Jan 23, 2014

Cost of Feeding Rabbits Pellets

I just ran through a rather interesting exercise in just what it costs to feed rabbits.  A conversation came up about someone who claimed that a nursing doe could be fed on $30 a year.  I discovered through some math that it's not even possible to feed a buck (much less a nursing doe) for a whole year for that much unless your pellets are less than $11 per 50 lb. bag (I haven't seen prices like that in 10 years).  You may be able to have feed costs that low if you feed with forage or fodder, though.  I really need to get that working...

It's probably a good idea for everyone to understand how to break down their feed costs, and estimate what various configurations might cost.

Calculating Cost Per Pound of Feed

(Cost per bag) / (Pounds per bag) = Cost per pound of feed

Depending on the deal of the day, a 50-lb. bag of pellets costs me anywhere from $13.33 to $16.90.

If you've ever done budgeting, you know that you should always estimates costs high.

$16.90/50 lbs. = $0.38/lb

But, for sake of seeing just how low our costs can be:
$13.33/50 lbs. = $0.2666/lb, which rounds to $0.27/lb

Cost of Maintenance

(Ounces of feed per day per rabbit) x (365 days) / (16 ounces per pound) x (cost per pound) = Cost per breeder per year

I feed my breeders a cup of feed a day, which weighs about 6 ounces.

6 oz. x 365 days / 16 oz. x $0.38 = $52.0125, which rounds to $52.02 (always round up when budgeting).

6 oz x 365 days / 16 oz. x $0.27 = $36.95625, which rounds to $36.96

This is how much it will cost just to maintain each breeder every year, without adding in the costs of nursing a litter.

Cost to Processing Age

There is a study on feed conversion of various meat breeds on a certain diet.  The pellet they used in the study was only 16.5% crude protein, which is on the low end, but it serves for making estimates.  They looked at what it cost to grow rabbits from weaning at 28 days old to 70 days old.  I never wean earlier than 35 days (5 weeks), and usually don't wean until 56 days (8 weeks).  Several studies I've read suggest that weaning before 5 or 6 weeks results in less efficient feed conversion.  Also, feed with 18% crude protein usually results in better gains.  Given all of that, using the study's results of 3.5 lbs of feed per pound of gain is a high estimate, which serves our purpose for budgeting.

In the study, the average weight at weaning was around 18 oz, which is a pound more than most kits are born.  If you assume an extra 3.5 pounds in feed from birth to four weeks per kit  (to get that first pound of gain), that's 2 oz. a day per kit in extra feed for the doe.  If your doe has 8 kits in a litter, that's a pound of feed per day.  For me, that would be 2-2/3 cup extra (so 3-2/3 cup all together).  I don't think I've ever had a nursing doe eat that much food in a day all by herself.  If you estimate that 3.5 pounds to cover the doe's extra feed for the entire course of nursing (I'll go with 8 weeks), it translates to 1 oz. a day per kit extra, which translates as 1-1/3 cup extra (2-2/3 cup total) for a litter of 8.  That's still on the high end of what my experience is.

At 10 weeks, when I normally process, my rabbits average close to 5 pounds.  5 pounds of gain x 3.5 pounds of feed = 17.5 pounds per rabbit to 10 weeks.

If you want to estimate your own feed per kit, keep track of how much feed you give the doe from the time you increase her feed (I start giving extra the day she kindles; others prefer to up the feed for the last half of pregnancy).  Subtract the amount for maintenance (in my case, less 6 ounces per day).  When you wean the kits, record that total net amount.  From there, add in the whole amount of feed that you are giving the kits until 10 weeks.  At 10 weeks (or whatever age you process or sell the kits), divide the amount fed by the number of kits in the litter.  That is how much feed it takes to get each rabbit to processing age.

In sum:
(maintenance feed per day in pounds) x (days from increasing feed to weaning) = doe's maintenance feed to weaning

 ((weight of feed fed from day of increase to day of weaning) - (doe's maintenance feed to weaning) + (weight of feed fed from weaning to processing)) / (number of kits in litter) = weight of feed required per rabbit to processing age

If you feed 6 oz. of feed a day as maintenance, don't increase feed until kindling, and wean at 8 weeks:
6/16 lbs/day x 56 days = 21 pounds maintenance feed for the doe

49 lbs fed to cage from kindle to weaning - 21 pounds doe's maintenance + 112 pounds fed from weaning to processing = 140 lbs fed to entire litter

140 lbs / 8 kits = 17.5 lbs of feed per kit to get to processing age

(pounds of feed to get to processing age) x (cost per pound of feed) = cost per rabbit to processing age

Using my own numbers:
17.5 lbs x $0.38 = $6.65 per rabbit to processing age

17.5 lbs x $0.27 = $4.725, which rounds to $4.73 per rabbit to processing age

Cost Per Year

(cost of maintenance per breeder) x (number of breeders) = cost per year for breeders
(cost per rabbit to processing age) x (number of rabbits produced per year) = cost per year for processed rabbits
(cost per year for breeders) + (cost per year for processed rabbits) = total cost per year

Let's do a couple comparisons, here.  First, let's assume that you have a single pair of breeders, and you get four litters of 8 kits each year.
$52.02 x 2 = $104.04 for breeders
$6.65 x 8 kits x 4 litters = $212.80 for processed rabbits
For a total of $316.84

With the minimum costs:
$36.96 x 2 = $73.92 for breeders
$4.73 x 8 kits x 4 litters = $151.36 for processed rabbits
For a total of $225.28

(Already, you can see how getting feed on the discount days really adds up)

What happens if you add an extra doe to double your production?

$52.02 x 3 = $156.06 for breeders
$6.65 x 8 kits x 8 litters = $425.60 for processed rabbits
For a total of $581.66

With minimum costs:
$36.96 x 3 = $110.88
$4.73 x 8 kits x 8 litters = $302.72 for processed rabbits
For a total of $413.60

What if you just doubled the production of one doe, so that she was producing 8 litters a year?  That would require that you breed back 2 weeks after kindling, and wean kits at 5 weeks.  Technically, that would probably reduce the feed efficiency of the kits, and you may have to replace the doe much sooner than if you weren't breeding back until weaning, but for sake of simplicity, we'll just assume it still costs the same amount to feed the kits to processing age.

$52.02 x 2 = $104.04 for breeders
$6.65 x 8 kits x 8 litters = $425.60 for processed rabbits
For a total of $529.64
Minimum costs:
$36.96 x 2 = $73.92
$4.73 x 8 kits x 8 litters = $302.72 for processed rabbits
For a total of $376.64

As you can see, it pays to increase production of a single doe (within limits).  But, it comes with risks.  Namely, if a doe can't recover after weaning a litter, or doesn't maintain her weight, you'll lose out on an entire litter, if not the doe herself.

What Do You Use These Figures For?

You can use these figures to determine how much you need to sell each rabbit for in order to recover feed costs (nevermind water, nesting materials, labor, equipment and replacement breeders):

(cost per year) / (number of processed rabbits to sell) = minimum price per processed rabbit

$316.84 / 32 kits = $9.90125, which rounds to $9.91 (one pair, 4 litters, at maximum cost)
$225.28 / 32 kits = $7.04 (one pair, 4 litters, minimum cost)
$581.66 / 64 kits = $9.09 (one trio, 4 litters per doe, maximum cost)
$413.60 / 64 kits = $6.46 (one trio, 4 litters per doe, minimum cost)
$529.64 / 64 kits = $8.28 (one pair, 8 litters, maximum cost)
$376.64 / 64 kits = $5.89 (one pair, 8 litters, minimum cost)

$3,764.22 / 480 kits = $7.84 (one buck and ten does, 6 litters per doe, maximum cost)

Those prices reflect the absolute minimum you can charge per rabbit in order to recover your costs, and that's provided you actually sell all of them.  If not, that's the cost you're eating (literally).

The other option, if you're not selling everything that you're producing, is to divide by the number you do sell, instead.  If you want to make allowances for what you're eating, subtract the value of what you're eating from the cost per year before dividing.  

So, if you're eating a rabbit a week instead of buying chicken from the store, you might be saving $5 a week, which is $260 a year, but keep in mind that you're also cutting out 52 (or however many) rabbits you would have otherwise sold. 

($581.66 - $260)  / (64-52) = $26.81

 If you're keeping records for profit and loss for your rabbitry, and you're keeping them separate from your household expenses, record each rabbit you eat as "sold to family for dinner" and price it at whatever you would have paid for another similar meat (chicken, pork or turkey, of about the same weight or number of meals) at the store.

When you see numbers like these, you realize just how important it is to find ways to scratch out just a little more savings, and sell a few more byproducts.  I try to buy my feed on days with the best discounts.  I could probably save more if I could ever get my fodder to work out right.  If I could ever motivate myself to tan more hides, I could make a nifty profit off of them, too.  Some other ideas to sell are manure, dried rabbit ears (great dog treats), rabbit feet, felted fur, or even raw fur (fly fishermen supposedly use it).

If you'd like to calculate all this without having to do the math, I've made a calculator here.  Let me know in the comments if something doesn't work right on the form.