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
- American Chinchillas
- Silver Fox
- 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.
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.
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