Saturday, 24 September 2016

Thoughts about rabbits......

Before 2008, and still in England:

Little rabbits, my oh my but how cute they are, with their long velvety ears, and fluffy, cuddly bodies, that is what I thought when Lester first mentioned that we should keep rabbits,
but not as pets but as meat for the table when we eventually moved to our smallholding in France.  And oh what a fuss I made, no, I did not think it a good idea at all.
'Rabbits are for pets, not for eating' that is what I said.
2010, and now in France:

So what do you do when an English neighbour comes calling, together with the two rabbits that she said that she had mentioned to Lester a few days ago as needing a home.
Not wanting to put a downer on things, if you were me you don't say anything,
but neither do you take much interest, that's what you do.
And then you become sensible and supportive to your husband, because his belief is that rabbits would make a good supplement to a homesteader's food table, and you are a team, so you stop making a fuss and accept his decision.
But, where to put them, and here is where they went....
against one of the courtyard walls....
(the fig tree is on the right)
...and what to put them in....
Concrete clapiers, that is where rabbits are housed here in France,
so Lester went and found one from somewhere or other,
and then had a grand time trying to assemble it.
.... and finished!

The Rabbit Project then took off,
and soon we had another two clapiers the other side of the fig tree,
plus lots of rabbits to put in them.
..... but eventually we made our first rabbit tractor so that the rabbits could be put out on to the field,
which we felt was a more natural environment for them. 

Unfortunately all our rabbits died of myxomotosis just as the tractor was finished, and that ended our enthusiasm for keeping rabbits for a long time.
'Taken from the blog of Sept 2012: And a sadness:
Of the fourteen original rabbits, thirteen have now succombed to myxomotosis. One, therefore, remains. She has just had babies. She also now has myxi.
Don't know whether to end her life, or not just yet. It is quite heartbreaking to see the squirmy little ones who will no doubt have been infected by their mum. Ending their lives is going to be very, very hard. So we do nothing at the moment, just watch, hoping for a miracle which we don't really think is going to happen.
Such is the life on a homestead,
the heart sometimes works overtime coping with it all.'
Although the smallest animals the rabbits are the ones most prone to fatal diseases, and then there is the tendency for the female rabbits to tear their young to pieces for no reason that we could ever see. Picking up little bits of legs, heads, and bodies, is not the most pleasant of tasks.

But on the whole, we missed having rabbits on the farm and so December 2015 saw us with another couple of rabbits, although we did not expect much from them. But surprisingly they quickly became parents and, as is the nature of rabbits, by May 2016 their numbers had multiplied to twenty.

However, a change of plan, mostly because we did not like having to keep the rabbits in the concrete cages, and thought they were more deserving of a better environment in which to live.
The plan was that the clapiers were to be broken up, which has been done, and a new set of runs, taller and longer that the concrete ones, will be built, but that is a future project, as is the  making of new rabbit tractors so they can be put out on the field during the day. 
One thing we have learnt, though, is that rabbits breed better during the winter and spring here in France, possibly because of lower temperatures and the lack of flying insects, so we shall encourage winter breeding in the future.
Meanwhile, we are gradually putting the rabbits in the freezer. Slaughtering animals is never a pleasant task to do, but the reality of life on a farm is that it has to be done if meat is to come on to the table. But the animals are loved and cared for, they are not pets, but are part of the cycle of life here, and therefore have our deepest respect for what they give us.
All the rabbits are now in the freezer.

September 2016

So, our thoughts on keeping rabbits, are:
- they can be prone to fatal diseases, but the possibility of that happening seems to have lessened after having successfully bred rabbits during winter and early spring.
- rabbit meat is the best meat we have had here, even better than chicken.
- I would probably not keep rabbits if I was on my own. They might be lovely to look at but the nature of the animal is something else.
- Lester was right in that rabbits are an excellent way of providing meat for a family living on a small farm. They breed fast, and come to a good size faster than chickens. They are quicker to skin and butcher than chickens as well.
All in all, we shall keep on having rabbits here at Labartere in the future.
They are worth the effort even if their health can sometimes be delicate.

Meanwhile, the courtyard is now free of rabbits, geese and chickens. It does feel like we are taking a step backwards at the moment, but sometimes you have to do that before you can move forward.

Next step is cutting back the enormous fig tree,
and then we can start working on the ground works.
A potager is intended for this area.
Bye for now,


Toirdhealbheach Beucail said...

A happy coincidence - Today is International Rabbit Day!

Vera said...

TOIRDHEALBHEACH.... now I didn't know that!

Rhodesia said...

Love rabbit, we used to breed them for eating in Rhodesian days! I have dried about 400 figs this year and wow so successful they are delicious. Still plenty on the tree! The plums dehydrated were also a great hit. Love my dehydrator thanks Vera for all the tips. Have a good Sunday Diane

Kirsty Udall said...

Thanks Vera, that was interesting. I agree with you that if we treat the animals with respect, giving them a good life then you can eat them too. All the wild rabbits that end up in our garden all seem to be infected with myxi, so I worry that we'd never manage to get them to adulthood. How do you prevent them catching it again?

Vera said...

DIANE, well done with getting all that fruit dehydrated. Sadly, though, no figs for us this year, but did get loads of plums dried and now using them in cakes. Am also experimenting with dehydrating potatoes!

KIRSTY, I am not sure how you would manage myxi in your area....our rabbits were infected by mosquitoes and not by other rabbits giving then the disease. You would probably have to buy in domestic rabbits, and keep them off any area of grass which has possibly been contaminated with myxi from wild rabbits. There is a vaccine you can give rabbits for myxi but we did not want to go down that route because of introducing chemicals into our food chain. Keeping your own rabbits away from the habitat of wild rabbits would be your route to keeping your domestic rabbits well.

Cro Magnon said...

Every Rabbit clapier around here is empty. I don't know if this is as a result of Myxi, or just a natural change in farming. There aren't even any wild Rabbits; just Hares.

Vera said...

CRO MAGNON, no wild rabbits in our immediate area either, although there are populations in the woods up on the hills. I think that people find it easier to buy rabbit meat from the local supermarkets!

Dawn McHugh said...

It must be rabbit time as some-one else posted about rabbits the other day, it is something we have considered and is on the list to try perhaps next year, we dont have any wild rabbits around us either. we seem to have taken a step back, with the billy's gone and next month the lambs go, we havent replaced the ducks and no turkeys this year or pigs, but its all set to change as we take on a big project :-)

Jean said...

When we were house hunting first time around we looked at a house that had the long rows of rabbit cages in the garden. I can't remember if the man said each one was labelled with a day of the week or if that was my imagination, but they clearly ate a lot of rabbit. I do remember being slightly repulsed at the way they were kept in small, dark cages, thinking of the pet rabbits I used to have as a child, with their nice long grass runs and regular cleaning out.
In fact I know two families who have house rabbits, keeping them in the house like you would a cat, which seems very odd.
Wouldn't it be great if everyone who kept animals for food had the same respect for them as you? I find it too upsetting to think about the way that some of them are treated.

Frugal in Derbyshire said...

We have kept rabbits for over forty years. Only now are we having a break, just three old does in retirement (pets!) and I wonder if we will ever start up again. I do miss those lovely babies though.

The Broad said...

Lots of rabbits around here. They like to make a home in the pile of grass cuttings! Early one morning I walked out into the garden here and 8 of them scampered across from one side to the other! Haven't seen them since!

Vintage Maison said...

We are currently rabbit-sitting for our daughter who has six rabbits, but an active social life. This was part of her experiment in money-making to eke out her allowance from us. I have threatened that if she doesn't sell them sometime soon, they will go in the freezer. Just got to summon the courage to do the biz. Have done sheep, pigs, chickens and turkeys, but never the little fluffy ones...

Vera said...

DAWN, exciting times ahead for you too, then, which can only happen when a 'step backward' is taken!

JEAN, those concrete cages were dreadful things...cold, drafty, and general horrid, but they were only supposed to be temporary for us, and when we realised that it was going to be some time before we could get proper accommodation sorted out for our rabbits....well, that is when we decided to stop keeping them at all because we could not tolerate those cages any longer!

FRUGAL IN DERBYSHIRE, I miss the rabbits as well, so maybe you and I will eventually start up again!

THE BROAD, in one way it must be nice to see wild rabbits, in another I would be worried about our flower and vegetable gardens!

VINTAGE MAISON, ah, getting those rabbits prepped for the freezer is the worst job that my husband does, he says, and it takes him days to gear himself up mentally before he can do the job! Bon courage to you!

DUTA said...

I like your new header with green (Nature's color) as dominant colour.
It looks like Lester has done a good job with the housing for the rabbits. Cute ,little animals deserve some decent protective housing.

Vera said...

DUTA, having animals gives us the responsibility of care, which can be quite awesome sometimes.