Rabbit: A Great Meat Animal for Small Homesteads

Clean, quiet rabbits are easy to raise, even for urban growers.
By Robin Mather
October/November 2011
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Creme d’Argent rabbit
PHOTO: AMERICAN LIVESTOCK BREEDS CONSERVANCY
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Whether your homestead is in the city or the country, meat rabbits can help you feed your family with lean, nutritious meat. Rabbits breed and grow so quickly that one pair of healthy does (females) can produce more than 600 pounds of meat in a year. Compare that to the dressed yield of 400 pounds for an average year-old beef steer. Rabbits also use feed more efficiently than cows do: According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a rabbit needs 4 pounds of feed to make 1 pound of meat. In comparison, beef cattle need 7 pounds of feed or more to create 1 pound of meat, reports Michigan State University’s Department of Animal Science.

Archaeologists have found proof that the Romans raised meat rabbits 2,000 years ago, so people have known for centuries that rabbit meat is delicious. Today, we know that it’s also an excellent source of protein, has less cholesterol and fat than chicken, beef, lamb or pork, and that it has an almost ideal fatty acid ratio of 4:1 omega-6 to beneficial omega-3 fatty acids (see The Fats You Need for a Healthy Diet to learn more).

Rabbits are clean and quiet, so they won’t trouble your neighbors. Their manure can enrich your garden without composting — it’s not “hot,” so it can go directly into the garden, where it will provide lots of nitrogen and phosphorus and help build soil. Or let the rabbits’ manure fall into worm beds; see Ten Commandments for Raising Healthy Rabbits for more on this idea.

If you’d like to try raising rabbits for the table, this guide will help you get off to an excellent start.

First, Build Your Cages

Before you rush out and buy your rabbits, you need to figure out where you’re going to keep them. Each rabbit needs its own cage, so for the breeding trio of a buck and two does you’ll need three cages. (See our diagram of a homemade rabbit cage.) The cages should be protected from predators and the weather — in a garage or outbuilding, for example.

For meat rabbits, each cage should be about 3 feet square and 2 feet high to give the animals plenty of room to move around. The best material for cages is double-galvanized 14-gauge welded wire. Chicken wire is too flimsy. Use 1-inch square or 1-by-1-1⁄2-inch wire on the bottoms to prevent sore feet and to let droppings fall through. Plan to run some extra wire up the sides to prevent babies from falling out of the does’ pens. Hinge the cage doors so they swing inward, so your rabbits can’t accidentally push them open. Mount the cages 3 to 4 feet off the ground, to make working with the animals easier and to help protect them from predators such as dogs, snakes and coyotes. For two good homemade cages, see the Mississippi Cooperative Extension Service’s plans.

Hang a feeder and waterer inside, and you’re ready to go rabbit shopping.

Next, Choose Your Breed

Search online or ask at farm stores for an experienced breeder who will sell you a proven breeding trio.

If you haven’t raised rabbits before, Eric Rapp of the Rare Hare Barn in Leon, Kan., suggests starting with a common meat breed. Rapp should know: He’s been raising rabbits since he was a child. Today, he and his wife, Callene, have more than 150 breeding rabbits. “For a starter meat rabbit, we would suggest something mainstream — New Zealands, perhaps, or Californias,” he says.

After you’ve gotten your feet wet, you may be interested in adding heritage breeds to your rabbitry. Check out the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy’s (ALBC) list of breed associations and clubs. We asked Rapp, who’s an ALBC board member, about some of the heritage meat varieties:

American (ALBC Listed as Critically Endangered): “Some genetic issues (within the breeding gene pool in the United States). A mandolin-shaped rabbit, fairly large, and they take a little longer to reach fryer weight.”

American Chinchilla (Critically Endangered): “My favorite, and one I recommend to people starting out. Nice compact rabbit that finishes good from rump to front shoulders. It has a 56 to 58 percent ratio of live weight to finished weight.”

Silver Fox (Critically Endangered): “A nice, meaty rabbit. They do a little better in hot weather. We get the most calls on this rare breed because there’s info out on the Internet that they’ll yield 65 percent, but that’s not true in my experience.”

Champagne: “One of the oldest breeds. Compact, nice loin. Cross-bred with American Chinchillas, they finish in 8 to 10 weeks with really nice carcasses.”

Creme d’Argent: A beautifully colored rabbit with a lovely pelt. “Most people who have them are breeding for show, so the stock has not been bred for meat production.”

Blanc de Hotot (Threatened): “Very high-strung. Not great mothers. Their meat is actually whiter (than other breeds’).” Rapp says lack of diversity in the bloodlines in the United States for this breed means it may not do well.

Feed Them Right

“Feed is going to get more expensive, and that’s the first thing people want to cut corners on,” Rapp says. “The misconception is that wild rabbits run around the yard and they just live on local plants,” so caged rabbits should be able to eat that way, too.

Yet rabbit pellets are designed to deliver complete nutrition with every bite, and you will need to feed pellets even if you pasture your rabbits. “We studied pasture-finished rabbits under a Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) grant, looking at New Zealands and other breeds,” Rapp says. “We found that it took 26 to 28 weeks to finish on pasture, 12 weeks on pellets. That’s much higher feed costs, and lengthening the time that your investment might die. The meat will also be yellowish because they’re grass-fed.”

Look for a complete-nutrition pellet at your co-op or feed store that is between 16 and 18 percent protein, Rapp says. “Our local co-op makes our feed at 17 percent. Local co-ops’ feed may also be fresher. So check around.”

And take it easy on the treats, Rapp says. Every mouthful of treats reduces the amount of the pellets your rabbits eat, which increases the time they need to grow to harvest size. (Fresh fruit and vegetables are an appropriate treat.)

Harvest Time

Your young rabbits should be ready to slaughter at 8 to 12 weeks and 3 to 4 pounds for fryer weight (2 to 2 1/2 pounds dressed weight). Roasters are 10 weeks to 6 months old, between 5 1/2 and 8 pounds live, and will dress out to about 3 to 4 pounds.

The most humane ways to kill a rabbit are to break its neck in a process called “cervical dislocation” (which Mississippi State Extension lists as the preferred method; see “A Kinder Way to Kill” at the end of this article to learn more), or to stun it before slaughter. After the rabbit is dead, hang it by its hind feet and remove its head so it can bleed out. (Watch a video on how to skin a rabbit.)

How to Cook Rabbit

Because rabbit meat is so lean — with little internal fat — it fares best in recipes in which it is browned in butter or oil and then cooked slowly, and in braises and stews.

Try rabbit in mustard, adapted from The Joy of Cooking. For four servings, combine one-third cup Dijon mustard and a teaspoon of dried thyme. Brush it over a 3- to 3 1/2-pound rabbit cut into 8 serving pieces and season the pieces with salt and pepper. Brown the rabbit pieces in a large skillet with 3 tablespoons of oil over medium-high heat.

Remove the rabbit and, in the same skillet, reduce the heat to medium-low and brown 2 tablespoons chopped shallots, stirring occasionally.

Add 1 1/2 cups chicken or vegetable stock, 1 cup dry white wine and one-half cup heavy cream. Bring to a boil and scrape up the browned bits.

Reduce the heat and cook for 5 minutes. Return the rabbit to the pan, cover, and cook gently until tender but still moist, about 45 minutes.

Again remove the rabbit; cover to keep warm. Strain the sauce into a saucepan and stir in a tablespoon of chopped parsley. Bring to a boil over high heat and cook until sauce is reduced to 2 cups, about 6 minutes.

Season with lemon juice, salt and pepper, and spoon the sauce over the rabbit pieces.

Two rabbit books we recommend: Building Rabbit Housing and Storey’s Guide to Raising Rabbits, both by Bob Bennett. Both offer a wealth of information on health, maintenance and other animal husbandry topics.


A Kinder Way to Kill

Killing the animals we raise for food is the hardest part of the cycle. Many older guides to livestock slaughter suggest shooting a rabbit or hitting it in the back of the head with a hammer or a heavy stick. Two methods that are much more effective and humane — with less room for error — are to either quickly break the animal’s neck in the process called “cervical dislocation,” or stun the animal into unconsciousness before killing it.

While a skilled person can do cervical dislocation with bare hands, a tool called The Rabbit Wringer makes it foolproof, even for beginners. The metal tool attaches to a wall and provides a hands-free way to secure the rabbit. A quick downward pull on the hind legs and the rabbit dies immediately. You will have to be able to pull sharply enough to snap the spinal cord.

It’s available from the Rabbit Wringer website for $49.95 plus $11.95 shipping. The Rabbit Wrangler, a less expensive unpainted version, is also available ($29.95 plus $11.95 shipping).

If you prefer the stun-then-kill method, Anna Bassett, lead technical adviser for Animal Welfare Approved in Alexandria, Va., offers another option: a hand-held captive bolt gun or stun gun. The Rabbit Wringer also sells the Rabbit Zinger, which is correctly designed for rabbits. These guns use a bolt or rod that knocks the animal unconscious, then retracts into the gun.

Whichever method of slaughter you choose, get knowledgeable advice and a hands-on how-to first. Start with the breeder who sold you your animals and ask him or her to show you the proper way to kill an animal quickly.


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Post a comment below.

 

organicnaturalgal
6/9/2014 1:32:27 AM
First off the arguing in the comments is both hilarious and childish. Now for my actual comment: I'm a little put off by the original article in the fact that it recommends feeding only pellets and acts as if the meat being yellow is a bad thing. Yellow in meat, fat, cows milk, etc, indicates the presence of vitamin A, which come's from fresh greens and produce. No, the synthetic "vitamin A" in pellets is not the same. The (real) vitamin A means a healthier more nutritious meat. I also have to wonder how rabbits survive in the wild if it is so impossible to raise the rabbits without all the wire's and cages and under such close supervision. I'd like to get started, but I would never eat meat from an animal fed a bunch of genetically modified grains and synthetic vitmains that exist in commercial rabbit pellets. I also would feel guilty not letting them live in their normal habitat, with access to fresh foliage and room to move. I'm fine if my rabbits took longer to reach their roaster weight than could be possible using unnatural methods such as feeding pellets. Anyway, I'd just really love to hear from people who've done this in a more natural way.

FRANCES hodges
3/22/2013 5:58:41 AM
THE WAY YOU ARE ABOUT RABBITS YOU NEED HELP IF YOU TREAT THEM THAT WAY YOU MAY AS WELL MARRY THEM. YOU ARE TAKING RAISING RABBITS A LITTLE TO FAR

FRANCES hodges
3/22/2013 5:57:13 AM
YES BUT SHE DOSE NOT KNOW ANYTHING ON RAISING RABBITS ON A FARM AND THEY ARE NOT PEOPLE AND CRIMSON IS RIGHT ABOUT THE RABBITS I DO THE SAME FOR MY FAMILY AND THIS IS AN ARTICLE ON FARMING RABBITS. NOT TRYING TO BAN RABBIT BREEDERS. RABBITS ARE A GREAT FOOD SOURCE . THERE WAS A DOE I HAD FOR OVER 4 YEARS THAT GAVE HER ALL AND SHE WAS A MEAT RABBIT. SHE DID GO TO A FRIEND THAT DOSE EAT CRITTERS LIKE I DO AND IF SHE ATE HER OF NOT THAT IS HER BUSINESS. IF NOT SHE IS GOT A GOOD LIFE AS A PET RABBIT THAT LIVE IN HER BACK YARD. NOT IN THE HOUSE.

FRANCES hodges
3/22/2013 5:44:17 AM
OK FOR ONE YOU NEED TO LIVE LIFE IN THE REAL WORLD AND HOW DOSE YOUR HOUSE SMELL AND WHAT KIND OF MONEY TO YOU PUT INTO KEEPING YOUR RABBITS IN YOUR HOUSE. RABBITS WERE MADE TO BE OUTSIDE. THEY WERE CREATED TO LIVE OUT SIDE. THAT HOW GOD INTENDED. RABBITS ARE NOT PEOPLE AND THEY CANT LIVE AND HAVE THEIR BEING LIKE HUMANS DO. THE RABBITS DONT CARE ABOUT ALL THE EXTRAS JUST IF YOU WILL WATER AND FEED IT. I HAVE RAISED RABBITS FOR MANY YEARS AND NOT ONE OF MY RABBITS HAS BEEN MISTREATED OR ABUSED LIVING OUT SIDE IN A WIRE CAGE. EATING VEGGIES AND PELLETS AND GETTING SO EVERY SO OFTEN AND GIVING ME LITTERS AND FERTILIZER. AND NOT ONE TIME HAVE THEY COMPLAINED BECAUSE THEY WERE NOT IN THE HOUSE. YOU ARE CRAZY AND NEED HELP.

FRANCES hodges
3/22/2013 5:33:49 AM
GO SARAH THAT IS SO TRUE HI 5 TO YOU GIRL I KNOW I RAISE ANIMALS TOO I LOVE THEM AND TOO THEY TASTE VERY GOOD.

FRANCES hodges
3/22/2013 5:30:55 AM
YOU NEED TO LOOK AGAIN ON RAISING RABBITS A PIECE OF WOOD OR MAT IS PUT ON THE FLOOR OF THE CAGE TO PREVENT SORE HOCKS. AND ALL CAGES ARE NOT THAT WAY. IF YOU LOOK AT IT 3X3X2 IS NOT MEANT FOR A MEAT RABBIT IT IS MADE FOR THE LARGER HEAVER BREED RABBITS THAT DON'T MOVE A LOT. PLUS A NORMAL CAGE IS 16X24 AND THAT IS PLENTY FOR YOUR AVERAGE MEAT RABBIT. THE SMALL NEED 18X18X24 AND GIANTS 24X36 YOU NEED TO GET IT RIGHT. AND MOST RABBITS DONT MOVE A LOT ON THEIR BACK LEGS ANYWAY. YOU NEED TO DO YOUR HOMEWORK ON RABBIT RAISING OR ASK A RECOMMENDABLE BREEDER.

FRANCES hodges
3/22/2013 5:22:33 AM
i agree with you on all of it. finally someone that knows how to raise rabbits and has a good understanding of all of it.

FRANCES hodges
3/22/2013 5:19:57 AM
yes you are right on somethings there but when an animal is raised in a cage all its life it know no difference. but too if you have rabbits for pets or breeding you can let it out of the cage some of the time. there is nothing wrong with that. if the animal is meant to be eaten then you want it in a confined area where it can not run and play but in a confined area big enough that it is able to move and put on weight.

FRANCES hodges
3/22/2013 5:12:43 AM
OK, for one i have raised many rabbits for many years, And there is nothing wrong with wire caged kept rabbits or animals that do well in confinement. Rabbits do very well in a cage. I have raised many like that and have very little problem with them. For one, they are a lot healthier and less susceptible to disease. They are easier to handle, and you are able to better observe them if something is wrong. If a rabbit is raised on the ground, YOU are making that animal susceptible to disease problems. Big killer. Coccidiosis. A bacteria found in dirt or an area where there is a lot of unsanitary ground. Also, if the rabbit is able to access or is allowed to be in his or her own wetness or droppings, you have a problem. How are you able to sanitize the ground? Can you bleach it or spray it with Lysol? I don't think so! You cannot sanitize the dirt ! They on the ground, are more susceptible to getting worms and many other bacterial and respiratory ailments. Kept in cages is good if you want clean healthy rabbits. You can let them run around in an area that is " clean" for a little while, under supervision.

ASHLEY ASHLEY
1/28/2012 1:02:04 PM
I raise rabbits and I would like to point out that the wire cage in the photo is assembled incorrectly. The wire on the floor should be flipped over the other way, the way it is assembled now leaves the ridges on the top and will cause many problems with the rabbit's feet, especially with weighty eat breeds. Otherwise, wonderful article!

HEIDI ROSENTHAL
12/24/2011 4:46:26 PM
Thank you Joshua, that is my point exactly. If we as a culture accept that some animals are worthy of having their needs fulfilled (humans) while others are not (non-human animals), we will continue to be a violent culture that fights wars, tortures people and animals, and destroys our environment. People reason that an animal is "less intelligent" so it's OK to use them without comprehending or providing for their true needs, but we can't measure intelligence in human terms. I would say that non-human animals can surpass human intelligence in many ways. Humanity's psychological separation from the natural world which sustains us is a sickness with horrific and barbaric symptoms. We are all connected and the earth is all one. I commend you for taking the time to understand your animals. I myself do not eat meat, but I wholly respect people who harvest their own animals and who do so consciously, with respect for their birth-right of living a life that is true to their species.

HEIDI ROSENTHAL
12/24/2011 4:31:35 PM
TO CrimsonRoseDesai: (it won't let me reply to your post below) Rabbits are NOT rodents! They are lagomorphs. It is clear you understand how to raise rabbits as a commodity, with you as the consumer reaping the full benefit. All I am suggesting is that we need to give consideration to the fact that the rabbit's needs are not being met in a system designed to benefit humans. I will leave you with this: one of my rabbits was rescued from a breeder, living in horrific conditions. He was being bred for meat and is typical of a "meat" rabbit. He is the sweetest and most loving rabbit I have ever cared for. He goes on walks with us, kisses our faces all over, he gets in bed with us and cuddles and sleeps. He learns tricks very quickly and is able to solve problems. He is an extraordinary animal and I guarantee his needs were NOT being met in a tiny wire cage. Furthermore, he has had health problems because he was not being fed hay or fresh greens, just pellets. Thank you for listening and considering another side. It seems I offended you greatly, but my comments were directed at the author of the article and editorial board of Mother Earth News. I only wish to raise awareness about these amazing animals, not get into a petty flame war. I don't understand the vitriol directed at me. Merry Christmas and I hope you will reconsider how you house and feed your rabbits.

HEIDI ROSENTHAL
12/24/2011 4:10:51 PM
Well, we humans were hunted for millions of years... I don't understand all the vitriol directed at me just for suggesting that this article is misinformed and is promoting cruelty. This is a discussion board, is it not? It IS cruel to keep a rabbit in a small wire cage all of it's life. People can justify it all they want, but they are not seeing the rabbit with clear eyes. They see the rabbit as meat, as a product, but actually it's a beautiful, intelligent, creature with psychological and physical needs that are simply not met in a small wire cage. I am OK with people eating animals, I just think that if you do eat/use animals it is your duty to ensure that their needs were met beforehand. We weren't at the top of the food chain all that long ago. We need to have some compassion. We owe it to our animal companions to understand and provide for their needs. Their lives are literally in our hands, it is our duty to provide them a good life.

Joshua Wreight
12/23/2011 9:25:25 PM
One can rationalise anything if one is self-centered and self-righteous enough. For example the fascist US military justifies the murder of civilians (millions of them!) by calling them "collateral damage"), and you lot of pompous pricks use the same mind-trick to justify barbarities like keep ing rabbits in wire cages all their lives. Chooks and pigs and cattle too, I expect, and birds and puppies in 'puppy farms'. I guess a culture than can justify 'Gitmo' and myriad other hypocrisies can excuse anything. Haven't you ever heard of 'Free Range' production? It's the method chosen by billions of years of natural evolution; animals have evolved to live and do best via that methodology. Having gone through yet another upheaval of the most humane method of slaughter (here in Australia) a mountain of evidence has emerged that the only pain-free way of killing something is to instantly separate the 'pain-recognition-centre' of the brain from the nervous system. That would suggest decapitation with a sharp axe. The question of the pre-killing terrorising of animals is a further question that needs addressing. I shoot my free-range animals, while they're calmly feeding, with a high-power bullet which instantly destroys the brain-stem. I suggest well -meaning Americans discard the methodology of barbarism for which the Asians are notorious.

ABBEY BEND
12/23/2011 8:21:10 PM
Hedi is a person with no knowledge or understanding of rabbits or any other animals for that matter. I would say she is just one more of the House Rabbit Society, causing as many problems as they can. Having raised rabbits for 45 years, never had a rabbit with sore hocks in that time, and always raised them on wire floors! Sore hocks can mainly be traced to wrong sized wire being used and/or old cages that should have been replaced, they do not last forever!!! So just ignore Hedi, and people like Hedi. They are a drain on society, and the time it takes to respond to them is much better used on something of merit, instead of the idiot folly of talking to one with no understanding of raising food. As for the article having a lot of misinformation, not sure where that comes from, overall a reasonable primer aticle for rabbits, maybe not exactly how I would do it but nothing fundementally incorrect. For more excellent information refer to the Mississippi State site. http://www.poultry.msstate.edu/extension/pdf/rabbit_production.pdf Good, well research information, instead of some of the crazy stuff you will find from undereducated online sources!! Easy to raise 125 pounds of your own meat per doe, not even difficult to raise 250 pounds of meat per doe and have strong healthy does that will live for a number of productive years. More can be raised per year, but then it becomes a bit tense in the rabbitry and much more work by you!! :) Have fun raising some rabbits and understand they have been raised for 3,000 years as food, hunted for thousands more.

CrimsonRoseDesi
12/23/2011 7:18:46 PM
I too know rabbits and have raised rabbits for over 20 years and I have had pet rabbits as well... yes the dwarf breeds can be raised in a solid bottom cage because they are not much bigger than a guinea pig so don't grow eat or poo as much as a meat rabbit... Yes PET rabbits can be raised on hay it is better for their diet but a meat rabbit does not gain the proper amount of weight quick enough on just hay alone.... I know I've tried this diet before. They need the extra vitamins and fat content of the pellets to be a good production doe. If you plan on breeding frequently about 4 litters a year the doe needs the extra nourishment of the pellets... (many farmers breed the does even more than that but I try to give them each a rest between litters sometimes only breeding them 2-3 times since I rest them more I need more does to fulfill my meat needs) Meat breads give birth to more than the dwarf breeds so it is harder on their bodies to nourish the kits. But this article is not talking about PET rabbits which is where your experience is and ends with that... you have never raised a FARM rabbit for meat so have NO clue what you are talking about... they are miserable on a solid bottom cage it's impossible to keep them clean... Remember you don't just have one small pet it's several large breed does and their kits... it would take me ALL day long to keep that clean and they would be sitting in their own poo and pee... I have tried this is does not work... As for the run yes in the city where racoons foxes opossums stray dogs and such are not a problem it is easy to keep a rabbit in... but on a farm in the country where this predators are a frequent problem no amount of fencing and such can keep them out... a dogs teeth can rip though wire or they just dig under it... I know because I tried... we spent several thousands of dollars trying to keep wolves and stray dogs out of our rabbits and have lost way too many trying your methods... Finally we went back to the tall wire bottom cages that are up off the ground. The rabbits are cleaner I can spend more time socializing with them instead of cleaning their poo. We eat a lot of meat here... I have a medical condition that prevents me from giving up meat... I tried to be a vegetarian because of my love of animals but got deathly ill. I can't eat soy and such for protein and hence wasn't getting enough from just veggies alone. So I raise my own.... in order to create enough meat for my family we need several does and a few bucks to... as well as the other animals on my mini farm. I do not have the time or space to raise them in my home... Sad part is they are wonderful creatures but they are not my pets. They are here to provide my family with meat... Do I still love them yes.... and I do all in my power to give them a happy life and keep them safe... But until you are put into the position of having to care for a full farm of animals please don't call me cruel for keeping mine safe from predators and clean in a wire cage.... I have NEVER in many years raising rabbits this way encountered a spinal deformity like you said nor have I had issues with sore hocks when you provide them with a proper resting board. The only issues I have had raising rabbits is from the type of cages you suggest... even with fencing and such around them they are still vulnerable to smaller predators such as racoons and opossums that just dig their way under your fence into the rabbit run. Those types of cages are also designed for pets... if you have 20-30 rabbits at a time you just can't keep it clean or safe. As for keeping them indoors and using a litter pan some rabbits use it and some don't... especially the boys who like to mark their territory. If keeping farm animals in your house you also encounter the problems of them eating holes in your walls and furniture... rabbits are rodents after all... as well as chewing electric cords... and causing allergies.... Also if raising them for meat again you are going to have more than one... especially when growing out the babies.... are you prepared to have about 30 rabbits running loose in your home all day? That's just the numbers of 2 does with litters plus your buck... Then you have your buck running lose with them... breeding the babies or worse killing them with fighting since you can't keep them all in separate cages since it's "cruel".... I personally don't want dead babies due to fighting or does that are too young breed without me supervising... Does that sound safe or like a happy life for a Farm rabbit? You say this article does not show how to properly raise rabbit meat in a sustainable fashion... yet your suggestions do not offer a proper solution either...

HEIDI ROSE
12/23/2011 2:23:40 AM
Hi, for the record I have been a vegetarian my entire life, and have never eaten meat. I am also very careful about where my food comes from (small, local, organic farms) and grow much of my own food for myself and my pet rabbits. I do have farming experience and I do have a lot of rabbit experience. I have kept many rabbits as animal companions IN MY HOME for more than 10 years. I have been volunteering with rabbit rescue organizations for more than 10 years. I have also fostered various rabbits in my home, so yes, I do know quite a bit about rabbits. I am quite an expert about rabbit diet, rabbit housing needs, rabbit behavior and psychology, and I am also well-informed about wild rabbits, too. A wire bottom cage IS both dangerous, harmful, and cruel, and the small pen as described is cruel. I'm sorry but that's a fact. It is not enough space for a rabbit, especially the larger breeds which are sadly bred for meat. Obviously an attached rabbit run would need to be protected on all sides, as rabbits would dig out. I didn't think I needed to state the obvious. This can easily be done and there are many plans available on the internet, however I oppose keeping rabbits outdoors. Rabbits *will* use a litter box, on their own, so it is quite easy to keep their pen clean. My rabbits live in my house and use litter boxes. I suppose if you *must* keep your rabbits outdoors you could use a litter pan which would allow you to have a solid floor and keep their pen clean. If you fill the litter pan with fresh grass hay they will naturally go there to eliminate, as they prefer to chew and eliminate at the same time. Grass hay (orchard or timothy) is cheap and is also the most important part of their diet, and this article makes NO mention of it. I promise you, if you provide your rabbit a litter pan filled with fresh hay they will use it. Wire cages DO injure rabbits. Horribly so. I have seen it time and time again in my years volunteering with rabbit rescue. I really don't intend to get into a huge debate on line, I don't have the energy, but I do know a lot about rabbits and this article is not well-informed. The photo of the rabbits cramped in those tiny wire cages is disgusting. It IS cruelty to animals and I had to speak up given how much i know about rabbits and how much I love them. I appreciate anyone listening. Thank you.

Sarah C.
12/22/2011 8:35:23 PM
While I agree with your response that the recommended size cage is in fact humane, I point out Heidi did say she doesn't eat animals, so the part about beef etc doesn't apply, she probably feels that the typical chicken or cow also has far less space. Also, my guess is Heidi does not have experience raising rabbits the way she recommends. When she says they should have a solid floor (impossible to keep suitably clean) and an attached run (open floor to ground that they could dig an escape route?). CrimsonRoseDesi, it sounds like you have your animal's full approval in the way you raise them and I commend you for recognizing their (from the rabbits to chickens and goats) intelligence, emotion and desires. Sounds to me Heidi should learn a little more about rabbits before she spouts off against a well written intro to raising rabbits. Even for vegetarians, consideration should be given to the habitat and ecosystem loss that has to happen to grow food. That is no less of a crime, yet rarely legally a crime.

T DECKARD
12/22/2011 1:56:45 AM
Great article, but a lot of misinformation here. I've been raising rabbits off and on since the mid seventies. I have NZWs and Flemish Giant. A doe rabbit takes about thirty days to gestate (4+ weeks). Weaning comes from 4 to 6 weeks, depending on the breeder. There are 52 weeks in a year.A litter every 8 weeks means 6.5 litters a year. My litters average 11 to 14 kits born and 9-11 that make it to butchering. Average weight is 3 to 3.5 lbs, dressed. If you wean at 4 weeks, average 11 kits/litter that make it to butchering and they all dress out at 3.5 lbs, that's 38.5 lbs/litter. Times 6.5 litters and you max at 250.25 lbs/doe/year. That's if all goes perfectly and you wean at 4 weeks.. That's an early age to wean, and your doe needs to kindle a litter at the same time as one is weaning. That's rabbit factory methods. Don't expect that much meat unless you plan to replace does yearly. Actual production is more like 125lbs/doe/year. Still quite productive for the time/effort/money involved. The Zinger is not a stunner. It kills...instantly. Tony

CrimsonRoseDesi
12/21/2011 11:02:54 PM
Bravo Mother Earth News!!! This article is very informative and gives many an option to humanly raise their own meat even if they don't own a farm. The wire cages do help keep your rabbits safe. I have tried the open run cages and the rabbits dug out and got killed by a neighbors dog. I've also tried the solid bottom cage and the poor rabbit has to sit in it's own filth. The large meat breed rabbits eat, grow, and poo... it's what they do so unless you changed the bedding about 2 times a day there is no way to keep the rabbit clean unless you use the wire bottoms.... I do put in a resting board for them to sit on so their feet don't get sore. Also by keeping them UP in a cage it makes it harder for foxes racoons dogs and such to get to the rabbits. They are wonderful farm animals providing easy to raise meat and fertilizer. Thanks again for a wonderful article! It's hard to find good info on raising rabbits on a farm since many animal activist scream they are for pets only. Which is absurd. Any animal can be a pet as well as be raised for meat. Cat and dog meat is considered a common meal in other countries, and many people have pet pigs, goats, and cows...

CrimsonRoseDesi
12/21/2011 10:22:19 PM
What size stall do your cows live in heidi? Because most farm stalls where cows are kept and fed are much much smaller in ratio than the free space a rabbit has in that size cage listed. So before you start pointing fingers calling me cruel stop and think of how much space that cow had before you bite into that cheese burger. VERY FEW cows are raised on pasture with room to turn around. Same goes for chickens.... in the size cage listed above for one rabbit up to 10 chickens are crammed in to make the eggs you eat. But because you are probably a city gal and never had the privilege of raising a cow or chicken you don't care or have compassion for how they are raised. Rabbits in the wild live in burrows which is a hole in the ground.... probably about one foot tall and one foot wide.... SEVERAL rabbits live in that hole. It makes then feel safe to have a small protected space. I am deeply offended that you say I'm cruel to my farm animals because I don't keep them in the house.... well if that is the case how many cows ducks goats pigs do you have in your home? they are ALL smart loving intelligent creatures. I have a goat that is trained to do tricks and she snuggles with me. I have chickens that hops into my lap for a treat. And my rabbits will come up to me to be put back into their cage if we let them run in the yard for a bit. If I was being cruel and they hated their cage do you honestly think they would come up to me instead of running away? At least I know that my meat comes from animals that lived happy lives and are healthy.... which is more than you can say about your burger, omelet or KFC.

Heidi Rose
12/21/2011 5:28:11 PM
SINCE WHEN IS CRUELTY SUSTAINABLE? A 3' x 3' x 2' wire cage is in no way enough space for a rabbit. 2' of vertical space does not even allow them to stand up on their hind legs or stretch their spine completely, especially with huge breeds like New Zealand and Californian. Keeping rabbits in small pens as you describe causes very painful spinal deformities and arthritis. Wire bottomed cages are known to cause "hock sores," which are extremely painful, bloody, open sores on the rabbits feet. "Hotot" [breeds are] very high strung?" Wouldn't you be high strung if you were forced to sit down your whole life in a tiny cage of sharp wires without any shoes and weren't able to stand up or run around, ever? Rabbits are intelligent, playful, inquisitive creatures that make excellent house pets and animal companions. They have as much intelligence as a house cat and a huge capacity to express love. I understand that people eat meat and I'm not going to tell anyone they can't, and certainly raising meat yourself is far more sustainable than buying it at the store. But if you must raise animals for meat it is your moral obligation to give them the best possible life and to properly meet all of their housing, dietary, and intellectual needs. In the very least give the rabbit enough space to run around in, and do not force it to spend it's life on painful wires that cut into it's delicate hocks. A solid floored hutch that can be locked with day time access to an attached run would be far more humane that the painfully inadequate suggestions in this article. Provide soft bedding, fresh hay (the most important part of a rabbit's diet), and safe toys (yes toys!) as rabbits are very playful and smart and get extremely bored and depressed when not intellectually stimulated. (Or, better yet, don't raise rabbits for meat at all. You wouldn't raise dogs or cats for meat, would you?) These animals are intelligent, kind, and gentle, and I am hugely disappointed with the lack of compassion and up-to-date knowledge in this article. People who eat meat DO want the animals they eat to be treated humanely. This value is hugely mainstream now and I'm shocked and disgusted that this article so blatantly ignores an animal's most basic needs. While I myself don't eat animals, I respect people who choose to raise their own animals with intention, kindness, and compassion. This article only perpetuates the detrimental myth that animals are not as intelligent as we are, not as worthy of a good life as we are. And it is this myth, this utter severance of our connectedness, that creates suffering for all life, and perpetuates violence against all living things, including humans and the planet which gives us life. "Mother Earth News?" Oh, the hypocrisy. How can you call yourself that when you advocate and teach cruelty to animals? Don't you owe it to the animals you consume to carefully research exactly what they need to be healthy and happy? I am canceling my subscription immediately. This article is appalling and you should be ashamed. Do your homework. For anyone reading who would like information about how rabbits make wonderful house pets, and for information on proper diet and housing needs, see: http://rabbit.org/








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