Are Chickens the Gold Standard?
It must be true! Just pick up any book or article on homesteading and you’ll see chickens galore on the cover or in search results. Chickens are the absolute gold standard for homesteading greatness, right? You simply can’t be a homesteader without chickens. It’s like cookies without milk… it’s just unnatural. Well hold on, because we’re going to buck the system and share why rabbits are better than chickens.
Let’s be clear, chickens are fun to watch and they are in fact a great homestead animal. They are fairly easy to care for and who doesn’t like farm fresh eggs? Homesteading and chickens seems like a match made in heaven. Especially on big homesteads with a fair amount of land.
However, there’s more to this particular story, and we’re going to provide you 5 reasons why rabbits are a top backyard homesteading animal. By the way, if you’ve been scared into thinking that you could get “rabbit starvation” by eating rabbit, relax and read our other article here.
Reason #1 – Rabbits are better because they are quiet
We don’t mean kind of quiet… we mean really quiet. Despite what that scene from “Monty Python’s Search for the Holy Grail” may have depicted, rabbits aren’t exactly the most ferocious animal on earth. They rely on stealth to avoid being dinner for virtually any predator out there. As a result, you can keep a material number of rabbits without our neighbors or the pesky HOA knowing.
Chickens make noise, that’s just reality. You can often hear roosters for up to a mile away on crisp mornings which will quickly make you unpopular with neighbors, especially if they work the night shift or simply aren’t morning people. Many HOA’s have specific rules about roosters and often broad restrictions on chickens in general. Even hens are quite noisy during the mornings when they are laying in what is known as their “egg song”. Anyone who’s heard it, would probably refer to it as a loud squawking that rivals that of a young rooster.
Reason #2 – They propagate like… well… rabbits
Rabbits have a 31 day gestational period, so unlike other animals, it only takes about a month to have new baby rabbits on the farm. The average kindling will produce 3-12 kits, but the average is probably closer to 5-8. You can technically breed a doe while she is still nursing a litter, but we strongly discourage the practice.
The figure above illustrates how a trio of rabbits (1 buck, 2 does) can conservatively produce 224lbs of meat. To put that in perspective, that’s a little more meat than the average person eats in a year. If you add a few more rabbits in, you can realistically replace most of the meat in a family’s diet.
Additionally, most commonly raised rabbit breeds include excellent mothering instincts from females. All we humans need to do is provide a nesting box and some material (straw, hay, wood chips) and the rabbit will do the rest. The doe will “pull fur” from a specific area on their chest and flanks to help keep the kits warm and will nurse them until they are eating food and weaned. Unlike chickens there’s no special feed or requirements, the doe completely handles things.
Smaller rabbits (typically called fryers) can be processed at around 3-4 months. Even for larger “roaster” size rabbits, they can be processed at 4-6 months, so the turnaround is quite incredible. Put that into perspective with chickens that don’t typically start laying eggs until around 6 months.
Reason #3 – Rabbits are better because don’t require feed
We can’t over emphasize this point. Because chickens are omnivores (not herbivores) they can’t live by only grazing on grass. If you have a large enough property, they can potentially find enough insects and worms to feed themselves, but that’s not common. It’s far more common that they need to be supplemented with food from a feed store. If that’s all natural grain, they may also require calcium supplementation to form hard egg shells.
Rabbits don’t require any of this. We have raised many rabbits over the years in mobile tractors providing natural grasses and weeds (they love dandelions) in what amounts to a constantly fresh salad bar. Rabbits eat only plants, so with an average backyard space, you can essentially feed your animals for free while also reducing the need to mow the yard there (win – win).
We’ve commonly had our “grow-outs” on pasture their entire lives on pasture which results in a nearly free meat supply. That’s hard to compete with when raising chickens.
If you want to learn more about how we raise our rabbits on pasture and how we feed them, check out this video.
Reason #4 – They provide “cold” fertilizer
Another reason to consider Rabbits the top utility animal for a backyard homestead is because of the way they process their food in the form of rabbit manure. This “bunny gold” is also considered a cold manure because you can use it directly on your plants without the risk of burning them. However, chicken manure is one of the “hottest” manure types, and you need to compost it to avoid burning your plants.
|Nitrogen (N)||Phosphorus (P)||Potassium (K)|
The reality is also that rabbit manure is packed with more nutrients than any of the commonly available manure sources. As you can see in the table above, it has more than double the amount of nitrogen as chicken manure and has nearly 10 times the phosphorous as cow manure.
You don’t need to compost rabbit manure either. Through this fact alone, you save weeks of time compared to chicken manure. That means more time for your plants to take up those nutrients when they need them during growing season.
Reason #5 – Rabbits are better because they are easily processed
The inevitable end result of raising anything on our homestead is to feed our family. A quick trip to any supermarket would lead the average person to believe that it must be chickens that are most easily processed, not rabbits. This is true for industrial level chicken houses, but not for backyard homesteaders.
Processing chickens requires the procurement and usage of specialized scalding and plucking equipment to quickly and effectively remove the feathers. Otherwise, you’re in for a tedious endeavor. If you don’t believe it, buy a package of bone in chicken wings and see how much time you spend picking the “missed” feathers from them. And that’s after they’ve been “processed” at the factory through their plucking machines.
None of this is required for rabbits. Special care must be used if you’re saving the hide for tanning purposes, but most people don’t. Rabbits are very simple and don’t require anything beyond a high FPS pellet gun for dispatch and a sharp knife for processing. Once you’ve done it a few times, it rarely takes more than 10-15 min.
We hope this has encouraged you to consider rabbits for your backyard homestead!
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