Choosing a good meat rabbit breed is key to ensuring a good meat to bone ratio is achieved. There are 14 rabbit breeds that are ideal for both meat and fur, and are excellent mothers which birth an abundance of kits.
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When we first began our homesteading journey it was quite simple – a few backyard chickens for eggs and a small garden. However, it quickly became evident that if we wanted to achieve food freedom and a sustainable lifestyle raising our own meat would be essential.
Little did we know that raising meat rabbits would be something we would ever consider. Since the incorporation of rabbits onto the homesteader we’ve never looked back. They are ideal to raise for homesteads of all sizes, especially for a small acre homestead as ours.
Rabbits, in many counties within the United States, are not considered agriculture livestock. Making them ideal for all who seek to own a small amount of their food source. Not to mention, there are various methods for housing rabbits, from hanging cages to stackable wire ones, even a colony type of setting is ideal under the right circumstances. One quick tip, make sure to choose the housing method which works best for your property size.
Rabbits as a Sustainable Meat Source
There are many benefits to raising rabbits. Actually, there are 13 reasons to raising rabbits for meat. The sustainable meat source is incredible, however, there is nothing better than instant fertilizer for the garden.
You learn quickly in the life we live, how to offer fresh alternatives to your livestock to supplement feed. This is no different with rabbits, feeding rabbits naturally creates a healthier animal when partnered with a high quality pellet feed. Learning which fresh food options to feed rabbits is key to raising healthy rabbits.
Choosing a Meat Rabbit Breed for the Homestead
Prior to incorporating rabbits make sure the rabbitry is set-up and feed has been purchased. This will allow less stress caused to the rabbits as they adapt to their new environment.
Now, let’s talk about which breeds will give you the biggest bang for your buck (no pun intended). Choosing a meat rabbit breed means knowing what to look for, and sadly, cute little lionhead rabbits are equivalent in size to Cornish hens purchased from the local market.
When choosing the best rabbit breed for meat there are few things to consider –
- meat to bone ratio
- the pelt
- the doe and the buck
Meat to Bone Ratio –
With an animal as small as rabbits you need to consider the amount of meat available, you want the rabbit to have an equal amount of meat to bone. If not you will have to raise double the amount of rabbits to compensate for the difference in order to receive enough meat to make the endeavor worth the effort.
The Pelt –
Create a zero waste product by tanning the pelt. However, if you are not yet at this phase of working with hide there are many individuals who are. Also, barter the hide for goods. Take the time to reach out to homesteaders in your area and offer a trade.
Doe and Buck –
Select breeds which breed which will –
- be good mothers
- birth large litters
This will keep you in meat for months to come. For those looking to sell pedigree rabbits, make sure to look for reputable breeders. Breeding rabbits for show will allow for one to make a small amount of money as well.
Birth to Butcher –
To minimize expenses those who raise rabbits for meat will seek breeds which grow out relatively quickly. An average grow-out time for meat rabbits is between 8 to 14 weeks of age. However, not every meat rabbit breed would have reached an appealing weight at this age.
For this reason we often cross breed a larger breed such as the American Chinchillas with the Harlequins. This allows for a fully dressed rabbit to weigh between 4 to 5 pounds.
14 Excellent Meat Breeds
There are a few things to consider prior to selecting a breed, and the first is whether you intend to raise a heritage breed. Heritage animals have a slower grow-out than standard rabbit breeds. For a list of heritage rabbits take a look at the Livestock Conservancy.
The following list consists of commonly raised heritage and standard rabbit breeds raised for meat –
Let’s begin the New Zealand rabbits. This breed is available in many colors and are the most popular meat rabbit breed to raise. The NZ rabbit weighs between 9 to 12 pounds and matures quickly. Butchering time for New Zealand rabbits is as early as 8 weeks of age. To continue with this breeds greatness a doe can throw up to 14 kits with each pregnancy.
Much like the New Zealand rabbits the Rex is a very popular breed to raise among those who raise rabbits for meat. The Rex rabbit breed is easy to purchase throughout the US. It is and prized for their meat to bone ratio and velvety pelt. The breed weighs in between 7 to 11 pounds and will throw 6 to 12 kits with each litter. However, the Rex rabbit is known to take longer to reach the dinner table than the New Zealands.
This breed is known as a gentle giant and can weigh between 9 to 15 pounds. They have a poor meat to bone ratio and are very slow to grow out, for this very reason many choose to cross breed them with other breeds. A typical litter is between 5 to 10 kits.
One of the small meat breeds weighs in between 4 to 6 pounds, but they have a nice meat to bone ratio. They are a hardy breed and not very susceptible to illnesses. They are known to have a litter of 5 to 8 kits.
A favorite breed of ours to raise. The American Chinchillas are kind and gentle, weigh in between 9 to 12 pounds with an excellent meat to bone ratio. Unlike the standard and giant Chinchilla breeds, the American Chinchilla is hard to come by. They are excellent mothers and are known to birth between 8 to 12 kits. Like the Flemish Giants, this heritage breed is often cross bred with small breeds such as Harlequin, Silver Fox, Rex. and American Chinchillas. The pelts on this breed are prized and used to line gloves, coats and for making rugs.
This standard breed weighs in between 8 to 12 pounds and is known to be the second most popular breed to raise for meat. Californian rabbits are an extremely gentle breed though their pelt is not prized for tanning due to its coarse texture. The Californian rabbit breed will throw between 6 to 8 kits per litter.
Cinnamon rabbits are a cross between the New Zealand Whites and the American Chinchillas. They are a very hardy and gentle breed, with very little health issues. The Cinnamon rabbit breed weighs between 8 to 11 pounds and throws small litters consisting of 4 to 6 kits. Their pelt is beautiful and great for lining gloves and hoods of coats.
Champagne D Argent
This breed weighs in between 8 to 12 pounds and has an excellent meat to bone ratio. Champagnes are a gentle and calm breed and will throw 5 to 8 kits per litter.
A heritage breed which fed many families across America during World War II. This rabbit weighs in between 6.5 to 9.5 pounds and is known to throw between 6 to 10 kits. Its pelt is available in many colors and is prized for lining gloves and coats. The Harlequin rabbit is another breed which grows quickly and is ready to be butchered as early as 8 to 10 weeks.
Standard Chinchillas are the smallest of the Chinchilla breed weighing in between 5 to 7 pounds. This smaller breed is great for those with limited space and are prized for its pelt. This breed is known to birth up to 7 kits, but is more likely to deliver an average 5 kits. Though a small breed they have an excellent bone to meat ratio.
This breed is available in many colors which is great for those who like to tan hides. Satin are cold weather hardy and do well in colder areas, not to mention, they are a healthy breed to raise. This larger rabbit weighs between 8 to 12 pounds, is very friendly and docile, and will birth 1 to 12 kits. Much like the other larger breeds, Satins are slow to grow out.
The American Blue rabbit weighs between 9 to 12 pounds and is valued for both its meat and fur. This breed throws 8 to 10 kits at each birth and are excellent mothers. Unfortunately, like the Flemish Giant they have poor meat to bone and are ideal when cross bred to other breeds such as the Rex, Harlequin, Silver Fox or any smaller breed.
This sweet rabbit breed weighs between 8 to 11 pounds and is extremely maternal. They are not susceptible to many health issues, though they throw very small litters – roughly 4 to 8 kits. Much like the Flemish Giants this rabbit breed grows out quite slowly.
Silver Foxes are available in many colors and weigh in between 9 to 12 pounds, however, they are very rare to locate. They are a calm and friendly breed throwing 4 to 8 kits on average. The pelt is quite stunning and is prized by those who are skilled in tanning hides.
Begin by choosing a meat rabbit breed which is easy for you to handle and butcher. Also consider whether you seek to work the pelt. If not, find an individual who is willing to work the hide for you as a trade. Rabbits are an excellent animal to have on the property regardless of the property size and one which will provide for you for many years to come.