Raising meat rabbits is a big decision for many homesteaders. Learn about heritage meat rabbit breeds and whether raising rabbits is the worth the investment and time.
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To many, the thought of raising rabbits as a meat source is unconventional. Unheard of. Unethical. And cruel.
But to others, raising rabbits as a sustainable meat is an ideal source of protein. Not to mention, rabbits are extremely easy to raise. Most cities and counties do not consider rabbits to be livestock which makes raising rabbits, especially heritage rabbit breeds, ideal for many urban homesteaders. However, prior to incorporating rabbits onto the homestead, verify the laws for where you reside. Not every city, or even county, will accept rabbits other than as pets.
Additionally, the cost for raising rabbits is minuscule, even less than raising broiler chickens for meat.
One other thing, with rabbits comes butchering. Make sure you are prepared to process the sustainable meat rabbits you are raising.
Breed Selection | Common and Heritage Meat Rabbit Breeds
When it comes to raising rabbits as a meat source there are a plethora of breeds to choose from. Selecting the best rabbit breed for your homestead will consist of two factors , choosing between common or heritage meat rabbit breeds.
Meat rabbits found under the common list can easily be found across America. Locate a reputable breeder to ensure that the breed meets the standard requirements. This will ensure that the integrity of the breed is met.
Heritage rabbit breeds found on the Livestock Conservancy are breeds which are either critical, threatened, watched, recovering, or being studied. These breeds were once commonly found in many American homes as a sustainable meat source prior to the opening of supermarkets.
One breed which is not listed is the Flemish Giant, though many would disagree with me. The weight of this particular breed is appealing, however, the grow-out time and amount of feed consumed makes them less appealing.
- Californian – 8 to 10 pounds
- Champagne d Argent – 9 to 11 pounds
- Cinnamon – 8.5 to 11 pounds
- Florida White – 6 to 8 pounds
- New Zealand – 9 to 12 pounds
- Palomino – 8 to 12 pounds
- Rex – 8 to 9 pounds
- Satin – 8.5 to 11 pounds
Heritage Meat Rabbit Breeds
- Americans – 10 to 12 pounds
- American Chinchilla – 9 to 11 pounds
- Harlequin – 7 to 9 pounds
- Silver Fox – 10 to 12 pounds
Proper housing is important for a good rabbit husbandry. Keep in mind, the best type of housing is not about where rabbits live. For example, will the housing accommodate birthing boxes, a litter of kits, and grow-out for the litter prior to butchering. There is a lot of thought which needs to go into housing. And I highly suggest that housing be established prior to bringing home the meat rabbits.
The minimal housing is 3-feet long by 2 1/2-feet wide by 24-inches high. To many the space may be smaller than expected. However, the idea is to minimize the amount of movement. This ensures that the meat is not tough, but instead tender once butchered. The height of the cages is important as well. Rabbits need to be able to rise on their hind legs in order to stretch.
One final tip, make sure a rabbit has a rest pad available within the cages. This reduces the chances of getting sore hocks, also known as pododermatitis, due to being on hard wire.
Independent Cages – Each rabbit is housed in independent standing cages. This is ideal for those who have a barn or large space to house the herd. The waste drops to the ground, and generally moved around with the help of poultry. Independent cages can be purchased in standard size or custom ordered at a great price from Hostile Hair.
Hanging Cages – Very similar to standing cages, but instead hung from rafters of barn or structure. Again, waste drops directly to the ground.
Stackable Cages – Generally consisting of the cages stacked on top of each other, and is also known as condo style cages. However, unlike the first two options the waste is collected in pull out trays which require cleaning daily.
Colony Setting – Tribes of does are kept in an open cage free space, generally in large areas on the ground. Males are introduced as needed for breeding purposes. Males are also kept in a separate colony setting. Rabbits can be litter trained allowing them to defecate in a pan much similar to a kitty litter pan. Or they defecate where they see fit. The colony will need to be cleaned on a regular basis, much as one would clean a chicken coop.
A colony setting is quite humane for meat rabbits, however, disease can spread quickly because the rabbits are kept in the same space.
Because we have the space, finishing rabbits on pasture is ideal. Ten to 14 days prior to butchering the liter is moved onto grass and fed a minimal amount of pellets. The flavor of the meat is a bit gamy, but none the less, delicious.
Rabbits are the most economical meat item to raise. Aside from a quality pellet feed and grass hay a portion of their diet can be supplemented for a more natural seasonal feed plan.
A protein level of 16% is good for meat rabbits. Offering nursing does 18% protein will help with milk supply. Pregnant does also benefit from higher protein. An adult rabbit requires 1/2 cup to 1 cup of pellet feed per day, whereas pregnant and nursing does require feed to be offered as free choice.
Now comes the difficult part, butchering. Ideally, for a prime tender meat source rabbits will need to be butchered between 8 to 12 weeks. Depending on the breed and age the dress weight will vary.
- Fryers 8 to 10 weeks old
- Roasters 10 – 12 weeks old
- Stewers over 6 months old
Once dressed 85% of the rabbit is consumable, in addition to the heart, liver, and kidneys. Stewers are firmer in meat, much fattier, and excellent for, well, making stew! However, slow cooking will also soften the meat.
Aside from raising rabbits, Coturnix quail are great for small acreage homesteads. These little game birds are dual purpose, providing both meat and eggs.
Additional resources and information:
- Rabbit Hutches by Timber Creek Farms
- Rabbit Care Basics for the Beginner by The Fewell Homestead
- Livestock Conservancy
- Hostile Hare