Rabbit: A Great Meat Animal for Small Homesteads

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

| October/November 2011

  • Creme d'Argent Rabbit
    Creme d’Argent rabbit
    PHOTO: AMERICAN LIVESTOCK BREEDS CONSERVANCY
  • Blan de Hotot Rabbit
    Blanc de Hotot rabbit
    AMERICAN LIVESTOCK BREEDS CONSERVANCY
  • Blue American Rabbits
    Blue American rabbits
    AMERICAN LIVESTOCK BREEDS CONSERVANCY
  • American Chinchilla Rabbit
    American Chinchilla rabbit
    AMERICAN LIVESTOCK BREEDS CONSERVANCY
  • American Rabbit
    American rabbit 
    AMERICAN LIVESTOCK BREEDS CONSERVANCY
  • Silver Fox Rabbit
    Silver Fox rabbit
    AMERICAN LIVESTOCK BREEDS CONSERVANCY
  • Eric Rapp
    Eric Rapp of the Rare hare Barn in Leon, Kan., holds two American Blues. Rapp has raised meat rabbits since he was a child.
    AMERICAN LIVESTOCK BREEDS CONSERVANCY
  • Rabbit Cage
    Try building a homemade cage similar to the one shown here to hold your meat rabbits. Use J-clips to assemble welded wire panels. Run extra wire 3 inches up the sides to keep babies from falling out. Hinge the door at top so it will close easily when you remove your hand.
    NATE SKOW
  • Rabbit Wringer
    The Rabbit Wringer holds the animal securely so it can be quickly and correctly dispatched.
    RABBIT WRINGER
  • Rabbit Stew On Polenta
    Braised rabbit dishes like this one, served on creamy polenta, are classics in many cuisines.
    FOTOLIA/COMUGNERO SILVANA

  • Creme d'Argent Rabbit
  • Blan de Hotot Rabbit
  • Blue American Rabbits
  • American Chinchilla Rabbit
  • American Rabbit
  • Silver Fox Rabbit
  • Eric Rapp
  • Rabbit Cage
  • Rabbit Wringer
  • Rabbit Stew On Polenta

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.

Dougawilson1988
2/2/2018 8:53:45 PM

Not that I see much wrong with raising meat animals in cages, but my wife and I have taken to a bit of a different method. I grew up on a farm and raised a bit of everything. I learned to respect and enjoy my animals and appreciate that they would become food for me someday. Any farmer will tell you you have to interact with your animals no matter the space you designate for them to live in, and you do what you can to keep them healthy. I've taken to building mobile hutches about 3' X 6' with wood slat bottoms. These hold up to 5 rabbits and set directly on the ground. I move these hutches twice a day in my field giving the rabbits fresh hay to graise on along with their pellets. I also have shades to help keep the rabbits cool, rabbits tend to grow faster when cooler and having multiple together seems to make them compete for food and eat better. They also seem to enjoy romping and stretching out on the cool ground. And as icing on the cake my field gets fertilized the whole while. My brood stock I keep in a temperature controlled shed, as males will become semi sterile during summer heat otherwise and females with have difficulties kitting. Also my brood stock are more or less pets as long as they're healthy and able to produce. I fuss over them name them and mess with them but I won't let animals suffer, and if it comes to an animal having difficulties and sicknesses that leave it diminished i am a firm believer in putting it down, that is your duty to it. My rabbits being raised to eat i butcher around fryer size meaning they never reach their full size which besides making for more tender meat also cuts down on any possible crowding. Hope others might find this useful. Thank you.


Dougawilson1988
2/2/2018 8:51:33 PM

Not that I see much wrong with raising meat animals in cages, but my wife and I have taken to a bit of a different method. I grew up on a farm and raised a bit of everything. I learned to respect and enjoy my animals and appreciate that they would become food for me someday. Any farmer will tell you you have to interact with your animals no matter the space you designate for them to live in, and you do what you can to keep them healthy. I've taken to building mobile hutches about 3' X 6' with wood slat bottoms. These hold up to 5 rabbits and set directly on the ground. I move these hutches twice a day in my field giving the rabbits fresh hay to graise on along with their pellets. I also have shades to help keep the rabbits cool, rabbits tend to grow faster when cooler and having multiple together seems to make them compete for food and eat better. They also seem to enjoy romping and stretching out on the cool ground. And as icing on the cake my field gets fertilized the whole while. My brood stock I keep in a temperature controlled shed, as males will become semi sterile during summer heat otherwise and females with have difficulties kitting. Also my brood stock are more or less pets as long as they're healthy and able to produce I fuss over them but I won't let animals suffer, and if it comes to an animal having difficulties and sicknesses that leave it diminished i am a firm believer in putting it down. I believe that is your duty to them when it comes down to it. Hope others might find this useful. Thank you.


Dougawilson1988
2/2/2018 8:51:29 PM

Not that I see much wrong with raising meat animals in cages, but my wife and I have taken to a bit of a different method. I grew up on a farm and raised a bit of everything. I learned to respect and enjoy my animals and appreciate that they would become food for me someday. Any farmer will tell you you have to interact with your animals no matter the space you designate for them to live in, and you do what you can to keep them healthy. I've taken to building mobile hutches about 3' X 6' with wood slat bottoms. These hold up to 5 rabbits and set directly on the ground. I move these hutches twice a day in my field giving the rabbits fresh hay to graise on along with their pellets. I also have shades to help keep the rabbits cool, rabbits tend to grow faster when cooler and having multiple together seems to make them compete for food and eat better. They also seem to enjoy romping and stretching out on the cool ground. And as icing on the cake my field gets fertilized the whole while. My brood stock I keep in a temperature controlled shed, as males will become semi sterile during summer heat otherwise and females with have difficulties kitting. Also my brood stock are more or less pets as long as they're healthy and able to produce I fuss over them but I won't let animals suffer, and if it comes to an animal having difficulties and sicknesses that leave it diminished i am a firm believer in putting it down. I believe that is your duty to them when it comes down to it. Hope others might find this useful. Thank you.







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