Why Raise Rabbits for Meat?

Why Raise Rabbits for Meat
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There are many excellent reasons for raising your own meat - everything from being more self-sufficient, to reducing the demand for conventionally-raised meat, to improving your health, to reducing environmental pollutants. The question for most homesteaders is not "Should I raise meat?" but rather "Which meat should I raise?" I strongly believe rabbits are an ideal livestock choice in most instances.

Here are what I consider the "big reasons" to raise rabbits:

* To be more self-sufficient. (If the shortages since a certain famous virus came along have taught you anything, let it be that the food supply chain is fragile.)

* To be more humane. Factory farm food (i.e. meat from the grocery store) is immoral, plain and simple. It doesn't allow animals to live anything like God intended them to, it abuses animals through intense confinement, it makes animals sick, it makes the environment sick, and it's less healthy for you.

* To be more healthy. I believe ALL meat is super food, but if you are stuck believing the (frankly) out-of-date idea that meat is bad for you, know that rabbit is lean white meat, and therefore considered healthy by pretty much everyone. And if you raise meat yourself, you know exactly what went into the animal while it was living...and you know it wasn't sprayed with chemicals or exposed to bacteria during the butchering process.

* To save money...maybe. You can possibly end up with less expensive than store bought if you raise your own rabbits, but it depends a great deal on how you feed them. Still, even feeding our rabbits mostly store bought pellets, our rabbit meat is a good deal, in my opinion. In June of 2021, I calculated that each rabbit cost us $11.88, or $2.37 per pound. I think that's an awesome deal on truly wholesome meat - and it's much cheaper than I can buy rabbit anywhere else. (The average whole rabbit in my area sells for over $40!)

Grow out kits.

Why rabbits over some other livestock?

* Rabbits don't take up a lot of space. If you raise them in cages, you only need perhaps three to four cages, which can be stacked, making them fit nicely even in a narrow carport, garage, side yard, or small backyard. 

* Rabbits are very easy to care for. Being small animals, you don't have to worry about having enough strength to move them around. Daily care is simply water and food.

* Rabbits are quiet and their manure isn't pungent. (Rabbits do make vocalizations, but they are mostly quiet ones.)

* Rabbits are easy to butcher. The only animal I think is easier to butcher is quail, but rabbits are a heck of a lot easier to butcher than say, chickens...let alone bigger animals like pigs.

* Rabbit meat is surprisingly familiar. It tastes very similar to chicken...in fact, some people can't tell the difference between rabbit and chicken. I'd say rabbit tastes like the best-tasting chicken you've ever had (because I think it's superior to chicken in flavor and texture).

Browned rabbit waiting to be braised in the oven.

 * You can raise rabbits self-sufficiently. Yes, store bought rabbit pellets are complete food and the quickest way to raise rabbits for meat. However, you very much can raise rabbits in tractors, letting them eat the grass (which should be timothy grass, orchard grass, or perennial rye grass, to support their nutritional needs) and weeds in your yard. Or, you can bring weeds, grass, and vegetables that you've grown yourself straight to their cages. Rabbits raised this way will likely grow a bit slower, but that may not matter since you aren't putting any money into feeding them. 

* Rabbit manure is gold in the garden. Not only does it have four times more nutrients than cow or horse manure and twice as much as chicken manure, but it's one of the few manures that doesn't need aging. That means you can literally empty manure trays directly into the garden if you want to and it won't harm plants at all.

But they are so cute!

Yes, cuteness is definitely a factor when people consider raising meat rabbits. I get that  - but I also think chickens and pigs and cows and cute, yet most Americans eat those without much thought to their cuteness. So this is really less about cuteness and more about cultural perspective. 

In the U.S., we no longer think of rabbits as food - mainly because we rarely see them in the grocery store. Not that long ago, however, they were an always-seen grocery store item - and before that, most Americans either raised their own rabbits for meat, hunted rabbits for meat, or ate rabbits from the butcher shop or their favorite restaurant. Rabbit was a really common food for humans. (Interesting tid-bit: Backyard rabbits, raised for meat, were touted along with Victory Gardens as helping to win World War II.)

Rabbit kits are born furless. This one had just grown in its coat.

So how does one shift his or her cultural perspective? Here's my experience: I treat our pet rabbits (yes, we have a few) and our breeding rabbits differently than the rabbits we eat. I try to handle eaters only when needed, I don't name them (unless it is a silly name; for example, I'm currently on Chewy the Third, because I often end up with one rabbit kit who chews on everything, including me), and...well, I just think of them differently. 

Personally, I love baby rabbits. I do sometimes hold them for fun, but I always tell myself that "I'm playing with my food." During every interaction, I remind myself these are livestock that will become my family's food. I remind myself why I want to raise my own meat. I thank God that I can raise our meat. And yeah...somehow it does help that they are less cute by the time they reach butchering age.

It has actually surprised me how much I can feel joy caring for our rabbits and still turn around and butcher them. I think this is a type of "real life" understanding many Americans have lost track of after decades of prosperity and removal from nature and real food. It's a very first world problem. 

So I guess what I'm getting at is this: My state of mind has changed. I no longer think meat comes from the store, wrapped in plastic, usually in pieces that can no longer be identified as what animal they were derived from.

Proverb 23:7 says "For as he thinks in his heart, so is he." We can cultivate our thoughts to change our lives - and raising your own meat is one small way of practicing this.

What do you need to raise rabbits?

There are three ways to raise rabbits: In cages, in tractors, and in colonies.

Raising rabbits in cages is the least natural method - but it's still the method I choose because tractors don't work well on land that isn't flat (I do live on a mountaintop, you know). In addition, we have tons of predators and nothing protects rabbits better than good cages - plus, I'm concerned about our rabbits picking up serious diseases from the ground and wildlife (especially rabbit hemorrhagic disease , aka, RHDV-2 or "bunny ebola;" if your state has RHDV-2, vaccines should become available; otherwise, RHDV-2 is easily spread and deadly in 80% of rabbits).

I have one large cage for every breeding rabbit. Each has a manure catchment tray beneath it. I put a piece of flat wood in each cage, so the rabbits can rest their feet if desired. (But honestly, none of my rabbits use them for sitting on; some just chew it, and that's fine, too. Rabbit teeth grow continually, so they need woody things to chew on.) Each cage also has a ball-type waterer (this is the one I use) and a J-feeder (the one I use). That's all the rabbits need!

One of my breeding does.

I started with one buck (male) and one doe (female). (You can read about how I acquired them here.) Many people start with one buck and two does. I currently have two breeding bucks and three does. It's all a matter of how much rabbit you want to eat, but I think it's good to just start with a single buck and doe, so you don't get overwhelmed.

I currently feed our rabbits store bought pellets (with 18% protein), which are complete food. They literally need nothing else. However, to cut back on pellets, I also supplement the rabbits with weeds, herbs, limbs, and other things we have growing on our homestead. I also give pregnant and lactating does 1 teaspoon each black oil sunflower seeds, which I grow or buy from the wild bird department of a local store. 

Rabbit cages should be covered and protected from both rain and wind. Ours are currently sitting in a three-sided carport, with extra protection provided to some cages with tarps weighed down with bricks.

Rabbit tractors might be a good option if you have flat land, not a lot of predators, and no RHDV-2 in your area. (Check your state's current RHDV-2 status here.) The tractors will need wire on the ground, so rabbits don't dig out (and predators don't dig in), and some weather protection. (Often one side of the tractor is covered on three sides with a tarp.) Even if you have good forage, it's a smart idea to supplement your rabbits with some store bought pellets, too.

A colony set up may work if you have more room, not too many predators, and no RHDV-2 in your state. I love the idea of colonies because they allow rabbits to live in the most natural setting possible. However, rabbits are big diggers, so you'll have to deeply bury wire around the perimeter of your colony. It will also need to be fenced and have some sort of top that prevents flying and climbing predators from getting in. You will have no control over when your rabbits breed, nor will you be able to check on the health of baby rabbits, who'll be born and raised inside a burrow. (I like to check on kits daily. One cold, dead rabbit kit can freeze a whole nest of otherwise healthy baby rabbits, for example.) While colony rabbits can start out just eating whatever is available in the colony setting (remember to plant appropriate grass), eventually, the rabbits will wipe out whatever is growing in the fenced in area and you'll have to bring in pellets and/or appropriate things you have growing nearby.


All-in-all, rabbits are one of the easiest types of livestock to raise, need very little space, and are pretty self-sufficient. I love having them on our homestead.

Recommended Book: The Rabbit Raising Problem Solver by Karen Patry. This is the best "how to raise rabbits" book I've encountered.

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