How to Raise Meat Rabbits

New Zealand White Rabbit
New Zealand White Rabbit (Image: Kris Brewer)

Rabbits are a nutritious and inexpensive meat to raise, and they don't take much space or time. Here are some tips on raising healthy meat rabbits.

First, you need to prepare your facilities. Rabbits need very little space. Banks of cages can be installed in a shed, or a barn. Covered hutches are all that is necessary. A cage that is 30 inches square is plenty of space for does even with unweaned litters. Smaller cages (24 inches square) are big enough for bucks. Decide how many rabbits you intend to keep as breeding stock, and prepare enough cages for them all. You will need at least a couple of cages for weaned kits, until they are ready for slaughter.

Next, you need to decide whether you want to raise pure bred rabbits or if you are more concerned with producing the most efficient rabbits. Good breeds for pure bred rabbits are New Zealand Whites, and Californians. Both are white, though the Californians have gray ear tips and noses. Cross breading rabbits tends to produce larger, faster growing kits and therefore is more desirable if meat is the only concern.

Choose a high protein food that will sustain breeding stock, but also will lead to fast growth rates. 14-16% feed should be sufficient, and will cause kits to grow at their fastest rates. Do not change feeds once rabbits are acclimated to one particular brand. Rabbits have finicky digestive tracts that can be easily upset. Don't make any drastic changes that could disrupt their normal routines.

Breed rabbits regularly. Always take the doe to the buck's cage so that he will not be distracted by the new environment of the doe's cage. The gestation period for rabbits is about 30 days. After birthing, it takes about 6 weeks to weaning. Does can be re-bred soon after weaning, but it is good to give them a little bit of rest. Wait 30 days after weaning, and breed again.

Feed kits all that they will eat. You want the kits to grow as quickly as possible to butchering size. You can butcher kits at 8 weeks old, and they will be "fryer" size. Typically you want your kits to reach about 4-5 pounds by the time the kits are 8 weeks old. Older rabbits can be used as "stew" rabbits.

Keep rabbits healthy. Watch for diseases, and watch for bad teeth. Both of these can be detrimental to your herd. Bad teeth should be "bred out" of your herd by eliminating any rabbit that shows an unfavorable trait. If you are only concerned about producing meat for your family, undesirable traits are not such a big deal.

Tips & Warnings

  • Breeding stock can be inexpensive. Unless you are planning to raise champion purebred rabbits, there is no reason to pay more than $10-$15 per head.

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