Raising Rabbits With Hank Will

Raising rabbits was a family venture for GRIT editor in chief Hank Will.

Bunny On Shoulder

Raising rabbits can be an exciting family adventure.

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Hard-guy though I was when it came to “frivolous” undertakings, while my daughters were young, a rabbit project made its way to the Will farm. I don’t remember exactly how it all came to be, but I do recall that one day I was out in the barn building a raised and weatherproof hutch for a pair of rabbits. I also recall chuckling to myself that it wouldn’t be a pair of rabbits for too long if the wall between the two compartments should ever fail. That hutch weighed about 350 pounds and withstood several brutal South Dakota winters, complete with wind gusts up to 70 miles per hour. I like to think that it is still in service.

There was much anticipation when the girls and I jumped into the truck that Saturday morning, heading just a few miles east to another farm. I had no idea what we were in for. It turns out that that farm’s girls (a few years older than my daughters) were selling their rabbits because they were finished with their 4-H projects – and my daughters were eager to raise rabbits for themselves, although no mention of 4-H was made.

After a little hefting and haggling, we loaded two white rabbits into a couple of boxes, headed home, and introduced them to their new quarters. I later learned that the bland-looking bunnies were members of the New Zealand White breed. Though I’m not generally partial to animals with white coats, I have to admit to experiencing a certain delight at their looks.

As is so often the case with daughters’ animal projects, I often found myself feeding these rabbits and carting their marvelous manure off to the garden. I enjoyed watching them munch hay and found the sound of it as relaxing as the murmur of contented chicks resting under a brooder lamp with full bellies. I was fascinated with the rabbits’ seemingly clumsy movements around the hutch and wondered whether they were truly happy in confinement.

When they were into it, the girls would sometimes let the rabbits roam the yard and eat fresh grass – well-supervised though, since we had a pack of herd dogs that made quite a sport of hunting the wild rabbit population to near extinction. As fate would have it, my daughters were never so into it that they wanted to try breeding the bunnies, and so for a few years, Peter and Cottontail were simply pets that gave as much enjoyment as I hope they received.

In time Peter passed away – his final resting spot was marked with a stone in the shelterbelt by the green ash tree next to stones commemorating the barn cats and a Beagle named Lilly.

By the time the girls had completely lost interest, one of my hay customers wondered whether her son might purchase our hutch and the one lonely rabbit. It seemed that he wanted to take on a small livestock project. …

Since those times many years ago, I’ve learned that domestic rabbits come in all colors and patterns and carry a colorful history that’s every bit as interesting as their behaviors are endearing. And if I could turn back the pages of time, I would take a more active interest in my daughters’ project, and I’m sure we’d be in some rare rabbit rearing enterprise to this day.

Whether you live on 1,000 acres or 1,000 square feet, there’s plenty of room in your backyard to enjoy rabbits. If you have questions about raising rabbits, feel free to send me an email at hwill@GRIT.com.

Keep on thumpin’.


Hank Will raises hair sheep, heritage cattle and many varieties of open-pollinated corn with his wife, Karen, on their rural Osage County, Kansas farm. His home life is a perfect complement to his professional life as editor in chief at GRIT and Capper's Farmer magazines. Connect with him on .