How to Start Raising Rabbits for Meat (2022)

Meat rabbits are making a comeback; here’s how to start raising your own

Raising rabbits for meat should be considered a cornerstone of efficient and effective homesteading. Though never as popular as chickens, home-raised domestic rabbits were once a common meat source on the farm and in town. The popularity of rabbit as a food source, and thus as a type of livestock, has waned over the years as most folks turned away from producing their own food.

With the recent resurgence of interest in quality, home-grown food, rabbit husbandry for meat production is primed for a comeback. On our homestead, we’ve been breeding and raising rabbits for meat for many years. They have transitioned from an occasional meal to a staple of our food planning.

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What are meat rabbits?

Meat rabbits—the specific breeds of rabbits that are large and produce a good meat-to-bone ratio—are a kind of livestock often raised on small-scale homesteads. Rabbits are easy to keep and can do well on the homestead, even with limited space dedicated to them. They reproduce quickly and go from birth to consumption or reproduction size in just a few months.

Rabbit’s white meat has a high-quality flavor that needs to be eaten to be believed, but even on a more objective measure—nutritional value compared to other domestic meats like chicken, beef, and pork—rabbits come out on top. Rabbit meat has a better protein-to-fat ratio, is low in cholesterol, and has high concentrations of important vitamins and minerals.

(Video) Raising Rabbits for Meat!! How to Begin!!!

How to Start Raising Rabbits for Meat (1)

Building a rabbitry

Once the decision to raise meat rabbits on the homestead has been made, the first step is to build a structure to house them: a rabbitry. The options for rabbitries can vary widely by the skills of the builder and the needs of the homestead. Rabbits can thrive in almost any climate as long as they are kept dry and have the ability to avoid cold direct winds, but have good ventilation.

While colony keeping is an option, most keepers choose to keep each adult animal in an individual pen. Commercially available pens are usually a simple and versatile wire cage, available from most ag and feed stores, that can be used indoors or out, suspended, or placed on the ground or a shelf. These pens come individually or can be purchased and used in groups. Other pre-made rabbitry structures can vary greatly in size and cost and can be made for indoor or outdoor use. If building your own, there are free plans available online, or you can build your own design, as long as some basic criteria are met.

Building rabbit pens

The rabbits will need space to move comfortably. An individual pen should start around 30-inches by 36-inches by 18-inches. The grow-out pen, for animals raised for meat, is more flexible in size but should be large enough that the young rabbits have room to spread out a bit. The rabbit keeper will need pens that are easy to access, with doors large enough to reach all parts of the pen for regular cleaning.

Hardware cloth is a great material to use for rabbit pen walls and floors. It’s durable enough to keep rabbits in and predators out. It also allows poop pellets to fall through the pen’s floor into bins for easy collection for the garden. We’ve even suspended rabbit pens above a chicken run, allowing the chickens to eat rabbit waste and any food they spill. Rabbits need a solid place to rest their feet, though, so a tile or a mat should be included in the pen. We have large ceramic tiles in ours. They have the added benefit of feeling cool to a hot rabbit in summer.

Food, water, and shelter for the rabbits

When locating the rabbitry, ensure a supply of electricity for lights and fans. A water source and food storage should be as close as possible as well. Rabbits also need a feeder, a waterer, and a nesting box for birthing and raising kits. The nesting box can be purchased or built and should correspond to the size of the rabbit breed. They are easy to construct with minimal skill and tools and there are free plans available online.

(Video) How to Raise Rabbits for Meat: Part 1 Breeding

How to Start Raising Rabbits for Meat (2)

Feeders can be for both hay and pellet feed and may need to vary in style by individual rabbit, as some are more prone to food wasting than others. A common waterer is a bottle style with a straw that the rabbit drinks from. These are easy to fill and keep clean but freeze rapidly in winter in colder climates. For winter, a flexible rubber bowl works well, as it is easy to pop the ice out and refill with fresh water. This may not be a chore for every locality, but it is important for places that have long, cold winters like our Michigan homestead.

Feeding your meat rabbits

Quality feed is critical for quality, healthy animals and will likely be the biggest continuing cost of raising rabbits. Fresh, clean water should always be available to all rabbits. As long as the nutritional needs are met, there are multiple strategies that can be effective for feeding rabbits.

Most adult rabbits will do well with a 12 to 15 percent protein ratio. Pregnant and lactating does need closer to 20 percent. This can be achieved through a combination of hay (depending on composition) and commercial pellets. You can also supplement with fresh plant material. Many homesteaders grow crops just to feed their rabbits (kale, swiss chard, other greens) as well as feeding them select weeds pulled from the garden. For example, we fill a wagon as we weed our garden to provide fresh greens for our rabbits. Any new foods should be started gradually to avoid gastrointestinal distress. Adults should be fed to maintain a healthy weight but not overfed. Grow-outs can be given free choice feed to get them to butcher weight quickly.

How to Start Raising Rabbits for Meat (3)

Additional ways to make your rabbits happy

Once housing, food, and water have been sorted out, rabbits are low maintenance. Other considerations are optional but may help with rabbit temper and health. They also have a compulsion and a physical need to chew. Feeding them hay helps with this, but they may still like a piece of wood to chew. Maple and applewood are safe options, but several other untreated kinds of wood are acceptable, too. In particularly hot and humid weather, frozen water bottles (steel works well) placed in the cage allow them to stretch out against them to cool off.

(Video) Why We No Longer Raise Rabbits

Finding rabbits to start your rabbitry

Once the rabbitry is complete, it’s time to bring rabbits home! One buck and a couple of does would be a good start. Depending on breeding protocols, each doe will have four or more litters of six to ten kits per year. Those kits should reach a dress-out weight of around 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 pounds at 10 to 12 weeks. That can add up to a heck of a lot of meals through the year; approximately 192.

Finding rabbits to purchase for breeding stock can vary by locality; online forums, as well as local 4-H or Future Farmers of America groups, can be great resources. There are many good modern and heritage breeds to choose from. Mixed breeds are a viable (and often cheaper) option as well. Each breed and mixed combinations have size, growth rate, fur, and temperament traits that need to be considered. Care should be taken to select healthy animals, as they will be the foundation of the rabbitry. Ideally, a reputable breeder is available to purchase from and will have proven—or already completed breeding—bucks and does to choose from.

Uses for rabbit ‘waste’

After the processing is done and the carcass is cooling, the “waste” products associated with meat rabbits can be easily used. The heart and liver are edible for human consumption. If there are laying hens on the homestead, the scrap parts can be fed to them to provide a quality protein boost. Depending on the number of hens, the offal can be fed all at once (boiled first, if desired) or frozen and fed in bits over time. Watching hens chase each other for these scaps makes for great homestead entertainment!

Composting is another efficient option for your rabbit carcasses. Given the right style of composting, the offal will break down and return to the soil. Meat does well in compost bins that maintain high temperatures, get turned often, and when meat is a very low percentage of the material in the bin compared to natural vegetation (like broccoli stems, apple peels, and wilted lettuce).

Pelts, sometimes considered another “waste” product, are easy to preserve and use, even for a novice. The nature of rabbit pelts is such that there is very little difficult tissue left attached after skinning. Specialized tools may not be required to prepare them. While few of us wear full furs as our daily clothing, rabbit pelts have many uses. This includes lining outdoor gear like hats or hoods, stand-alone mittens, fly-tying materials, crafting materials, or other purposes.

(Video) How to Build a Rabbit Colony

Rabbit manure is homestead gold

The products of butchering day are certainly not the only, and may not even be the best, reasons to raise meat rabbits. Rabbits spend their whole lives dropping little brown pellets of homesteading gold in the form of manure!

Rabbit gold is a top-notch soil amendment. It can be composted or even added directly to the garden as it doesn’t get as hot as the manure from most other animals. Rabbit manure is also more nutrient-dense and easier to harvest and use than most other animal manure. Improving the soil on your homestead literally improves it from the ground up and should be a priority for any homesteader.

Rabbit husbandry is an ever-evolving process, moving with the needs of the rabbit and the rabbit keepers. We’ve built and rebuilt our rabbitry several times. This includes adjusting as we’ve added more rabbits and moving the whole operation into one of our buildings. Meat rabbits are making a comeback because they are low maintenance compared to other livestock, simple, enjoyable, and fit perfectly into small-scale homesteading.


How long does it take to raise a rabbit to butcher? ›

Although companion rabbits are capable of living 10 to 15 years, the vast majority of “meat” rabbits are killed at three months of age. Referred to as “fryers,” these baby rabbits weigh only 1.5 – 3.5 pounds. A small percentage are slaughtered at 8 months old or 4 pounds; they are known in the industry as “roasters.”

How do you start meat rabbits? ›

You can start with a trio (2 does and 1 buck) and 3 single cages or a 3-tier cage system. This trio can keep your freezer filled all year long. Rabbits make nearly zero noise; especially happy rabbits that have clean food, water and den. Your HOA will never know you're raising a meat source unless you tell them!

How much meat do you get from 1 rabbit? ›

A four-pound animal produces about two pounds of meat. Rabbit really tastes something like chicken, and it even gets cut into eight pieces like a frying chicken. However, the bones are smaller and the meat is all white. What will this lean, home-raised meat cost?

What do you feed rabbits raised for meat? ›

A meat rabbit's diet usually consists of rabbit pellets and free-choice hay. Grass, weeds, twigs, and herbs are healthy additions. Just be sure to make any changes to their diet slowly. Salt licks and mineral spools are not needed if you feed pelleted food.

Is raising meat rabbits worth it? ›

They're not worth the effort. If you're serious about keeping rabbits for meat, you need a breed built for the job. Meat rabbits are longer, fatter, and fluffier than your typical wild bunny. These are generally regarded as the best rabbits for eating – though some make good house pets as well.

What breed of rabbit is best for meat? ›

The New Zealand rabbit breed is by far the most common and the most popular best meat rabbit. It's estimated that 90% of the rabbits raised for meat are New Zealand rabbits. One reason may be that this rabbit breed puts on weight quickly and has an exceptional meat-to-bone ratio.

How many meat rabbits can live together? ›

Breeding Colonies

If you are raising rabbits for meat or sale and have a very high demand you can keep the bucks & does together full time. One buck can easily cover 10-15 does. If you have too many bucks, they could fight more often and overbreed the does.

How many rabbits should a family of 4 eat? ›

Now the big question: how many rabbits will you need? A family of four will need 6 breeding does (adult female rabbits) that raise 48 kits each per year to eat rabbit 5 times per week and two breeding does to eat rabbit once per week.

How many rabbits should I start with? ›

How many rabbits should you start with? Idealy start with a trio OR 5 unrelated rabbits. A trio is 1 buck (male rabbit) and 2 does (female rabbit).

Is eating rabbit meat healthy? ›

Rabbit and hare meat are excellent sources of protein. Protein also keeps us healthy by building and repairing our muscles, skin and blood. Rabbit and hare meat are excellent sources of iron. Iron helps make healthy blood that flows through our bodies, giving us energy to be active and to grow strong.

How many cages does a meat rabbit need? ›

Each rabbit needs its own cage, so for the breeding trio of a buck and two does you'll need three cages.

Can you starve on rabbit meat? ›

The term rabbit starvation originates from the fact that rabbit meat is very lean, with almost all of its caloric content from protein rather than fat, and therefore a food which, if consumed exclusively, would cause protein poisoning.

Do meat rabbits need salt blocks? ›

Contrary to popular belief, rabbits do not need salt licks, vitamins, or hard wooden objects to wear their teeth down.

How long can you leave a rabbit before gutting it? ›

You should gut furred small game as soon as possible. Especially rabbits and hares, because there's something about their innards that allows them to sour very quickly. In warm weather, it only takes an hour or so for the thin abdominal muscles to start turning greenish blue.

How much can I sell my rabbit meat for? ›

Rabbit is considered a delicacy, and the price you can get per pound certainly reflects that. You can probably ask about $6 per lb for your rabbit meat. It doesn't matter if you sell it for human consumption or dog food. Rabbit is in high demand, so you can ask what it's worth…and probably get it.

Is rabbit meat healthier than beef? ›

Well, rabbit is one of the healthiest, leanest, and most environmentally friendly meats you can eat. Compared to beef, pork, lamb, turkey, veal, and chicken, rabbit has the highest percentage of protein, the lowest percentage of fat, and the fewest calories per pound.

What is rabbit meat called? ›

Unlike beef, pork or lamb, rabbit meat does not have a special name, it is simply called, "rabbit meat." Despite it being a rarity on many Zambian menus, it is a very popular dish across different parts of the world. Rabbit meat is unique from other meats in that it is entirely white meat.

What is the most humane way to butcher a rabbit? ›

The preferred method is dislocation of the neck. The rabbit is held firmly by the rear legs and head; it is stretched full length. Then with a hard, sharp pull, the head is bent backward to dislocate the neck. The rabbit can also be struck a hard, quick blow to the skull behind the ears.

Does inbreeding matter with meat rabbits? ›

Inbreeding is a great way to “set” the characteristics of the sire and dam but it can also create “bad rabbits” that must be culled because of temperament, health, or deformities, more so than with line breeding. When you inbreed you should cull heavily and only keep what you are really pleased with.

How many times a year can you breed a meat rabbit? ›

You breed about every 90 days. Gestation only takes 30 to 32 days. The young nurse for five or six weeks, learning to eat as they go along. At six or seven weeks you put the young fryers in another hutch or two and eat them between then and ten or twelve weeks.

How often do meat rabbits reproduce? ›

For homesteaders, meat rabbits provide one of the most cost-effective and sustainable options of home-raised meat for your family. They have short reproduction cycles, and a single breeding doe will birth around four to five litters per year, which adds up to quite a bit of meat for a family!

What does it cost to start rabbit farming? ›

The reason is that rabbit farming is more convenient and easy to practice. Just like starting a poultry farming business, rabbit farming requires just a little capital and a small space. As a beginner, you can start with as little as 2 does and 1 buck.

How many pellets should a bunny get a day? ›

Pellets: Feed a bunny small quantities

An average-sized (6-10 pounds) adult rabbit only needs one-quarter cup of pellets daily. If your rabbit is under five pounds, feed just one-eighth of a cup. Rabbits larger than 10 pounds do not need more than a quarter of a cup, since it's not a crucial part of a bunny's diet.

Is rabbit farming hard? ›

Rabbits are easy to raise. The long-eared animals are clean and quiet. They do not need a lot of room.

Which rabbit is best for beginners? ›

Other popular breeds for beginner pet rabbit owners are the Mini Lop, Mini Rex, Dutch and Polish. All four are small breeds that have reputations of being gentle. That being said, all types of domestic rabbits have the potential of being good pets.

How many acres do you need for a rabbit? ›

The minimum requirement of space for your pet rabbit is 12 square feet (or 1.1 square meters). Rabbits need space to run around, hop, dig besides space for food and water. Having said that, these dimensions are the basic requirements.

What does the Bible say about eating rabbit? ›

The rabbit, though it chews the cud, does not have a split hoof; it is unclean for you. And the pig, though it has a split hoof completely divided, does not chew the cud; it is unclean for you. You must not eat their meat or touch their carcasses; they are unclean for you.

Why is rabbit meat not popular? ›

Rabbit meat is not popular meat because it's not profitable to produce, as the rabbits are small and lean. They need a very specific feed, which is more expensive than chicken or cattle feed.

What is cooked rabbit called? ›

Place of originThe Netherlands, Germany
Main ingredientsRabbit or hare, onions, wine

How far off the ground should a rabbit cage be? ›

The hutch should be at least 20 inches high and higher for larger breed rabbits. Many hutches are made with 16-gauge wire for the sides and tops and 14-gauge wire for the floor. Cover the wire floor with 2-3 inches of paper bedding or hay.

Do meat rabbits need bedding? ›

To prevent sore hocks place rest pads, also known as, cage mats, into the rabbit cages. Rest pads allow rabbits the opportunity to be off the hard wire as needed, minimizing the risk of sore hocks from forming. Natural bedding such as straw, sawdust, and hay can also be used.

Can meat rabbits live on grass? ›

Grass is delicious, but it is not enough for your meat rabbits. Plan for grass making up approximately 40% of your rabbits' diet. The other 60% will come from hay and other greens.

How much meat do you get from 3 rabbits? ›

The raised rabbits, all mixes of New Zealand, Silver Fox, and Californian, yield 3–4 pounds of meat each if butchered at the normal time of 8–10 weeks of age.

How much meat do you get from a 5 pound rabbit? ›

How much meat will you get? Each fryer will dress out at about 60% of live weight, when butchered at 5 pounds. This will get you 3.5 pounds of meat per fryer. Remember that this is a very intensive breeding plan and will only give you these results if you can keep up with the needed nutrition and management.

Can rabbits live off just hay? ›

Rabbits eat grass (or hay)!

Rabbits should be fed in a way that is as close as possible to their natural diet: mostly grass or hay. In fact, rabbits could live on hay and water alone, but we recommend providing some fresh leafy vegetables and a small amount of commercial feed.

Can you cook the parasites out of rabbit meat? ›

While warbles are gross and unsightly, they can easily be removed with a knife. Even if they're not removed, the rabbit meat is perfectly edible. Warbles don't spread diseases to humans, and cooking kills them.

What 2 foods can you survive on? ›

4 Foods You Could (Almost) Exclusively Live Off Of
  • Potatoes. Advertisement. ...
  • Human Breast Milk. Advertisement. ...
  • Kale. Advertisement. ...
  • Trail Mix.
7 Jul 2016

Does rabbit meat have parasites? ›

Tularemia can also be spread by handling or eating rabbit meat that is not cooked well.

Are rabbits OK without pellets? ›

Pellets can be good for rabbits in small quantities, but they are not a necessary part of a rabbit's daily food intake. If pet rabbits are given a balanced diet with grass-based hay and a variety of leafy green vegetables, they can still be healthy on a pellet-free diet.

How do you raise meat rabbits in your backyard? ›

5. Backyard Meat Rabbits Don't Require Much Care. Unlike a lot of livestock, large or small, meat rabbits don't require a lot of care and intervention. As long as you provide them with a safe environment the only real involvement is occasionally cleaning up the cages and putting out fresh food and water every day.

How do I know when my rabbit is ready to butcher? ›

At 10-12 weeks old, the grow-outs, or fully grown rabbit kits, should weigh over 5 pounds and are ready to be butchered at any time. But there's no rush, as grow-outs will continue to grow, just at a slower rate. If you're keeping them longer, separate the males from the females 12 weeks before butchering.

Is having 1 rabbit cruel? ›

Rabbits travel in pairs and large groups, protecting each other from predators. While rabbits do need time on their own occasionally, they dislike being alone. This is why rabbits are so often sold and kept in bonded pairs. Rabbits are social animals, so a single rabbit is likely to feel lonely and depressed.

Is raising rabbits for meat cost effective? ›

Start-up costs will vary considerably depending on the breed of rabbits you purchase and supplies you already have available. Afterwards, however, rabbits are one of the least expensive meat sources that you can raise on a homestead.

Is it hard to butcher a rabbit? ›

Butchering a rabbit is a bit harder than cutting up a chicken. In fact, that reason — along with a higher feed-to-meat ratio, is why America became a nation of chicken-eaters and not rabbit-eaters, a question actually in doubt a century ago.

What is the most humane way to slaughter a rabbit? ›

The preferred method is dislocation of the neck. The rabbit is held firmly by the rear legs and head; it is stretched full length. Then with a hard, sharp pull, the head is bent backward to dislocate the neck. The rabbit can also be struck a hard, quick blow to the skull behind the ears.

What parts of a rabbit are edible? ›

Joints of rabbit include loins, legs, rib, belly, neck, shoulder and saddle, and the kidneys are delicious. Often described as a stronger version of chicken, rabbit has a slightly sweet, vaguely gamey flavour and a pleasant texture, with wild rabbit having a much deeper flavour than farmed.

Can you survive on rabbit meat alone? ›

The term rabbit starvation originates from the fact that rabbit meat is very lean, with almost all of its caloric content from protein rather than fat, and therefore a food which, if consumed exclusively, would cause protein poisoning.

Do you need to bleed a rabbit? ›

Bleeding rabbits

After you've stunned rabbits, you must immediately cut both arteries in the neck, so they bleed quickly. They must remain unconscious until death.

How do you clean a rabbit to eat? ›

Cut off the head. Wipe out the body cavity with paper towels. Do not let your dog eat the entrails because rabbits are intermediate hosts for tapeworms, which can infect dogs. Leave the skin on the rabbit until ready for cook- ing or freezing to help keep the flesh clean.

How do you humanely catch a rabbit? ›

Using a live trap is the most humane way of catching a wild rabbit, as they do not injure the animal. Live traps come with a trap door, a trap mechanism, and several pulleys. They can be found online or at your local sporting goods store for 20 to 50 dollars.

What shot do you use for rabbits? ›

As far as shot sizes, 6s and 7-1/2s are both good choices for cottontails. Briars and thorns can make hamburger meat out of unprotected skin, so it's wise to wear thick clothing when rabbit hunting.

Is it OK to release rabbit into the wild? ›

Never release a pet rabbit outside. Releasing a domestic animal into the wild is a crime. Unfortunately, every year, thousands of rabbit guardians decide to abandon their pets in the great outdoors. They may believe the rabbit can survive and thrive in the wild but this is an inaccurate and deadly assumption.

Can you hurt a rabbit by picking it up? ›

Sometimes you may need to pick up your rabbits and it's important you do this safely. Rabbits who aren't used to being picked up can bite, scratch or even kick their owners. They tend to prefer being petted on the floor so they feel safer, rather than picked up and cuddled.

What to do after killing a rabbit? ›

Field dress (e.g. remove the guts) immediately after killing it. This will help keep the meat safe and is easier to do before the animal gets cold. Also, remember to keep the rabbit clean. Don't use dirty water and keep the carcass away from mud, dirt and leaves.

Is freezing a rabbit humane? ›

Methods that are not humane:

Freezing – The animal slowly dies of hypothermia. They can feel ice crystals forming in their body which is very painful.


(The Rabbitry Center)
2. The Basics of Raising Meat Rabbits (Complete Overview)
(Basic Skills)
3. Raising Meat Rabbits - Full Cost Breakdown
(Good Simple Living)
4. Raising Meat Rabbits - Getting Started - Basic Setup
(Good Simple Living)
5. Raising Rabbits: Getting Started
6. 5 Mistakes to Avoid When Raising Rabbits
(Better Together Homestead)

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