If you like rabbit meat and you are trying to be self sufficient as a family, meat rabbits are something you should seriously consider. They are very easy to raise, and you can produce a lot of meat from just a few rabbits. People don’t use the phrase “multiplying like rabbits” for no reason.
In this article I will use the New Zealand breed in my examples. If you have 1 female (called a doe) meat rabbit (such as the New Zealand breed), and 1 male (same breed), the female can have between 4 to 6 litters of babies (called kits) per year.
A pregnant female’s gestation period is between 28 to 35 days, most often giving birth around the 32nd day. If you wanted to you could breed the female again when the babies are 4 weeks old (you will wean the babies at about six weeks). So literally the female could be breed about every 60 days.
If you want to give her a bit more of a break between litters, you could breed her less often. For example some people breed their female every 90 days. That way they have 4 litters per year. And other people breed their doe every 55 to 60 days, so the female has six litters per year.
Let’s Do The Rabbit Math
A New Zealand doe typically has between 7 to 10 kits per litter. So lets assume 8 to be conservative. If you had just one doe that averaged 4 litters per year with 8 healthy kits, that would be 32 rabbits you could process and put into the freezer or freeze dryer per year. If your rabbit had six litters per year then that would be 48 rabbits processed for meat each year. The rabbits weigh on average around 5 pounds each when you process them at 8 weeks old.
My wife refuses to eat rabbit (she blames it on being a city girl) so we don’t have rabbits any more. She will eat quail, Chukar Partridges and chicken. (See my article Best Poultry To Raise For Meat In Your Backyard) But when we still had kids at home that would eat rabbit meat, I had two does and one buck. I bread each doe about 3 times a year, so you can do the math. But they can be bread comfortably about every 60 to 90 days if you want to.
Here is a very good video where Chris from the YouTube channel called “Slightly Rednecked” talks about this stuff. And he puts his doe in with the buck and shows exactly how to let them breed.
Meat Rabbit Care
Meat rabbits are easy to feed. You can get their alfalfa pellets from any feed supply store. For the babies you are trying to get to five pounds by eight weeks of age you just want to make sure that you feed them feed that is at least 20% protein. And free feed them which means keep their feeder full and let them have access to it at all times. You also want to give them some high quality hay that they can munch on whenever they want to. This just adds some variety to their diet and is good for them.
Sometimes your rabbits will need a break from the wire cage bottoms. If not sometimes their feet will get sore and swollen. This is easy to solve. All you need is a small square piece of plywood or hard plastic that is just big enough for the rabbit to sit on. They even make mats for this purpose. Anything that will allow them to get off of the wire cage floor once in a while, but not big enough that they poop on it.
One very nice thing about meat rabbit manure. It is not a hot manure like chicken, Chukar partridge or quail manure is. You literally can throw it right on the garden immediately with no problem. And it is great fertilizer. It won’t burn your plants like bird manure will.
Now bird manure is good fertilizer too, you just have to compost it first for a few months and let it break down a bit so that it is not so “hot” as they call it. But rabbit manure is great and won’t hurt anything from day 1. Rabbit urine will burn plants. Poor rabbit urine on your compost pile, and not directly on your garden.
Breeding Doe & Having Litter Of Kits
The video above earlier in this article showed you how to put a doe in with a buck so that they can breed. On about day 27 or so you will want to put a nest box in their cage. And you will want to put some nesting material (typically hay) for the doe to build her nest.
Normally a few hours before they deliver the doe will pull fir off from her neck and from around her belly to expose her nipples to make it easier for her babies to nurse. And the doe will use the fir in building her nest to give a soft warm blanket of fir to keep her babies warm once they are born. Here is a video that shows most of this process. It is important to watch a video like this so that you know what to do and expect.
You will want to watch your doe carefully during the time she is expecting. If she is an experienced good mother, then it will be pretty simple like shown in the video. Some new mothers will want to drag the babies out of the nest. To prevent this they have guards you can put on the nest boxes so the doe cannot do this.
And once in a while your new mothers will have some of the babies out side of the nest box. So it is important that you check on the doe often so you see the signs when she is about to deliver so that you can put the babies in the nest box if they were pulled out or born outside. They will be too cold and die if they are not in their warm nest. Again if your rabbit is experienced and a good mom this won’t be an issue.
I tend to get rid of a doe if she is a bad mom. I usually let her try for two litters and if she doesn’t start doing it right by then I don’t breed her anymore. I typically will process her and put her in the freezer. I find that the majority are good moms though. Life is so much simpler if you have a doe that is a good mom.
This picture of a rabbit cage hutch I have seen in multiple places on the web. It has been on Pinterest, on Rabway.com, and here on BackYardChickens.com. What I like about this design is the way the waste from the top row of rabbits drain off onto the ground under the back of the hutch. As is it doesn’t protect enough against the elements in an area where it snows in the winter.
Rabbits are totally fine out side, even in colder climates, as long as they have a place where they can get out of the wind and stay dry. If this was build in an area where it snows in the winter I would install some plywood doors on the front that can be closed at night and when it gets windy in the winter.
The other winter time weakness I see with this design is wind coming up into the bottom row of cages from underneath. This could be solved by wrapping tarps around the bottom in the winter to keep out the wind. Also it might be nice to design the bottom row so that you can put poop trays under the cages if you ever want to.
In this image you can see how this person designed a waste drainage gutter system where all of the poop drains off into the bucket. I found this image here on RabbitTalk.com. I had always wanted to try to design a drainage system like this. But I have never used one.
My hutch was a frame I built out of 2 x 4 lumber enclosed by plywood. It had room for 4 large wire cages as shown in the first rabbit cage image. And I had trays under each cage that would catch the waste. I just stayed on top of it and emptied them often and they were no trouble.
Where I live we can get quite a bit of snow and cold winters and so I had doors on the front where I could close the wind out. I didn’t build it air tight because I wanted ventilation. But with the doors closed it kept them warm and without drafts. I wish I had a picture for you of the one I built but I don’t have it any longer and never took any pictures.
My hutch sat directly on a concrete slab rather than up on stilts as shown in the above first picture. I think if I were to build it again I would build it up on stilts so that in the warm weather I could allow the waste to just fall directly on the ground. I personally would have no need for the amount of cages shown in these pictures.
If I were to do this again I would have one level or row of 3 or 4 cages. One for my buck. One for my doe (or two for two does if I wanted a second doe). And then an empty one to put the babies in once I wean them from their mother. I would also build them up on stilts so that they are high enough where I don’t have to bend over to deal with them. And I would let the waste fall on the ground in warmer weather as shown in the first picture.
I just want to show you one more way of doing all this. The below video is Chris at the SlightlyRednecked YouTube channel. He has a shed that covers his rabbits and it is high and he covers everything with tarps when he wants to keep the wind out. I am not sure where he lives but I don’t get the impression that it is as cold where he lives as it is where I do. What I wanted to show you in his video is his method of dealing with the waste. Again he uses tarps. I have never tried it. The tarps look a bit gross. But it works for him and he doesn’t have to lift trays out and empty them.
If I were designing a system after his model I would not have it quite so big and roomy so that walls could keep the drafts out rather than so many tarps. This is an asthetic preference. I am not a fan of the look of so many tarps. I might try out his tarp drainage system to see how that works, but I most likely would instead install plastic roof panels like you get at home depot rather than tarps. Again I am just showing you these things for ideas as I have not tried his design.
Here is one other rabbit hutch design I found on Pinterest. It also uses a tarp drainage system. This design is set up in a barn. If it were set up outside in a backyard it would need a roof, doors on the front, as well as side and back walls. I would probably use something besides a tarp to catch and drain the waste, like perhaps a roof and a gutter system.
I like this design because it shows a four cage setup high enough to be comfortable to deal with. If you wanted you could let the waste fall to the ground in the warm weather. The reason I keep showing these various ideas of how to deal with the waste was because in mine I used the trays. And they do go to the bathroom a lot. But again the trays are fine if you change them often. However a system that eliminated having to deal with that would be fun to try.
Processing The Rabbit
For this topic I think the easiest way is to just show you how this part is done. Since I no longer have rabbits myself I can’t make a video myself for you to watch. So I have found one on YouTube that I like. The reason I like this video is because I like the way that he stuns the rabbit rather than shooting it. I believe this is more humane. It simply knocks the rabbit unconscious so that it does not feel anything.
This video might be a little graphic because he is going to bleed out the rabbit and skin it. But if you are raising rabbits for meat, this is something important that you need to know how to do.
Cutting The Meat Rabbit Up
Finally, once you have the rabbit processed and skinned, how do you cut it up so that you can use it (or put it into your freeze dryer or freezer bags). Well again showing you is probably the best way to teach you. I have found a great video done on this topic. This lady does a great job showing you and explaining everything.