Nick Klein is a mass murderer -- of rabbits. No, really.
Klein is an enterprising businessman and owner of the "Hostile Hare," a company that specializes in raising meat rabbits, selling meat-rabbit cages, and educating others on the ins and outs of raising rabbits for meat. Clients typically are backyard hobbyists, doomsday "preppers," urban homesteaders and the like. He freely admits his line of work puts a few people off. Never mind that he's the number-one producer of rabbits in the state of Arizona and is expanding his business to employ others as breeders. His pets have scales and his food has fur. This is awkward for some people, and not just vegetarians. Just ask the folks who sat next to him on his last plane ride, or the woman sitting next to us in the cafe where Chow Bella interviewed Klein.
However, if you've even thought about raising rabbits for meat, Klein has a kick ass cage system called the "Hare-o-ponic." He's even developing a software program and app that would allow urban or rural rabbit-raisers to better organize the animal husbandry side of the business. Klein clearly found a hole in the market and swooped in. "From a capitalist prospective, rabbits make you more money, per dollar put into, it than any other livestock," he says.
Think a rabbit is just too scrawny to bother with? Think about these fun facts.
- Rabbits will produce six pounds of meat on the same feed and water as a cow will produce one pound of meat. - A beginner will have an oven-ready rabbit within five to 10 minutes of its demise. (And you thought chicken was easy.) - One adult female rabbit will give birth to eight kits every 45 days. That's 64 rabbits and 320 pounds of live weight per year! - Each rabbit weights about five pounds when it is butchered at 8 weeks old, and you will get roughly two to three pounds of meat per rabbit.
Klein is an independent guy from Wisconsin who currently lives in San Tan Valley. And as far as being an expert in rabbits -- he's Arizona's own. He has been hunting and working with rabbits for almost 20 years, but started getting serious between 2009 and 2011. He supplies animals for reptile owners (he ships bunny "popsicles" to reptile owners), those seeking pets, and those looking to start breeding rabbits themselves.
He also demonstrates, instructs, and teaches others on the facets of the business and how to humanely raise and process rabbits. Ideally, the folks who learn from Klein and take the business seriously will become his suppliers as he expands his venture.
His system of raising rabbits wastes nothing. Manure and urine are composted and bio-filtered and used to grow algae that feeds the tilapia Klein raises. The tilapia's water grows hydroponic plants, and he feeds the rabbit innards he doesn't eat to his turtles, who compost it. You can also gasify rabbit manure to use as fuel to run generators and Klein can also make and sell fertilizer. Essentially, rabbits are a homesteader's dream.
Right now, Klein can consume rabbits he butchers on his property but cannot sell rabbit meat to others for consumption without consent and inspection by the UDSA. But that inspection and certification process is expensive, roughly $90,000 per year. Klein says that there currently are two USDA facilities that process rabbit, one in California and one in Arkansas. UDSA certification for human consumption is very expensive, but eventually Klein plans to begin with cat and dog food, and as supply increases, he would supply packaged rabbit meat for sale and resale.
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Though his current medium-scale operation takes up only about eight hours a week, Klein makes a decent amount of money from his expanding business and expects to make it his full-time job in a short time. It's extremely easy to keep rabbits for meat because of their small size and rapid reproduction. With Klein's "easy rabbitry" cage system, your neighbors may never even know you have rabbits on your property. And rabbit meat can be barbecued, made into jerky, or frozen -- just like chicken.
Klein recommends not keeping your meat rabbits indoors, as you and your family might become too attached. The Hostile Hare raises and sells Californians, New Zealand whites, Blue Americans, and Palomino crosses, so you can choose your size of rabbit. Nick relates than some people find the white rabbits with the red eyes (New Zealands) to be the least "cute" and therefore easier to raise for meat. Klein also sells cage kits that keep the rabbits clean and watered. With a few does, one buck, a shady area in your yard, and a willingness to take a knife to your new livestock, you could be eating your own rabbits in just a few months. And because they mate (like rabbits!) frequently, the food just keeps coming. In addition, Klein's established a nice network in Arizona here, so an expert is just a phone call away.
Does Klein keep any rabbits as pets? Just one, a female named Princess who has "attitude."