The Guide to Raising and Breeding Rabbits for Meat

Raising rabbits is one of the simplest things you can do on your homestead. Not only do they require little attention, but they also provide a great amount of meat.

  • Raising Rabbits
    Raising rabbits is simple and economical. Two does and one buck should produce 180 pounds of meat per year.
    Photo by Fotolia/Vera Kailova
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    A blueprint for a good wood-and-wire type of hutch.
    Illustration by Ed Robinson
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    Here's a dandy nest box, made from a nail keg. The doe pulls hair and makes a warm fur-lined nest for the young before their birth. You keep the nest box in the doe's hutch from a couple of days before the young arrive until they are ready to leave the nest.
    Illustration by Ed Robinson
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    Here is how to cut up a rabbit. It makes six generous pieces, plus the liver, which is as good as chicken liver.
    Photo by Ed Robinson

  • Raising Rabbits
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  • 002-050-01b

One of the first projects I wanted when we moved to our place in the country was rabbits. I had read many times that they produced excellent tasting meat at little cost. My wife, Carolyn, however, was sort of skeptical of the project because she thought that she she might not be able to eat the rabbits — they looked so cute.

One payday when I happened to read an advertisement offering a six compartment, all-metal wire hutch for sale for less than $20 I couldn't resist this good buy. The hutch eventually came, but Carolyn was still skeptical and, anyway, we were up to our necks getting our barn finished up, learning to milk, running our broiler battery, tending to our bees and goats and setting the geese. It wasn't hard to put off getting the rabbits for a while.

Then, a friend of mine, Wally Boren noticed I hadn't done anything with my rabbit hutch and he asked if he could use it until I got ready. That was all right with me. He borrowed the hutch, set it up in his garage and began reading up on the subject of rabbits.

Choosing a Rabbit Breed 

Wally picked a variety called the Chinchilla. You can take your pick of several good meat breeds. Wally favored the medium sized breeds, which weigh around eight to 10 pounds grown. You could go in for the Flemish Giants, for instance, that sometimes weigh 20 pounds. They eat a lot more, of course, and their fryers, at seven to nine weeks, weigh not too much more than do those of the medium breeds at the same age. The New Zealand Whites are another popular medium weight breed — their white fur is worth more than the Chinchilla. There are are a number of other good medium weight breeds.

Of course, there are Angoras (with their beautiful, white, long fur) and other "fancy" breeds. But these are not meat rabbits. In ordinary times many of the small rabbit raisers don't bother to save the skins, but they do have some value. Right now, for example, buyers are offering from 30 cents to $1.50 apiece per pound. You can obtain names of buyers from a rabbit magazine.

Wally started with a "trio" — a young buck nine months old and two does of the same age. He bred the does shortly after he got them. The following month he had 17 bunnies. Seven is a big enough litter, according to the experts, for one doe to raise. So Wally destroyed four from one litter of 12 and gave the other doe an extra to bring her litter of six up to seven. Wally rubbed a little Mentholatum on her nose so she couldn't smell the difference between her own and the young one from the other litter.

8/9/2019 2:13:26 PM

This article is dated 1970 and is therefore vastly outdated. DO NOT EVER, EVER, FEED RABBITS, HORSES, PONIES, DONKIES (OR ANYTHING ELSE THAT EATS GRASS) LAWN TRIMMINGS. YOU WILL KILL THEM. Timothy hay is the best hay try to give to rabbits. If your rabbits can't eat long strands of hay there's something wrong with their teeth and they ought to see a vet Rabbits should not eat bread, crusts, cakes or other "human food" Do not give vegetable peelings or vegetables that are almost past their best to rabbits. If you wouldn't eat it then don't feed it to the rabbit. Rabbit food should be a pellet rabbit food. Not a grain or muesli style mix Rabbits can eat carrots and fruit etc but it is best for them to have these as treats due to them having a sweet tooth. Dark leafy greens like Kale are much better. Rabbits cannot safely eat all fruit and vegetables. There are several lists online including on the rabbit welfare fund website which detail safe foods and plants. Rabbits cannot stand a lot of cold. Even with several companions they can still take cold and their water will freeze below 1C which is a welfare issue as no animal should ever be kept without the ability to drink. Hutches should be protected or preferably the rabbits brought indoors in cold weather. They must be protected from rain, wind and hot sun. They enjoy some sunlight on cooler days or in the morning and evenings of warm/hot days. Modern rabbit welfare guidance for the raising of meat rabbits states that they should be allowed space to move, should not be kept on wire floors and should be provided with something to dig in and something to chew. Further cheap toys can be provided by the use of safe fruit tree branches, toilet roll tubes, cardboard boxes etc. Please don't put your rabbits in a metal hutch. It will overheat, they will struggle to get a safe footing and it will not result in relaxed rabbits. Inbreeding does not do "no harm" in rabbits. Inbreeding in rabbits is why insurance companies will not pay out claims for misaligned teeth & associated issues such as teeth growing into cheeks, tongues or eyeballs in rabbits because they've been bred into them by people who wanted a rounder shaped head. I suggest you Google "changes in dog breeds in the last 100 years" to see what inbreeding has done to dogs. Also watch pedigree dogs exposed. Or ask yourself if you'd consider breeding your daughter to her father or grandfather? And then breeding their daughter to the same man (assuming the father was used at first, it would be the 2nd Gen daughters father and grandfather that she'd be breeding with)? And then breeding their daughter (3rd generation) again to the same man?

3/15/2019 9:52:09 AM

For your information, timothy is actually the best single hay to give a rabbit. Also, DO NOT GIVE RABBITS CARROTS! Carrots and other root vegetables are VERY high in sugar and can give them diabetes (very hard to put down in rabbits). On the matter of breeding, most rabbits can actually take a litter of up to 10 (and sometimes higher in certain in individuals). When you start raising, start with two junior (4 or less month old) bucks and 1 senior (over 4 moths old) doe and another junior doe. This gives you nearly unlimited flexibility in your breeding, which leads to better genetic diversity and overall herd health.

2/15/2019 9:10:18 PM

Thank you for the info! I just got my first breeding pair. A NZ red buck and NZ white doe. The recipe sounds delicious! Can’t wait to try it.

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