Small urban livestock offers protein in small spaces

Story & photos: Russ Grayson

THIS IS NOT A STORY FOR VEGETARIANS... it's for the omnivores among us who are not likely to mistake a protein source as a cuddly mammal.

The mammal in question is none other than that four-legged plague of Australia's farms — the humble rabbit. It is a traditional food source in this country. Older Australians might recall the days... way back... when suppliers drove slowly along suburban streets selling the animals ready for the pot.

Rabbits, like chickens and — dare I say it — guinea pigs, are suited to urban food production in small spaces, including community and home gardens. As small urban livestock raised humanely, they have the potential to provide protein to city people and can consume kitchen and garden scraps to do so. When sustainability is considered, the use of small urban livestock like this may have less environmental impact and release a lesser quantity of greenhouse gases than cattle and sheep.

Cuddly mammal or protein source? Droppings and other matter falling through the floor of the rabbit hutch feed the worms in the box below.

rabbits Cuddly mammal or protein source? Droppings and other matter falling through the floor of the rabbit hutch feed the worms in the box below.

Designing accommodation

A visit to Perth City Farm reveals a simple form of housing that combines rabbits and worms. The rabbits, kept in a cage with a wire mesh base covered in straw, are fed from garden and kitchen wastes. As their droppings and other organic matter falls through the mesh, it feeds the worms in the box below. The worms produce worm compost — known as vermicompost — that feeds the gardens.

This demonstrates simple systems thinking in which organic wastes feed one lifeform (rabbits), whose wastes are used as the input for another (worms) the wastes of which, in turn, becomes the input (vermicompost) for another process — growing food — which, in turn, feeds the city farmers.

The City Farm's installation consists of a simple wood-framed cage raised on legs over a same-size box in which the works live.

DIFFICULTY: Not difficult for community gardeners with imagination and the ability to use simple hand tools. Ability to turn rabbit into food an advantage.

EFFECTIVENESS: Depends on the scale of the system, the needs of those using it and attention to maintenance. Potentially effective for small scale production such as in the household or, replicated, in community gardens. May have cottage industry potential for sales at fresh food markets although processing rabbit meat may attract the attention of local government health inspectors.

SCALABILITY: Reasonable. Can be scaled up in size and number.

REPLICABILITY: Good potential due to simple design (another example of how simplicity breeds workability and replicability)

MAINTENANCE SCALE:
Materials: Low.
Skills: Low to medium — ability to construct system and to manage biological (animal) component.

Published in Compost & worms

Comments

  1. Kate Butler

    Hello,

    I’m all for low carbon meat – plus rabbit is delicious – but couldn’t you raise it in a humane way? That cage is too small for one rabbit, let alone two. Rabbits are active, sociable animals and deserve much better conditions than the above cage which doesn’t even seem to have an attached run.

    Even if the rabbit is allowed out to exercise, this enclosure if far too small. Whether an animal is a pet or a walking meal, it still deserves minimum animal welfare standards in its life. This wouldn’t meet them. Shame on Perth City Farm.

    K

  2. Vet

    To have a wire mesh on the floor of a rabbit cage deprives of their night feces. A rabbit unable to eat its night feces will suffer from malnutrition. It is unethical to house rabbits in this way

  3. Profile gravatar of aust_com_gardens
    aust_com_gardens

    Thanks for the information. I’ve found some information on wikipedia of what you mention:

    Diet and eating habits

    DIET AND EATING HABITS (of rabbits)
    Rabbits are herbivores that feed by grazing on grass, forbs, and leafy weeds. In consequence, their diet contains large amounts of cellulose, which is hard to digest. Rabbits solve this problem by passing two distinct types of feces: hard droppings and soft black viscous pellets, the latter of which are known as caecotrophs and are immediately eaten. Rabbits reingest their own droppings (rather than chewing the cud as do cows and many other herbivores) to digest their food further and extract sufficient nutrients.[16: “Information for Rabbit Owners — Oak Tree Veterinary Centre”. Oaktreevet.co.uk. Retrieved 2010-08-30 ]

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rabbit

  4. E.

    A solution to this could be a solid bottom, and feed the worms the straw and left over feces that the rabbits do not eat when you would clean out the cage regularly anyways. A rabbit wont be able to eat all of your kitchen scraps, so feed what is left to your worms too. Sure it may be handy to have the hutch directly over the composter, but i agree this cage is much to small. Rabbits need playtime!

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