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'The poop factory never stops': Richmond rescue gives new life to bunny waste

Rabbitats is racing against time to sell its stock of rabbit poop fertilizers.

Somewhere on a blueberry farm in East Richmond lies small mountains of "black gold," and a rabbit rescue has one month to get rid of it.

Rabbitats has been selling fertilizer made from rabbit poop for as long as it has been in Richmond, but it recently opened up the option for online purchases and purchased a trailer to help get rid of its growing supply. 

"The bunnies always make poop. As we say, the poop factory never stops," said Deanna Hamm, Rabbitats' shelter manager.

Hamm, who wears many hats, is also known as the "poop girl," which simply means she knows how to make the most of the shelter's abundance of rabbit manure.

When the Richmond News visited Rabbitats' Richmond shelter on Friday afternoon, there was about 10 trailers' worth of poop in stock.

The Richmond shelter is the "largest poop factory" out of all of Rabbitats' shelters, with more than 300 furry residents onsite.

"A single rabbit can poop 300 poops a day. So 300 times 300 daily, that's a lot of poop," Hamm explained.

Not only do volunteers at the shelter take care of the rabbits, but they are also tasked with spreading the fertilizer across the five-acre farm with wheelbarrows and flattening them.

"The landlords are kind of counting on it, not only for the beneficial properties of the poop, which is high in nitrogen and phosphorus, which promotes fruit and flower growth," said Hamm, who added the poop also helps with weed suppression.

Rabbit poop is also considered to be cold fertilizer, which means it can be used immediately and doesn't need to go through the composting process.

Sorelle Saidman, Rabbitats' founder, said the blueberry bushes on the property looked almost dead when the rescue first moved in.

"We took a couple of rows out because they were almost dead. But then (the landlord) started letting us put the bunny poop around the bushes.

"They were skeptical... And poof! The blueberries just perked right up. And now they're saying, 'Okay, put it everywhere.'" Saidman explained.

Every ingredient has a role to play

Purchasing rabbit poop is a simple self-service process. Customers are asked to shovel the fertilizer into reused pellet bags or barrels, with one bag costing $3. Delivery is also available for customers who purchase by the trailer load.

The poop is collected during the shelter's cleaning sessions and contains a mix of hay and sawdust. While some may ask for pure rabbit poop, Hamm says "every part plays its part," including bunny pee.

"Bunny pee is much less noxious than any other animal's pee. And it plays a role in terms of pH and stuff like that," she explained.

The piles of poop are also "teeming with earthworms," Hamm added, which create worm castings that act as a "superfood" for gardens.

In previous years, the shelter sold the fertilizers by word of mouth to community gardens and gardeners. But now, the supply is far exceeding demand.

"The winter is a slower time for compost sales, but the bunnies don't stop producing," said Hamm.

Though it has reduced slightly, the mountain of poop managed at one point to reach half the height of the shed housing the rabbits. 

"There's only so much leniency we can get from the landlord," said Saidman, adding the rescue has one month to get rid of the mountains of poop before blueberry season starts in mid-March to make way for farming machinery.

Hamm added the current bulk of the pile has been around long enough that it has essentially become soil, or "black gold," and fresher batches of poop will take time to compost and reach that stage.

Apart from having excess stock, the rescue also needs more volunteers to help with the poop collection. Saidman told the News that corporate team-building events are especially valuable to the shelter. 

"If we get, like, 20 people swarming with pitchforks and wheelbarrows, we've got it. We'll have the whole poop thing covered," she said.

"We don't charge gym fees. Pitchfork and a wheelbarrow, and all those bunnies swarming you and saying thanks for cleaning up after. It'll be so much fun."

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