You see it all over the supermarket — pastured beef, pastured poultry, free range eggs — well ... what about rabbit? Of course, it’s not like you see rabbit meat at the supermarket anyways. That’d be cruel and disturbing, right? To see a shrink wrapped, gutted and skinned bunny rabbit? Yeah, whatever.
Anyways, raising rabbits out-of-doors, semi-free-range, is not easy. As a matter-of-fact, it’s a downright pain in the tuckus, but it IS doable. If I remember correctly, Joel Salatin’s son raised rabbits and finished them out in rabbit tractors. There’s several issues that I’ve run across trying to raise bunnies in the yard, but they are all fixable for the most part. If you’re interested in raising your rabbits the all natural, granola way, you need to be prepared for the worst.
First off, rabbits like to leave. And when they leave, they do not return. I’m blessed with a wonderful dog that has the hunting instincts of a Beagle and the herding instincts of an Australian Cattle Dog. This is probably because his mother was a Beagle and his father was an Australian Cattle Dog. If we have a rabbit loose, all I have to do is point Gus in the general direction of the escapee and say, “Gus! Get ‘im!” Then Gus goes and gets ‘im. He flushes them out and then runs them right into my fishing net, easy peasy. Of course, the ideal situation would be not having any escapees at all, am I right? I learned this the hard way, obviously. Initially I just tossed some does into a retired chicken tractor and a few of them promptly dug out and had to be caught with a net. Lesson learned — some sort of wire flooring must be installed before stocking the outdoor rabbit pens. Here's an example of what I use: a chicken tractor. When my parents take an order of pastured chickens to slaughter, I immediately fill a tractor with rabbits.
Another situation that I came across was that outdoor rabbits like to chase each other, and if you don’t make sure that they all get along perfectly, your favorite rabbit will end up breaking her leg and then you’ll have to eat her and you will be very sad over the entire ordeal because she was very, very pretty. If there’s any sort of aggressiveness beyond typical pecking order shenanigans, I recommend removing the aggressor or the rabbit that the others all hate. They might be jealous if she’s especially pretty, which I’m pretty sure is the reason that the does all ganged up on poor Penelope and broke her leg. It’s hard being beautiful. Pictured is the victim, Penelope (on the left) and her frenemy, Phoebe. I'm sorry, it's blurry, I know.
There are benefits to having pastured rabbits too, though. Like, you get to put on your labels that the rabbits are pastured, and you can tell your customers that, and customers’ eyes always light up at the word ldquo;pastured”, which for all they know could mean that they’re super old and were put to pasture and will taste like an old shoe. They don’t care. They want their old shoes to be happy. But, in all seriousness, rabbits that get full socialization and large, grassy space to run are in fact much happier. You can tell, it’s just obvious. They run and play and groom each other. They’ll even all kindle in one giant pile, and there’s nothing cuter (and weirder) than digging through a nest of thirty bald baby rabbits covered in three pounds of multi-colored fur. Rabbits playing in a pen outside are so much fun to watch, until they kill each other of jealousy.
Also, in my opinion, rabbits on pasture taste so much better. I personally do supplement my growing bun-buns with pelleted feed, but I think the meat ends up tasting more “rabbity”, which may be because the rabbits are actually allowed to be more “rabbity”.
So, there you have it, hippie rabbits do exist. They are one with the earth, man.
Phoebe's half-sister, Whoops, being one with the grass