Here at J&R Pierce Family Farm, I think it’s important to connect my readers with valuable insight from other experts. Today’s post is a guest post brought to you by John Thomas, a talented freelance writer.
It has been said that pork is the other white meat. If that is true, then rabbit meat is the other, other white meat. Meat rabbits, rabbits kept and raised for their meat, are not a new phenomenon.
During the Great Depression, rabbits were known as “Hoover Hogs” as cash-strapped families had to rely on getting protein from the fluffy little furballs. And rabbit meat has also been thought of as the “next big thing in food”.
Whole Foods carried rabbit meat for a short stint, and according to this Penn State study from 2002, that year there were 4300 farms selling close to 1 million rabbits per year for their meat. That number is almost certainly higher today.
Perhaps you’re considering getting into the meat rabbit raising game, either for you and your family to have a little extra meat, or to sell and earn a little extra income. If so, you’ve come to the right place.
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Choosing the Right Meat Rabbit Breed
The first thing you will realize when starting to raise rabbits for their meat is that you will be thrust into making many, many choices. The first of these choices is which breed of rabbit you want to raise.
There are plenty of breeds to choose from and all have their own pros and cons. Below is a list of some of the most common breeds and why you might want to consider raising them (or not).
1. New Zealand
The New Zealand breed is probably the most popular meat rabbit breed out there. The reason so many meat rabbit farmers choose the New Zealand breed is because they can easily grow to a robust 10-12 pounds. That means you can get plenty of meat per rabbit, a crucial factor in making your rabbits a financial viability (whether you’re raising them for yourself or to sell).
Another popular—and beefy—breed is the Californian. Californian rabbits, like New Zealand rabbits, commonly grow to around 10-12 pounds and are known for their good bone to meat ratio, another important metric of a rabbit breed’s merit for breeding.
The American rabbit is another popular choice, and while American’s don’t grow quite as big as New Zealand or Californian rabbits, they are well known for their mothering traits. How a mother takes care of her young is important for rabbits as it can ensure more bunnies survive into adulthood.
Palomino rabbits are often grown for another reason altogether: they grow faster. The quicker a rabbit can get to full size, the less feed consumed, and the quicker you can take that rabbit to market.
5. American Chinchilla
American Chinchillas are another popular breed, in this case chosen because of how well they can breed. Rabbits are famous for their prodigious procreation and American Chinchillas stay true to that image.
Other breeds, like the Standard Rex and Satin rabbit are bred for their meat production as well as the value of their pelts.
If you’re considering raising rabbits for more than just their meat you may also want to think about one of these breeds. As you’ll see later on, since raising rabbits for their meat does carry some risk, choosing a breed that can also be bread for their pelts might be a good idea.
The next choice you will need to make in your meat rabbit raising adventure is how you are going to shelter the rabbits. Essentially, there are two ways you can choose to shelter your meat rabbits. The first option is to use hutches.
Wooden hutches covered with wired mesh (like this one) provide a safe place for meat rabbits to sleep, eat, and move around and can cost anywhere from $50-$150 per hutch and more. There are also numerous DIY options for rabbit hutches that could save some money on this part of your rabbit raising experience.
The other way to shelter your meat rabbits is the colony option. With the colony option all the rabbits will live together in a fenced in area and dig their own holes for shelter. While initial startup of the colony option might be a shade easier, in the long run it makes cleaning, feeding, and other tasks a touch more labor intensive.
Note: Whether you choose the hutch or colony option there are other accessories you will need to buy for your meat rabbits. Lights, heaters, nesting boxes, feeders, fans, and more are all necessary if you want to keep your meat rabbits comfortable and healthy.
Feeding and Watering Your Rabbits
The many choices you have to make will continue as you decide which brand of feed to use and which type of waterers to buy. Sacks of rabbit feed can run anywhere from $10-$20 or more and waterers are typically sold for around $10.
Every breed of rabbit is different in terms of how much they need to be fed, how often, and for how long. The average rabbit needs about six to seven ounces of food per day. A typical doe and her litter will eat 100 pounds of feed all the way from breeding to weaning.
Some of the breeds listed above mature more quickly and eat less feed per pound so will produce a more efficient yield of rabbit meat. Carefully consider how much the breed you are considering will need to eat when you are choosing what type of meat rabbits to grow on your farm.
The Challenges of Raising Meat Rabbits
Rabbit meat has a rich, delicate flavor and isn’t that expensive. But if all that is true, why aren’t more people growing them. Or eating them. Of course it could be because rabbits are so cute and killing them for meat is more difficult than it is with pigs, cows, and chickens.
But it probably has more to do with the fact that raising rabbits for meat is labor intensive. Before you decide whether or not to raise meat rabbits, you need to count the cost.
Do you have the time to care for the rabbits? A colony of 100 rabbits (a large but not unheard of size—especially given how quickly rabbits reproduce) can take close to twenty hours or more of your time every week.
You will need to spend time cleaning the hutches or colony, feeding and watering the rabbits, mating them, conducting health checks, and working on transitioning the kits off of their mothers’ milk and onto pellets.
And there is no guarantee of success. Rabbits are animals of prey and very timid. You will need to consider ways to keep predators away from your rabbits.
They are also prone to numerous diseases (especially when they live in colonies) and can die very easily. Ear mites and other diseases can harm a colony of meat rabbits and your bottom line. This, of course, means you need to devote extra time to making sure your meat rabbits are healthy and remain so.
Go For It!
After answering all these questions and weighing whether or not you have the bandwidth to raise meat rabbits, it’s time to pull the trigger.
Just because raising meat rabbits can be a commitment and risk, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. Remember, you don’t have to start with 100 rabbits. Start with one buck and a couple of does and see how it goes. If you start slow, you will give yourself the freedom to make mistakes and the ability to learn from them.
And there are tons of reasons why it is a good idea to raise meat rabbits.
It can be a fun family activity. You can get your kids involved with the cleaning and feeding responsibilities and encourage them to name and help care for the rabbits. Meat rabbits are also an extremely rich source of protein. They have almost no fat on their bones, either, which means that each pound eaten or sold is very lean.
Finally, rabbit meat is far more efficiently raised than cow, pig, or even chicken meat. They eat next to nothing compared to cows. Plus, they only need to be fed for a few months before they are ready to be sold or slaughtered.
In the coming years, a growing population is expected to put more stress on the global meat supply. More efficiently sourced meat options will be in high demand. You can start now, before the pressure is on, and begin raising meat rabbits.
That way, you will have the hang of it. You will be an expert just in time for millennials and Gen Z’ers to come around to rabbit meat, the other, other white meat.
John Thomas is a freelance writer and hobby gardener. He writes regularly at Soli Deo Gloria.
There you have it! Everything you need to know about the best meat rabbit breeds. Have you raised meat rabbits before? Let me know how it went for you by chiming in below!
Want to learn more about farming? Be sure to take a look at these other articles.
- How to Cut Up A Chicken For the Freezer
- How to Make Your Own Sourdough Bread
- 20 Resourceful Recipes to Use Up Leftover Pickles
- 6 Absolutely Tantalizing Radish Recipes You Need to Try Tonight
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