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Raising Rabbits for Meat

Introduction

Raising rabbits for meat production can be a cost-effective way to provide for you and your family.  Throw in the added benefits of a healthy lean meat and the low cost investment, rabbits are an excellent addition to any homestead.

Health Benefits and Feeding

Rabbit is a very healthy white meat, with little fat and lots of protein.  It is also quite low in cholesterol, however, rabbit meat is not all that high in calories, so it can be something eaten almost every day.

You also get to choose what your meat gets to eat.  Commercial rabbit food is cheap and generally readily available, but you can also try to feed them what they’d have in nature.  For breeding purposes and to ensure a healthy and productive breeding stock, commercial feed is the way to go.

Just a note:  Once you decide on a diet for your rabbits, don’t change it frequently.  They like to have their feed the same, and can have stress and digestive issues from abrupt changes in diet.  If you do need to change their diets, do it slowly by mixing the new food with the old and gradually phasing out the old type of food.

Handling

Rabbits are generally pretty hardy animals, especially the larger meat breeds.  Never pick your rabbits up by the ears, no matter how a big a fan you are of Elmer Fudd.  

The proper way to pick up a rabbit is to grasp the fur between the shoulder blades and lift, while using your other hand to support the body weight.  Failing to handle your rabbits in the proper way can result in stress and muscle damage to the rabbit.

Breeds

There is no shortage of rabbit breeds to choose from.  It’s best if you can find a medium to large size breed, and even better if one of those breeds comes from a breeder close enough for you to go see.  It’s always best to get your animals from someone local.

When researching breeds, be sure to choose a breed that will handle the climate in your area well.  You don’t want to choose to raise snowshoe hare if you live Florida.  This is another reason why it’s best to buy from a local(ish) breeder.

Another consideration when choosing a breed is how much room you have.  Rabbits don’t need a lot of room, but you want to have enough to ensure that your breeding pair stays happy and healthy.  That’s the best way to ensure that they breed consistently.

One other thing to consider is the breed’s coat.  A nice coat of rabbit fur can bring in additional income or provide you with pelts to make gloves, mittens, socks, and slippers.  Why let another opportunity for useful product and income go to waste?

Reproducing

Rabbits reproduce quite often.  In fact, as the saying goes, they reproduce like rabbits.  Now, it’s not like they’re pumping out a new baby everyday, but they do produce a lot.

Depending on how much meat and rabbits you’re wanting to produce, for a home-based operation, a single buck and a single doe will do.  Most meat breeds will be sexually mature at only about five months of age.  

The pregnancy lasts about a month, and you can generally feel the little lumps inside the does belly if you gently feel for them.  After giving birth, the doe can be pregnant again rather quickly, but it’s best to wait at least forty days after she give birth.  

The rabbit kits, when born will be blind, deaf, and hairless.  Most of the medium and larger breed rabbits that you’ll be raising will have up to a dozen babies per litter.  So if you take thirty to thirty five days for pregnancy and forty days for recovery and nursing, your one breeding pair may produce up to about sixty new rabbits for you each year.

The kits will need to nurse for four or five weeks, but will also be eating on their own after just a couple of weeks.  Sometimes, however, the mother will give birth to more kits than she has nipples.  It is not uncommon for her to reject a few of the kits.

It is extremely difficult to hand-raise the babies, and there is a high chance of death.  If you have two does, you may be able to foster the kits with another doe.  

There is also the possibility that the mother will eat or kill the young.  This is nature’s way of weeding out some of the weaker ones, but may also be induced by stress.  Be sure to keep your dogs and cats away from the rabbits while they are nursing.

Processing

The most common size for a meat rabbit is three pounds.  Even though your breed will likely be in the seven to twelve-pound range, processing the young rabbits has several benefits.

First off, you don’t have to feed them a whole lot.  By killing them at the age of ten weeks or so, you will only have cents invested in the animal, not dollars.  A three pound rabbit (live) will give you a little more than a pound of usable meat.  Add in the value of a nice soft rabbit pelt, and you’re definitely getting more of a bargain than buying the meat.

Second, keeping them from getting too old will make the meat more tender, as well as more lean.  Rabbit meat is much like chicken, and a pound of rabbit will give you more than one hundred and thirty grams of protein, while have very little cholesterol.

Lastly, processing the young rabbits will save you on space.  Especially if you’re going to have two does breeding at the same time, moving the weaned kits to their own hutch will allow you to have a new litter or two almost all the time.  If you do end up with two or more breeding does, stagger the breeding so that one is nursing while the other is pregnant.

Storage

Rabbit is like any other meat, it can be frozen raw, cooked, canned, or dehydrated.  It’s easy to store and can be frozen for quite a while.  Cut the meat into stew-sized chunks or freeze it whole.

Summary

Raising rabbits fro meat can be not only profitable and nutritious, but is also one the easier ways to provide your own meat.  There’s a low start-up cost, and very little feed cost compared to other animals.  The rabbits don’t take up much room, and there’s opportunity to add to your income through the sale of meat, pelts, or even live rabbit kits.

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