Raising Rabbits for Meat – A comprehensive guide filled with tips and advice to help you get started raising meat rabbits for food, show and profit.
Rabbits make wonderful pets and show animals. But that’s not all. Unlike most animals kept as pets, rabbits can double as an excellent food source. Domestic rabbit meat is white, mild-flavored, and low in moisture. It’s lower in calories, cholesterol, and fat per pound than any common meat besides seafood. With the uncertain economy and increasing demand for natural diets, more people around the world are raising rabbits for meat.
In order to successfully raise rabbits for meat, you need to have the right stock, the right equipment, the right knowledge, and lots of determination. It can be tricky getting started, but the benefits are worth it. Here are some tips:
Start with the right breeding stock
There are three breeds most commonly used as meat stock: the Californian, New Zealand, and Florida White. The first two are of “Commercial” type. That means they grow to 9-10 pounds as adults, and have medium-light frames for optimum meat-to-bone ratio. A good line of Californians or New Zealands can grow a four to five pound fryer in ten weeks. You can count on 6-10 surviving kits per litter from these breeds. (Your number of viable kits each litter will probably increase as your rabbit-raising skills improve.) A quality Cal or New Zealand doe can have six litters a year while maintaining good condition. You can use these numbers to determine how many does you will need to produce enough meat for your family. Plan to keep a smaller number of does that produce consistently rather than a greater number that you only breed occasionally. This is both healthier for the does, more consistently productive, and more cost and space efficient. Don’t plan on too few, however. You should always plan to breed at least two does at once, so that if there is a problem with one litter, you can foster to the other doe.
There are other commercial type breeds that can be good meat producers. Examples include the American Chinchilla, Satin, Silver Fox, and Champagne d’Argent. These breeds may be a bit less productive than Californians or New Zealands, and their colored coats are less desirable as pelts. However, the color may make them more fun to raise, and they give you an opportunity to support a less common breed. It’s all about bloodlines: if you can buy from a good meat-producing line, the less popular breeds can be very profitable to keep.
Florida Whites are smaller, weighing only about six pounds as adults. They have an average litter size of six. Florida Whites have as good a dress-out ratio as the larger breeds, but they just produce a smaller fryer. They work well for individuals or small families that do not need a large supply or meat, but want to keep their does in production. They can also be kept in less space than the commercial breeds.
Use the best rabbit equipment for raising meat rabbits
Equipment is so important. A good cage will keep your rabbit healthy, clean, and safe. The right feeding and watering equipment is essential to maintaining condition and production. Don’t start without the best supplies.
Cages for Meat Rabbits
When raising Commercial type rabbits, you should have a cage that’s at least 30” x 30” or 24”x36” for each doe and litter. Cages such as those in the Supreme Rabbit Home line are super handy, because they have slide-out drop trays that catches waste, allowing the cages to be stacked on a stand with casters. Always use wire floors with meat rabbits. They are much healthier for your bunnies.
If you don’t want to stack your cages, but instead use ones that hang over compost beds, you can order custom-built cages or buy cage-building tools at PremiumRabbits.com.
Feeding and Watering Supplies for Meat Rabbits
Most breeders of meat rabbits prefer to use J-feeders to supply rabbit pellets. J-feeders can conveniently be filled from the outside of the cage, saving you time during chores. They can hold a large amount of pellets at a time, which becomes necessary when you have a doe with eight kits that are all eating solid food. Galvanized J-feeders also have screen bottoms to filter fines.
For water, you can use either water bottles or crocks. Lixit is probably the best brand for water bottles, and if you’re raising large rabbits, you’ll probably want their 32 ounce size bottle. If you decide to use bowls, get the ones that attach securely to the cage, such as the Quick-Lock Crocks or EZ-Crocks.
Other Equipment for Raising Rabbits for Meat
Nest Boxes – they matter. They are essential to raising a safe litter of kits. Make sure your nest boxes are portable, sturdy, and sanitary. Steel ones work great because they don’t absorb urine and are easy to clean. Don’t buy a nest box that is too large. It should be very snug: not large enough for the doe to use as a sofa.
Record keeping equipment is valuable as well. Keeping accurate records will help you measure your production and determine which decisions were the most profitable. If you are raising rabbits for meat, you may want to keep a 20-pound scale around the barn to track rate-of-gain and dress-out rates. You’ll want a tattoo kit to earmark your rabbits so you know who is who. And you’ll want to keep pedigrees on your rabbits, even if you aren’t raising them for show.
Learning all you need to know about Meat Rabbits
Raising rabbits is trickier than you might think at first, especially if you have a goal to meet, such as trying to grow food at a lower cost than you would buy it. Before you jump in, read all you can about raising rabbits for meat.
It’s more productive to grab a quality book on your topic and read through it than to glean information from the internet. A book lays things out in an order that makes sense, and will cover all the details that you might miss if you’re just surfing for articles. In fact, there’s a book all about raising rabbits for meat from an author who has done himself for years. Raising Meat Pen Rabbits comprehensively covers breeding and growing rabbits for meat – check it out!
The final key: Determination
You can do it. You can provide your family with a safe and healthy food source that you raised by working together. You can build a herd of meat animals that you can rely on in times of crisis. It will take determination when you see litters fail or you run into a health problem with your herd. It will take hard work to keep cages clean and the rabbitry organized. It will take management skills to coordinate breedings and sales. But you can get there. The first couple years of raising rabbits are always the hardest. It takes longer than you might think to learn the ropes. But if you ever feel like giving up, keep going instead. You learn so much from the experience, that just when it is looking worst is often when it’s about to get better. When it comes to raising rabbits, anyone can be a winner.