Raising rabbits in Hawaii can be a relatively easy and fun hobby. I have a few friends that raise rabbits and it seems like a great way to provide a healthy source of protein as well as rich manure for the garden.
But before going out to get rabbits of your own, Hawaii does have a few special rules that you should consider first.
To raise rabbits in Hawaii, you legally obligated to keep them in cages that are kept off the ground because of their high invasive potential.
Luckily, the basics of raising rabbits in Hawaii are similar to raising rabbits or any other small farm animal anywhere in the world, with a few modifications for tropical living. To raise rabbits successfully, you will need to provide them with the basics of: adequate shelter, nutritious food and plenty of fresh, clean water.
Why Raise Rabbits In Hawaii?
Rabbit meat is the perfect food for off grid homesteaders in Hawaii. Rabbits take up little space to raise them in, a valued commodity in a small island chain. They are able to convert local grasses and grains into a nutrient-dense protein source at a rate far more sustainable than any other livestock.
Rabbits generate the perfect plant fertilizer in the form of their manure. Fresh rabbit manure will not burn your vegetables like other manures have a tendency to do. In a place where constant fertility is a must, having a rich source of manure coming from rabbits is a great addition to any homestead.
Are rabbits legal in Hawaii?
Rabbits are not native to Hawaii and are, in fact, an invasive species. Rabbits can be very destructive to native plants, cause a lot of damage to farms and landscapes and may pass disease to other rabbits and wildlife.
This unfortunate truth means it is illegal to keep rabbits on the ground in Hawaii and must be kept in floored cages, at least 18” off the ground.* The upside to having the cages raised off the ground is that it makes collecting fertilizer so much easier!
**Hawaii State Statute §142-95 ::: Rabbits, Belgian hares, to be kept off ground; penalty. Any person who breeds, raises or keeps rabbits or Belgian hares shall keep them off the ground.
What about disease?
Rabbits get and carry diseases. One current concern is rabbit hemorrhagic disease virus, type 2 (RHDV2) that has recently been found in Hawaii Nei. This disease is fatal to rabbits, however, RHDV2 cannot be transmitted from animals to humans and does not impact human health.
A vaccination is available to protect your rabbits from this disease. Find a veterinarian who has rabbit experience, they will be able to provide vaccines for all of your rabbits, or in the least, the breeding stock.
Best Rabbit Breeds To Raise In Hawaii
Choosing quality breeding stock is very important for the best health and production ability of homestead-raised rabbits. Make sure you know the source of your foundation stock and that you are confident with the history of the rabbits you are choosing.
You do not want a lot of inbreeding, which leads to future problems in health and productivity, so be sure you select rabbits that are from healthy, productive, genetically diverse lines.
Common and popular meat breeds found in Hawaii are New Zealand, Rex and Flemish Giant. However, it is wise to consider the list of heat tolerant rabbit breeds as well, to find the right rabbits for your homestead.
The 8 Heat-Tolerant Rabbit Breeds:
- Belgian Hare
- Checkered Giant
- English Lop
- Flemish Giant
- French Lop
Heat-resistant traits to look for in rabbits:
- Larger, longer bodies
- prominent ears
- Full- or semi-arched bodies
- Thin and light coats
What To Feed A Rabbit In Hawaii
Feeding rabbits a variety of cut and carry forage can mean little or no commercial feed bill in Hawaii. Knowing the nutritional values of the available forage growing on your individual homestead and having enough of it to feed your rabbits can help you reduce feed costs, while supporting an environmentally friendly rabbitry.
One way to tell if your rabbit is getting enough to eat is ask the question: Are they still eating? If so, then they need more food. Have they stopped eating? Then there was too much food.
Ideally, if food is left with the rabbit overnight, there should be very little left in the cage by morning. You can find more ideas for low cost rabbit food in Hawaii in the list below.
Easy To Find Food Sources For Rabbits In Hawaii:
Legume or Bean family: The leaves and pods of these plants are some of the best feeds for rabbits because they are high in protein. Examples are leaves of pigeon pea, peanut, beans, peas, Leucaena, kudzu, Centrosema, lablab bean, Gliricidia, Calliandra, and Albizia.
Grass family: Rabbits eat all kinds of grasses such as guinea grass, elephant or napier grass, signal grass, maize and millet leaves.
Trees: There are many non-leguminous tree leaves rabbits will eat such as banana, mango and moringa.
Fruit: Rabbits thrive on fruit. They especially love overripe bananas (with the peel), mangoes, papaya, avocados, pineapple and guava.
Weeds: Lots of weeds and invasive species plants are good feed for rabbits. Hono-hono grass, sugar cane, perennial peanut, bamboo, ti leaf, banana leaf, mexican sunflower (Tithonia diversifolia) and albizia are all great food for rabbits
Kitchen scraps: You can feed your rabbits kitchen and table scraps such as potato peels, carrots, papaya rinds, lilikoi rinds, pineapple peels, avocado skins and leafy greens.
Market waste: Rabbits love the tips and ends of lettuce, cabbage, carrots, apples, and other fruits and vegetables.
Garden waste: Rabbits can be fed garden waste. Leaves, husks, hulls, and unusable fruits and vegetables are all food sources.
Legally Approved Shelter For Rabbits In Hawaii
Because the State of Hawaii does not allow rabbits to be kept on the ground, any rabbit kept in the state must be in a cage kept at least 18” off the ground.
Rabbits can be kept outside, but they need shelter from the wind, rain and the intense Hawaiian sun. An enclosed wooden box, inside a wire cage on an 18” or taller frame of some sort, is a common rabbit cage design in Hawaii.
It offers protection, ventilation and adheres to the legal requirements. The size of the cage will depend on the rabbit variety and size. A 30” x 30” cage at minimum, but a 30” x 36” cage or larger would be better for a mom and kits.
Ensure rabbits have access to plenty of water. Rabbits can get a great deal of water from fresh forage, especially in wet areas with high rainfall, but always have fresh, clean water available for your rabbits to keep them hydrated and in their best health.
How Much Rabbit Meat Can You Expect
A female rabbit (also called a doe) that is well fed with commercial feed and well cared for can deliver up to 12 kits per litter and have as many as 6 litters a year.
If you raise your rabbit only on nutritious forage plants from your homestead, you can expect a rabbit to wean 6 kits each litter and up to 4 litters in a year. So with very little expense, a rabbit can produce up to 24 rabbits a year.
If you keep two females, they will produce 48 rabbits a year. You could have almost one rabbit dinner for every week of the year, with very little cost to you.
An interesting comparison is that a three-month-old rabbit provides more meat than two homestead chickens at five months. Rabbit meat offers the highest protein and quickest meat source to raise for your family.
How Much Rabbit Manure Can You Expect From One Rabbit
|Manure Per Day||Manure Per Month (30)||Manure Per Year|
Large breed rabbits, like the ones mentioned to be best for Hawaii, can produce as much as 3lbs of manure per rabbit, per day. That is a lot of poop!
Which is great, because rabbit manure is an excellent fertilizer for potted plants, for adding fertility to the soil in garden beds and landscaping, and for making manure tea for fruit and vegetables.
Fertilizer is an expensive input that is a much needed and valuable resource in Hawaii’s rain leached and depleted soils. Rabbit manure is an excellent way to help restore fertility.
Best Practices When Dealing With Rabbits As Livestock
*USDA recommended biosecurity practices:
- Do not allow other rabbits to contact your rabbits or gain entry to the farm or home.
- Do not allow visitors in rabbitries or let them handle pet rabbits without protective clothing (including coveralls, shoe covers, hair covering, and gloves).
- Always wash hands with warm soapy water before entering your rabbit area, after removing protective clothing and before leaving the rabbit area.
- Do not introduce new rabbits from unknown or untrusted sources.
- Do not add rabbits to your rabbitry from animal shelters or other types of rescue operations.
- If you bring outside rabbits into your facility or home, keep them separated from your existing rabbits for at least 30 days. Use separate equipment for newly acquired or sick rabbits to avoid spreading disease.
- Sanitize all equipment and cages moved on or off premises before they are returned to the rabbitry. We recommend disinfecting with 10% bleach or 10% sodium hydroxide mixed with water.
- Establish a working relationship with a veterinarian to review biosecurity practices for identification and closure of possible gaps.