Setting up a rabbit tractor


Chicken tractorIn permaculture there is a lot written about chicken tractors.  The term refers to keeping chickens in a movable run to benefit from the symbiotic relationship of giving the chickens kept for eggs or meat a natural free range life and so supplement their diet whilst benefiting from their natural instinct to dig, weed and fertilise an area in preparation for planting.

With a whole Forest garden to clear and having many persistent weeds within it I wanted to convert the energy needed to clear this into a useful by-product.  Chicken tractor initially seemed the way forward.  We had a lot of experience in keeping chickens and love their fun personality and friendly natures.  However, in common with a lot of what we do,  I decided to explore more possibilities.  We have sufficient chickens for our own and friends’ egg use, and though chicken is generally a popular meat in our family I wanted to add more variety.

rabbitThis led me to plump for creating a rabbit tractor instead.  All my reading and discussions with rabbit owners proved that rabbits can be raised on mainly a natural diet (just like wild rabbits are) and rabbits raised on pasture produce a more tasty lean meat, with more omega-3 fatty acids than caged rabbits.  This ability to be fatten on an entirely natural diet made them more commercially viable than the meat chicken alternative.
The next big issue, being Mum to animal loving children, is would everyone be happy raising rabbits for meat?  We needed to ensure that the children were happy to tend and care for a cute bunny in the same way as they did other farm animals and this meant visiting some and talking about it.

Rabbit tractors make so much sense, in the same way as chicken tractors do.  Raising rabbits on pasture gives them space to exercise, and enjoy a far more natural existence, and so improving their overall quality of life, while giving us the same symbiotic benefits a chicken tractor would.
As you can tell from above, I really rate the rabbit as an alternative to the chicken tractor in terms of suitability to our land, wholesomeness of the meat, and overall running costs.  But another key element is the manure supplied by the bunny.  Rabbit manure is packed with nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, and many minerals and micro-nutrients.  It has also other beneficial trace elements such as calcium, magnesium, boron, zinc, manganese, sulphur, copper, and cobalt.  The table below shows how favourably it compares to other animals on our farm for the big 3 – NPK:

N (nitrogen) P (phosphorus) K (potassium)
Rabbit 2.4 1.4 0.6
Chicken 1.6 1.5 0.9
Sheep 0.7 0.3 0.9
Horse 0.7 0.3 0.6

Also rabbit manure is one of the few fertilizers that will not burn your plants when added directly to the garden and can be safely used on food plants.

Breed Selection
I’ve now done the research, read books cover to cover in preparation, I know how we plan to house the rabbits for our tractor and ready to get started.  So which breed?  This is partly dictated by what is available in the locality as well as its suitability for meat and its ability to be raised on pasture.  I’m taking on a proven doe with 10 young, a cross between a Califonian and New Zealand.

I’ll report on how we get on.

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