Birgit Kositzke is a woman who definitely knows what she wants. In 2007 she moved from Germany to Iceland with the idea of carving out her fortune in agriculture. However, it was neither horses nor cows that caught her interest, but rabbits for their meat.
She started her breeding project four years ago with four animals, the rabbits came from Dalatunga in East Iceland. “My first male was named Daddy Cool,” she recalls.
The idea was not entirely new, as Icelanders in the countryside had always kept rabbits for livestock. The concept itself, however, had never been enforced, not least because rabbit breeding involves quite an amount of work.
Birgit is familiar with rabbits. Her breeding grew steadily, and in 2013 she was able to move from her first barn in Tjarnakot near Hvammstangi in North Iceland to Syðri-Kárastaðir in the nearby fjord Hrútafjörður. Like in Tjarnakot, she built the complete hutch facility by herself. “Rabbits are group animals and not only need absolute cleanliness, but also enough space,” Birgit explains. At a given time, the rabbit babies are taken from their mothers and then kept in age groups (“kindergarten”) for growing up, which is quite unique.
There is good spirit among the rabbits at Syðra-Kárastaðir, no matter which hutch you open, you will find content, well-cared-for and healthy breeding animals cuddling together. The stables are large and airy, the barn a light-flooded place, and a high standard of hygiene ensures that it hardly smells. The breeding females’ hutches are constructed with the same care as the hutches of the older animals that need more space for moving. Birgit’s breeding today includes 400 animals, thereof 98 dams and eight sires. She runs her small one-woman company with great personal commitment, not least when it came to obtain a slaughter permit. Rabbit meat is especially popular in Germany at Christmas, but was rather unknown to the Icelandic market, so it proved necessary to make its benefits known to the public and find a slaughterhouse to apply for slaughter permission.
It took two years of waiting until last winter permission finally was granted. Since January, between 60 and 90 animals per month have been slaughtered and their meat sold to top restaurants like Kolabraut in Harpa, Coconut, Berg in Vík or Sjávarborg in Hvammstangi, North Iceland. Additionally, rabbit meat is available in the recently opened deli Matarbúrið. The goal for next summer is to offer 150 animals per month. Even the animals’ fur can be purchased in Iceland, as the tannery Loðskinn in Sauðárkrókur took over tanning and marketing of the soft and neat skins. However, gaining a solid customer base is proving to be difficult for the pioneer breeder while working alone, being bound to daily care of the animals. Part time jobs in the local hospital are helping her bridge the lean times.
An additional blow came last summer when the small business was hit by the strike in public service and veterinarians staged a walkout in Icelandic slaughterhouses for weeks. For the coming year, she has now set an ultimatum. After five years of endless struggle against adversities of all kinds, her company should start paying for itself, otherwise she will have to give up her dream of self-employment.
For that purpose, a fundraiser was started at Karolina Fund. Find more information on the campaign and about the benefits of rabbit meat here, information about the company kanina.is can be found here.
Watch a small video clip on Birgit and her rabbit farm here.