way, we know that our animals had a happy, free ranging life before they had a second purpose of becoming nourishment.

Canning, Drying, and Preserving
With the expansion of our garden, we started really getting a lot of fresh produce. In some cases there was more than we could eat or give away, so I started learning how to preserve food for later. Drying herbs, canning, pickling, and freezing vegetables, and making jams and jellies quickly became normal, and our pantry was well stocked. You can read the review of our harvest from the spring season.

DIY Household Items
As soon as you figure out you can make your own food, you begin to look at everything differently. When I run out of something around the house, before I put it on the shopping list I ask myself, is this something we can make ourselves? We experimented with a lot of diy household items this year. Some have turned out great, like laundry detergent, and others not so much, like shaving cream. But slowly, we are buying less household products and making more of our own.

My husband had been researching other meat options, and started looking into raising meat rabbits. I dragged my feet for months before starting this project, because rabbits are so cute! It seemed strange to raise them to eat, but they were a lot more practical than starting a new flock of meat chickens every few months. We got two rabbits, and by the time they had grown to mating age, mated, gave birth, and raised the babies to eating age, I was ready to give the rabbits a try. Best decision on the homestead yet! We have now replaced all of the chicken in our diet with rabbit, and gone back to only laying hens.

Selling the Extras
At the end of 2014, I was a part of a few craft shows, and decided to sell some of the extras that I had from our gardening adventures. These were things that I knew we would never get around to eating because we already had so much. I sold dried herbs, pickles, pepper jelly, etc. I was surprised how much people jumped all over locally grown food items that hadn't been grown with any pesticides or fertilizers! I made $63 in profit from just those few extras, and then I realized- now we are homesteaders for real! I already have people asking for more of certain items, so I will be ready with some more farm fresh products next year!

The Year in Review
While we still aren't self-sufficient, and are a long way from it, here are some things that were staples on our grocery shopping list last year, that we haven't bought at all this year!
- eggs
- chicken
- chicken broth
- laundry detergent
- most herbs (there is the random one or two that I don't grow)
- green onions, green beans, cucumbers, pickles (all of the other vegetables I still had to supplement throughout the year)
- bread (that's right, all homemade for one year now- woo hoo!)

This year we produced...
- 22lbs. meat (valued at $88)
- 87 dozen eggs (valued at $348)
- 12 lbs. fruit (not bad for the first year on our trees) (valued at $33)
- 85lbs. vegetables (valued at $226)

That's a total of $695 worth of food that we grew in our own yard with minimal effort and experience! (I'm basing these prices on regular grocery store prices, NOT what you would pay at a local farmer's market, which would be much more expensive.) Plus, add in the $63 we made from selling finished products and our total comes to $758. We spent $225 on feed, so our final profit value was $533.

Our average grocery bill last year was $50/week. So this adds up to almost 3 MONTHS of free groceries! We used what we had to make more of what we needed- that's homesteading!

What next?
We are looking forward to continuing to grow our homestead next year with new projects already in mind.
- We want to build an aquaponics system in the greenhouse to grow fish and vegetables in a coexistent relationship
- We are thinking about expanding from one female breeding rabbit to two for double the meat production
- I am getting a dehydrator to begin learning how to preserve fresh foods in a new way
- Not sure if this will happen this year, but our area recently made it legal to have bees within the city limits, so that is on the list for the future as well!

What about your homestead?
So what steps are you going to take this year to be a little more self-sustaining? Think about what you have and what you can do with it- you will be surprised at how much can come from just a little!

Rabbit Lunch Wraps

Ready for another great rabbit recipe? This one is quick, easy, and one of my husband's all-time favorites.

In order to cook your rabbit, boil it in water on the stove for 20 minutes just like you would a chicken.

After that, the meat will easily tear off the bone so that you can cut it into small pieces to mix in with the other ingredients.

Next, mix the meat, rice, beans, corn, cheese, and tomatoes together, and you're done!

This makes a perfect meal for a quick lunch that is healthy and filling.

Not only is it super simple, but it also makes a lot and freezes well. I usually freeze about half for us to have another time.

Rabbit Lunch Wraps Recipe
1 rabbit
2 cups brown rice, cooked
4, 15oz cans black beans, rinsed and strained
2, 15 oz cans pinto beans, rinsed and strained
10 oz can corn, strained
10 oz can diced tomatoes with green chiles, strained
flour tortillas
1 lb. shredded pepper jack cheese
Optional: picante sauce and sour cream

Cook the rice as directed. Boil the rabbit in water over the stove for 20 minutes. Debone the rabbit and cut the meat into 1/2 inch pieces. Mix all rice, rabbit, cheese, and canned goods together in a large bowl. Serve heated on flour tortillas with picante sauce and sour cream.

10 Reasons to Raise Meat Rabbits (and 4 Reasons Not To)

10 Reasons to Raise Meat Rabbits

1. Rabbits are quiet

They literally make no noise. If you live in the suburbans with temperamental neighbors who are bothered by the slightest disturbance, then rabbits are the right choice for you. I'm pretty sure we had our rabbits for six months before our neighbors even knew. When the chickens are squawking in the morning or singing the egg song, you will be grateful that the rabbits are mute!

2. Rabbits are delicious

For more on this, check out the post on the

Verdict on Eating Rabbit

. This is a lean white meat that can replace chicken in most recipes or even ground beef in much the same way that ground turkey can. It can also be used to make delicious sausage! whichever way you enjoy it, this is a great alternative to grocery story meat with unknown beginnings.

3. They multiply like...well...rabbits

The gestation period for rabbits is only 30 days, and each litter can easily have 8-10 kits. The kits can be weaned completely after 4 weeks and the mother is ready for mating again. At that rate of reproduction, a breeding pair of rabbits can produce 60 rabbits in a year. At 3 lbs. of meat per rabbit, you have just produced up to 180lbs. of meat for your family without large livestock!

4. They don't take up much space

While raising cows, chickens, or goats takes up a lot of land, our entire rabbit operation takes up only 45 square feet. We have a cage for the male, one for the female with the breastfeeding kits, and another cage for the weaned kits that are growing into processing age. Most of the meat for our family is raised in just a corner of the backyard!

5. They create garden fertilizer

We do compost most of our kitchen and yard waste, but rabbits can create amazing garden fertilizer a lot faster than the compost pile can. Rabbit manure is one of the best natural fertilizers for the garden because it is one of the only animal manures that do not need to mature before applying to the dirt. Cow and most other animal manures need to sit at least six months before going into the garden to avoid burning the plants, but rabbit manure can be shoveled straight from under the cage and into the vegetable garden. And they produce plenty of it! Your days of buying bags of Miracle Grow Soil are over!

6. They are a healthy source of very lean meat

Not only is rabbit meat delicious, but it also is very healthy for you. Rabbit meat has less fat, calories, and cholesterol than beef, pork, turkey, and chicken, and it has the highest percentage of protein. According to many studies, it is considered the most nutritious meat out there! So, yeah...delicious and very good for you :)

7. They are inexpensive to feed

While chickens can forage for up to 15% of their diet, rabbits can forage for up to 90% of their diet, which significantly cuts the cost of food. We feed our rabbits all of the leftover greens from our garden, such as beet, radish, turnip, and carrot tops, potato vines, and leaves of greens that have been chewed up by bugs. We also give them grass, weeds, tree leaves, etc. They will eat anything green and in many cases prefer it to the bagged feed. Our average price of feed per pound of meat produced is right around $2.50. That is much cheaper than any meat you can find in the grocery store, and you can rest assured knowing that it is free of antibiotics and growth hormones.

8. Easy to process

My husband does all of the meat processing. He has frequently processed chickens and rabbits. On average it takes him about 45 minutes to process a chicken (with my help to defeather), while a rabbit takes him around 15 minutes to process from live rabbit to meat in a freezer ziplock bag. No feathers to deal with, the skin peels right off, and you also don;t have to withhold food from the rabbits before processing.

9. They grow quickly

Rabbits can be processed at only 8 weeks of age. Since we feed our rabbits so many greens, we usually wait until 12 weeks to process them, but it still doesn't take long to raise a litter from newborn to dinner. It also keeps the turnover quick so that you can have another litter right behind it waiting for production.

10. Rabbits make great pets.

You obviously won't be eating your breeders, and they will become your pets. (And if you can't bring yourself to eat the babies, then you will end up with LOTS of pets). Rabbits are really sweet and cuddly, and they make great pets. Our breeders love to be petted and held, wait for treats, and even free range in the backyard occasionally.

4 Reasons Not to Raise Meat Rabbits

1. Rabbits are cute!

The hardest part about raising rabbits for meat is that they are so adorable and sweet! I have to make an effort not to get attached to the babies. One of the best parts of raising rabbits is getting to see the entire life cycle, from hairless newborn and to first opening their eyes to learning to eat on their own and growing from hamster phase to full-size rabbit. It is enjoyable to be a part of, which makes it that much more difficult when it is time for them to become dinner. It makes it easier when you think that there is always another batch on the way to start the process over again!

2. Rabbits have a lot of bones.

Lots of little bones. The legs are good, and have a lot of meat on them without too many bones, but once you get to the back, you really have to be careful. Be especially cautious if you are feeding the meat to children!

3. They need daily attention.

They drink a lot of water and food, especially when you have an entire litter sharing a cage. Sometimes we even have to refill the food and water twice a day when they are close to processing age. For this reason, you can't take a trip without having someone to check on them regularly.

4. They have claws.

They have back claws that will draw blood if you try to pick them up. They are fine being petted, but once you lift their four feet off the ground, the hind legs start kicking and they only have one motive- to be put down again. For this reason, they are difficult to move or hold unless you handle them a lot when they are young. You may start off doing well with the socialization, but truth be told, soon they are multiplying too quickly to handle them all well enough to avoid getting scratched up every now and then.

Want a great rabbit recipe? Click on one of the recipes below!

Rabbit Spaghetti Casserole Recipe (with a Cheesy Mushroom Sauce!)

Now that we are raising meat rabbits, I am seeing how many of my favorite recipes I can tweak to use rabbit instead of chicken or beef. I have a tried and true Chicken Spaghetti Recipe from my mom that I couldn't wait to make with rabbit! Spoiler alert- it comes out delicious!

I decided the easiest way to prepare the rabbit was to boil it the same way I usually do the chicken. After processing the rabbits, we freeze them whole in gallon size ziplock bags. All I had to do was thaw it in the refrigerator for a day and then boil it in a pot of water for twenty minutes.

Twenty minutes later the rabbit is done cooking. After letting it cool, I was easily able to pull the meat off of the bones without having to deal with all of the little bones in the rib cage. This turned out to be much easier than I thought, and it only took about 15 minutes to debone.

The sauce is easy to mix together on the stove- just saute the veggies in butter, mix in the cream of mushroom soup, melt in the Velveeta, and you're done.

 All of the ingredients mix together in a 9 x 13 pan with whole grain noodles. As you can see, one rabbit yielded just the right amount of meat, and you may be thinking to yourself, "Are you sure that's rabbit? It looks just like chicken!" Yes it does, and it tastes like it too.

Mix it all together. It may not look very appetizing (after all, it is a casserole), but trust me, it is amazing.

Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes, and you have an easy family meal that is healthy and tasty with your own homegrown meat!

 Rabbit Spaghetti Casserole with Cheesy Mushroom Sauce Recipe
1 whole rabbit
1/2 cup butter
1 green or red bell pepper
3 ribs celery
1 onion
2 jalapenos
1 tbsp. minced garlic
2 cans cream of mushroom soup
12 oz. whole grain angel hair spaghetti noodles
12 oz. Velveeta cheese

Boil rabbit in a pot of water for 20 minutes on medium high heat. Once finished, debone the rabbit and cut into 1 inch pieces. Cook the spaghetti noodles according to package instructions. Chop the vegetables and saute them in butter in a skillet on medium high heat. Add the cream of mushroom soup and Velveeta to the vegetables and stir until completely melted and mixed together over low heat. Strain the spaghetti noodles and mix in to the sauce. Mix in the meat and put into a greased 9x13 casserole dish. Cover with grated cheese if desired. Cook for 30 minutes at 350 degrees.

The Verdict on Eating Rabbit

It's time to give an update on our meat rabbit ventures!

I went from thinking that I could NEVER eat a cute furry rabbit, to raising a litter of our own adorable bunnies, to my husband processing them for meat, and finally ending up with a meal on the table.

I was skeptical about whether or not I would even like the taste of rabbit in general, much less when I knew how cute and sweet it was before it was on my plate. Everyone that I talked to about our intentions would ask with raised eyebrows, "Have you ever eaten rabbit?" And the answer was no, I had never even tried rabbit before we undertook this. From there I usually got one of two responses- they either loved rabbit and highly recommended it or thought it tasted gamey and tough and couldn't stand it. Which would I be???

We have now processed seven rabbits and eaten three of them, so here is what I have found so far and the experiments we have done.

The first rabbit we did not cook traditionally, but actually ground up (like beef) and used the rabbit as a ground beef substitute for half of the meat called for in my mom's tried and true spaghetti recipe. When we ate it, I couldn't tell a difference! Granted it was hiding, ground up in tiny pieces and mixed with half beef in a tomato-based sauce. I'm not convinced yet, but at least it's useful for something.

So we tried another rabbit, this time a whole rabbit cut into pieces and made into a French recipe- Honey Ginger Braised Rabbit with carrots. I adapted it to the crock pot and served it over rice (after all, I am from Louisiana and everything goes over rice). Once again, delicious! But was it just the strong ginger taste?

Finally, my favorite recipe so far- my husband made the rabbit the way his grandmother used to, cooked down into a Cajun Rabbit rice and gravy. Sooooo gooood! With three out of three winning recipes, I have made my decision...RABBIT IS DELICIOUS!

Not only is rabbit delicious, but it is also easy to raise, they multiply like, well, rabbits, they eat mainly leaves and grass, and it is one of the leanest meats. Seems like the verdict is pretty simple.

And with that I ready ready to raise another set of babies to bring home the bacon :) I have been completely won over, and now when I see our cute little rabbits, I see a scrumptious dinner!

Baby Rabbits! For meat???

Please don't think that I am a horrible person. If you had told me a year ago that I would be breeding meat rabbits, I would have laughed at you. I'm no bunny killer! Unfortunately, I have discovered that having a little urban homestead and seeing just how self-sufficient we can be on our own backyard is addictive.

We haven't bought eggs from the grocery store this year,
we haven't purchased chicken since last October,
we grow most of our own vegetables and some of our fruit,
so as we consider what we still buy but don't want to, I think of ground beef.

I'm too cheap to pay $7.50/lb for grass fed beef at the farmer's market, but it turns out that rabbits are a lean meat that is very healthy and and easy to raise in a small area. Besides, rabbits are quiet, create the best fertilizer for the garden, 90% of their diet can be greens from the yard, and they multiply like, well, rabbits. The meat can be stewed or ground up and used as a replacement for beef or chicken.

And that rationale was the reason that we bought a male and female New Zealand rabbit. At six months old we bred the rabbits and one month later we were thrilled to see seven little babies in the nesting box!

They are about a week old here, the fur is coming in, and the little ears are the only thing that makes them look more like a rabbit than a hamster.

After ten days they open their eyes for the first time to see and explore the world.

By two weeks old they are already eating greens from the garden on their own and learning to drink from the water bottle. 

At three weeks old we decided to let them play in the yard and meet our chickens. Our chickens were much more scared of the rabbits than the bunnies were of them, but they had a fun time playing together.

What I like most about having rabbits in general is that they are the best composters ever! I give them all of the leftover greens from my garden whether it is carrot and beet tops, finished plants that need to be pulled up, or even leaves and branches from tree and shrub trimmings. In return I get great fertilizer for the garden, and eventually meat as well. I love it when nothing goes to waste!

Look at that cute bunny! Could I ever eat that cute little bunny???

Our first set of babies will now be three months old in a week, and we have a new set of babies playing in the nesting box with mom. The usual age for rabbits to be processed is three months, and I think we will have the courage to go through with our plan of using this homestead investment for meat. I'll let you know how it goes!

What about you? Have you raised meat rabbits? Would you ever try?