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Beginner’s Guide to Raising Meat Rabbits

I remember the first time I ever ate rabbit. I was a teenager, attending a rabbit show with my fluffle of Jersey Wooly rabbits, and hanging out with the other youth exhibitors while we waited for our breeds to go before the judges.

Rabbit shows tend to be lean in the snacks department, but a meat rabbit breeder was selling bags of rabbit jerky.

I wasn’t what I would call an adventurous eater back then, but I was still a teenager girl who didn’t like to not do what everyone else was doing. I tried a piece.

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It was delicious. To me, it was no different than turkey jerky. I ended up eating a whole bag myself.

Unfortunately, my opportunities to acquire rabbit meat were rather limited after that. I raised longhaired dwarf rabbits who maxed out at 3 1/2 lbs. I wouldn’t be eaten them any time soon.

It wasn’t until I moved to Florida that I was actually able to find rabbit in the freezer section of my local grocery store. I’ve become a much more adventurous eater as an adult, so I’ve tried my hand at frying, braising, and roasting it.

The downside is rabbit is not the cheapest meat to buy from the grocery store. The great irony is rabbit is so inexpensive to raise ourselves.

They’re easy to maintain, need very little in the way of infrastructure, and they breed like… well… rabbits.

So why not raise your own rabbits for meat?

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Beginner's Guide to Raising Meat Rabbits
Californian meat rabbit - raising meat rabbits

Why should I raise meat rabbits?

One of the biggest struggles homesteaders face is finding a sustainable way to produce food that is compatible with their space and resources.

Larger livestock like pigs and cattle are out of the question for many people on smaller acreage.

Chickens are a fast growing source of meat, but Cornish Crosses are hybrids who do not breed true. And heritage breeds grow more slowly and the meat is usually more tough.

Meat Quality

Meat rabbits grow just as quickly as Cornish Cross chickens, typically being processed between 8-12 weeks of age. The meat is also very similar to chicken in terms of flavor and texture.

Rabbit meat is also a very nutrient dense protein. Rabbit meat is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin B12, iron, and other minerals like calcium and potassium. It’s also low in cholesterol and is very lean.

Housing

Rabbits can be sustainable in a very small area. Hutches or cages can be kept on a porch or under a carport.

The larger rabbit breeds that are typically raised for meat average 9-12 pounds when mature, so they need at least 4 square feet per rabbit.

Rabbits need a roof over their heads and protection from direct sunlight. They also need housing that is secure from predators.

Cages or hutches with wire bottoms allow waste to fall through the bottom of the cage, which helps to keep their area cleaner and makes them less prone to parasites.

White Californian meat rabbit - raising meat rabbits

What is the best breed of rabbit to raise for meat?

Technically any cull rabbit can be used for meat. In fact, I know people who travel to rabbit shows just to buy cull rabbits from breeds so they can put them in the freezer.

However, a rabbit breed that has been selectively bred for meat production will result in a better feed conversion and carcass size.

Here are 16 popular meat rabbit breeds:

  • American
  • Beveren
  • Blanc de Hotot
  • Californian
  • Champagne d’Argent
  • Cinnamon
  • Standard Chinchilla
  • American Chinchilla
  • Giant Chinchilla
  • Harlequin
  • New Zealand
  • Palomino
  • Satin
  • Silver Fox
  • Silver Marten
  • Standard Rex

We chose Californians for our rabbitry. They are one of the most popular meat rabbit breeds in the US.

Californians boast tight skin and a dense, square body that grows quickly and produces and nice balanced carcass.

Their white coats and dense fur also makes for a nice pelt, which we can tan and sell as an additional revenue source for our homestead.

They aren’t the most common meat breed in Central Florida, but I am fortunate enough to know a couple of breeders and acquire some breeding stock.

Our first year with them, my son won Grand Champion Pen of Meat Rabbits over several pens of New Zealand rabbits at our county fair. That was a very encouraging start to our breeding project.

How long does it take to raise a meat rabbit?

Meat rabbits are typically processed at 8-10 weeks of age.

Similar to chickens, the younger the rabbit at the time of processing, the more tender the meat.

  • 8 weeks old – fryer
  • 12 week old – roaster
  • over 12 weeks – stewer

Our Californians average 4-5 pounds live weight by the time they are 12 weeks old, which is approximately 2.5-3 pounds finished.

How much feed does it take to raise rabbits for meat?

A good feed to weight conversion is very important when determining the economics of raising rabbits for meat.

Young rabbits that are being raising for meat are free fed to ensure their growth isn’t stunted in any way, but you want to make sure that feed is resulting in growth.

A poor conversion ratio could be a sign of parasites, illness, or poor genetics. You may also want to look at what you are feeding. A low quality feed will result in poor growth for young rabbits.

So what is a good conversion ratio and how much should you expect to pay in feed for your meat rabbits?

In general, you should expect to feed 2.5 pounds of feed per pound of meat.

That is the processed weight. So if I butcher a 4 pound rabbit and get a 2.5 pound carcass, I have approximately 6.25 pounds of pellets invested in that rabbit.

At the time of writing this article, we pay approximately $22 for a 50 lb bag of Kalmbach 18% Best-in-Show Rabbit Feed. So that gives us a feed cost of $2.75 per rabbit.

Best of Breed Californian rabbit - raising meat rabbits

How do I find a good rabbit breeder to buy from?

If you want to raise meat rabbits sustainably, you’ll want to breed them yourself. This means starting with the best quality breeding stock you can find.

A lot of people assume that people who show their rabbits are going to be more expensive because they are raising them “for show.”

Personally, I have not found exhibitors to be any more expensive than backyard breeders, and you can look up show records to determine the quality of their rabbits.

And yes, the breed standard is written for meat production in mind, so the rabbit who places the best in the show is generally going to be the one with the best finished carcass.

Therefore, that’s a rabbit you want in your breeding program.

The American Rabbit Breeders Association keeps a database of all sanctioned shows on their website. Find a show near you and plan a visit.

Breeders will often bring rabbits with them to sell at the show, but not always. However, a show is a great place to see all of the breeds, talk to the breeders, and ask questions.

After you have found a breeder who you would like to purchase breeding stock from, arrange to meet them after the show or for them to bring rabbits for you to a future show.

Do your best to find a breeder who you get along with and is willing to answer your questions. They can be a valuable mentor and source of information as you get started.

young Californian doe in hutch with nest box

What do I need to get started raising meat rabbits?

Setting up your rabbitry should be done before you bring your first rabbits home. The good news is rabbits have minimal requirements as you get started. Here’s a basic list of what you need to have when you first get started:

  • Cages or hutches – individual cages for all breeding rabbits. Larger cage or hutch for grow outs after weaning
  • Water cups – I prefer cups over water bottles. My rabbits have always drank better out of cups and I have few issues in general.
  • Pellet feeders – find one that will keep feed dry but is also easy to clean
  • Hay feeders – rabbits will use hay as bedding if it’s just placed on the cage floor
  • Cage resting mats – large breeds are very prone to pressure sores on their hocks on wire cages in hot weather
  • Nesting boxes – need to be large enough to accommodate your breeding doe
  • Nail clippers – one handed trimmers made for cats work really well
  • Slicker brush – short hair still needs to be brushed, especially during season changes when they shed more
young girl with Californian meat rabbit

Is raising meat rabbits worth it?

That is a question only you can answer. There are a lot of considerations to take into account, such as the cost of feed, cages, and equipment, your time commitment, and how much space you have.

But if you are able to breed your own rabbits, the feed cost per pound of meat decreases significantly. And raising your own meat has the added benefits of knowing where your meat comes from and how it was raised.

So is raising rabbits for meat worth it? I believe the answer is yes, it can be totally worth it.

Conclusion

Raising rabbits for meat can be a very sustainable and affordable way to provide meat for your family. By starting with quality breeding stock, raising your own rabbits, and feeding them a high-quality diet, you can produce healthy, delicious meat that is better for you and the environment.

Alicia Spears

Monday 1st of August 2022

Hello, so happy I found this site. Very good article ! Wondering if you can answer a question for me. Is it true that rabbits cannot tolerate high temperatures ? I just read somewhere that they're in the danger zone at anything over 85 degrees.

I live in an area of Texas where we usually have at least 3 straight months at 100 degrees or higher in the summer, sometimes longer. I would hate for them to die. I'm thinking chickens may be the way to go, even if they stop laying in the heat.

Also read your article on getting into homesteading & how to hang a clothes line which is next on my to do list lol. Thanks a lot - Alicia

Bonnie

Wednesday 3rd of August 2022

We are actually in Florida, so we also have to adjust for the heat. For the most part, my rabbits do fine. A few things that help are to keep the cages shaded, keep the cages clean, and make sure everyone always has plenty of fresh water. If I feel like any of the rabbits are really struggling, I also keep frozen 2-liters handy to put in the cage so they can lay against them. Ceramic tiles in the cages also help them stay cool and prevent sore hocks from being on the cage wire in the heat.

One lesson that I did learn the hard way is that I only breed my rabbits in the cooler months. I lost two does a couple years ago because they had litters the end of May, so were still nursing when the heat hit in June. It was too much for them and I lost both of them within a week of each other. Now I make sure I do not have any litters born past April and I do not start breeding again until September.