Raising Rabbits on the Urban Homestead:
How My Eleven-Year-Old Taught Me How to be an Entrepreneur
By Anne-Marie Miller
Come with me back about 4 years ago. I was perusing the feed store shelves with my kids when we came upon some adorable baby rabbits. After my daughter finished giving each individual rabbit a little love, I commented causally to my 11 year-old son, “I wonder if you could raise rabbits to sell here at the feed store?” Then I came to my senses, remembering my motto: “The only reason there will ever be a rodent in my home is to feed a snake.” We don’t have a snake, nor do we hope to, but whenever my kids beg for a hamster this is what I say. It usually ends the discussion right away as they think that through.
I left the store with my purchased goods, humming to myself, never realizing that my son had taken this money-making venture into his brain and was silently crunching numbers. Maybe you, too, know someone that latches on to something and DOESN’T LET IT GO! That would be my third child.
Of course, he took every opportunity to remind everyone that it had been my idea all along. That night in the presence of my hubby he blurts out excitedly, “Mom had the best idea today!” Little did my son know, that claiming the idea came from mom is not always an advantage. After listening to the plan of breeding rabbits and selling them at the feed store, my husband turned to me and gave me that look. You know, the quizzical/teasing look with one eye brow raised that your spouse sometimes gives you that communicates way more than words ever could. It appears he, too, had heard the snake threat more than once. Grinning, he said to me, “You know rabbits are rodents, don’t you?” I smiled weakly in response, shuffled my feet, cleared my throat, you know—typical avoidance maneuvers. I thought maybe, just maybe my son would forget all about this risky rodent venture. He did not.
With the looming prospect of having many rodents running around my home, I dug deep into my clever mom tactics and told my son, “All right, you can go ahead with this venture as soon as you have built a hutch for these rabbits your wanting to get.” Remembering that the wheels had fallen off my son’s derby car halfway down the ramp, I thought that would probably be the end of this crazy idea. It was not. He went right outside and started sawing and nailing. I knew he needed a plan complete with measurements, but maybe you have met someone that needs to experience things on their own? This would be my third son. Eventually, he had a pow wow with his dad and uncles and came up with a plan, which he built almost all by himself. Even I had to admit this was impressive. He was already learning a lot and he didn’t even have the rabbits yet.
Fast forward a few years. My son is fifteen now and has been raising Holland Lop rabbits since he was eleven. He has learned a lot from his business—we all have. I would encourage parents to let their sons or daughters take the homestead journey of raising rabbits. It will be an adventure you will never regret and might just teach you a thing or two.
Here are some lessons, learned from our experience, to help your child get the most out of the opportunity.
Treat your adventure like a business right from the beginning.
Get your child a ledger or better yet an accounting computer program. This your chance to teach them about profit and loss. Some of us wish we could have learned this at eleven years, am I right? If possible, have them start the business (buy their breeding rabbits) with their own money.
If your child doesn’t have the money to start out this new business, then you have him just where you want him. Have them do some research about the care of rabbits and write it up into a report. Take your child to speak with pet store owners, look at ads, basically establish a market and a price. Ask him or her to research and document how much money he or she will need to get off to a good start. Help him figure out how much supplies will cost. In other words, how much profit each sale will be projected to make. Now you are ready to have him dress up, in a suit if possible, and approach a trusted friend to ask for a loan. Explain to your friend ahead of time that their role is “the banker.” Pick someone that can play the part well. Prepare your child to present the idea of their business and convince “the banker” that they are worth the risk of a loan. We picked a tax accountant, who later said that meeting with my son was both one of the most amusing and fulfilling hours of her life. It takes a village to raise a child.
A pedigree, which is a rabbit’s family tree, assures that you are getting a full bred rabbit. It also is important selling point for people who are interested in breeding or showing their new rabbit. In other words, it increases the price and market you can sell your rabbits for. Of course, it goes without saying to make sure all rabbits you buy look clear-eyed and healthy. Make sure you buy from someone that is willing to accept calls to answer your child’s future rabbit questions.
Start out with one buck and at least two does
While I was thinking small, meaning one buck and one doe, my son is kind of a go BIG or go home type of guy! He started out with one buck and four does. Turned out to be a good thing, because we learned the idea is to breed them all at the same time so that if one is not a good mom the other girls can help by each taking one of the babies in with her bunch.
Purchase or build the right cages
The most important thing to look for in a rabbit cage is a screen bottom that allows the waste to fall away from the rabbit. My son started out with some cages that had a slide-out tray on the bottom for waste. Let me tell you that rabbits poop a LOT, which is golden garden payment for mom’s support, but the waste builds up in that tray REALLY fast. Build a hutch that is at least one foot off the ground; that way your child can easily rake out the waste every few weeks. Trust me, a clean rabbit is a healthy rabbit. If you must bring your rabbit inside, perhaps to witness the miracle of birth, place bricks under the cage lifting it above the tray so that the rabbit will be up out of the waste. Write a contract stating how often the new business owner will be expected to clean that cage when it is indoors, complete with clear consequences that will be put into place if they don’t fulfill their part of the agreement. Have your child sign this contract and post it somewhere visible. Unfulfilled expectations will bite you every time. When the fun wears off (and trust me—it will), and your sweet darling stops taking care of her charges don’t say a thing to her. After all, who wants something else to nag their kid about? Just quietly record your time caring for those sweet rabbits and then bill the owner of the company. That will take care of the problem.
Let the owner of the company oversee advertising
Surprisingly, we didn’t end up selling rabbits at the feed store or the pet store. All our sales have been through Craigslist, Facebook groups and word of mouth. Although it was important for all the calls to go through my phone, I let my son write all the ads and take the pictures. He started out with ads with few words and no picture, but quickly progressed into colorful descriptions and adorable pictures. The response (or lack thereof) to your child’s ad will give plenty of incentive for improvement. We have had only positive experiences selling rabbits and have met the nicest people. This is the part that I help with the most. People like to chat. My son is not exceedingly chatty. I enjoy it, so it works for us.
Lots of praise
Your child is going to be tending to these rabbits every day, rain, shine, sleet or snow. Never miss a chance to tell him or her how proud you are. Bragg about him to whoever will listen, in front of the hard worker if possible. I am so proud of my rabbit shepherd. He is one of the most determined, hardworking, clever, responsible entrepreneurs that I have ever met! You are probably wondering, did he turn a profit? Indeed, he did! His wee business allowed him to be able to go to Summer Scout camp every year, plus buy a banjo. A banjo! Who buys a banjo with their profits? My kid, that’s who. Love that kid!
How did all this teach me how to be an entrepreneur? I have a business raising rabbits on my own now. I raise Champagne D Argent rabbits, which are prized for their great bone-to-meat ratio and beautiful silver coat. I mostly sell to people wanting to start breeding for meat production on their homesteads. Rabbits for meat production is a whole different article, but I never would have started had my son not taken the lead with his business. Although I don’t overcome hurdles so easily for myself, I will walk the extra mile for my son. Turns out walking that extra mile taught me how to have a profitable business for myself. Amazing how much we can learn from our determined, fearless children!
Anne-Marie or Dash (for the hyphen in her name) is an urban farmer in Dallas, Texas. She raises chickens and rabbits on less than ¼ of an acre. Plus, she has turned her front yard into a large stand-out-in-the neighborhood vegetable garden. In addition to the farming she does on her homestead, she helped create a community garden literally from grassy field to thriving garden. What stands out about her little urban homestead is her determined out of the box approach to overcoming obstacles. You can follow her adventures on her little urban homestead by visiting her blog, BloomWhereYourPlanted.com.