Rabbit farming

During this time we bought a ticket for a raffle which, as usual in these times of great shortage, had a live rabbit as a prize. We had the good luck or bad luck to win him; I’ve never quite made up my mind which it was. He was a sandy grey colour and on good authority we were told that he was of a breed called Flemish Giants. Joe made a cage for him and he was duly installed in the garden and was a great novelty for a week or two.

Never in all my life have I met any animal who in comparison to his size could eat so much; he was always hungry, and although I went out to him several times a day with baked crusts, dandelions, hay or any other titbit that I could lay my hands on, about five minutes later he would be sitting against the wire netting of his cage with a baleful look in his eyes which seemed to accuse me of starving him and when he got really ravenous he would stamp his back legs on the wooden floor of the hutch with great venom and I would feel quite guilty.

At last I felt that it was altogether too much of a good thing that our meagre rations should have to go to feed this ever hungry rabbit and felt that things should be the other way about and that he should be a supplement to my rations.

Joe was to be butcher; he had to think out the best way to tackle the job. We waited till one fine evening and went out together, although I must admit that I felt more than a little queasy, for it was my first killing. Even the poor rabbit knew that his hour had come for he was leaping about the cage which was a thing he did not normally do.

I had to hold open the hutch door and when Joe the butcher had a firm hold of the rabbit’s ears, leave things to him and scram. The method was simple and worked perfectly; Joe held the front half of the rabbit over the edge of the cage and the rabbit held onto the sill furiously with his hind legs while Joe brought down a heavy club on the back of its neck and the job was done.

All the good food he had eaten had not produced one scrap of fat on the carcass and he proved to be the original skinny rabbit. He made one dinner, but for what he cost in food and care I always felt that I had had the worst of the bargain. When he had been eaten I declared that I would never keep another rabbit. The cage was cleaned and put away I the shed and forgotten, until the day came when we started to keep rabbits in earnest, but that’s another story.

It was John who started the ball rolling again for he had an Old English doe given to him for his eighth birthday. He was thrilled with his present and all the other children liked her too; she was a pretty rabbit with a wonderful white coat with black markings and this rabbit, unlike the one we had kept earlier, thrived on the attention of our own and other people’s children, continually feeding and grooming her and looking after her cage. In fact, competition to clean the cage was so fierce that I was continually at the butchers, not to buy meat, but to beg yet another bag of sawdust from him. It began to embarrass me to go so often and I had to look round for someone to supply me on a more liberal scale. At first I could not think where one bought sawdust but after thinking over the problem a bit of my mind got round to wood yards and carpenters and after that we soon found a man who ran a saw and made him a weekly visit to obtain supplies and a large sackful was wheeled home on my uncomplaining pram.

We were always reading in papers and magazines that children should be taught the facts of life almost as soon as they could walk. Joe and I were very tardy in this respect and had never bothered much about such things, but when “Old Frank” offered to mate the doe with his buck it seemed a good idea. The children were thrilled when he explained that if they brought their rabbit along to see his father rabbit, she might produce some baby rabbits. It was all duly arranged and Frank, who was a real old country man, entered into the spirit of the thing and provided us with a big hutch for breeding and lots of advice both good and bad. He gave us tips on ante natal care and more tips about the confinement itself.

We all watched and waited and sure enough, just as he had predicted, the doe pulled her fur and in the nest of straw the children had provided she made a beautiful nest and the babies were duly born.

The children were breathless with wonder at this miracle of nature and followed the growth of those babies and paid loving attention to their mother.

We had taught the boys to clean the cage and how to dispose of the soiled litter, now we had to make provision for a larger compost heap and before we knew where we were, the babies were big enough to need their own quarters. Patient Joe made four hutches in a stack and the boys were given two each.

Of course the children were quite young and not really able to care for more than one rabbit and it fell to the lot of Joe and myself to look after them all except the original doe.

It was when we had just got all of these rabbits settled and growing nicely that we were invited to a Fur and Feather show. When we saw the rabbits on display there it made us feel that it might bring in a little extra income if we were to increase and multiply. The type we admired most were the “Blue Bevans”, with their silky blue grey fur which, we were assured by their ardent owners, was easy to cure at home and make up into slippers and other useful articles. To prove their point more eloquently, they advised us to go into the next room where articles made from the skins were on show.

The rabbit fanciers and their dextrous wives had certainly put on a wonderful exhibition, and we were enthralled by the luxury type goods on show. There were slippers made of rich dark fur and lined with pure white fur, children’s fur mitts, ear muffs and fur rugs and foot warmers for use in a car, and even one, very ambitious, fur waistcoat.

We talked to the rabbit owners and they were all agreed that there was nothing but pleasure and profit to be made from the keeping of rabbits and it was certainly hard not to be convinced, for there were the skins to make into very nice presents and clothing and then there was the carcass to eat, so where could one lose out?

We talked of nothing but flesh and fur for the next few days, but I am afraid that we had been won over at the first sight of the Blue Bevans. We decided that while we were up the garden attending to those we already kept, it would not be much extra work to keep a few more and what with the money from the eggs which was now coming in regularly, it seemed that a rosy future was assured for all.

It did not work out as well as we had hoped for although the rapid multiplication seems a very attractive feature when dreaming dreams of a rosy future, we soon found that one requires hutches and yet more hutches and food and yet more food, sawdust and yet more sawdust if one is to keep all their young to an age when they could be sold for eating purposes and then we found that it required a great deal of time to prepare a skin for wearing purposes.

Joe was forever cycling off for supplies and the worst feature of the business was that these supplies cost a good deal of money and, as people were reluctant to pay more than about four shillings for a full grown rabbit there seemed to be very little return and it did not take us long to realise that we were not only not going to make a fortune from the rabbits and furs but that if we didn’t take action quickly we would only be able to afford food for the rabbits and not for ourselves. We made a decision to eat them ourselves one by one and to give up the idea, forget our losses and chalk it all up to experience.