Raising Meat Rabbits for the Homestead

Reader Contribution by Sean Mitzel
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Meat rabbits during WWII were “off the ration” which, sometimes, meant the difference between survival and starvation. It was common for the British to raise chickens and rabbits to supplement their diet. Likewise, in the United States the Government encouraged everyone to grow a Victory Garden. Oh, how far we have come.

As a Homesteading family, we wanted to recapture some of the that self-sufficiency and independence. Fortunately, not because we are engaged in a World War but for many profitable reasons. Knowing where our food comes from is very important to us and more than that, how they are raised and what they eat. Our culture eats nutritionally shallow food, we want nutrient density. Our culture looks to the pharmaceutical industry for their medicine. Our philosophy is, “let they food by thy medicine and thy medicine be thy food.”

Why Rabbits?

Our Homestead possesses many different kinds of animals but rabbits have a big part of the integrated system for the many functions that they provide. First, they provide highly nutritious meat for protein. They take relatively little space and breed, well, “like rabbits.” It is not difficult and relatively inexpensive to feed them especially if you can provide hay, grass and fodder. Furthermore, rabbit poo is one of the best manures for soil building in the gardens, orchards and pastures. Finally, although we have not reached this point yet, they provide excellent fur skins for lining coats, gloves, boots and maybe even provide blankets with a big enough operation. Another excellent reason to keep meat rabbits is they do not need to be frozen or preserved. The potential downfall of large livestock is the need to preserve the meat. In an emergency situation or even someone who wants to live completely off grid, rabbits are perfect. They are extremely easy to dress out. Much easier than birds which have the “feather” problem. Rabbits can be dispatched, dressed and in the roaster in a matter of a few minutes.

How Many Rabbits Can I Expect Each Year?

Many people hate the answer, “it depends.” But, well, it depends. However, averages can be used to come up with a reasonable answer. Let me qualify this answer with the fact that many rabbit breeders have different philosophies with regards to breeding rabbits. Some breed their does as much as possible and it is all about production. Others treat their rabbits much more gently and almost personify their rabbits. We are somewhere in the middle. Production is very important to us but we also build in breaks for the mamas. This may not be necessary at all but we do it none the less. With that in mind here is what we expect from our does. Over a 12 month period we will breed each between 5-7 times. Rabbit gestation ranges from 28-33 days depending on the source you look at. We have found 30 days +/- 1 to be accurate. We breed our doe, 30 days later she kindles. We give her a 10 day break and then re-breed her. This allows for her kits to be just over five weeks old for weaning. After her next kindling we let her rest for four weeks and then we repeat the cycle. The only difference is we wean every other litter at 7 weeks. We use an average of five kits per litter and that estimates between 25-35 meat rabbits per year, per doe. We dispatch the kits at 12 weeks hoping that they are 5 lbs live weight yielding 3 – 3.5 lbs of meat.

Don’t Rabbits Stink?

Yes! Actually, no, as long as you keep them outside and take the time to make sure their cages stay dry and clean. We use a hutch and rabbit tractor system. We periodically run our chickens through the hutch area containing deep litter and composting piles to help turn the piles for us and keep the bug population down. The rabbits are all inside the “homestead perimeter” and watched over through the careful eyes of our livestock guardian dogs. We have not lost one rabbit to predators. The breeding stock stay (mostly) in the hutches and the grow-outs (kits that are weaned and awaiting processing) graduate to the rabbit tractors and get a fresh spot of grass each day.

We have found that raising rabbits for meat is a worthwhile endeavor and believe many homesteads would benefit greatly from having these beautiful creatures on board.

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