I doubt I could ever raise rabbits due to allergies (I am allergic to rabbit fur), but chickens have always interested me.
We chose Florida Whites because they’re about 2/3 the size of California Whites or New Zealands but weigh 85% as much, which gives more meat per pound of live body mass. Since they’re smaller, they reach mature weight faster (meaning it takes less feed to grow them to butchering size: better feed-to-food ratio). They also need smaller hutches, so they do not require as much space to grow.
Rabbits thrive in indoor places, like a garage: your concrete jungle is not a war-stopper. Put a sheet of heavy (at least 6 mil) Visqueen® or similar material down inside a 2x4 frame and up the back wall to a few inches above the bottom of the highest cage floor to catch the waste. If you stack the hutches (to conserve floor space), use corrugated fiberglass* sheets to deflect the upper waste from the bottom cages back toward the Visqueen®.
* Use fiberglass (or some sort of plastic) because metal will corrode and fail eventually.
Their waste (true for all rabbits) is the best natural fertilizer available. You can use it straight from the poo bin because it isn’t at all “hot”. However, you can improve it by putting red wriggler earthworms in the waste beds. They love the stuff (especially if you add coffee grounds from the local Starbucks®). Earthworms are Nature’s gardeners, and you will have an unlimited supply of healthy ones using this method.
We will also have Black Soldier Fly larvae that turbocharge the composting system. They eat anything that’s organic and dead. A twelve inch trout is gone (except the bones) in 24 hours, a medium baking potato doesn’t last that long. They eat citrus (which earthworms can’t touch). Their waste is primo food for the earthworms, who need their food ground up small, and they prefer it barely moist, just what the larvae excrete. They also reduce the compost volume to 10% of its original size. I shouldn’t forget to add that they feed the fish, as do the worms, but they do so automatically: they’re “self-harvesting”. They are 43% protein and 26% fat. I can’t buy fish feed with anywhere close to this high a protein content. And they’re free!
The tilapia grow the fastest of any common edible-fish species. They’re not terribly picky about water quality, but must have water above 50°F to survive, and over 75° to thrive. They must have a somewhat secluded place to spawn, with water at 80° or slightly higher. Tilapia are mouth brooders, so the females do not eat until their babies are hatched and a couple of weeks old, so we keep them in a separate tank for that. They produce up to 3,000 eggs at a time. While the males are twice the size as their mates, they are both good for eating. However, it takes as much food to feed a girl as for a boy, so, as soon as we can identify who's who, we’ll take the females and feed them to the worms for the most part.
When things are in full production, we should get enough fish to eat ten or twelve meals a week out of the tank.
Our greenhouse (not yet complete) will include the rabbits and worms (along with Black Soldier Fly larvae) for composting the waste above three feet of water where the tilapia grow. Above the rabbits we’ll have three levels of grow beds for “hydroponic” vegetables (and some fruits, like strawberries). Naturally occurring bacteria convert the fish waste into nitrites and then into nitrates that the plants love and simultaneously clean the water for the fish. (The grow beds are the fish tank filters.)
The larvae and the worms, while they’re eating all the garbage, produce tremendous amounts of heat, so we will not have to supplement it much, even in cold Colorado winters, but we will have to get rid of it in the summer to keep things from cooking. We like oven-baked fish, but don’t like them boiled in their own tanks.
We’re installing solar panels to run the lights, pumps, heaters, and fans, so the power will cost us nothing. (I’m making the solar panels now, and it’s nearly as much fun as watching the plants and fish grow.)
In essence, our ecoponics system has the following inputs:
- rabbit feed
- limited commercial fish feed
- coffee grounds
- kitchen and garden (including lawn clippings) waste
- rabbit (it tastes like chicken, really , and you can use any chicken recipe with almost no alterations)
- tons of vegetables
- quite a bit of small fruit
- stevia (artificial sweetener)
This system will provide about 80% of our non-grain, non-dairy food each year from a10x12 foot greenhouse. And it’s a lot of fun to manage.
We have a smaller, experimental aquaponics system that’s been working fairly well for nearly a year. We’ve harvested fish and tomatoes, sweet peppers, a few carrots, and one beet; basil is coming out of our ears, and the stevia has kept our herbal teas, hot chocolate, and Pero® sweet with no calories at all, and no chlorinated hydrocarbons (like Splenda®). Our second-to-youngest grandson, after tasting a bit of a stevia leaf, demanded his mother give him a bay leaf one day in her kitchen. He was not amused.
Because they’re mouth brooders, tilapia make an excellent Science Fair® project, as does the aquaponics system: first place ribbon guaranteed in either case. We have a small demo system I’ve shown in preparedness fairs: it was the biggest attraction there.
When we were setting up the experiment, we had missionaries living in our basement apartment. One of them said, while we were adjusting and balancing the system, and while he was in the Temple, that he wondered if Father had to balance His system here on earth to get everything up and running like our aquaponics system. (It’s the addition of the rabbits, worms, and larva that moves it from “aquaponics” [already a combination of aquaculture and hydroponics] to “ecoponics”.)
The investment is sizable. We expect to have spent well over $6,000 (and uncounted hours) by the time it’s finished. But we will eat when Safeway® can’t fill its shelves, and when Kroger® employees are on strike. Our food is all natural, and except for rabbit feed, it’s all money-free from that point on.
If you have any other questions, I'll be happy to answer them.
Edited by LeSellers, 23 January 2012 - 01:31 PM.