Rabbit: A Great Meat Animal for Small Homesteads

Clean, quiet rabbits are easy to raise, even for urban growers.

| October/November 2011

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.

11/11/2017 12:01:59 AM

I raise rabbits, guineas, chickens and pigs that we eat. I process all my own meat from the animals that I raise. I also have an animal corrections officer that lives right next door. She does animal rescue for horses and other animals that are treated cruelly by the so called "pet" owners. I must be doing something right as she can and does look over our adjoining fence and can see my animals. I also have a commercial free-standing meat saw and grinder in my outdoor open kitchen that she sees me using throughout the year. It's almost time for this years pigs to be processed and time for smoked hams and bacon. My does will be bred in February for March kits. Then come the season for rabbit sausage. My rabbits are in wire cages with a ceramic tile resting area as wood absorbs urine. My rabbits have never had sore hocks. With that said, I use to raise my rabbits on the ground, whereby I was always fighting ear mites. I don't have that problem with them being raised in their cages as the cages can be disinfected, the ground cannot. I feed rabbit pellets, hay and have mineral salt licks attached to each cage. Healthy hocks, beautiful white New Zealand, American Chinchilla, and Californian fur coats on my rabbits. I check toe nails once a month and clip when needed. Check ear for mites (haven't had a mite outbreak in over two years). I also check their teeth. All is good on those wire cages as long as there is a resting area.

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


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