On a recent trip to New England Grass Fed to pick up some beef, Pat Beck, the Rhode Island based company owner, showed me his grass fed rabbit farm. Pat has an interesting business model for his meat rabbits. Passionate about promoting the benefits of humanely raised, grass fed rabbits as a viable meat source, he hopes to overcome modern attitudes towards rabbits as only being appropriate as pets.
Working with local individuals and families (some of them 4H families) he provides a moveable hutch and a litter of five or six weaned kits (young) for home care. The family feeds the rabbits a diet of grass, foraged greens and pellets, moving the cage each day to a fresh foraging spot. After ten to twelve weeks, Pat retrieves the rabbits now weighing about five and a half pounds each and ready for eating. The family receives a dressed carcass in payment. They also get the experience of raising rabbits without the expense of the cage or the rabbits, as well as all the manure the rabbits have produced for their gardens.
Pat raises Silver Fox rabbits which is a rare American heritage breed. They are a cross between French Silver (Champagne D'Argent) which is a meat breed and the Checkered Giant which is known for its size, low stress mothers and high milk production. The result is a rabbit that has low bone mass and high meat content, has small litters that grow quickly and is well adapted to outside rearing.
It wasn't so long ago that many families had rabbits or chickens in their backyards being raised for meat. As a society, we are now purchasing the majority of our food from supermarkets, where meat is dressed and packaged. It is easy to forget that we are eating something that was once alive and needed to be cared for. Unfortunately, we know that too often these animals are not raised in an ethical manner. I would rather eat an animal I know was humanely raised and fed nutritious appropriate food than buy factory farm meat or poultry.
Raising animals with the knowledge that they are destined to be food is not for everyone. As meat prices rise, however, and more people become concerned with the ethical treatment and quality of the meat they feed their families, I hope more people will consider alternative, locally sourced protein such as pastured rabbits.
If you are interested in learning more about Pat's rabbit program you can contact him through the New England Grass Fed website.