We are not writing this post to spur a debate on the merits of vegetarianism vs an omnivorous diet. We have personally grappled with food politics for many years, both spending more than 18 years combined as veg and only integrating meat once we had raised it from start to finish, actively participating in the harvest of a live animal to food. Those are worthy discussions to have and we fully support active dialog around ALL aspects of food.
But for today, we want talk about why we raise rabbit, and how we do it. When our dear friends and fellow food journeying folks at All Good Bakers approached us about integrating meat into their menu, we were delighted to be asked to provide our rabbit. And we are equally as willing to talk about rabbit's role on our farm.
As those of you who read our blog may know, our farm is constantly striving to be as environmentally conscious as possible. We purchase non-gmo feed and seeds, do not use pesticides, hormones or toxic products. We will be using draft horses for many of the operations typically done by tractors these days. We deliver our CSA in a Prius. We are always thinking about ways we can up-cycle old materials, reduce waste and just generally be mindful of the land we are tending.
Rabbits are vastly more environmentally friendly then chickens are. For us to raise chickens, we have to take some extraordinary measures. We ship in heritage breed chicks, truck in thousands of lbs of non-gmo small-mill feed, run heat lamps to keep baby chicks warm 24/7 and buy bulk bags of wood shavings, and we do this to grow more planet friendly chickens then some other operations. With rabbits, it's a much easier reach to keep our resources to a minimum and our carbon foot print low. Our rabbits are bred, born and primarily raised by their mothers. They eat and bed hay grown by Kim's dad, along with some non-gmo grain and rarely require any heat lamp unless it's the dead of winter. This year, we will be integrating our meat rabbits into our pasture system, putting them out in moveable pens much like our chickens. Rabbit manure does not need to age before placing it on tender plants and it's a remarkable fertilizer.
Rabbits are also delicious. Seriously- they are amazingly tender, versatile in almost any recipe you already use chicken for and have a distinctly clean flavor. I often describe the flavor to people as a hybrid of the taste of turkey mixed with duck, only very much leaner. We've converted many people we love to the cult of rabbit for dinner. In France and Italy, rabbit is much more of a staple. And I think most would agree that the French and Italians know a thing or two when it comes to food. We also have several customers who have dietary restrictions, and find rabbit much easier to digest then other meats.
Chickens, have feathers. Rabbits, do not. Now, this seems simple. But to a farmer harvesting meat- feathers are a major obstacle. In order to properly remove chicken feathers you need a lot of hot water and many quick hands or a large piece of equipment called a plucker. The feathers go into the compost and take an extraordinary long time to decompose. Rabbits have soft fur, which we tan and then use again in mittens and boot liners to keep out the cold.
For a small farmer without a ton of acreage and no ability to hire staff, rabbits are a great meat to raise. We couldn't have a herd of cattle or more than a few sheep. Caring for a flock of chickens takes an enormous amount of time, and we absolutely relish the work. But simple rabbits can be bred and cared for by one person, of many ages and many abilities. They are quiet, easy to handle and very pleasant to be around. Plus, they breed like...well...rabbits.
When we started our farm, we sought to create a whole farm health, and rabbits have become a crucial part of that. They care for the soil, keep us warm and nourish us. And we provide for them. We respect them as creatures and members of our environment. As with all of our animals, we give them many wonderful days. They serve a purpose here and the intensity of our relationship with our livestock, then food is not easily dismissed. I can honestly say that I am grateful for each bite, having known the source. We are reverent of our meat, here and of all of produce. That kind of intimacy with your own survival can not be bought in a package.
So we grow rabbits. Our farm wouldn't be complete without them, and we think that if we are going to help reduce our dependency on less environmentally friendly crops (like soy, corn and chickens etc) that they are a great and delicious option. We can not afford to make any decision lightly on our farm, as new farm with limited resources. Each item that we grow, animal or otherwise has to help us keep the balance of a tight budget. And we know that rabbit is a sure bet, and once you taste it- you're likely to agree.