They’re cute, cuddly, and taste absolutely amazing. Breeding rabbits for meat is practiced by many preppers for good reason – its easy and offers a low-cost/high-return investment. Rabbits have a high meat-to-bone ratio (some breeds more than others) and their meat has very little fat.
Being able to breed rabbits in your backyard allows you to have a readily available supply of meat year-round – something that is crucial to be able to be self-sufficient and survive long-term.
Rabbits have been called “the most efficient small livestock”, though since they are not legally considered actual livestock, there aren’t that many restrictions on breeding. Another benefit to raising rabbits is that they’re quiet, unlike other small livestock animals such as chickens and ducks.
3 Breeds to Choose From
There are many different breeds of rabbits that you can raise for meat, but there are 3 that I will recommend.
The first is one of the most popular breeds that people choose for its high meat-to-bone ratio, the New Zealand (pictured below).
The New Zealand rabbit (actually American in origin) is probably the #1 most popular rabbit breed raised for meat. One rabbit can yield between 8-12 pounds of meat and the average litter size is around 8-10 kits (baby rabbits).
The second breed is the Californian (pictured below).
The Californian rabbit is the second most popular breed. Weighing between 7-10 pounds, they have an average litter size of around 6-8 kits.
The third breed I’ll recommend is based largely on their calm temperament (which is good if you have children helping feed/raise them) and their overall hardiness – the Palomino rabbit (pictured below).
The Palomino rabbit is a great breed for those who have kids who will be helping raise the rabbit, including feeding and handling them on a regular basis. Their friendly temperament makes for an easy breed to raise. They can take a little longer to mature but can reach 8-11 pounds each, with an average litter size of around 8 but can range between 6-12 kits.
Basic Homestead Requirements
Before you go out and start buying meat rabbits make sure that you have everything in order back home. The very first thing you should check is your local zoning ordinances. Once you’re clear there, make sure that you will house them in an area that remains cool. Heat is the #1 enemy of rabbits, so keep their hutch well-ventilated and close to your homestead and in the shade and protected from the wind.
Your rabbit hutch (or “cage”) should be well-ventilated, like we just mentioned, and in a cool area outside. Make sure that your hutch has been fully set up before you buy a rabbit, making the animal’s transition to your homestead stress-free. You can use wire hanging or stacking cages.
You can buy a hutch online or at pet stores, but it makes a much more fun DIY building project. You can find a simple step-by-step building plan for a rabbit hutch that should take a single day to complete, here on howtospecialist.com, using the following materials:
4 pieces of 1×3 lumber – 24”, 4 pieces – 36″, 8 pieces – 15″ (FRAME)
4 pieces of 1×3 lumber – 18 3/4”, 2 pieces – 34 1/2″, 2 pieces – 22 1/2″ (FRAME)
1 piece of 3/4″ plywood – 24″ x 34 1/2″ long (FLOOR)
6 pieces of 1×3 lumber – 15″, 8 pieces – 14 1/4″, 4 pieces – 24″ (FRAME)
16 pieces of 1×3 lumber – 10″ long (FRAME)
2 pieces of 1×2 lumber – 14″ long, 10 pieces – 7″ (DOOR)
2 piece of 1×3 lumber – 24″ long, 1 piece of 3/4″ plywood – 10″ x 17 1/2″ (WALL)
2 pieces of 1×3 lumber – 36″ long, 3 pieces – 24″ (ROOF)
1 piece of 3/4″ plywood – 26″ x 38″, 10 sq. ft. of asphalt shingles (ROOF)
If you are just starting off at rabbit breeding, the recommended number of rabbits to begin with is 1 buck (male) and 2-3 does (females). A doe can have 5 litters per year, with each litter giving you anywhere between 2-14 kits. Since the average dress-out weight should give you around 50% minimum in meat per rabbit, the average 8-kit litter will yield around 25 pounds of meat. So if you do the math, a single litter that yields 25 pounds of meat multiplied by 5 (average of 5 litters per year) means that a single doe will give you around 125 pounds of meat per year. If you start off with 3 does, that number becomes 375 pounds of meat per year!
Knowing this, it might make it easier to decide to start breeding rabbits. Having that much lean, healthy meat available each year is a huge plus to adding rabbits to your homestead. Think of all the money you will save on meat per year, plus you can also sell some of your rabbits to friends, family, or other individuals looking for a healthy food source (you are responsible to make sure that you are abiding by any and all legal regulations).
Always have extra feeders, bags of rabbit feed, cages, bales of hay, and water dispensers on-hand when breeding rabbits, just in case you have more kits than expected or someone wants to buy some supplies off of you.
When you begin buying your first set of rabbits (1:2 or 1:3 male-to-female ratio), buy from breeders with a good reputation and make sure that the rabbits are in perfect health. You can visit the American Rabbit Breeders Association to find rabbit breeders in your area.
Food and Health
Giving your rabbits the proper food they require will ensure that they will grow well and remain healthy. What you’ll want to get is a high-quality rabbit pellet brand. You’ll want to look for these specifics:
for bucks and growing kits, a rabbit pellet brand that has a 16% protein minimum is recommended
for nursing does and kits, a brand that has an 18% protein minimum is recommended
Some things to keep in mind when you start feeding your rabbits – make sure that you start off with small amounts and don’t introduce new foods or change pellet brands too radically, in case the rabbit gets sick.You can also feed your rabbits hay, just make sure that is of good quality and kept dry! Mold, and even dust, from old hay can kill your rabbits. Hay works well if your rabbits go off of the pellets you offer it. If this happens, remove the pellets from the cage and feed the rabbit only hay until its appetite returns. Some breeders “free feed” their rabbits, but I recommend measuring out the amount of food you give your rabbits. This will help you identify and changes in eating habits much faster.
If you have a sick rabbit quarantine it immediately. Also, when you get new rabbits, quarantine them for 1-2 months to make sure they are devoid of any sickness. Rabbits that have a white discharge from their mouth or nose need to be quarantined as well. This white discharge might be the result of a highly contagious disease called Pasteurella.
Butchering and Cooking
You have 2 options when the time comes to butcher your rabbits – have a butcher do it, or do it yourself. If you don’t have the stomach to do it then have a butcher take care of business. My recommendation is to learn how to do it yourself. You can go to the butcher the first time and let them do it so you can pick up a couple tricks or advice, but you should learn to do it yourself after that. Make sure you find an ethical butchering method for the animal.
You can butcher your rabbits at 10 weeks. “Fryers” are butchered up to 3 months old and have tender meat. Try substituting these fryers in any of your favorite chicken recipes, giving you a very healthy meal! Since their meat is so lean, you can marinate them before grilling them. After a rabbit is 3 months old they become “roasters”, which are larger (usually 9-10 pounds) and tougher. These should be used in stews or you can braise the meat to tenderize them.
Recently, officials at Whole Foods Market Inc. responded to a complaint about the sales of rabbit meat at one of their locations. The complaint was from a call for a Whole Foods boycott from the House Rabbit Society, which called the rabbit “the third most popular companion mammal” after dogs and cats. Whole Foods provided a link to a Los Angeles Times article concerning how rabbit meat is growing in popularity in dishes.
Here is an excerpt from the article:
“At a time when buzzwords like ‘organic,’ ‘local” and “sustainable’ are driving the market, rabbit is ripe for resurgence. According to Slow Food USA, rabbit can produce 6 pounds of meat using the same amount of food and water it takes for a cow to produce only 1 pound. Not to mention the health benefits. Rabbit is a lean meat that is higher in protein but lower in calories, fat and cholesterol than many other meats, including chicken, beef and pork.”
Here is the full statement from Liz Fry of the Whole Foods Global Quality Standards Team:
So as you can see, rabbits are growing in popularity as a healthy food source.
As always – do your research! Look up your local regulations, select the proper breed for you, have your rabbit hutches set up and food stocked before buying your first rabbits. I’m sure you’ll find that breeding rabbits is a fun hobby and, and as long as you don’t let notions of cuddly pet bunnies stop you, will allow you to provide your family with fresh, lean and healthy meat year-round.