Learning how to raise rabbits on your homestead can bring many benefits. One key reason why they can be such a useful type of small livestock to the rear is that they also provide a bountiful source of manure – free fertilizer for your garden.
To raise rabbits for manure, you must choose the right rabbits and the right number for your needs. Create a place for rabbits to live and feed and care for them correctly. Raising rabbits for manure brings many benefits. But you also need to know how to use the manure in your garden.
In this article, we’ll talk you through the basics of rabbit care, talk about why you should raise them for manure, get into the details of rabbit manure, and tell you how to use it in your garden. Read on to find out more.
How To Raise Rabbits For Manure: Basic Care
First of all, let’s look at the basics, so you can obtain and raise the rabbits to meet your needs.
What Rabbits Should You Choose?
First of all, choosing the right rabbits for your homestead is crucial. We won’t get into the pros and cons of different breeds right now. But it is essential to think about what your aims are. All rabbits will provide valuable manure for your homestead.
But certain breeds will be better for meat or fur. Some may be more valuable than others when it comes to selling them on. Which breeds are best will often depend on your local markets.
How Many Rabbits Should You Get?
Once you have decided which rabbits to get, you also need to think carefully about how many you need. Remember that rabbits breed – well – like rabbits! So starting with a few and allowing your bunny population to grow over time is often the best policy.
When thinking about how many rabbits to get to begin with, you should consider:
- How much space you have available to house them,
- Your budget (both for set up and ongoing care),
- How much food they will eat (We’ll get into this more below),
- How much time you have for their care,
- How much manure you need (the size of your garden).
Where and How Should You House Your Rabbits?
Rabbits are typically housed in hutches or cages, though they can also be housed in a dedicated building or shed – also known as a rabbit house, perhaps even with a well-secured outside run.
Cages are usually made of materials like wood and metal wire. And it is relatively easy to make your own DIY rabbit housing to keep costs down.
Whatever you use to construct your hutches or rabbit housing, you should aim for structures that are easy to clean. Raising the housing up off the ground can make harvesting their manure and cleaning them out a whole lot easier.
There is a vast range of different setups to consider. If you keep the chickens predominantly for manure, then a set up that allows for more accessible collection will be essential. You can also consider integrating your rabbit cages with a composting system – allowing droppings to fall into a vermicomposting (worm composting) system.
What Do Rabbits Eat and How Much Food Do They Need?
How much food rabbits will need will depend on the breed, their size, and age. The larger they are, the more they will eat. But if you raise rabbits for manure, it is also worthwhile remembering that the more they eat, the more manure they will produce.
Rabbits are herbivorous and will eat hay, certain grasses, and a wide range of fruits, vegetables, and herbs from your garden. Feeding rabbits on the food you grow on your homestead is a way to recycle – and restore nutrients to the system.
Whether or not you can entirely rely on the food you grow to keep your rabbits will depend, of course, on how many rabbits you have, the size of your homestead, and what you grow there. However, with the right thought and care, it is possible to develop a ‘closed-loop’ system and avoid the need for much, if any, additional feed.
What Else Do You Need To Keep Rabbits?
To keep rabbits, you will, of course, need somewhere to house them and food to feed them (perhaps in addition to pasture for them to forage – depending on your set up). You will also need waterers and something to contain your rabbit’s food.
Other than this, you may also need to pay vets bills. So this is something else to consider. Even when keeping rabbits as livestock rather than as pets, it is crucial to remember that they are living, feeling being that need to be taken care of and given the respect and nurture they deserve.
There is a lot to learn about caring for rabbits that we have not covered in the above. We encourage you to do more of your own research to make sure that animal welfare is not neglected. It is essential to do your research so that your rabbits will remain safe and well while in your care.
Why Raise Rabbits for Manure?
Now we’ve covered some of the basics of raising rabbits, let’s take a closer look at rabbit manure. First of all, let’s explore why it is such a good idea to raise rabbits for manure in the first place:
- Rabbits poop prodigiously. Even a few animals can provide a surprisingly large quantity of manure.
- They also breed very quickly, and it is relatively easy to grow your colony. This means that it is a cost-effective way to increase the quantity of manure produced and ‘scale-up’ your efforts.
- You can use rabbit manure directly in your garden, which sets it apart from many other manure types. Other types must be often composted before use (we’ll take a closer look at the manure itself and its characteristics shortly.
- It also has minimal odor when compared to the manure of other potential livestock animals. And it is easy to deal with.
- Rabbit manure may be in high demand, not just for your own homestead but for other gardeners in your area. So it may provide a lucrative revenue stream.
How Much Manure Does a Rabbit Produce?
As mentioned above, the larger a rabbit is, and the more it eats, the more manure it will tend to produce. Since rabbits can vary hugely in size and weight, this leads to a massive range of answers to this question.
However, for a typical rabbit fed on a combination of pellets and hay, you can expect a rabbit to put out nearly twice as much (in weight) in rabbit manure as they are fed. Rabbits that are fed naturally will produce according to a different ratio. For these rabbits, the feed to manure ratio will probably be far closer in weight. This is because there is already a higher water content in natural food.
If you have a typical meat breed fed ¼ lb (113.4g) of drier food could easily provide a minimum of ½ lb (226.8g) each day. But it would not be hugely surprising for it to produce up to a pound (c. 450g) in a day.
According to the Mississippi State University Extension Service, “Fifteen does, two bucks, and their litters will produce approximately one ton of manure a year.” That is considered to be a fair amount of manure for a large vegetable garden or small farm.
Fertilization needs will vary, depending on what is grown and the soil’s existing properties and condition. But I have seen it suggested that 200 – 400lb (c. 90.8- 181.5kg) of rabbit manure is a reasonable rate for application to fertilize an area of 1000 sq ft (c. 93 sq m). So with a ton, you should easily have enough rabbit manure to provide fertility for an area of over 1/10th acre even without any additional organic fertilizers that you could use.
The Characteristics of Rabbit Manure
To understand why rabbit manure is so good for your garden, it is essential to look at its characteristics.
You Can Apply Rabbit Manure Directly
First and foremost, as mentioned above, you can apply rabbit manure directly to the garden. While chicken manure, cattle manure, horse manure, goat and sheep manure, etc. should all be well-rotted before use, rabbit manure is suitable for direct use.
It is mostly because rabbit manure is not ‘hot’ like other manures and is therefore much less likely to burn plants. There are also fewer concerns when it comes to pathogens than there are with other types of manure.
Rabbit Manure is High in Nutrients
Rabbit manure is very nutrient-rich. The nutrient profile of manures can vary significantly depending on the animals and what they ate. But rabbit manure is generally said to have four times more nutrients than cow or horse manure and twice as many as chicken manure.
When gardeners talk about different fertilizers for their gardens, they often talk about the amounts of three main plant nutrients that they provide – the ‘big three’ of nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K).
Here’s how rabbit manure compares to some other common manures used as fertilizer in a garden:
|Manure Type||N (Nitrogen||P (Phosphorus)||K (Potassium)|
|Poultry (75% water)||1.50%||1.00%||0.50%|
|Poultry (50% water)||1.5-2%||1.8-2%||1.00%|
|Poultry (30% water)||3-4%||2.50%||1.50%|
|Poultry (15% water)||6.00%||4.00%||3.00%|
It is important to note that these are rough guides but that the actual nutrient profiles of the different manures can vary considerably.
But even if the rabbit manure does not have the core nutrients to these levels, it is still a high nutrient content manure and excellent for the fertility in a garden. It not only contains these three core nutrients but also other important nutrients and micro-nutrients essential for good plant growth and good soil health.
Rabbit Manure is An Excellent Soil Conditioner
Besides being an excellent source of plant nutrients, rabbit manure is also great for improving the soil in your growing areas. It is a type of ‘brown organic matter’ that can be used to:
- Improve the soil’s water retention,
- Or reduce compaction and help it drain more freely,
- Improve aeration in the soil,
- Encourage healthy soil life, with plenty of micro-organisms, earthworms, etc.
How To Use Rabbit Manure in Your Garden
Now that you have a better idea about raising rabbits for manure, and the properties of that manure, let’s take a closer look at how you can use it in your garden.
You can use rabbit manure:
- In composting systems,
- To create new garden beds,
- As a medium/slow fertilizer around plants in beds or containers,
- For mulch in your growing areas,
- To make a ‘manure tea’ or liquid plant feed.
Adding Rabbit Manure to Composting Systems
As mentioned earlier in this article, some who raise rabbits for manure decide to place their hutches or cages above a vermicomposting (worm composting) system. Rabbit manure is excellent for worms, both the types found in soil and the types used in composting.
But even when the composting system is not integrated into your rabbit housing set up, the manure can still be added to any composting system elsewhere on your property.
Though rabbit manure does not usually have to be composted before it is used in your garden, you may choose to do so. The rabbit manure can also be a useful material to add balance to the compost and can make sure that the compost you create has a good nutrient profile. It will add plenty of nitrogen, but also more phosphorus and potassium than many other materials that you might add.
Using Rabbit Manure to Make New Garden Beds
Another thing to consider is that composting does not need to take place in a separate heap or bin. You can also compost materials in place in your garden.
Composting in place that is a no-dig garden involves creating layers of ‘brown’ (carbon-rich) and ‘green’ nitrogen-rich materials on the surface rather than digging new beds. Rabbit manure can be one of the materials used to create these layers as you build up a new garden bed. Sometimes, a garden made in this way is described as a ‘lasagna garden.’
There is another related idea called ‘hugelkultur,’ which involves making mounds of rotting wood, heaped over with layers of compostable materials as described above. Rabbit manure could also be an excellent ingredient to add to one of these growing areas.
Using Rabbit Manure as Fertilizer Around Plants
Plenty of the plants in your garden will benefit if you sprinkle some rabbit manure around them as a fertilizer. So having a few rabbits around could be a good thing, even if you don’t have a huge garden to work with. You can also use rabbit manure in a homemade potting mix to ensure container plants get the nutrients they need.
Rabbit manure is excellent for many commonly grown edible crops, including, but definitely not limited to:
- Fruit trees,
- Fruiting shrubs,
- Annual fruits (including tomatoes, peppers, squash, etc..)
However, take care when fertilizing fruiting or flowering crops with rabbit droppings. Don’t let them touch the plants themselves. Just sprinkle a few on the soil around them before watering well. And don’t overdo it, since too much nitrogen can encourage leafy growth at the expense of flowering and fruits.
Rabbit manure can definitely benefit nitrogen hungry leafy plants. But it is best to compost the manure before using it directly around plants whose edible portions make contact with the soil, such as lettuces, brassicas, and root crops. It is always important to wash your hands well and to wash the garden produce carefully before consumption.
Using Rabbit Manure as a Mulch
In certain settings, around trees, shrubs, and perennials, it can also be beneficial, as mentioned above, to use rabbit manure more abundantly as a mulch. If you have a large quantity of rabbit manure, using it as a mulch can be an excellent way to return its nutrients to the garden system.
The small pellets of rabbit manure break down relatively quickly in moist conditions and serve as a longer-lasting mulch in drier conditions. As a mulch or top dressing, it can protect the soil from nutrient runoff and erosion, suppress weeds, and retain soil moisture.
Making a Liquid Fertilizer From Rabbit Manure
Finally, if you raise rabbits for manure, you should also note that you can use the rabbit manure to make a liquid fertilizer. Liquid fertilizers are much quicker release, and nutrients will be available to plants more quickly. Rather than waiting for the manure to break down in the soil, you can consider adding the manure to water to make a liquid plant feed to give plants a boost.