When we first considered becoming more self-sufficient, we realized we would need a source of meat. Without much acreage, we decided something smaller would be best – rabbits fit the bill perfectly.
If you’ve never raised rabbits, there’s a surprising amount of information out there and it can be somewhat confusing. To help you get started homesteading rabbits, we’ll first go over some of the best meat rabbit breeds and what you need to know about them.
There are quite a few different rabbit breeds, and not all of them are ideal for their meat. Some are raised for their pelts – those don’t necessarily have the best taste, or the best protein content.
You’ll need meat rabbits to get started, and there are several from which to choose. If you decide to do a cost/benefit analysis on your rabbits, remember that the cleaned/dressed weight is about half of the live weight.
Available in white and red colorations, the New Zealand is a very large rabbit. Bucks can weigh as much as 10 pounds, and does can weigh in at 12 pounds. That’s a good bit of meat.
The Flemish Giant rabbit breed actually exceeds the weight of the New Zealand rabbit by a bit. You might find your does weighing in at 13 or even 14 pounds, and some can even reach 20 pounds. They’re also hardy animals.
The Californian is a cross between New Zealand and chinchilla rabbits. They have a good amount of meat, and can weigh as much as 12 pounds, although they range as low as 8, so a New Zealand or Flemish Giant might be better if you’re concerned about getting the most meat possible from each fryer.
There are plenty of other breeds out there. If you’re considering using the pelts (whether in the home or for sale), then satin rabbits might be your best choice, as they provide high quality fur as well as lots of meat.
Setting Things Up
In terms price, you’ll find that the cost per rabbit varies around the country. Adults will generally run you $15 to $20 each.
You’ll need to buy enough rabbits to get your little homestead up and running – you’ll want four to five does for each buck (there’s nothing wrong with starting small). Plan to breed your does monthly and you’ll have new litters constantly.
Rabbits gestate for only 31 days, so just a few rabbits will go a long, long way in terms of allowing you to build a year-round supply of meat.
You’ll need to take special precautions in terms of equipment, shelter most importantly. You can build rabbit runs or keep your animals in cages/pens.
Understand that rabbits are food sources for a lot of predators, from hawks to foxes and even dogs, so ensure that you create strong pens.
You’ll need separate areas for the bucks, does and for weaning kits as well. Thankfully, they need relatively little space, particularly if you’ll be feeding them rather than letting them forage for their own food.
In terms of food, you’ll find that pelletized food is generally the most affordable option (and it allows you to bypass the hazards involved with free range rabbits, like predators or rabbit damage to your garden). You can buy rabbit food at pretty much any farm supply store, too.
Always remember – the higher the food quality, the higher your rabbits’ meat quality will be. If you intend to feed your rabbits on your own, you’ll need to give them a mix of rolled oats, rolled barley, whole wheat, sunflower seeds, and brewer’s yeast.
Socializing your rabbits is only important if you intend for them to be friendly toward humans. You might find that too much socialization makes it harder when slaughter time comes around, as you’re more accustomed to seeing them as furry little friends rather than an important source of meat.
If you’re concerned that you’ll be too emotionally attached to your rabbits to harvest them, it might be a better option to invest in Angora rabbits or another wool-bearing breed, as these can be sheared and are a no-kill livestock variety.
A small herd of rabbits can easily grow and supply you with plenty of meat for an entire year. Rabbit can be kept raw in the freezer for up to six months as well. Choose your breed and get ready for more sustainable living.