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4-H Rabbits Gave Birth To Family Business
Breeding rabbits for a 4-H project turned into a family business for Aaron and Betty Rousenberg. When daughter Brittany wanted to show rabbits, they set up 6 cages. Since then, they have added 100 cages and produced thousands of rabbits.
  “We have 4 production cycles a year, breeding 30 does with about 10 bucks, producing litters ranging from 6 to 14,” says Aaron. “We raise for meat and sell breeding stock.”
  In the 7 years since starting, the Rousenbergs admit they have learned a lot. Peak breeding times are spring through fall, creating a cyclical market that gets flooded in the summer and improves through the winter. They built one barn and then added an addition as they expanded. Ventilation and sanitation are essential.
  “The more ventilation the rabbits can get, the better,” says Aaron. “Cage floors are wire brushed daily, and anytime a cage is emptied, it gets sanitized. We change water every day, and once a week we sanitize watering troughs. The entire setup gets scrubbed down with a pressure washer twice a year.”
  The biggest thing the Rousenbergs have learned is the importance of quality breeding stock.
  “We started the wrong way,” says Aaron. “The first two years, Brittany’s rabbits were dead last in their class at the fair. We realized that if you don’t have the right genetics, you wouldn’t show and win.”
  Five years later, daughter Brittany and son Gage are starting to win, and that is good for the family business. They are starting to build a reputation, which helps sell breeding stock.
  Part of the learning process was trying different breeds. Today they specialize in New Zealand Whites, which they feel are the best meat rabbits, developing quickly to a processing weight of close to 5 lbs. in 10 weeks.
  “When we started, our biggest concern was finding processors to handle the rabbits,” says Betty.
  Today they work with several processors and sell locally as well. One processor reports being 200 to 300 rabbits short each month, a sign that the rabbit meat market is growing. Major markets are on the East and West Coasts, as well as in Texas. Price normally fluctuates between $1.10 and $1.45/lb.
  “You can break even or make a little money selling rabbits for meat,” says Aaron. “Where you make better money is selling breeding stock. Instead of $1.20 per pound, you can get $100 to $150 for a doe and more for a buck. We’ve paid as much as $400 for a good buck.”
  Starting with high quality genetics is part of the equation of being a successful breeder. The other is aggressive culling of any animals with deformities or those who don’t meet the meat or production goals of the breed.
  “You don’t keep them around,” says Aaron. “They go to a processor or the local livestock auction.”
  The Rousenbergs also process rabbits for their own use. “When we have them, we eat them,” says Aaron. “The meat is very low in cholesterol and some of the best meat you can eat. It’s very healthy.”
  Contact: FARM SHOW Followup, Aaron and Betty Rousenberg, 51462 Campfire Rd., Jerusalem, Ohio 43747 (ph 740 472-5835; rousenbergfamilyfarm@gmn4u.com).

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2014 - Volume #38, Issue #1