Raising rabbits for meat is rewarding, economical, and relatively easy.
Rabbits are easy to care for, inexpensive to raise, and provide you with a steady supply of lean, healthy protein. They’re also fun to watch!
Homesteaders and emergency preppers alike can start their journey of self-sufficiency by raising rabbits for meat.
The Best Rabbits to Raise for Meat are:
- New Zealand
- Silver Fox
- Florida Whites
- American Chinchilla
- Crème D’argent
These rabbits are hardy, easy to handle, and can supply a steady amount of healthy, lean protein for a reasonable cost. As long as you know how to care for your meat rabbits, you should be able to raise these ten rabbit breeds to provide a source of healthy meat for your family.
In this article, we’ll discuss what rabbits are best to raise for meat and why. We’ll also take a look at how to raise them, so you’ll get an idea if this is something you want to do for yourself.
We’ll take a quick look at any legal issues surrounding raising meat rabbits, too, and give you some tips on keeping your rabbits healthy. But first, we’ll talk about why you might want to raise rabbits for meat.
Why Raise Rabbits for Meat?
There are a number of good reasons to raise rabbits for meat.
- Rabbits farms have small start-up costs. It doesn’t take a lot of money to get started with raising rabbits. In fact, if you find a few cages on Craigslist, purchase a bulk bag of food, and purchase quality stock rabbits, you can start up your rabbit farm for very little investment.
- Rabbits are some of the easiest livestock to care for. Rabbits are very easy to care for. They need a very simple shelter and can even live outside.
- Rabbits are an excellent source of protein. Rabbit meat is very lean and provides the highest amount of protein of any land animal.
- Rabbits have a surprisingly good feed to meat ratio. Rabbits don’t eat a lot, and you can supplement their hay and pellets with vegetable scraps.
- You may be allowed to raise rabbits in areas where other types of livestock are not permitted.
- Rabbit meat has very little waste. You can use the rabbit pelts – or sell them.
- Rabbits grow quickly. Meat rabbits grow very rapidly and can go from birth to butcher in as little as 70 days.
- Rabbits are easy to butcher and process. Rabbits are easy to butcher and clean. The broomstick method is a fast and kind method of butchering.
- Rabbit Manure. Rabbit manure is an excellent fertilizer. It can go straight into the garden without fear of burning your vegetables. Also, since it isn’t ‘hot,’ it does not have to be composted before being used.
- Rabbits aren’t intrusive. Your rabbits likely won’t be a bother to your neighbors as long as you have suitable waste control measures. They don’t make noise, have strong odors (unless they are spraying indoors), and don’t take up much space.
- Rabbits are sustainable. Because they are easy to breed, care for themselves, and can eat vegetable matter and forage to an extent, rabbits are considered and eco-friendly, sustainable source of meat.
How Many Rabbits Should You Raise for Meat?
If you plan to start your rabbit farm small, which I highly recommend, you can easily get started with just two does and a buck. If you breed them every 90 days, you can easily have 40 to 50 rabbits to eat within a year. At around 3 pounds of meat per rabbit, this is probably enough for a small family’s meat needs.
However, you’ll want to introduce fresh stock over time. Some amount of in-breeding is ok with rabbits, but eventually, you will want to introduce healthy, new stock to your rabbit line. You’ll either want to sell your buck or retire him and purchase a new buck.
Purchasing Rabbits to Start Your Farm
It is essential to start with good, healthy stock. Pedigreed rabbits are significantly more expensive to purchase than non-pedigreed rabbits. If you are going to show your meat rabbits or sell them with pedigrees, you will want to make sure you are buying rabbits with official pedigrees.
However, if you are not going to show your rabbits and you only want them for personal consumption, you do not need to purchase pedigreed buns. You will want to make sure the rabbits you purchase are healthy and robust.
Be sure you ask questions from the breeder about the health of the parent rabbits. Purchase a book that is not related to the does.
10 Best Rabbit Breeds for Raising Meat
New Zealand Whites
New Zealand Whites are an American breed that grows quickly to processing size. A full-grown doe will reach 10 to 12 pounds, while a full-grown male (or buck) will grow to 8 to 10 pounds. Therefore, they are very cost-effective as far as feed consumption to weight ratio.
New Zealand Whites are bred for both their pelts and their meat. Unfortunately, does can be aggressive, especially when they are pregnant or nursing their babies. Ask your breeder for more docile stock, especially if you have children that will be assisting in their care.
Californians are smaller rabbits than New Zealands, making them a good choice when you have more limited space. A full-grown female weighs in around 8 to 10. Pounds. They have a white body with black ears, noses, and feet. Californians are bred for both their meat and their pelts.
Californians are also a great choice because the does tend to be good mothers, making your job a little bit easier as a rabbit keeper.
Silver Foxes are larger meat rabbits, with long soft coats. Its name comes from its coat, which resembles the arctic silver fox. These rabbits are bred for meat, pelts, and as pets. They are excellent mothers and will even make great foster mothers if needed. They have large litters.
Female silver foxes weigh 10 to 12 pounds, while the males weigh in at 9 to 11 pounds. They are very docile and make great pets. Silver foxes are easily kept indoors or outdoors, but because of their larger size they will need larger cages.
They are an endangered species.
Satins are a medium-sized breed of rabbit. They are an excellent choice for meat rabbit farms because their babies grow out fast. However, they are also raised for their pelts and for pets. As a result, their coats have a satiny sheen to them, giving them their name.
These docile rabbits make great show rabbits, competing for body conformation and meat pens.
These rabbits were initially bred as laboratory animals. Over time, they became a multi-purpose rabbit also bred for their pelts and their meat. They are compact in size, making them a smaller meat rabbit great for raising in small spaces.
Florida Whites have a 65% muscle to bone ratio, which means there is very little waste at processing time.
Florida Whites have white fur and pink eyes. They are docile, good-natured, and relaxed, making them an excellent pet as well as a meat rabbit.
Cinnamon Rabbits are rust-colored rabbits with dark ears, noses, and feet. They are a larger meat bread, weighing around 8.5 to 11 pounds.
Although they were initially bred for meat production, their personality also makes them great for the pet market, as well. Unfortunately, these beautiful animals are becoming increasingly hard to find. However, they make an excellent addition to your meat rabbitry.
These rabbits were bred for the commercial meat industry and pelts. They have a beautiful greyish hide that resembles the fur of a chinchilla. They are very hardy and good-natured.
The does make great mothers. Their litter size is usually 6 to 9 kits in each litter.
If you are looking for a heritage rabbit breed, consider the Champagne D’argent. It is one of the oldest rabbit breeds known. They have a very gentle disposition and are easy to handle, making them great for families with small children.
These beautiful rabbits are on the smaller side, but they have a tremendous meat-to-bone ratio, which is why they are raised for meat. However, because they are easy to handle, they do well and show animals and pets.
They can be raised for their fur, and the does make good mothers.
The Palomino rabbit is medium to large in size and has a beautiful golden-colored coat. They are relatively rare and hard to find but worth raising if you can find some.
These rabbits grow from eight to ten pounds in size. The does are larger than the bucks. They are very calm and sociable, and if raised as pets, they love to be outside of their enclosure to explore and bond with their owners.
Their temperament makes them an excellent rabbit for families to raise as meat, for pelts, for showing, and pets.
Rexes are medium-sized rabbits with fabulous fur. This soft and velvety fur makes these rabbits mainly bred for their pelts, with their meat being a byproduct.
Rexes and mini rexes make great pets due to their soft, velvety fur. In addition, the kits grow quickly, which is an excellent reason to raise them as meat rabbits. However, their meat production is not as good as other similarly-sized rabbits.
Additional rabbit breeds that can be bred for meat include Flemish Giants, Belgian Hares, Himalayan, Dutch, and Blanc de Hotot.
Flemish Giant rabbits are more commonly bred as pets than for meat. However, they can be raised as a meat rabbit. The issue with Flemish Giants is their vast appetite.
While you will get a large amount of rabbit meat per rabbit, their feed-to-meat ratio is less economical than other, smaller breeds. Their large size makes them an interesting and fun rabbit to raise; however, they will need larger cages than standard-sized rabbits.
These rabbits are a heritage breed of rabbit and are on the threatened list. They have a long history and were once extremely sought-after and expensive.
These rabbits are smaller, weighing in at 6 to 9 pounds. They are also highly active and need room to explore. Their meat is popular because it is exceptionally lean. However, Belgian Hares are notoriously difficult to breed. These rabbits are probably better suited for more experienced rabbit breeders.
These rabbits are incredibly calm, peaceful, and great for beginners. They can be raised as pets and for meat. They are one of the oldest known rabbit breeds in existence. Himalayans need extra care, however, and cannot tolerate cold. Therefore, they are best kept indoors when the weather is cold.
Dutch rabbits are popular and easy to find. They are also inexpensive to purchase, so you might consider starting your rabbit farm with dutch rabbits if money is tight. The downside of raising dutch rabbits is that they are very active and need extra room to roam, and they are also smaller, meaning less meat at processing time.
Blanc de Hotot
This heritage breed is one of the largest rabbit breeds, weighing in at around 11 pounds. These pretty white buns are well-known for their large litters and excellent mothering instincts.
How to Raise Rabbits for Meat
Rabbits are one of the easiest livestock animals to raise for meat. They also make great first animals for homesteaders and for 4H projects. However, they need a few essential care items like food, water, and shelter. You’ll also need to know a bit about breeding, pregnancy, and kit care.
The easiest way to feed your meat rabbits is to offer them free choice rabbit pellets and timothy hay. In addition, you can purchase bulk rabbit food in 50-pound bags, which is very economical.
Some people will supplement their rabbits’ diet with weeds, vegetable scraps, and other fresh greens. Rabbits kept in colonies will eat grass and weeds found in their enclosure. If you make changes in your rabbits’ diets, do so slowly and carefully. Sudden changes can make your rabbits sick.
Rabbits need fresh water at all times. Water bottles are easy but should be replaced often. Some rabbits can drink out of an open bowl, but you need to watch closely to make sure it doesn’t get dumped by accident.
Most rabbits are very content in a wire cage with a wire bottom. While rabbits can acclimate well to cold temperatures, they do need some protection from the elements, especially rain and heat.
For example, you may want to keep your rabbits in hanging cages in a barn. Using hanging cages makes them easy to reach, protects them from rain and hot weather, and makes it easy for you to care for them.
You could also keep your rabbits in hutches outside, as long as the hutches have a roof (like the rabbit hutches I built here) and an area where the rabbits can get out of the rain and sun.
Wire bottoms work well because the feces can fall through, making it easy to sweep up. You’ll need to stuff part of the cage with hay for the rabbits to cuddle in when it’s cold and to give them some relief for their feet.
Some people will raise their meat rabbits indoors, but keep in mind that unneutered bucks and does can spray their urine across several feet, which could damage walls and floors in your home.
Lastly, you may wish to house your rabbits outdoors in a colony setting. A colony setting means the rabbits are housed together in a large outdoor environment. It gives them access to the ground but makes them more susceptible to digging predators. You may want to dig down several feet to place chicken wire under the enclosure to help protect your rabbits.
Bucks and does (males and females) need to be housed separately.
Rabbits are easy to breed and funny to watch! Rabbits are spontaneous ovulators, which means they don’t have a season where they go in heat, like cats. Instead, they will go in heat spontaneously when they breed.
Once your does are 6 to 9 months old, they are ready to breed depending on the breed and size. Always bring the doe to the buck because does are highly territorial and may attack the buck if you bring the buck to the doe.
The mating ritual will begin pretty much immediately, with a bit of dancing around the cage. After a few minutes, the buck will mount the doe. When the mating is complete, the buck will hilariously flop over, known as a fall-off. You should allow three fall-offs to occur per session and breed the same rabbits together two days in a row. Remove the buck as soon as the mating session is complete, so the pair do not fight.
Your rabbit will show some signs of being pregnant such as fur pulling, nest building, and grumpy or aggressive behavior. As soon as you suspect your female rabbit is pregnant, give her a nest box filled with hay.
She’ll pull fur from her belly to line the hay in the box. Do not house her with any other rabbits, as she may attack them to protect her babies. A rabbit pregnancy lasts about 30 days.
It is not unusual for first-time rabbit moms to make some big mistakes leading to the loss of her kits. For example, she may not know to go in the nest box, she may not feed them properly, or they simply might not survive. However, do not get discouraged because even moms who have trouble with their first litter will usually become excellent mothers after that.
Baby rabbits are called kits, and there are anywhere from 1 to 14 kits in each litter. They are blind, deaf, and hairless at birth. The mom will only feed them twice a day, and it only takes about minutes.
Watch the kits for signs of full, round bellies to know that the mother is feeding her babies. The baby bunnies, or kits, need to stay together in the nest box for warmth. If they wander out of their nest, gently put them back in. Make sure you wear long sleeves and be careful because momma rabbit might be a bit aggressive and protective for a while.
Baby rabbits are usually weaned by 4 to 6 weeks of age.
Once the babies are weaned, separate the males from the females by eight weeks. The males can impregnate the females, and even their mother, by ten weeks of age. If babies get pregnant too early, it can be detrimental to their health. They may not grow to full size, and they could die or be injured when giving birth.
The hardest part of raising rabbits is the dispatch. Butchering rabbits is not technically difficult, but it could be emotionally hard if you are sensitive. One of the easiest and most humane methods of dispatch is the broomstick method.
Rise and Shine rabbitry gives an excellent description of dispatch methods here. You’ll probably butcher your rabbits between 8 to 12 weeks of age when they are known as ‘fryers.’ The meat is the most tender at this time. However, if you also want to raise the same rabbits for their pelts, you might want to butcher them when they are a little older, considered ‘roasters.’
If butchering your own rabbit meat isn’t for you, that’s ok. You can make arrangements with a local butcher shop. They’ll butcher and package your rabbit meat for you for a small fee. Finding a reputable butcher is helpful if you are particularly sensitive or you are not legally permitted to butcher your rabbits where you live.
One of the benefits of raising rabbits for meat is that you might be able to raise them where other livestock are not permitted. However, every town and municipality has different laws, and you’ll need to check yours to make sure.
For example, there may be limits on how many rabbits you are permitted to have if you are allowed to breed them and if you are allowed to butcher them in on your property. In addition, you may need to apply for a permit to start your own rabbitry.
It is important to keep your rabbits healthy and happy. But, sometimes, illness still happens. Keeping rabbits in individual cages can cut down on the spread of disease. Also, responding quickly to signs that your rabbit isn’t well will give you the best chance of survival for your rabbits.
Flystrike is serious and can be fatal. It is an awful way for a rabbit to die. Flystrike happens when flies are attracted to feces stuck to the rabbit’s bottom and lay eggs there. The eggs turn to larvae, which will eat the rabbit alive. Immediate vet care is needed.
You can prevent flystrike by keeping the rabbit area extremely clean, checking your rabbits’ bums daily, and quickly taking care of any dietary or stomach issues that crop up.
Snuffles is a respiratory problem in rabbits. It is caused by bacteria and may be related to tooth issues. Snuffles is treated with antibiotics and may become a life-long problem for the rabbit.
You can prevent snuffles by feeding your rabbit a healthy, balanced diet and providing good ventilation for the rabbit’s quarters.
Rabbits poop often and will even eat their feces. However, if your rabbit stops pooping for more than 24 hours, it could die. Stress, dehydration, pain, and other issues can contribute to GI Stasis. Your rabbit will need vet care if this is an issue.
You can prevent GI Stasis by keeping your rabbit as healthy as possible. Avoid making drastic changes to your rabbits’ diet and introduce new foods slowly and in small amounts.
- The Complete Handbook on Commercial and Backyard Rabbit Production
- Raising Rabbits by KSU
- Rabbit Production by the PennState Extension
Rabbit starvation, also known as protein poisoning, is a very real thing. The body can only process a limited amount of protein. If you were only to eat rabbit meat, which is extremely lean, you could technically starve to death because the body cannot process enough protein to meet your daily calorie and nutrition needs. However, eating a balanced diet that includes rabbit meat as a source of protein is not dangerous.
Most people that raise rabbits for meat do so for their own personal consumption. However, you can sell rabbit meat according to your local laws. It can sell for as much as $5 to $7 per pound.
Technically speaking, you can eat Flemish Giants for food, and some people do. However, they are not the most economical rabbit to raise for food. In addition, their feed consumption is much higher than other meat breeds when compared to their meat. They do, however, make wonderful pets.