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Home  > Question of the Week

Question of the Week

Permalink Will feeding flax to my laying hens increase omega-3 in their eggs?


Answer: Flaxseed is a good source of omega-3 fatty acids. Flax (Linum usitatissum) is usually grown in the upper Midwest for the oil extracted from the seed. The oil is referred to as linseed oil and is used in paint manufacture and other uses. The remaining product is referred to as linseed meal. Linseed meal is also a valuable livestock feed. It is used as a protein supplement, since the protein content of linseed is around 35 percent.

The article "Flax Has Potential in Livestock, Poultry and Pet Diets" discusses feeding whole or ground flaxseed at 15 percent of the ration to layers in order to increase the level of omega-3 fatty acids in the egg from 1 percent to more than 5 percent. There are several commercial companies that produce omega-3 fatty-acid-enriched eggs, several of which are discussed in the articles listed below. Several sample diets are shown in the resource materials.

The resources below also include an "Assessment of Market Opportunities for Omega 3 Eggs," with research funded by the Agriculture Utilization Research Institute in Minnesota.


Anon. No date. Omega-3 Fatty Acids.

Canadian Egg Marketing Agency. No date. Omega-3 enriched eggs. 2 p.

Flax Council. No date. Flaxseed in egg production. 3 p.

Hetland, Cara. 2003. Healthier eggs a new niche for farmers. Minnesota Public Radio. May 21.

Hickling, Dave. 1997. Flax has potential in livestock, poultry and pet diets. Feedstuffs. January 20. p. 16-17.

Manitoba Agriculture and Food. 2001. Increasing Omega-3 fatty acids in eggs from small chicken flocks. May.

Pickering, Jennifer. 2003. Assessment of market opportunities for Omega 3 eggs. Southwest State University. January 9. 12 p.

Simmons, Tom. 1998. NUI seeks patent on system to produce Omega eggs. 4 p.

University of Nebraska, Lincoln. 2001. Omega eggs a healthier alternative. Earth Times. April. 2 p.



Permalink Where can I find information about the integration of fruit/nut orchards with livestock raising?


Answer: Grazing animals in orchards is an agroforestry practice—a deliberate integration of trees or shrubs with agricultural production. ATTRA’s Agroforestry Overview publication offers an introduction to different types of agroforestry operations, and it also includes further resources. This publication and some of the further resources listed will help you get a better idea of what is involved in agroforestry.

Goats can be used in orchards to eat grass, control weeds and underbrush, and to fertilize the trees. Goats also contribute to orchard sanitation if they are allowed to eat the fallen, damaged fruit that remains after harvest. Adding livestock to your orchard not only provides an alternative to machinery for mowing and reduces the need for pesticides and chemical fertilizers, but can also provide useful products such as meat and milk.

Adding goats or hogs to an orchard requires considerable skill and planning for the management of the new livestock enterprise. ATTRA publications such as Goats: Sustainable Production Overview and Hog Production Alternatives will give you a starting point for raising these animals.

If you are familiar with goats and their food preferences, you know that they prefer browse to any forages at ground level. Trees must be protected from the goats. You will have to fence an alleyway between the trees so that they are unable to reach overhanging branches. Otherwise, they will eat any part of the tree that they can reach. Goats can quickly damage fruit trees by de-barking them, especially in the winter. Therefore, if you are maintaining a herd year-round, it is necessary to have alternative pastures for times when forage is not actively growing. Hogs can also damage the ground and trees if they do not have adequate nutrition. They will begin to root if they are hungry and looking for food.

Goats and hogs will eat dropped fruit and nuts. These drops can only be used as a supplemental feed. The fruit/nuts only drop for a short period of time; therefore, you can’t depend on them to be a substantial part of the animals’ diet. The area within the orchard that the animals have access to should be controlled, and animals must be moved when available forage has been consumed. Refer to the listed resources for descriptions of the use of livestock in several types of tree systems.

In addition to increased management, the cost of fencing and water facilities must be added to the cost of the animals themselves. Temporary electric netting, a charger, and water facilities must be provided for the goats within the orchard. Although this type of fencing is considered cheaper than older types of permanent fencing, it is still a capital expense. In addition to the temporary fences, a permanent, multi-strand perimeter fence is recommended.

Predator control is another concern. A suggestion from Don Bailey in the resource materials mentions that some growers corral the herd at night, grazing the orchard area only during the day. This may be necessary if you develop predator problems. Another alternative is to use guardian animals. For more information on using dogs, donkeys, or llamas as guardians, consult the ATTRA publication Predator Control for Sustainable and Organic Livestock Production.

The Resources section below lists several articles that deal with grazing animals in orchards. Also, this summer a Prescribed Grazing Handbook will become available on this Web site. It will include a chapter on grazing livestock in orchards.


Bailey, Don. 1995. Ask your vet. Sheep! Magazine. August-September. p. 19.

Fox, Linda. 1998. Goats and agroforestry. Cashmirror. December. p. 11-13.

Fukumoto, Glen. 2001. Grazing livestock under orchards.

Hardesty, Linda. 1991. Silvopastoral orchard management options. Paper presented at Second Conference on Agroforestry in North America, Springfield, MO. August 19.

Hardesty Linda. 1995. Silvopastoral options for fruit growers. 4 p.

Scharabok, Ken. 1993. Multi-cropping with trees. Countryside and Small Stock Journal. Vol. 77, No. 4. July/August. p. 30-31.

Schultz, Tom and Bruce Gregory. 1998. Integrating intensive grazing with tree fruit production in the Puget Sound rainshadow. Pacific Northwest Sustainable Agriculture. August. p. 5-7.

Shirley, Christopher. 1992. Put stock in orchards and woodlots. New Farm. May-June. p. 35-37.

Sharrow, S.H. 1998. Designing silvopastures with animals in mind. Temperate Agroforester. July. p. 1, 4-5.

Thomas, Lynn. 1991. Hair sheep graze macadamia orchard. Sheep! Magazine. August-September. p. 24, 31.



Permalink Where can I find information on the legal aspects of establishing an internship?


Answer: Not a lot has been written to guide farmers in the legal implications of having interns. Neil D. Hamilton of Drake University Agricultural Law Center hardly mentions farm interns in his 1999 book, The Legal Guide for Direct Farm Marketing.(1) A long-time organizer for Michigan Organic Growers, who has many years of experience hosting interns, considers his interns the same as "guests" on his farm. Some states (particularly New Jersey and New York) have tried to apply wages-and-hours and housing standards laws to farm interns, but that is not common outside the Northeast. Doug Jones authored a 16-page handbook that includes an explanation of applicable New York State law. This guide is on the Internet at

It all comes down to how state and federal statutes are applied at the local level.

ATTRA does not provide advice on legal matters. You may want to contact the Drake University Agricultural Law Center (1), or the National Center for Agricultural Law Research & Information at the University of Arkansas (2) for services they offer. There are some articles from Growing for Market that touch on issues regarding internships. One article addresses the taxability of intern stipends and wages.

The basis of on-farm intern education is experiential, emphasizing practical experience over classroom education. There are no requirements for previous education for either the farmer or the interns. Some colleges, however, do offer credit for an internship. It is helpful for the farmer to keep in mind the educational purpose of an internship, if applicability of statutes intended to protect migrant farm labor ever become an issue.

1) Agricultural Law Center
Drake University Law School
Des Moines, IA 50311
Office: (515) 271-2065
A new update of Hamilton’s Guide has just been published.

2) National Center for Agricultural Law Research and Information
University of Arkansas
Waterman Hall
Fayetteville, AR 72701
Office: (479) 575-7646
FAX: (479) 575-5830
MailStop: WATR-107


Byczynski, Lynn. 1993. Hire interns if you need motivated workers. Growing for Market: The Best of 1993. p. 10–12.

Byczynski, Lynn. 1997. Tired? Maybe it’s time to hire help. Growing for Market. November. p. 1, 4, 5, 7.

Schell, Rick, J.D. 2004. H-2A visas can help farmers get reliable workers. Growing for Market. January. p. 14–16.



Permalink What are some of the basics of sustainable meat rabbit production?


Answer: This information is excerpted from a forthcoming ATTRA publication on rabbit production.

Rabbit meat is high in protein and low in fat, cholesterol, and sodium when compared to most of the meats eaten in the U.S. (1). The meat rabbit industry in the U.S. was significant around the time of World War II, but since then has declined. However, rabbit meat has great potential to feed people in developing countries and could be promoted in the U.S. as a healthful, natural meat.


Two medium-size breeds, the New Zealand White (NZW) and the Californian, are the most important for meat production. The NZW is considered the best breed overall, considering mothering ability and carcass characteristics. However, crossing male Californians to female NZWs and then breeding the female from this cross back to male Californians results in larger litter sizes and heavier fryers than using straight NZWs.


Housing depends on the scale of the operation; rabbits can be raised on a commercial or backyard scale. Practical Rabbit Housing (2) is a useful reference for designing housing, listed below. An experienced producer with a stable market may want to build a specialized building. Commercial rabbitries usually house animals in all-wire cages suspended above the ground. On a backyard scale, a hutch can be built to house a few animals outside.

Rabbits are ideally kept where the temperature can be maintained at 62°F. In any type of building, ventilation is very important in order to reduce ammonia buildup and to help the animals stay cool during hot periods.

While building or designing rabbit housing, remember that rabbits tend to gnaw, especially on wood. If plastic water lines are used to deliver water, attach them to the outside of the cage so the rabbits cannot chew them.


Rabbits eat only plants and are classified as non-ruminant herbivores. They recycle feed by re-ingesting the cecotropes. Cecotropes are small particles of digested food that collect in the cecum (hindgut), which the rabbit voids once a day and consumes directly from the anus. Cecatropes are sometimes called "night feces" and look softer than the round, hard pellets normally seen.

Rabbits are usually fed a commercial pelleted diet that is balanced in the necessary nutrients (protein, energy, vitamins, and minerals). These diets contain alfalfa, grain (barley, wheat mill by-products), protein supplements (soybean meal), vitamins and mineral supplements.

If your herd is small, it may be economical to reduce the amount of pellets and feed rabbits some available greens. Greens and succulents include fresh legumes (alfalfa, clover), grasses, vegetables (lettuce, celery), roots and tubers (carrots, potatoes), weeds (dandelions) and comfrey. Rabbits may be pastured in outdoor pens placed on the ground in order to harvest their own fresh forage.

Instead of a commercial pelleted diet, producers can mix their own feedstuffs, especially if they grow or purchase their own feed ingredients. If you don’t have a recipe you trust, ration-balancing ensures that diets contain the correct amount of nutrients (protein, energy, vitamins, minerals, etc.) for rabbits during different stages of growth or reproduction. The book Rabbit Feeding and Nutrition (3) has a section that deals with ration-balancing and nutrient requirements.


Rabbits do not have a heat cycle like many animals do—rabbits ovulate after mating. Birth of the kits (kindling) occurs in 31 days with NZWs. One can rebreed does about one and a half months after kindling for four to five litters per year. Kits are generally weaned at 30 days of age; however, if the doe is rebred at one and a half months after kindling, the kits can be left with their mothers for up to two months. A good doe sends an average of 50 fryers a year to market. Young rabbits (fryers) should be separated by sex after 12 weeks to prevent fighting and inbreeding.


It is important to keep production records in order to know when to carry out crucial activities such as putting in the nestbox and to aid in choosing the best replacement stock. Ear tags or tattoos are necessary with large numbers of rabbits.

Sanitation is very important. When fur and dust accumulate on cages, they can be removed by burning with a propane torch. Nestboxes should be cleaned and disinfected after use (one ounce of bleach to one gallon water is a good cleaning solution).


A commonly encountered disease is mastitis, or inflammation of the mammary glands, which is treatable with antibiotics. The bacteria Pasteurella causes snuffles and pneumonia; chronic Pasteurella sufferers should be culled from the herd. Rabbits showing overgrown teeth, those developing sorehocks, and poor producers should also be culled. The Rabbit Handbook contains more information on diseases.

If antibiotics are used to treat disease, a withdrawal period is required before slaughter to ensure residues have cleared the animal’s system. Since antibiotics and hormones are not routinely used in rabbit production, the meat is especially appropriate for natural and organic markets.


Rabbits that receive good nutrition reach a market weight of four to five pounds liveweight within 10–12 weeks and are marketed as fryers. It may take longer to reach market weight with poorer nutrition.

Rabbit processing generally consists of stunning or killing the animal, hanging it to bleed, removing the head, removing feet and tails, removing skins, eviscerating, washing the carcass, chilling the carcass in a water tank or refrigerated room, aging the carcass under refrigeration, and packaging. The Rabbit Handbook discusses home butchering.

If you are planning to establish a USDA-inspected plant, contact the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service. There is very little information available on building plans for rabbit processing.

The federal inspection of rabbit meat is voluntary. Some states only permit the sale of rabbit if it is inspected under state laws. Contact the department of agriculture for information on regulations in your state.


Marketing rabbits can be difficult and frustrating, because there are few processors that buy live rabbits and supply and demand can be unstable. In the wintertime, producers may have a more difficult time raising rabbits and therefore supply is limited; however, in the summertime, supply can become glutted. A market report is listed at the following website.

The U.S. does not have a history of rabbit consumption. However, there is untapped potential, especially for the natural and organic markets. At the same time, the rabbit industry has many challenges in the U.S. Rabbit meat is high in cost compared to other livestock and should be considered a luxury meat. Feasibility studies and business planning is needed if you are planning to invest money in rabbit production.

In many ways, rabbits are more suited for small-scale production than large-scale, industrial production.

Further resources

For further questions about raising rabbits, contact Dr. Steve Lukefahr (4) at Texas A & M University – Kingsville, Dr. James McNitt (5) of the Small Farm Family Resource Development Center at Southern University, or Dr. Mark Grober (6) at California State University. Dr. Lukefahr’s international rabbit research program is described at . They are experts in the field and willing to answer questions. The state-of-the-art book Rabbit Production (7) covers all areas of production. Ordering information for the book is included below but you can also ask your library to borrow it via Interlibrary Loan.

Useful organizations include:

• The American Rabbit Breeders' Association (8), which publishes a membership directory of rabbit breeders and Domestic Rabbits, a show-oriented magazine.
• The Professional Rabbit Meat Association (9) provides information on raising rabbits for meat and has a newsletter and website
• The American Branch of the World Rabbit Science Association has a website at Dr. McNitt is secretary/treasurer and can provide additional information. In addition the World Rabbit Science Association has a website at
• The Animal Welfare Institute (10) provides welfare guidelines for rabbit care. The guidelines are available at

In addition to the referenced materials, there are many books and pamphlets available on rabbit production. University Extension services often have circulars on rabbit production available upon request, with some of these geared to 4-H rabbit projects.


1) Lukefahr, S.D. 1993. Research study confirms that rabbit meat is low in cholesterol.
Domestic Rabbits. May-June. p. 22–25.

2) McNitt, James. 1996. Practical Rabbit Housing. Southern University and A&M College,
Baton Rouge, LA. Title page, table of contents, p. 1–23.

3) Cheeke, P.R. 1987. Rabbit Feeding and Nutrition. Academic Press, Orlando, FL. 376 p.

4) Dr. Steve Lukefahr
Department of Animal and Wildlife Sciences
Texas A & M University
Campus Box 156
Kingsville, TX 78363

5) Dr. James McNitt
Rabbit Production Specialist
Small Farm Family Resource Development Center
Southern University and A&M College
Box 11170
Baton Rouge , LA 70813
Telephone (225) 771 2262
Fax (225) 771 4464

6) Dr. Mark Grober
Biological Sciences
California State University, Stanislaus
Turlock, CA 95382

7) McNitt, James I. 2000. Rabbit Production. 8th Edition. The
Interstate Printers and Publishers, Inc., Danville, IL. 493 p.
Available from:
Interstate Publishers, Inc.
P.O. Box 50
Danville, IL 61834-0050
217-446-9706 fax

8) American Rabbit Breeders Association
1925 S. Main St.
Box 426
Bloomington, IL 61702
309-664-0941 fax

9) Professional Rabbit Meat Association
Denise Konzek, Secretary-Treasurer
627 S. Union
Kennewick, WA 99336

10) Animal Welfare Institute
P.O. Box 3650
Washington, DC 20027
703-836-0400 fax


Belanger, J.D. 1993. Homesteader’s handbook to raising small livestock: Installment II—Raising rabbits. Countryside & Small Stock Journal. September–October. p. 77–79.

Brooks, D. et al. 1989. Rabbit Handbook. Leaflet 21020. University of CA Cooperative Extension. 27 p.

McNitt, James, I. 2005. Market report
Accessed 10/12/05

McNitt, J.I. 2004. Rabbit information available from Small Farm Family Resource Development Center, Baton Rouge, LA. 9 p.

McNitt, J.I. 1986. Starting a commercial rabbit enterprise. Missouri Farm. January–February. p. 25.

McNitt, J.I. 1989. Enteritis in rabbits. Missouri Farm. March–April. p. 24.

Meek, M.W. 1996. ‘Old-fashioned’ ways to feed rabbits. Countryside & Small Stock Journal. July–August. p. 51–52.

Perry, Janet G., Scott M Barao and Tom W. Smith. 2001. Rabbits can be raised on small acreage. American Small Farm. April. P. 34, 36-37.

Shirley, Christopher. 1995. Retail rabbits. The New Farm. p. 12–15.



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