Ron and Rebecca Lundy launch rabbit business
Published 12:00 am Saturday, August 25, 2012
By Katie Scarvey
Ron Lundy’s day job is as a recreation therapist. He works with veterans who have post-traumatic stress disorder, and he has to understand what might trigger a stress response.
In his other job — raising rabbits — Lundy also needs to know what causes anxiety.
As he approaches the rabbit hutches on his property just outside of Faith, he speaks gently, soothingly.
“You’ve got to announce yourself to the rabbits or they’ll get stressed and run,” he explains.
Every hutch has a card outside of it that is important to the Lundys’ record-keeping.
Ron’s Rabbitry — the name of his business — now has more than 300 rabbits. Lundy’s wife Rebecca does most of the record-keeping, but the numbers change frequently because what you’ve heard about rabbits is true. They’re incredibly prolific and if left to breed unchecked, a doe could have a litter of “pinkies” just about every month or so.
Reputable breeders like Lundy, who says he has a “sensitive heart” for his rabbits, don’t treat their rabbits that way, however, since over-breeding is hard on them. Lundy breeds his does about 5-6 times a year.
Lundy has heard of females having as many as 18 pinkies in one litter. The most he’s had in one litter is 13.
Although he does sell his stock as pets, he raises rabbits mostly for meat.
Most of Lundy’s rabbits are New Zealand whites and Californians. which have a high meat to bone ration. Those breeds can be cross-bred, with the resulting rabbits called “smuts.”
Pound for pound, rabbit meat is produced much more efficiently than beef, which requires more time, resources and energy.
It’s not hard to raise a few rabbits for meat in your backyard — although it’s probably the butchering aspect that would hold the average person back. Lundy has a lot of experience processing rabbits and can finish a single rabbit in five or six minutes, he says.
After a rabbit is born, it takes only 10-12 weeks before it is mature enough to be processed, usually at about 4 3/4-6 pounds, Lundy says.
Rabbit meat is very healthy, lower in fat, sodium, cholesterol and fat than chicken, beef and pork, he says.
If you’re wondering whether it tastes like chicken, it doesn’t, Lundy says. It is an all-white meat, like chicken, but it is slightly sweet.
Lundy points out that domestic rabbit has a very different taste than wild rabbit, which has a stronger taste.
Rabbit meat is very popular in Europe, Lundy says, and in this country back in the 50s, 60s and 70s, people ate a lot of rabbit. It fell out of favor for a while, but there is renewed interest in rabbit meat — and raising backyard rabbits — in this country as the locavore movement gains momentum.
Some pet owners are turning to rabbit meat as well. It’s excellent food for dogs who have allergies, says Lundy, who grinds up rabbit meat, bones and organ meat included, especially for dogs.
Lundy, who does all of his own processing, sells the rabbit meat by weight. Skinned and dressed and packaged in a vacuum-sealed bag, it goes for $6.25 a pound. (A quick check of a local supermarket found rabbit meat selling for $8.99 a pound.) Lundy points out that his rabbits are free of steroids, hormones or growth additives.
The meat that is processed for dogs is $5.75 a pound.
Most of his live rabbits sell for $15.
He learned rabbit farming through trial and error, Lundy says. Over the years, he’s learned what works. For example, he puts cider vinegar in the rabbit’s water, which he believes helps keep them healthy.
Lundy feeds his rabbits pellet rabbit food and pellet alfalfa hay — no table scraps, he says, because they have sensitive digestive systems.
Except for lactating does and babies, who get all the food they want, he controls his rabbits’ diets. If a buck gets too fat, he doesn’t want to breed, Lundy says.
The actual act of breeding isn’t too difficult— it’s over practically before you blink — but there is one important thing to remember.
“Always take the doe to the buck, not the other way around,” Lundy says. Otherwise, the doe will be territorial and refuse the buck’s attentions.
Lundy keeps about 15-20 bucks.
Rabbits don’t make a lot of noise except when they’re breeding or when they’re stressed — and then they may emit a high-pitched scream that is almost birdlike.
If that happens, Ron demonstrates how you can calm a rabbit down by simply rubbing its ears.
Ron notes that while not a lot of veterinarians have extensive knowledge of rabbits and their health issues, Dr. Greg Lowe of Rowan Animal Clinic has taken a strong interest in learning, Ron says. If they lose a rabbit to unknown causes, Lowe will devote time to figuring it out, Lundy says.
On a separate part of the property Ron has hutches reserved for Tennessee Redback rabbits, which are pretty close to wild rabbits.
“These are for the hunters,” he says. “People use them to train their beagles.”
They don’t “pet and love” these rabbits as they do the others, Lundy says. He wants to keep them as wild as possible, which is why they’re desirable for hunters training dogs. They sell like hotcakes at the Southeastern Treeing Walker Days, he says.
Lundy has been raising rabbits on and off for about 10 years he says. It’s only been in the past year that he’s begun to offer his rabbits to the public.
He’d like to nurture his rabbit business so that when he retires from the V.A. he can devote himself full-time to it.
Ron and Rebecca’s three children, Elaine, 14; Eric, 12; and Ethan, 10, do their share of the work as well. They will soon start selling the rabbit manure.
Right now, Ron sells directly to the consumer and also through Carolina Grown.
For more information, call 704-279-8819 or go to Lundy’s website at ronsrabbits.com.