When most people think of small scale backyard animal husbandry, they tend to think exclusively of chickens. And while chickens are not without their own advantages, they are certainly not the only small animal that even a new backyard farmer can raise, one such animal is the rabbit.
There are many benefits to having either chicken or rabbit. Both animals produce sustenance, and can provide the backyard farmer with plenty of nutrient rich manure for the garden, as well as have their feeding needs reduced by keeping them in a mobile pen. Not every backyard farmer has the same resources available to them and what might work for one might not be right for the other, so here are some considerations:
Rabbits generally gestate for about 30 days. This is around a week longer than chickens take to hatch. However; a doe rabbit can get pregnant as early as the next day after birthing a litter of 12, while a mother hen will take considerable time off from reproducing eggs in order to care for her new chicks. This is important to consider when thinking of your animals as a direct food source. You can’t eat the same animal twice, so when resources and space are tight it is a great advantage to have animals that can reproduce new “future meals” for you quickly.
Once hatched, most chickens will take about 6 months to reach sexual maturity for hens, and maximum size for roosters. Compare this to 3 1/2 to 4 months for rabbits and once again you have your next meal coming much quicker with rabbits than with chickens.
But just how big is that next meal going to be? Rabbits average in weight from 1 to 4 pounds, while chickens can weigh can anywhere from 2 to 9 pounds. That being said, the larger chickens are those that have been breed for their meat and for their eggs, but they have lost most of their brooding instincts and therefore the hens will often not incubate the eggs they lay even if they are fertilized, and will show less interest in raising and caring for chicks. So while your initial chicken dinner might be larger than your rabbit alternative, it won’t do you too much good down the road when you are all out of chickens.
As mentioned, both rabbits and chickens can be fed scraps from the garden or even from the household vegetable scraps, and both can be given mobile pens to move around the homestead. However, while you can in certain environments let chickens go free range, this can be harder for rabbits. Rabbits also need to be watched carefully, as they can get very sick if their enclosures aren’t clean enough. Of course, if you live somewhere with a cold winter, it’s the same for chickens.
Whether or not chickens or rabbits are preferable for your homestead will depend on what you’re looking for and what you have available for them, and these are some of the factors you can consider. If you can’t decide, hey-you can always get both!
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