In this episode, you’ll learn…
- How carcass quality and growth differs among heritage rabbit breeds.
- Why you have to cook a rabbit differently from a chicken.
- The pros and cons of raising meat rabbits in cages, in chicken tractors or in colonies.
- Common mistakes in breeding and feeding rabbits.
- All about processing rabbits.
- How to approach restaurants to sell your meat rabbits.
- Don’t forget to check out the Small Farm Nation Academy whenever you’re ready to GET GROWING!
Hey, there thanks for joining me. Today I’m speaking with Callene and Eric Rapp of Rare Hare Barn in Kansas. They raise a few types of heritage breed rabbits, including the American
Just a few months ago, Eric and Callene authored the book, Raising Rabbits for Meat, which was published by New Society Publishers. You can grab it on Amazon.
Now, I love this topic of raising rabbits for meat for many reasons. So, yeah, you can tell right away that I’m not a vegetarian—as if you didn’t know that. But I love it because, in general, our society has become very disconnected from our food—and what food is, right?
Nowhere in the meat world is that more
So is cooking rabbit any different from cooking with chicken or other meats? You bet, and I discuss that and many other fascinating aspects of running a rabbit enterprise on a small farm.
For those of you interested in raising rabbits either as a commercial enterprise or for your homestead, we discuss differences in breeds, growth rates and mistakes many people make with feeding and breeding.
We also deep dive into the issue of production models. That is, we explore using cages versus pasture tractors versus colony raising rabbits.
Doesn’t matter if you’re a consumer, chef, homesteader or farmer, this is a thoroughly interesting discussion about the life (and death) of rabbits and of how one family is making a living in our small farm nation.
Let’s get right to it with Callene and Eric Rapp of Rare Hare Barn.
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Tim Young: [00:00:00] Small farm nation is sponsored by farmers Web software for your farm. Farmers Web helps farms inform buyers of available product handle orders simplify customer interactions and reduce the administrative load so check them out at farmersweb.com. So how do you save rare breeds of
Tim Young: [00:00:41] Hey there thanks for joining me again today I’m speaking with Callene and Eric Rapp of Rare Hare Barn in Kansas. Now they raise a few types so heritage breed rabbits including the American Chinchilla which I’ve also raised quite a bit of. Now just a few months ago Eric and Callene authored the book raising rabbits for meat which was published by New Society Publishers. You can grab it on Amazon now. I love this topic of raising rabbits for meat for many reasons. So yeah you can tell right away that I’m not a vegetarian. As if you didn’t know that already. But I love it because in general our society has become very disconnected from our food and what food is right. Nowhere in the meat world is that more evidence than with rabbits. Because when I raised and sold them we’d often get skittish customers who claimed they had no idea what to do with a rabbit. So is cooking rabbit any different from cooking with chicken or other meats. You bet it is and I discuss that and many other fascinating aspects of running a rabbit enterprise on a small farm. Now for those of you interested in raising rabbits either as a commercial enterprise or for your homestead. We discuss differences and breeds growth rates and mistakes that many people make with feeding and breeding rabbits. We also dive deep into the issue of production models. That is we explore using cages versus pasture tractors versus colony raising rabbits so it doesn’t matter if you’re a consumer a chef a homesteader or farmer. This is a thoroughly interesting episode about the life and death of rabbits and how one family is making a living of it. In our small farm nation so let’s get right to it with Callene and Eric Rapp of Rare Hare Barn
Tim Young: [00:02:44] Joining me today as Callene and Eric Rapp of Rare Hare Barn in Leon Kansas near Wichita. Rare Hare Barn is the largest heritage breed meat rabbit enterprise in the US and these guys authored a great book an excellent book raising rabbits for meat that you can get on Amazon so check it up. So guys welcome to small farm nation. Thank you. You know if I was to go out today and ask a group of kindergartners LIKE WHAT DO YOU GUYS WANT TO DO WHEN YOU GROW UP. I suspect a few of them might say well I want to raise rabbits but you know here you are as grown ups doing it. It’s just something that you guys always wanted to do.
Eric Rapp: [00:03:22] I’ve been around him since I was probably younger than a kindergartner and all of the data that back at that time everybody had five six seven acres and you pretty much laid out your garden and what made your grades. And my grandfather was well known for showing rabbits and was real good at it and I kind of out of necessity became his first employee at an early age that was young enough to carry a bucket feed me find that I could do other things. So he actually started me. So I had probably about a kindergartener about where I’d started it but I was if you asked me the same question I would never have thought I wanted to wind up being a rabbit farmer.
Callene Rapp: [00:04:11] And before we raised them I’d never even eaten rabbit or didn’t even know if I liked it. So we come from both ends of that spectrum.
Tim Young: [00:04:19] And that’s actually a very good background from your point of view. We’ll jump around here. But one of the things that we find will raise something like
Callene Rapp: [00:04:40] Yes that is very true. Well at the first obstacle they run into it cooking it because it has no get on it like a chicken and basically it can be cooked any dish that you use chicken or you can substitute it with rabbit.
Eric Rapp: [00:04:57] But it’s easy to make a mistake with it. And once you do that it’s hard to go back to it. So you have to with a lot of meat have to kind of teach him how to use it in the beginning or it won’t go very far.
Tim Young: [00:05:13] You know one example of that that I found is of course that you know when you’re cooking chicken you’re usually or very often cooking it with a skin on which can make it very forgiving. Can you talk about that differentiation and how that affects the cooking?
Callene Rapp: [00:05:26] Well rabbit doesn’t even have any intramuscular fat. So the best way to cook it is you know low temperature or for a longer time. I mean roasting and braising and rotisserie are all good ways to cook it. But with it being so lean it’s something you have to kind of pay attention to. You can’t put it on and then you know go someplace else for a couple hours. You kind of got to watch it and be prepared to based it and just kind of you know keep an eye on it. I think is the biggest thing.
Tim Young: [00:06:03] You know I think I think I read somewhere on your Website maybe Colin I don’t know if you wrote this or Eric had written this but when you talk about getting into producing rabbits for consumers I think I read one of the things that you had written is that people don’t trust the food system and it’s one of the reasons and maybe you didn’t trust the food system and it’s one of the reasons why you started. I’m not sure if that’s true or not. If that is true what is it about the food system.
Callene Rapp: [00:06:36] Well I think that is something that you probably have read on our Web site. Things like that that was kind of how we got started in this adventure was after you know the 90 million food recall. You know it just makes it really hard to trust what you’re going to the grocery store purchase. So at the time we both had parents that were getting older and so it just kind of concerns about that and rabbit being so nutritious that’s kind of why we launched into that. But it’s hard to have faith in something that such a conglomerate you can have faith in someone that you meet face to face like say at the farmer’s market or somebody that you develop a relationship because you know they are eating what you’re eating what they’re selling to you. So I just I find it much easier to have faith in people rather than corporations.
Tim Young: [00:07:32] Absolutely. You bring it bringing an element of transparency into the equation. Absolutely. So tell us about your your farm. I mean how much land or how is it set up or you know what does it look like to us who are only hearing about this audio.
Callene Rapp: [00:07:48] Well we are in Kansas. And contrary to all the rumors Kansas is not 100 percent flat. We live in an area that does have hills and trees that are right on the tail end of the Flint Hills which was at one time the largest native grass region in the United States. And we have 40 acres. We also have a herd of heritage breed Piney Woods cattle and goats that a rare breed of goat that we’re working with and the chickens in the whole you know the whole nine yards with that. But it’s you know it’s small farm mostly pasture and then we have our rabbits up here close to the house and. Just in buildings we’ve got a garden which is largely made out of rabbit manure. So that’s kind of the visual snapshot.
Tim Young: [00:08:39] If you’re dealing with a rare breed of goat. I hope it’s one that won’t get out of a fence because I haven’t found one yet that I can keep in a fence.
Callene Rapp: [00:08:46] Yeah I don’t think that breed a good exists.
Tim Young: [00:08:48] So there’s the opportunity for you.
Tim Young: [00:08:50] So what products then. I know you mentioned a lot of these products like Pineywood cattle but I didn’t see that see grassfed beef for example on your farm on your website what products are you producing for sale.
Callene Rapp: [00:09:02] Mostly it’s just the rabbits. We have worked with the piney woods for a while but mostly we just produce beef for our own use. Don’t do a lot of retail sales with that. I sold some breeding stock and we we mostly work with rare and heritage breeds though whenever possible we would try to find that breeding stock home for them. And the cattle are mostly just for our own use.
Tim Young: [00:09:25] So rabbit could give you at least four products that I can think of I mean he can give you the meat it could give you the fur you could sell you know the breeding stock for example I mean you could make. You could sell rabbit manure which is incredible fertilizer. So what products are you selling that really to
Callene Rapp: [00:09:42] All of those you know we do all of that we sell the manure we’ve got a nursery that comes and purchases manure from us the meat. About the only thing that we don’t know is the fur that’s kind of a hard sale though. And I’ve I’ve done some home tanning and then helping one of these days I’m going to be the crazy rabbit lady in the patchwork fur coat. But the fur a bit of a harder sale.
Tim Young: [00:10:12] So Eric Eric when you were younger did you what did your family actually I mean because if you go back 50 60 years I’m not sure how long ago we’re talking but you go back a long time and go back to the depression stuff that was the big business for rabbits like American Chinchilla was it actually using the fur or at least that’s my understanding. Did your family do anything like that.
Eric Rapp: [00:10:34] Mostly my grandfather still showed stock and the the extra meat that he had sold but it was mainly supplied the entire family in general. Aunts and Uncles then on down the line. So it pretty much paid his expenses of raising his own out of what he sold to other people. So basically his food that he got from the rabbits with free but yeah the Americans until it was a great success story during the Depression and the guy it actually was kind of the godfather of it.
Eric Rapp: [00:11:17] In a small below suburb in Kansas City Missouri and made a million dollars with them during a depression and basically started out raising them and then getting other people involved in it and then buying back the breeding stock and continuing that kind of chain with that of keeping the best and selling the rest went to market course farmers in huge demand.
Eric Rapp: [00:11:48] Back then a lot of times I felt like really the rabbit meat was the byproduct of the pellet industry. When you look at the history of the fur industry back in the 20s. Right. Right.
Tim Young: [00:12:02] So when you’re when you’re selling your meat let’s talk about how you’re going to market are you selling directly to consumers are you selling to restaurants. What’s your ratio there.
Callene Rapp: [00:12:11] I would say probably ninety nine percent of our sales is to restaurants. We haven’t done farmer’s markets and will only do occasionally in a retail sales to people but ninety nine percent of our market is the restaurant was that way when you began back in 2003 or 2005 whenever you started or has been a transition it’s been a transition back where we started. It was difficult to try to get restaurants interested in it. I made dozens and dozens of cold calls and I got so used to hearing no that the first time I actually got a yes I almost hung up on the guy because I was so used to just thanking him politely and moving on. So it’s been it’s been over
Callene Rapp: [00:13:14] And so once we kind of hit that tipping points and then the restaurant sales did take off but it was it was a struggle in the beginning when actually we didn’t start the rabbit venture with the goal of a fine restaurant That became out of necessity too. Our main goal would break conservation a lot of these breeds. We worked with were almost extinct and ordered to repopulate breed. You have to handle a large number of animals because not every animal is born as potential breeding stock. So if you do a good job and find breeding stock quality breeding stock you have to call animals pretty hard. Eat good in the pipeline so there’s only so many friends and family that you can sell and get in and out and eating rabbit. So once we got into the larger numbers and the breeding stock demand kind of came to a surplus we had to find an outlet to go with the more called rabbits that weren’t potential breeding stocks though. That’s when she got on the phone and we started calling around all over the country and it’s it’s a hard sell on that end because you may have some restaurant that takes a box at twelve once a year for a special dinner or wine tasting and then you might find one to get in and get a good relationship with and they keep it on their menu. But they’re creative and have to continue to make new dishes because there’s competition in that restaurant market now. Different types of protein being utilized so they have to keep a step ahead of the next restaurant and make that rabbit on the menu so they keep them coming back for more dish. So the restaurant end of it is it wasn’t something we we was a goal we were gonna go after it came out an obsessive way of keeping the pipeline and the heritage breeding stock available to other breeders.
Tim Young: [00:15:27] You know you just touched on so many points there that I want to come back to and we’ll do this in a second just a lot of really great information there. But Colleen I’m assuming that you don’t have a background before this being in sales and marketing is that true.
Callene Rapp: [00:15:41] Oh that is so true. That was really hard for me. You know getting started because it’s just I’m just such a little stock. It’s hard for me to hear no but you have to if you’re going to be in sales you have to learn to develop a little bit of a turtle shell.
Tim Young: [00:15:59] You know it’s something that a lot of my members and the smallfarmnationacademy.com really struggle with when we talk about this idea of pitching restaurants or pitching distributors or pitching anybody.
Tim Young: [00:16:09] I know it doesn’t have to be just farmers I noticed in most industries people struggle with this. And if there’s ever been an industry that I think people shouldn’t struggle with pitching or selling it’s farming and the reason is because what we’re really doing here is sharing we’re so passionate about what we’re doing we’re just sharing with someone that we have this product for you we have this opportunity for you yet everyone is so afraid and I’m wondering what was it like for you to overcome that hurdle to pick up the phone. What did you hear on the phone. How did you keep going. How did you push through all that.
Callene Rapp: [00:16:45] A lot of it was just just practicing. I just kind of I made my little talking points and I just kind of got my little sales pitch and most of the time people are polite. I mean they’re not rude. They’re not trying to hurt your feelings. They’re just busy. You know so that was was helpful to kind of get my little pitch and my talking points and then just practice and repetition. And then when we finally started getting more yeses than we got no’s it just made it all worthwhile I guess so.
Tim Young: [00:17:18] So over time of course you hold your pitch. Did you did you find certain things that worked. I mean I think you became more concise and tighter in your pitch. But what were the kind of bullet points that resonated with chefs.
Callene Rapp: [00:17:32] A lot of it was the story and and finding out that this was something different. This was absolutely not the same product that they picked up in order from a large commercial rabbit farm or something like that. They were unique. They had a history and also kind of another good selling point was that they were helping us conserve these rare breeds by providing an outlet for the third plus. So I think kind of just instead of focusing on being afraid of being told No I really started focusing on the story and what made us do this. And that was when you start.
Callene Rapp: [00:18:13] I started building better connections with people well a lot of times to become that when you get it to where you need them as much as they need you. And the story continues today you go into a lot of the restaurants that we’ve been in for years. They add they’re telling our story to it. And when people sit and special rabbit dish dinner that’s 100 percent rabbit. They tell the story of me following my granddad around doing the same thing I’m doing. You know years and years later.
Tim Young: [00:18:50] Well there’s a lot of elements of your story that resonates
Tim Young: [00:19:07] And Callene I know or I believe that you’re on the board of directors of the American livestock breeds Conservancy. Now in my case I’ve raised American Chinchilla rabbits on my farm not Eric one of
Eric Rapp: [00:19:41] The first problem that was happened to the actual to true meat breed rabbits. A lot of them were selected for show stock and that mainly goes on for quality and fur quality doesn’t resonate into the meat and a lot of their meat rabbits were structurally incorrect. When you pick them up and start
Eric Rapp: [00:20:38] You know there’s a lot of dishes that involve front legs. We’ve even had a chef that had done rabbit wings and Kansas City and developed a barbecue sauce and doing the American Royal Barbecue stuff. It was a big it can’t sit area. So structurally where you have to start and correct that animal you can work on the fur on that stuff but as you go along because that’s all part of the specific breeds and especially in chinchillas where you’ve got so many layers prefer to look at colors. But if you have
Tim Young: [00:22:41] You mentioned you mentioned breeds there so in addition to the American Chinchilla what breeds are you raising and producing.
Eric Rapp: [00:22:48] We have the American blue and white which is the White version of the Americans is really pushed off the table a lot because nobody likes a plain white rabbit but production why the five we’re going to pick between those two.
Eric Rapp: [00:23:06] The White is more productive the blues are more popular and a lot of times when popularity hits a brain it’s not necessarily rabbits. We start getting away from selecting for the production qualities and more on pretty and so the whites do a lot better. There’s not that many people working with them. The silver foxes we have the black version of those we for a while we’re working with the blue version the blue version was actually shown for years but it fell off the show tables because when enough people show on him
Tim Young: [00:24:08] Do they smoke?
Eric Rapp: [00:24:13] Ha….some of them do. And what else do we
Tim Young: [00:24:18] So Eric you mentioned you kept all these records by breed. No. So in terms of running a commercial enterprise if you’re if your objective is purely to profitably produce meat rabbits do you have a preference on those breeds.
Eric Rapp: [00:24:31] Yeah. The American Chinchilla. They will. They are low maintenance. They’re a little on the you know they’re protected by their babies which is good. They’ll lay down and have you consistent letters year round any kind of weather cookie cutter babies that you know just know.
[00:24:51] Pretty much everything they have and they’re just you know I. They’re the reason why they were the rabbit to go to during the depression because they were a high end production you know low maintenance. I would love to have been able to step back in time and do some of those old rabbit trees just to look and see what was actually going on. And that’s the requisite commercial you get for American consumers and our house
Tim Young: [00:25:17] Well you get it for me too. I mean it’s there it’s the rabbit. We raised them you know. Absolutely loved it. But you know that was from a commercial point of view that’s the difference. I’m wondering do you see this as a To me this is a little bit of subjective question maybe you can make it more objective but do you see any carcass quality or taste differences between the breeds not a tremendous amount.
Callene Rapp: [00:25:40] The de Hotot rabbit. When we have kind of done a comparison side by side that meat has been a little paler and a little maybe sweeter than the other breeds but it’s a subtle subtle difference. And I’m sure you know a chef with a really sophisticated palate could tell you all sorts of different things. But it’s not been anything that’s really been super obvious that when waste than
Eric Rapp: [00:26:10] Meat out to restaurants they usually and we keep it very specific all the way that the labelling even had. What breed is it then that we’ve never had a chef say send me more silver boxes or there’s never been that type of call what you do find is that the carcasses in the American blues and the Silver Foxes they’re gonna be a little longer bodied animal and it takes them a little longer to get them to this spot. Marc weigh it to Charles they’re going to finish just like clockwork. The carcasses are. Packed very meaning the lines are excellent and you know you just taste why. We’ve never had anybody send us an email or anything saying oh I’d rather have this than one of the things with no ring box. They’re a little trickier to process. The fur seems to stick to their carcass a little more than the other breed. And we have to take extra time making sure we get that rinsed off as well as we can. So you know that’s about the only thing I can say about differences in rabbit carcasses
Tim Young: [00:28:53] Let’s segue into a production methods because this gets talked about a lot and I have a little bit of experience in this. I know you have a ton of experience with this. There are people that you know advocate raising rabbits in cages there are people that advocate raising rabbits in the equivalent of a chicken tractor. There are there are people that advocate raising rabbits. You know Warren or basically a free range system a colony system. And you know there are people that are listening to this podcast that are homesteaders that might want to do it on a small scale. And then there are other people that make a spark dude on a large scale. But when and how would you make. First of all tell us how you’re raising yours and why you’re raising them that way. And then I want to get into how can we decide which production method is right for what we may want to do our production is all up and pens.
Eric Rapp: [00:29:47] We have about 400 pens to make this machine work. I mean any system will work if you think it all the way through. And you take in preparation and the consistency of food you’re going to feed them because rabbits. And well any animal has to have a consistent diet so a lot of times it ends up we look for cheaper methods to do something but expect an over above the line in production and that normally won’t happen on a consistent basis. It might hit a sweet spot a rabbit that does well and then you do the same thing on the next batch and they’re no good. So art is one of the things we do and the cleanliness. We have them and about eight different barns so they’re not all in the same barns. That was done at a growth and I I don’t think if I would go back and do it again I would put them all in one barn. You need to have a system where you can go what you’re called your animals you’re not going to keep really to a separate location your breeding needs to be done in a separate location.
[00:31:05] The fact need to be a really away from the does so when you take those does to the bugs it’s a new experience and the bugs don’t get lazy being around that does close and stuff like that and where we breed year round and it’s a conservation operation where we keep track of the breeds and litter Integrity’s to keep litter integrity you have to keep the. If you cross Foster rabbits it’s really good to have another breed to foster those babies onto so you can keep track of those individual breeds because painting their toenails with finger Polish marking their ears and sharpie and stuff like that doesn’t last very long. So if you’re going to keep a true operation where you’re putting out breeding stock you have to kind of tweak it a little bit to make sure that you’re keeping everything true in our manure we sell we don’t use any straw hay or any type of bedding like that. We don’t have fawn weed seeds in our manure. We use it we shred up our feed sacks which are paper and that goes into the nest boxes and then that can go back in to the manure and if you don’t end up with a rabbit manure is a great fertilizer and a feature of any foreign material and it will grow roots and things that you’ve never seen. So that’s one aspect that keeps that you know. You have to have a little side business within a business to really make a niche market operation work. If you just are going to sell one thing. If that stops your dad. So we we did do a trial on finishing rabbits on pasture.
Eric Rapp: [00:33:05] That works to an extent yet they will dig out of pretty much anything that doesn’t have a wire floor and some type of flooring under it. You also have the possibility of predators digging in after him. One of the things we did see with that setup was it’s pretty high maintenance. I had a four foot wide tractor is actually a picture of it in the book. I would move the protected shed area and they would eat the grass through the wire Wire flooring that was down on the ground so the grass could grow up through where they wouldn’t dig out that those rabbits would Take that grass down. I mean they would eat deep roots I think. Let him. So that would have to be moved on a daily basis. And what we did see was that the rabbits all started at the same age same way. What we started to see was some of them were starting to tail off. One or two mad at eight would do fairly well. And then the rest I would just start tailing off and you could see him just get behind one of the downsides of that type of setup. If you’re in an area like where we went through almost four summers of drought here you run out of stuff to feed them. Then you have to start dragging the sprinkler around and watering grass. So you have to blow that blown up.
Eric Rapp: [00:34:32] You have to blow it all the way up to get you know all your end results out of it. So our operation was designed for I take care of it basically myself. So when you’re doing rounds on 400 pounds compared to an operation that you would scatter out it would take more labor more time more things to go wrong the one the other thing we did see with the rabbits that were finished on grass where it’s taken 12 to 14 weeks. What the rabbits up on the pens on pallets which is consistent diet. It was taken upwards to twenty six weeks to finish basically the same breeds that were finished in it and have that on pallet.
Tim Young: [00:35:20] You know the idea like when you when you sit around and talk about the idea at home if I’m going to have a colony for rabbits and whatever I mean it sounds good. I mean I like the visual of me having rabbits out on pasture running around hopping and being happy compared to cages. But there’s also a lot of downside with that. I mean I’ve got to believe when no one keeping up with breeding lions is next to impossible you know catching them is hard because they love to dig everywhere. I’ve got to believe diseases and viruses and ear mites and everything can can run rampant in that kind of system and I can’t harvest the manure either for my own garden or for products. So it seems to me like there’s a lot of downsides also to that that colonies equation that doesn’t get talked about right.
Callene Rapp: [00:36:05] There definitely are. I mean I think it would be difficult to do any sort of scale with the colony just for a lot of the reasons that you just outlined and cops Cydia is a big risk for rabbits that are on the ground and that’s just a little protozoa and parasite carried by birds and there’s a couple different forms but one of them affects the liver. And when you are processing for human consumption that can render your whole carcass condemned. So just from avoiding that we feel it’s best to keep them off the ground and you know they it it is kind of just that whole image of but does grasp in free roam really mean.
Callene Rapp: [00:36:54] And in this case you know with rabbits they just don’t know that it works well in all circumstances.
Eric Rapp: [00:37:02] Well you can do rabbit in a grazing situation but you really need to do a lot of prep work and getting a line of rabbits that digestive plate can take being fed alternative types of each step. I mean the paella was designed for a reason and that was for that animal. And every time they’d take a bite it’s a balanced diet. In the beginning we were not going to be a commercial bee and we were. I found a rash and in a nineteen thirty three actually with an American Chinchilla organization book and and it was whole grains hay and I went on a search for the local co-op and and had a weed in it and I figured bean in the wheat state I could get wheat without too much trouble and never. Well we’re not going to open our band for any time now they’re under 500 Bush on all I need a 50 pound. So we bought we even bought a power take off driven grinder mixer and I followed that with ground up the hay all ingredients was extra labour Well what we found when we started feeding that we had some rabbits that would pick you and eat the whole grain well anything that was the ground was getting right through to get to the whole grain wow.
Tim Young: [00:38:34] Oh. Oh that was. And then I hit them or. And then you had a whole wheat field or something.
Eric Rapp: [00:38:39] Yeah I had better crops than some of the farmers but it also was hard to clean the barn down because all that stuff drops through the flooring and into the end of the manure. And now where we go in with basically a concrete trial and this group shall come clean the aren’t out you know little or no time. There was pitchfork on wet sloppy manure and stuff you couldn’t deal with and then you take that to the garden and you know and then you’ve got a road itself traffic way for it to break down. So you know the whole thing with any livestock and kind of like what we like we took with the book was you know what’s your plan because you can you can implement any plan but you know you had to take in the surroundings and you know what’s the temperature gonna be there during the winter where I might want to put the rabbits way. We’ve known people that lost rabbits that thought they had a good place to put them and then it became summertime and whoops that didn’t work and they got hot. It was fine when it was cool and now it’s not want to talk. So you know you can build pan that a different material then you build them out of wood. Now I always tell people you know rabbits are part Beaver and you can build a nice wooden structure and within six months to a year you’re looking at outside where depend go. All right.
Tim Young: [00:40:07] You know earlier when we talked about I just want to touch back on the whole issue of restaurants for just one second because I overlooked this earlier. I know you’re located in Kansas which small farm Nation listeners. Is not flat. I just learned that today. But are you selling only to restaurants in Kansas or are you selling nationwide or washer washer territory.
Callene Rapp: [00:40:28] We have back in the early days we did sell nationwide we sold in New York California and places like that. But in the last few years the beauty and market we’re seeing in Kansas City has really blown up. Kansas City has really become a leader in the nation as far as restaurants and the creativity and the food scene. Farm to Table stuff. So we have been able to just really kind of back down from that and just focus locally.
Eric Rapp: [00:41:01] Well we’ve been and
Eric Rapp: [00:41:18] But it’s you know to be consistently in some place that’s one thing but you have to put into your marketing app as you may be someplace for a short time and then never in there again or they may tell a chef friends a chef a sous chef moves to another restaurant or open their own operation and they want to use your product because it has such a name and it’s you know it’s a staple in the meat bed. So if you build it off in restaurants and just a case in point years ago we had one guy call us and wanted three hundred fryers a week. And he had a business down in California at that time that was where we wanted to supply restaurants and and different things and you know we were done maybe 50 a month. And you know to do if you take bite on that and go oh here’s a demand for 300 fryers of week and build your operation to that number one it would be so large you would have to hire people and fill buildings and lose lose that contacts with the customer which is one thing that we never ever want to do or intend to do is to lose that personal contact with them and to become just something that came in a box that day. So I had a lot of people that looked at me when I told them that story about 300 prior to the week and they were like Oh you’re crazy you should be on that and you know take all the money you can make and I said you know and I’m a numbers person if you look at that from a number standpoint the number litters you would have to have and then you know just putting that together.
Eric Rapp: [00:43:10] I wouldn’t want to touch it with a
Tim Young: [00:43:21] Right. Right.
Eric Rapp: [00:43:22] You could set up to do you know gear yourself toward an individual customer and then you know a month two months six months a year down the road they go oh a restaurant closed and you’ve got to find a place to go with that items and rabbits are a hard box to fill because you have to first of all get the rabbits old enough to breed and then get them bred. Then get them weaned.
Eric Rapp: [00:43:54] So from day even though it’s a 30 day gestation period you do that and you don’t know how many those are going to be ready to market at a specific window of time. And if you commit yourself to that and can’t fulfill that that restaurant or customers you’re going to go oh what. The guy down the road selling them to. I’ll get him from him and then when you do have that you’ll have a hard time
Tim Young: [00:44:36] Because you know in that case where you get an opportunity for three hundred a week a lot of farmers would look at that and go wow there’s a great opportunity but it’s the proverbial all your eggs in one basket risk that you’re taking in that’s easy come can be easy go as well.
Eric Rapp: [00:44:50] Well the logistics of it you know we have our hands on it from conception to almost consumption because our hands are on it. And even at the USDA processing that we do that when we’re all done with that at the end of that cycle that rabbit been bred and been born
Eric Rapp: [00:46:03] We were so far down the line that you know it was we spent more money trying to go after it. So there’s a lot of things that you know you have to think about other than just that three hundred a week and go and start doing that. You know the dollar signs coming in and not look at the dollar signs going out and go OK this is a 24/7 commitment to get it to work right. And that’s you know shipping and everything else and hope that you get paid at the end of the tunnel.
Tim Young: [00:46:35] You know when I sold artisan cheese to restaurants I always got paid at the time of delivery. Are you able to negotiate and do that or do you always have to give them 30 or something.
Callene Rapp: [00:46:49] The way we work because we’re just we’re far enough away we wind up having to ship and we did try to pencil out doing delivery but by the time you drive there and do all that it didn’t quite work well.
Eric Rapp: [00:47:03] And then when you get into some restaurants you the restaurant may have a paying service out of state three states away from where they’re at. So you’re at the mercy of Oh I sent that in in an order a small account and doing restaurant billing and stuff and you contact them and it’s well I’ll contact them and it’s like in the meantime the co-ops
Callene Rapp: [00:47:45] What we do is ask them to leave us a credit card that we keep on file so once the product is delivered then I can go ahead and Bill that card and so that has helped really kind of shrink that lag time. There are a few we still pay by checks but those are restaurants that we’ve had relationships for years with. So you know I think it just kind of all in what you want to negotiate upfront. Some people will never like your terms and some people will be OK with it.
Tim Young: [00:48:51] So back to your production model. You know I know that you’re in cages you’ve got about 400 cages. You gave me some really good reasons for why you’re running your business the way you are. We didn’t talk about feeding a lot of people when it comes to rabbits will just feed free choice. I mean basically you go buy your feed or you fill it up. Let the rabbit you know you throw up again whenever it’s empty. Another way of feeding of course is to feed a certain amount per rabbit cage per day or whatever. How do you approach feeding and what have you learned this most effective.
Callene Rapp: [00:49:20] I’m giggling over here because that’s like his pet peeve is the people that just fill up the theaters. I’m just going to let him answer that.
Tim Young: [00:49:28] Here comes a rant.
Eric Rapp: [00:49:32] Ok. The short version of my beating for example the heritage make rabbits that we raise and we raised thousands of them with process over eighteen thousand carcasses. They will maintain daily on four ounces of beef good Palatine B. Now when you get them into a production phase they will still maintain on that four ounces of good quality pellets speed until you you get them into the weaning or they have the litter. Well what I do is they’re on four ounces of feed up and top till the time they have that litter and then I used to wait seven days before I added the next four ounces of the but what we are finding was that pretty much across the board and we want uniformity in all these breeds.
Eric Rapp: [00:50:37] I don’t want to feed one breed just because I do better on this breed because I do better on this one it’s one feed one one feeding scenario. So once they have that litter the seven days that does we’re just making too much milk which is a good sign but you have to manage that. So some of the does words were taken up with mastitis which was the babies weren’t drinking the milk fast enough. Babies were doing fine but some of them would die off because that part of the udder was picked up. So what I did I lengthen that to ten days before I wash up her another four
Eric Rapp: [00:51:39] And then as the babies start to come out of the nest box which I don’t I pull the NASA box out probably earlier than a lot of people do because for two reasons one it becomes a litter box two about twelve the seventeen days of rabbits start coming out on their own anyway. And that makes more room inside the pen for the litter and the doe. So and you can tweak that according to whether it’s winter or summer. I have three different types of nest boxes. One benefit and one isn’t dependent on the time of the year. So she’s going to have that litter on her for about five to six weeks which is the natural weaning cycle for a rabbit that milk production will start dropping at that fifth the sixth week. A lot of people have a tendency to lay their rabbits on there longer and think that they’re doing that the baby’s good. But by that time they should be eating solid food and drinking. So that’s when you want to take that we know babies at five to six week window lit sex those rabbits and then they can go on full speed then. But you basically want to eat what they’re going to clean up in 24 hours because B is gonna get stale. The flies are gonna find it. And so you want them to be almost out of feed when you get there at the same time you’re doing chores so that DOE as had her litter. She will go back to the ounces and where we breed year round.
Eric Rapp: [00:53:22] Start breeding her again and she’s in good shape to a breed of non I really don’t get too excited during her lactation period and once they become breeding animals they’ll get a teaspoon of calf man daily. That’s the box that does anything it’s in production. I look at that as kind of a neonatal vitamin because we’re even though we’re giving them a good balanced diet we’re expecting a lot out of them to have a letter. Wayne Wayne the letter go back into breeding. We keep weights on those at
Eric Rapp: [00:54:00] Breeding time and weaning time. So you want to keep him in that kind of a athlete range you don’t want him to get too fat. You don’t want to get too skinny. And the only thing that’s really bad.
Tim Young: [00:55:18] So you know it’s. And believe me Eric it rings true. I’m the idiot you’re talking about who gave his rabbit way too much feed. And I said why did why can anybody else breed rabbits. But I can’t. And I had to learn that the hard way.
Eric Rapp: [00:55:35] Well and their books end up doing the same thing if you continuously just dump feed in front of them. They get just that’s all I know is that in an eating and eating and I like for an and I have thirty five bucks working in the breeding barn. And I keep track of their weights and stuff and I wanted them to be pretty close to breed standard. And if you just keep being proud of them they’re just going to overeat. You know I’d be like a person one day go on and read and go and I’m just gonna sit in a corner this afternoon and you know you could put three dogs in there and I’m not going to be an arrest.
Callene Rapp: [00:56:13] And I mean it’s a common mistake because most other species you know cattle sheep goats don’t have hay in front of them all the time. And so you know we kind of just have to get away a little bit from that mindset that that animal needs food in front of it all the time and because rabbits are just a little bit different so touching on what you just talked about in the process.
Tim Young: [00:56:41] It sounds like you’re weaning. Let’s say it about six weeks. So in six weeks you’re sexing the rabbits and you’re putting males in one cage and females in another. It sounds like and then I think I heard you say you’re giving them no free choice. Basically filling up your feet or giving them as much as they want. How many on average. How many are going into each
Eric Rapp: [00:57:03] The best size of working pen is to not get over about three feet wide. And I built all of our pens and I do two foot wide two foot high and around three feet wide and it’ll be three bucks bucks. You don’t want that much area. They’ll go in a pen I’d take about six inches off the web. Did you want to be able to put the doe in there and let them take care of business not run around half the afternoon so. And the ease of catching them. That worked for a while. A lot of the pens you by now are. It’s hard to find a 24 inch high pen and I like from the billable to stand up I’ve even got a I take scrap flooring wire and make a square and raise it about a foot off a foot and a half off the law of the pen and I call it the mommy saber and that’s actually it’s suspended from the sides and the top so she can jump up there. So when you call that that’s a box out a lot of times the doe will jump on top the nest box when there’s no nurse a couple of times a day. That’s kind of a misconception with rabbits is when did they notice how many times do they nurse and you know their milk is so red. It’s only a couple of times and a few have the time to stand around and wait to see it happen it’s few and far between. But the you know a lot of the pens now are out there like 16 inches high which is you know a small breed that’s fine. But most of our pens we don’t go over three foot wide and two foot high. They finish rabbits during the above freezing time we’ll be on a grab bag full of water system which cuts my chores down but I like to use on all the breeding stock a water. So I can make sure that they’re drinking the visual that they’re drinking the amount of water because they don’t eat they don’t you know they don’t drink they don’t eat it’s kind of a double edged sword there.
Eric Rapp: [00:59:15] But you have to make sure that with the gravity flow water system that you don’t become complacent with it and get the idea. Well I put water in the tank. Everybody’s getting water because that all if you don’t check those daily you’ll end up with it being plugged in. If you join the same time and is run by and check in and the first thing to tell the morning you go in and they’re still feeding that beta then they’re not getting water nine times out of ten you push that rabbit nipple and it won’t be working. So if you’re filling it you’re just going to keep on beta for you can just get into a mindset of well they’re not they’re getting water because they’re on a gravity flow system.
Tim Young: [01:00:01] Can we touch on processing for just one second. Are you doing your processing on
Callene Rapp: [01:00:09] We are not doing it on
Tim Young: [01:00:23] I haven’t researched this in a few years but back when I was doing this farm was able to process on
Callene Rapp: [01:00:37] it depends largely on what state you’re in. I know states like North Carolina you can do like twenty five hundred you know home processed farm gate sales type of year and in Kansas I think it’s around 250. But each state varies tremendously. And so it just kind of depends on where you’re at. And then you know farmers markets regulations vary from state to state. So it just kind of depends.
Eric Rapp: [01:01:08] Well finding a USDA processor for
Eric Rapp: [01:01:37] But it it it was a hard deal to find somebody to do that part of the marketing and the USDA side of it. Then we continuously kept having as we did more the processor kept raising the cost and processing on us to the point of where it was become an end of the category. It’s almost not doable anymore because I can I can find a lot of other things to do for no profit a lot less work.
Eric Rapp: [01:02:15] And then we we left that one just out of we could basically afford to do that and we had to find another one and so they were done only doing poultry at the time. And we’ve been with them two years and there was some logistic stuff with that where we actually they’d never done it before and with us John and them done their federal paperwork in on their end and we’ve been there for two years and was able to get the costs down and then we had a price increase there which narrowly was what it was at the other plants. So there’s only two places in the state of Kansas that’s doing it now.
Eric Rapp: [01:02:54] And where we actually have our hands in on the processing now calling and I
[01:03:35] So you’re obviously advocates of raising meat rabbits I mean you do this as a commercial enterprise and you’ve written a book about raising meat rabbits. But why do you think more farms aren’t focusing on this as a core enterprise.
Callene Rapp: [01:03:51] Well I think commercially you know it’s kind of difficulties because of some of those challenges like dam processing and things like that rabbits are labor intensive.
Eric Rapp: [01:04:04] You know if you’re going to expect to make any money out of it and everyone has a definition of whether they’re satisfied with a dollar or for animal whether it’s chickens or whatever you have to decide what’s going to what you’re going to be satisfied making with it.
Eric Rapp: [01:04:22] And rabbits are if if you do them correctly and want to make some money and I mean you’re not going to go out and and a lot of people go to a restaurant say the price of a rabbit fish in there and think oh you guys you know making it making a rich item out of this. That’s leaked from it. But
Eric Rapp: [01:04:44] It’s it’s a very labor intensive commitment if you’re going to make sure that your animals are treated right. And they’ll tell you whether they’re there live and live right by the production they put out or if you’re getting mediocre production you’re put in mediocre time with them and rabbits are a 24/7. I tell people it’s like Darian without ever pulling an outer. Once you put an animal in a pan or anything they become 100 percent dependent on you for food water shelter.
Eric Rapp: [01:05:21] The list goes on. And if you go off and dart out guns blazing and then it becomes oh who’s gonna do chalkboard.
Eric Rapp: [01:05:30] We want it. We want to go on vacation. It’s hard to find anybody to come in and do arm chores for you. We don’t have children. So it tells you how many vacations we’ve been on. But the commitment is with rabbits isn’t like buying a bunch of chicken or chicks through the mail and no one. OK I’m going to get one hundred of them
Tim Young: [01:06:44] There’s also of course the issue with rabbits even you even if your reason for the right reasons like what you’re doing you have a heritage breed that you want to preserve. Ironically one of the cases that I used to make years ago was if there are people who don’t get this argument but I fully believe it. The way to preserve these heritage breed just to eat them because you have to create a market for them. So but that also creates part of the problem for people starting a rabbit enterprise because consumers just aren’t familiar with rabbits and they don’t know what to do with them.
Callene Rapp: [01:07:15] Yeah it’s gotten better in recent years but it’s still kind of a unique and novel thing for a lot of consumers.
Eric Rapp: [01:07:23] Well and with which then a lot of free samples out around the country and
Eric Rapp: [01:07:37] You almost have to show them how to cook it and do things with it before you ever sell it to them because once they get it they run it. It’s a hard sell to get them back on it and talk them back into it. So you know there’s a lot of and these heritage breeds and stuff have to have a job.
Eric Rapp: [01:07:54] That’s one thing with the goats we’re working with now. There really is no history with them on what they were for or whether they were a meltdown or
Tim Young: [01:08:30] Well let’s. In closing let’s touch for a second on the book that you just released a couple of months ago Raising Rabbits for
Callene Rapp: [01:08:46] Well we’ve been told you know over the years that we should write a book and we just like you know one of these days when these days. Well and then we and well actually it came from the livestock Conservancy our friends there and New Society Publishers was looking for a good rabbit book. And so livestock Conservancy recommended us. And I think it’s kind of one of those cases if I knew then what I know now I probably would have you know run screaming the other way because I’d never written a book before so that was a whole different learning curve but that’s kind of how it came about was we just kind of wanted to translate some of what Eric’s been doing over the years into it you know format for people just getting interested in it to understand and hopefully it’s helpful. And you know I would say our target audience is just anybody.
Callene Rapp: [01:09:42] And you know it’s it’s raising rabbits for meat but doesn’t have to be I mean you can raise rabbits for no other reason we’ve had to
Eric Rapp: [01:10:22] But they give you just enough information to not fill all those questions. But we wanted to kind of give
Tim Young: [01:11:30] Yeah you’re absolutely right. You don’t know what you’re going to get on the Internet and Callene I’m convinced that people who say to someone that you know
Callene Rapp: [01:11:43] It really is. The analogy is it’s like having a baby and I
Eric Rapp: [01:11:57] We actually met on a very large corporate hog operation back–too long we won’t tell you how long we’ve we’ve worked together for a year and the first question we get is how can you work together the couple on and now it’s like how did yo
Eric Rapp: [01:12:45] But you know like 95 percent of the information I need from some people that have been there done that not once but eighteen thousand rabbits have been processed not account or a closed herd. We don’t bring anything in from the outside so on top of that eighteen thousand you know the average about four to five hundred letters a year. And the animals that are kept back here and put in you know it it’s staggering when you start putting numbers together.
Tim Young: [01:13:17] Sure it does. All right. I’ll link to the book in the show notes so it’s
Callene Rapp: [01:13:30] Thank you for having us. Thanks.
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