The Basics of Raising Meat Rabbits

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I have recently decided that meat rabbits are the ideal livestock for my homestead. When I lived on the 100 acre farm, we could raise cows, pigs, goats, etc…. But now I live on a 1/2 acre lot within city limits so my options have decreased dramatically. 

The Basics of Raising Meat Rabbits

Backyard meat rabbits are a prime source of meat for homesteaders. Let’s chat about why that is. 

Why Should You Raise Rabbits?

They Make an Excellent Food Source

Rabbits are a great source of lean meat. The meat, when cooked, is comparable to chicken. 

I have a trio of meat rabbits on my homestead… one buck and two does. 

From this trio I could potentially see 72-90 kits per year (Assuming an average of 9 kits /litter at 4-5 litters/doe/year). Each kit should dress out around 3 lb. each. That’s 216-270 pounds of meat per year!

They Provide Amazing Compost

Rabbit droppings can be used directly on a garden or they can be added to a compost pile.

They Don’t Take Up Much Space

Rabbits don’t require as much space as most other meat animals.

They Are Economical to Raise

There is an initial cost to setting up the rabbit housing and paying for feed, but they are pretty affordable to raise…especially for the amount of meat you can get from a trio.

How to Get Started with Meat Rabbits

This article will take you through the following steps to raising meat rabbits:

  1. Choose a Rabbit Breed
  2. Choose a Rabbit Housing Method
  3. Decide How You Want to Feed Your Rabbits
  4. Purchase Supplies
  5. Find an Experienced Breeder
  6. Breed the Rabbits
  7. Butcher the Grow Outs
  8. Keep Detailed Records

Choosing a Meat Rabbit Breed

Before purchasing your first rabbit you really need to consider what you need out of your rabbits. Each breed has its own pros and cons. 

When choosing breeding stock, consider the meat to bone ratio, disposition, mothering ability, whether you want heritage breeds or not, and the pelt desirability. Choose one that fits your homestead the best.

If you are interested in heritage breeds, the Livestock Conservancy has a lot of good information.

New Zealand

  • Meat to Bone: Excellent (about 65%)
  • Mature Weight: 9-12 pounds
  • Average Litter Size: 7-14 kits
  • Colors: White, Red, Black, Broken
  • Disposition: Gentle
  • Mothering Ability: Good
  • Process Age: 8-12 weeks
  • Pelt Quality: Desirable
  • Heritage: No

Standard Rex

  • Meat to Bone: Good
  • Mature Weight: 7-11 pounds
  • Average Litter Size: 6-12 kits
  • Colors: Black, White, Red, Amber, Blue, Broken, Chocolate, Lilac, Black Otter, Chinchilla, Castor, Opal, Lynx, Seal, Sable, Californian
  • Disposition: Gentle
  • Mothering Ability: Good
  • Process Age: 12-15 weeks
  • Pelt Quality: Prized
  • Heritage: No

American Chinchilla

  • Meat to Bone: Excellent
  • Mature Weight: 9-12 pounds
  • Average Litter Size: 8-10 kits
  • Colors: Salt & Pepper with 4 bands of colors: blue, pearl, gray, and black
  • Disposition: Gentle
  • Mothering Ability: Good
  • Process Age: 8-12 weeks
  • Pelt Quality: Desirable
  • Heritage: Yes

Silver Fox

  • Meat to Bone: Good (about 65%)
  • Mature Weight: 9-12 pounds
  • Average Litter Size: 6-8 kits
  • Colors: blue and black
  • Disposition: Docile
  • Mothering Ability: Excellent 
  • Process Age: 16 weeks (if using pelt) 8-12 weeks (if not using pelt)
  • Pelt Quality: Desirable
  • Heritage: Yes

Californian

  • Meat to Bone: Good
  • Mature Weight: 8-12 pounds
  • Average Litter Size: 6-8 kits
  • Colors: White with black at the tips of ears, feet, and tail
  • Disposition: Very Docile
  • Mothering Ability:
  • Process Age: 8-12 weeks
  • Pelt Quality: Not desirable
  • Heritage: No

Flemish Giants

  • Meat to Bone: Poor
  • Mature Weight: 9-15 pounds
  • Average Litter Size: 5-10 kits
  • Colors:  Blue, Black, White, light gray, fawn, steel gray 
  • Disposition: Docile
  • Mothering Ability: Good
  • Process Age: 10-12 weeks
  • Pelts: Somewhat Desirable
  • Heritage: No

Champagne D Argent

  • Meat to Bone: Excellent
  • Mature Weight: 8-12 pounds
  • Average Litter Size: 5-8 kits
  • Colors: light blue and silver
  • Disposition: Calm
  • Mothering Ability: Good
  • Process Age: 8-24 weeks (younger for just meat, older for pelt)
  • Pelts: Desirable
  • Heritage: No

Harlequin

  • Meat to Bone: Good
  • Mature Weight: 7-10 pounds
  • Average Litter Size: 6-10 kits
  • Colors: Japanese: Orange and either black, blue, lilac, or chocolate Magpie: White and either black, blue, lilac, or chocolate
  • Disposition: Playful
  • Mothering Ability: Good
  • Process Age: 8-10 weeks
  • Pelts: Desirable
  • Heritage: Yes

Satin

  • Meat to Bone: Good
  • Mature Weight: 8-12 pounds
  • Average Litter Size: 1-12 kits
  • Colors: Black, blue, broken, Californian, chinchilla, chocolate, copper, otter, red, Siamese, white
  • Disposition: Docile
  • Mothering Ability: Good
  • Process Age:  weeks
  • Pelts: Desirable
  • Heritage: No

Palomino

  • Meat to Bone: Excellent
  • Mature Weight: 8-11 pounds
  • Average Litter Size: 4-8 kits
  • Colors: Golden and lynx
  • Disposition: Gentle
  • Mothering Ability: Excellent
  • Process Age: 10-12 weeks
  • Pelts: Not Desirable/Coarse
  • Heritage: Yes

Cinnamon

  • Meat to Bone: Good
  • Mature Weight: 8-11 pounds
  • Average Litter Size: 4-6 kits
  • Colors: Cinnamon colored wit gray ticking
  • Disposition: Docile
  • Mothering Ability: Good
  • Process Age: 8-12 weeks
  • Pelts: Desirable
  • Heritage: No

Meat Rabbit Housing

There are a few different types of housing for meat rabbits. All of these options work well. You will need to choose which one works best for you based on the needs of your homestead. 

1. Rabbit Colony

Raising rabbits in a colony means that you will put your rabbits in the same area with each other instead of giving them each their own cages. With this method of housing, you will need to take into consideration the aggressiveness of your rabbits, the safety of kits, and the spread of disease. 

2. Wire Cages

Wire cages and hutches are the most common housing type for rabbits. WIth cages, each rabbit has his or her own cage. You will need to provide something for the rabbits to rest their feet on as the wire can cause sore hocks. You could use a cage mat, a ceramic tile, or even a piece of plywood. Straw or hay can also be placed on the bottom of the cage to help their feet.

I use wire cages on a Raken stand (design found inside Polyface Designs). I collect the droppings each week to add to my compost pile.

3. Rabbit Hutches

Rabbits in hutches can be kept together or separate. This type of structure does not have to be kept under a covered building because it has its own roof.

4. Rabbit Tractor

Using a rabbit tractor works best when you keep your breeding stock in individual cages or hutches and put the grow outs in a tractor. See how to build a rabbit tractor here.

Feeding Meat Rabbits

Daily Feed

1. Hay

Most people suggest feeding alfalfa Hay (extra protein) until 7 months of age and for nursing does. Grow outs and breeding animals not lactating can have another grass hay like timothy or orchard. The rabbits should have an constant access to hay. 

2. Pellets

It is recommended to feed a pellet with a 16-18% protein content. Young rabbits and nursing does can be fed pellets free choice. The others rabbits only need  ½-¾ cup/day. 

3. Vegetables + Herbs

Rabbits love to eat fresh veggies and herbs. Some favorites around here are romaine lettuce, celery greens, radish greens, basil, and cilantro.

4. Forage

Rabbits can even be fed edible weeds from the yard! Plantain and violet leaves are fed to my rabbits daily in the spring and summer.

5. Fodder

Fodder can be grown fairly easily from barley or wheat. This is a great way to feed more green and cut back on pellet usage. 

Occasional Treats + Chew Toys

1. Homemade Treats

You can make homemade rabbit treats with pellets (or hay) and fruit. My favorite recipe can be found here.

2. Fruit

Fruit can be fed to rabbits as an occasional treat a couple times a week. Fruit is high in sugar which can be hard on the rabbit’s digestive system if fed too frequently.

Meat Rabbit Supplies

Rabbit Cages & Cage Building Supplies

You can purchase meat rabbit cages online and from your local farm & feed store, but I recommend checking out Hostile Hare. The owner, Nick, will build your cages to order and ship them over with the supplies to get them set up. I recently purchased four cages from him and I am very pleased.

If you make your own cages, be sure to use a heavy duty wire mesh and not chicken wire. Rabbits can chew through chicken wire and it isn’t the right size for walking on or keeping predators out.

Rabbit Cage Stand

My rabbit cage stand is from the Raken design in the Polyface Designs book. It will hold 6 cages in the size that I chose and it allows me to easily collect the rabbit manure from underneath. 

Drinkers or Watering System

You can use water bottles, dishes, or nipples to water your rabbits. If you use bowls or dishes, make sure they are heavy or the rabbits will flip and spill them daily. 

I chose to make an automatic gravity fed watering system out of a 5 gallon bucket, barbed tees, nipples, and 5/16″ tubing.

Feeders

A hay rack and a pellet feeder with a sifter bottom are what I recommend. The sifter bottom for pellets is useful because the rabbits won’t eat the bits of pellet that have fallen apart. These pieces go through the sifter and don’t get in the way of what the rabbit wants to eat. 

Nest Boxes

Nest boxes are important for pregnant does so they can build their nests and have a safe warm space for their kits. I like to keep a nest box in with my buck as well just so he has a place to feel secluded.

Fans

Rabbits do not tolerate heat well. It is a good idea to give them a fan especially if air flow in their area is low. These are the fans that I use for my rabbits.

Shade Cloth

Shade cloths are also helpful in keeping rabbits cool.

Rest Pads

Rest pads or cage mats are important to help prevent sore hocks in rabbits that are kept in cages or hutches. You can also use a large tile or a smooth piece of plywood.

Where to Buy Rabbits

Purchase meat rabbits from an experienced breeder. Avoid taking in cull animals from a sale barn. If you want quality meat, that begins with quality breeding stock. 

Breeding Meat Rabbits

Some rabbits reach sexual maturity as early as 8 weeks of age, but it is best to not allow them to breed until they are at least 6 months old. 

When they are ready, choose your breeding pair and move the doe to the buck’s cage. Then you wait. If the buck falls off of the doe, he has completed his job. Also, if the buck is in a wire cage, it is a good idea to add a temporary solid floor during breeding.

The gestation period for rabbits is only about 30 days, so make sure you are prepared for baby rabbits (called kits) before you breed.

Processing Rabbits for Meat

Rabbits can be dispatched in a number of ways. The preferred method seems to be cervical dislocation. The Hopper Popper is a great tool to use for this.

Information on full processing methods can be found here.

Meat Rabbit Records

The Rabbit Record Book is my go-to for rabbit record keeping. It has record pages for rabbits’ pedigrees, medical information, purchase history, breeding and kindling information, and just about everything needed in meat rabbit record keeping.

The Rabbit Record Book Preview Images Horizontal

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One Comment

  1. Consider adding TAMUK composites to your list of breeds suggested. These were specifically bred to have wider ears to handle hot temperatures better. Although not as large as a NZ or CA breed, it is better to have a rabbit that can handle your climate better than ones that cannot if you want to keep them alive in warmer climates. They are also known to have better temperaments than NZ or CA.

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