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Raising Meat Rabbits: From the Country to the Big City

Raising rabbits for meat is a great, cost-effective way to keep your freezer full. Also, rabbit meat is very lean and healthy for those who are trying to cut fatty foods from their diets. Since raising rabbits doesn’t take up a whole lot of space, you don’t need to live on a farm to do it. People in the city who have a decent-sized garage can join the program and get a little taste of the country life. There are a few things that everyone should know before getting started though.

The first thing you want to do when getting started is to make sure you have the proper space to raise your rabbits. A medium-size garage is efficient when raising meat rabbits. You then want to furnish the garage with your rabbit pens. There are several different types of cages, but when living in the city, you should probably invest in rabbit pens with drop pans. This will help keep the floor of your garage clean and make clean up a breeze. You can use newspaper to line the drop pans, but wood shavings are ideal because they are more absorbent. You also want to get rabbit pens that help utilize the space you have. Rabbit pens that stack on top of each other will help conserve space and leave you room to still walk around. These pens will typically hold three to six adult rabbits.

What Types of Rabbits Make the Best Sense for Meat Production?

Once you have designed your rabbit shelter to your liking, the next step is to fill those cages with meat. There are many breeds of rabbit, but not all make meat rabbits. Some rabbits are strictly show or pet varieties, and would not serve your purpose very well. While any breed “can” be used for meat, the best ones have thick, heavy muscling along the back (loins) and hind legs. Finding the right breed of rabbit is critical. Some of the best choices are as follows:

  • New Zealand Whites
  • Californians
  • Beveren
  • American Chinchillas
  • Silver Fox
  • Satins
  • Cinnamon
  • Palomino
  • Champaign d’Argent

These are the most popular and common breeds of meat rabbits. These rabbits will get as big as ten to twelve pounds on the average. The mighty New Zealand White can actually attain weights of up to twenty-five pounds each. Keep in mind that “live weight” will produce less when slaughter time comes. However, rabbits are one of the most efficient animals for meat production livestock. The average cow converts live weight to what is known as “hanging weight” (the meat and carcass remaining after processing) at about 30 to 35%. Rabbits have a 50% on the average conversion, so for a ten-pound rabbit, you can expect a five-pound carcass for food.

Husbandry Practices

When raising meat rabbits, you want to keep a few choice breeding animals around. These rabbits are the lucky ones, and will not make it to the dinner table. Breeding your rabbits is actually a quick and easy process, but there are a few tricks to keep in mind when you get started. You always want to take your female rabbit and place it in the male rabbit pen. You wouldn’t think it makes a difference, but it does more than you think. Female rabbits tend to be overprotective of their space. If you place a male rabbit in the female pen, they will be fighting too much to get any breeding done.

The first time you introduce your rabbits, it may take them a little while to warm up to each other. Once they get accustomed to each other, the breeding process will only take a few minutes. You will know when the male gets the job done because like humans, he will just roll off and find a place to sleep. After they have bred, you remove the female and place her back in her pen. You will also need to put a nesting box in the female pen so the rabbit has a place to have her babies.

You can either buy a nesting box or, if you want to save some money, you can always make one yourself. They are really quite simple to assemble. You also want to make sure you put some wood shavings inside to help insulate the babies when the female isn’t in there. If it is the winter season and it’s really cold, you should use a heat lamp to keep the babies warm.

Caring for Your Meat Rabbits

A rabbit diet is pretty basic and cheap. You can find rabbit food online or at any local feed store. You really don’t have to worry about over-feeding your rabbits; they are pretty good about only eating when they need to. You just want to make sure they always have something to eat. Rabbits need a lot of water too, so you want to make sure they have plenty. You can use the same type of water bottle that is used for a hamster. Water bowls are another possibility, but they are easy to tip over and get dirty fast. The rabbits learn to drink from drip bottles quickly, and you won’t have to worry about cleanliness as much. A great addition to your rabbits’ diet are alfalfa cubes. You can get them in bags at a local feed store, or fresh from a field if you have a stand of alfalfa. Grass is good too. Just make sure there are no pesticides or chemicals on it. Make sure you place a little salt block in their pen as well.

Choosing the right time to butcher your rabbit is pretty important. For the best efficiency, you don’t want to feed them longer than you have to. Eight to twelve weeks is the ideal time to butcher your rabbit because by then it should have already reached its peak weight and will not get any bigger. The longer you keep them past twelve weeks, the meat gets older and tend to gets a bit tough. You can use older rabbits when they have outlived their production purposes to make fantastic stews, however. So there is no waste in the rabbit meat breeding process.

As you can see, raising meat rabbits is rather easy. Once you get started it only gets easier. The hardest part is the start up. It is well worth the effort to give meat rabbits a try. They are a great way for a meat lover to keep their freezer stocked with meat, and it can be done by anyone whether you are a rancher, or a city slicker.

Other articles in this issue:

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21 comments

  1. A good basic article. Rabbits are by far the easiest and most efficient meat producing farm animal. With 2 does and a buck from excellent meat types, you can raise as much as 300lbs of meat a year…. and after butchering several other types of animals, except for getting past the “cute and fuzzy” part, they are way easiest to process. It’s not hard to have a rabbit ready for the pan in under 10 minutes. I’ve been raising meat rabbits for several years and there’s a lot of miss-information out there. Most vets are even rather clueless about rabbits. So I’ve been putting together an information page on basic rabbit care on my farm website:
    http://www.donnybrookfarm.com/RabbitBasics.html
    Email anytime, I love to talk “rabbit”

  2. The overall information in the article was fairly solid, but there were a couple of errors that could be potentially disasterous to the home rabbit breeder. First, rabbits can and do over eat. Ths will affect meat quality, the health of the rabbit and greatly decrease breeding success. Also, there was no mention of ventilation of the ‘rabbit barn’ or temperature in the garage. Rabbits are well equipped to handle cold temperatures, but they do not do well in a closed space like a garage with high temps. Garages in some parts of the country can be over 100 degres and will result in dead rabbits. The best book on raising rabbits is called ‘Storey’s Guide To Raising Rabbits’. It covers all aspects (I really do mean all aspects) of raising rabbits and is easy to understand for the beginner. Any one who is looking to start should definitely read this book. As of posting this comment, there were three new coppies on Amazon for about $12. Any one wanting to be successful should take the time up front to educate them selves. God Bless and to all a well prepared New Year.

    • How would rabbits do in the desert environment like las vegas?

      • I imagine they would do just fine as long as they were given as much water as they needed and not allowed to get overheated.

      • Jackrabbits live all over the desert and mountain west. They are truly hardy and built to take the extremes of heat and cold, but I would think (and I do not claim to be an expert) that “domestic” rabbits would be able to live just fine out there.

        • Jackrabbits and wild rabbits stand more of a chance of surviving the heat because they can burrow to get cool. Domestic rabbits, unless you raise them in a colony setting where they can burrow, depend on us to put frozen 2 liter ice bottles in their cages, or fans, or some breeders go as far as an air conditioned barn. Ventilation is key. I prefer ice bottles for them to snuggle up to. Haven’t lost one to heat yet.

  3. FYI…Leviticus 11:6, the rabbit, because it chews the cud, but does not have a split hoof, it is UNCLEAN to you. This means the Creator has forbidden it to be eaten. It is not beneficial to mankind. He who created the body knows best…wouldn’t you think?

    • I would agree if there was any substantiating evidence. Pork and most other forbidden animals can be shown to bear consequences. Rabbit as far as I’ve heard is very good for you. If I’m mistaken there is a passage in the new testament that absolves the Levitical food laws. Legalism to the old testament is the tripping block that lead to the downfall of the Sadducee and the pharisees.

    • Unless you are Jewish, that doesn’t mean anything to you. Those laws were setup so that sinful humans could attempt to be clean enough for God. The laws were in response to the continual degradation of man and the “stiff necked” people who turned their back on God’s miracles again and again. The arrival of Jesus threw out the laws. Our sins are forgiven through him and it is stated in the new testament that unless we make our neighbor fail in his faith by our practices, we are not bound to the clean and unclean animals.

      Also, go back to Genesis and Noah’s time. God gives every beast and fowl for consumption – “every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you; even as the green herb have I given you all things. But the flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood, shall ye not eat.” Clearly the laws were a result of man’s sinful ways, and not a result of what were were originally designed to consume.

      Yes, he who created man knows best. Eat those rabbits.

      • I think Levitical law was more intent upon sanitation that “Good or evil” having been in lands with no sanitation or refridgeration I can see the point of not eating shellfish where your sewage empties into the river or the ocean around you. But Jesus said nothing out of the body afffects your soul, he said nothing about intestinal parasites, cramps, or giardia…. as far as I know, but I am not a pastor.
        (Still I eat rabbits, catfish, and shrimp)
        The Col

        • I think when we look at Levitical law, we must recognize this was in the day before antibiotics, and cages. Rabbit is a carrier of several illnesses. Tularemia is the most significant. Tularemia is spread by fleas, ticks and other blood suckers, and highly virulent if ingested or if you handle a rabbit that has it. This is not so of “domestic” herds, unless the domestic herds are on the ground and exposed. (ie free range rabbits).
          Rabbit is one protien source very low on the inflammatory scale, very high on the omegas and totally complete on the amino acids, therefore, eating healthy rabbits far outweighs the risks, WILD RABBIT on the other hand, do not touch!! especially in Feb/March time frame when the tularemia is at its highest infection rates.

    • Reply to Fyi. That was old testiment scripture. since christ came we are under a new promise. and it says in 1st corinthians that ALL meat is beneficial to eat.

    • I’m sure God meant that for the Jews,not the gentiles. Also keep in mind in the New Testament the bible said “Whatever God has made in not unclean.”

  4. Rabbits don’t “chew cud”. go to google answers and read for yourself.

    Dr. Norman Geisler and numerous apologists have associated refection
    of rabbits with “cud chewing”. If you go that route, you run into the
    problem of the “Swine chewing a cud”. Swine, like rabbits consume
    their feces [coprophagia] — Swine notoriously will consume the feces
    of other animals, including that of humans as well. (Moses
    emphatically states the swine does not chew a cud.) We can deduce
    Moses was not referring to refection in the rabbit, but rather made
    the same observation as Linnaeus. I feel Dr. Sarfati would benefit
    from some further research on this issue. I would be interested to
    know what his response is on this issue.

    Biblical Scholars speak on the question:

    Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, page 525:
    The OT…refers to the hare only to indicate that it is an unclean
    animal, but its assertion that the hare is a ruminant is contrary to
    fact. Probably, as in the case of the hyrax…some movements of the
    mouth and jaws have been erroneously interpreted as cud-chewing.

    International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, page 616:
    This animal is mentioned only in the lists of unclean animals in
    Leviticus and Deuteronomy…The hare and the coney are not ruminants,
    but might be supposed to be from their habit of almost continuously
    moving their jaws.

    Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible, 2000 edition, page 552:
    Because it “chews the cud” but “does not have divided hoofs,” the hare
    is classified as an unclean animal (Lev. 11:6; Deut. 14:7). Actually,
    it is not a ruminant but may have appeared as such to ancient obervers
    because of its constant chewing movements.

    An entire discussion has been dedicated to this issue here:
    http://www.iidb.org/vbb/showthread.php?t=133308

  5. Believe it or not, one should not eat “too much” rabbit. As you know, their meat is very lean containing almost no fat at all. But the human body needs fat, so if you consume too much rabbit you could literally starve yourself. The goal should be about twice a week for eating rabbit. Likewise, there are foods that take more energy to digest and process in the body than they provide to you, such as lobster. Even though I personally believe rabbit is good for you, you should make good food choices. One other thing I believe it that some of the clean “unclean” foods we eat today used to be very unclean. Pork was very unclean in that it transmitted trichinosis. However, with modern methods that has pretty much been eliminated in America. Be wary in other countries, though.

  6. And of course when it comes down to eating or not eating, I betcha take a bite of the rabbit meat!
    The Col

  7. Prairie Creek Laurie

    I observe the food laws given to Moses. Peter, even though the vision repeated thrice, was unsure of the meaning. When he did give interpretation re the vision, he cited men (gentiles) – not food. I am looking to raise rabbits to feed my Anatolian Shepherds, as, 100 to 150 lb dogs will become impossible to feed if, in fact, feeding myself and others becomes difficult. I live on a faith-based farm in “community”. None of us would eat the rabbits but would not mind if a visitor’s beliefs included the consumption of rabbit, which is another good reason to raise them here. What kind of rabbits should I raise to feed large guardian dogs? Any tips?
    Thank you,
    ~L

  8. well ive never eaten a tame rabbit but i can say that ive eaten a bunch of the wild snow shoe hares that we have up here in maine and they are very good eatting but for now im working on building up my dual purpose chicken flock and working on my own garden plot my next thing will be to build a pig pen and after i get that done i may try raiseing some rabbits for meat but right now ive got to many irons in the fire and not enuff time in the days to get everything done but we are doing lots of small things like canning our own jams and veggies buying as much canned foods as we can to stock up im even learning how to can our own meats with the prices of foods going up all the time we need to do something to beable to live so far im just glad to have my property taxes paid up im going to need at least another year to be fully ready to grow and raise most of our own food but for now we do have a good 6 months worth of food for us and our animals on hand here we are trying for a years worth by the end of summer and are trying to stock up even more feed for the chickens as the baby chicks need a different food then the laying hens do so its kinda a never ending cycle for now

  9. If I wanted to raise rabbits what kind of “home grown” food could I feed them? Clover maybe?

    • Google home grown rabbit feeds… you’ll find a bunch.

      There are a few to avoid:
      Any fruit tree with pits can be toxic to them.
      Do not feed brassicas, i.e. broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, brussel sprouts, etc. They will cause severe gastrointestinal problems for the rabbits and they will die.
      Do not feed ice berg lettuce either, that will cause the same effects. I always wonder why restaurants and super markets even sell that garbage. If it messes a rabbit’s digestion up, what does it do to us. I always by leaf lettuces.

      Sorry I digressed…
      Rabbits eat many types of grasses and weeds, vegetables and tops. Gradually introduce these into their diet and they will benefit from them.

      Pre-1950, there were no pellets, so you can feed rabbits without rabbit pellets. It may take a little longer to grow them out, but it totally can be done.

  10. can any one tell me if you can grow rabbit food instead of buying food from stores and a list of what to grow and how much?

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