Raising Rabbits for Meat
Learn how to raise your own rabbits as a nutritional source for your family's table.
Once the decision has been made to enter the arena of raising rabbits for meat, many questions will be posed. Before one can begin, they must be prepared to answer these questions in full in order to be succesful.
Rabbits are very economical creatures to have as livestock. They require minimal care and are not labor intensive. This makes them very attractive to the small farmer as well as the backyard breeder.
Before considering rabbits as a possibility, consider your environment. If you live in a southern or tropical climate with hot summer temperatures you will have to provide your rabbits with some kind of heat relief. Rabbits cannot tolerate temperatures over 90 degrees farenhiet and can very easily perish due to heat stroke. If this is the type of climate that you live in, reconsider raising rabbits, or consider putting them inside a building with air conditioning so that temperatures can be regulated.
On the other side of the coin, if your environment is one where the winters are below freezin, you will have to find a way to keep your rabbits somewhat warm, as well as keeping their water supply from freezing. Rabbits will tolerate cold temperatures much better then warm ones. A rabbit is happiest when the temperature is about 50 degrees farenhiet. You can easily regulate the rabbit's temperature if they are housed outdoors with heat lamps, extra straw and specially made heating pads. Prepare a way to block any freezing rain, ice or snow from directly hitting your rabbit's hutch. If it stays below freezing, consider moving your rabbits indoors for the coldest days.
Once the climate question has been answered, you will need to decide on the type of housing you will provide your rabbits. If you are keeping them indoors, then wire cages are best. If they are going to be outdoors, wire cages are okay, but you will need to provide a wind block on three sides of the cage area, as well as a roof. You may want to consider also having a tarp or canvas that can be dropped down on the front of the cage for rainy or especially cold days. Wooden hutches are not feasible if you have more then 5 rabbits. Not only are they expensive, but they are difficult to keep clean and take up quite a bit of space. Keep the rabbitry out of direct wind, away from areas with noisy dogs and children, and in a shaded area. There are many books on how to build the perfect rabbitry as well as on how to "hide" it from your neighbors.
Once your rabbitry is designed, consider an earthworm bed. Earthworm beds are easily maintained and will help offset the cost of feed, should you decide to sell them. Earthworms also keep the smell from the manure at a minimum, as well as the fly population. Should you chose to put one in, I reccomend doing so before your caging is in place, so that the worms can become accustomed to their environment. Most rabbit books cover the how to of earthworm beds quite thoroughly.
Now that you've settled on where you're going to keep your rabbits, and your cages are built, it is time to buy your feeders, watering system and feed. You can purchase these items through mail order catalogs, such as Ball Inc. or at your local feedstore. Unless you're buying quite a bit, I would go with the feed stores because shipping costs can be quite expensive. You will probably want to use the j-style self feeders. If you're only starting with a few rabbits, water bottles are also okay. Watering systems are nice, but not economically feasible if you have less then 20 rabbits. Rabbit feed is straightforward. It comes in 25 pound or 50 pound bags of alfalfa based pellets. There is usually three types of feed, maintainance, show and lactating doe formulas. In the beginning, the maintenace feed is sufficient. There is no need to supplement the feed. Keep the feed in dry, air tight containers and do not feed any wet or moldy pellets.
You are now prepared to get your rabbits. If you plan on selling any rabbits to labs, processors or furriers you MUST have a white coated breed. They will not buy colored rabbits. White rabbits are also easier to clean when you butcher them yourself.
The most popular breed of meat rabbit is the New Zealand White. They reach their market weight at 12 weeks and are easy to raise. These rabbits are solid white with pink eyes. The next in line is the Californian. Californian rabbits are white with brown/black ears, feet, and nose. They have a meatier and blockier body then the New Zealand, but are also smaller. If you are not stuck on having "purebred" rabbits, consider crossing the New Zealand and Californian for a rabbit that will reach weight quickly and will have little fat. Another popular white meat rabbit is the Florida White. These rabbits are smaller then the two aforementioned breeds, but are gaining in popularity. Other rabbits to consider as meat rabbits: Champagne D'Argents, Creme D' Argents and Rex breeds.
Finding a breeder to obtain your rabbits from does not have to be difficult. You can visit the message board found in most local feed stores, call your extension office or search the web. Ask the breeder if the does you are purchasing are "proven." This means that they have delivered kits before and are good mothers. You will want to purchase 4 does and no more then 2 bucks to begin your own rabbitry. They can be bred immediately (if they are at least 6 months old) and in 31 days you should have babies. In 12 weeks you can decide which does to add to your herd and which to sell or harvest. Just remember, rabbits breed like...well, rabbits!
When harvesting rabbits, anything under 6 pounds is considered a fryer. Anything over that is considered a stew rabbit.