Raising Rabbits for Meat: A Practical Guide for Beginners In 2023

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This article is part of our Raising Meat on the Homestead series.

Have you checked the price of pasture-raised, organic meat recently? Or even supermarket meat prices? Holy Toledo! The cost seems to keep skyrocketing.

And if you eat lots of delicious meat like I do, then you must like that meat to be clean, healthy, and free of the various carcinogens common in the mainstream food supply.

And the meat’s even so much more delicious and enjoyable when you raise it yourself for *So Much Less Money* than purchasing it from the grocery store.

Welcome to the health-boosting, money-saving realm of raising meat rabbits!

My wife and I love raising our rabbits. They save us money, provide a steady source of meat, make us healthier than store-bought white or red meat can, and provide our homestead with extra income streams that help out.

Read along with me today to discover everything you need to know to get started raising meat rabbits on your homestead for your family’s consumption. And, if you choose, for a sweet, sweet profit!

In this guide, we’ll review:

  • What to feed rabbits
  • Keeping your rabbits healthy
  • Best practices for breeding rabbits
  • The benefits of raising meat rabbits
  • How many rabbits your family needs
  • Providing safe shelter for your rabbits
  • How long it takes to raise meat rabbits
  • Choosing the best breeds of meat rabbits
  • The supplies needed to start raising rabbits
  • How much space it takes to raise meat rabbits

Plus, we’ll discuss various details and factors in the rabbit-raising process. So, hop over to your comfy chair, sit back, and enjoy the read.

Ten minutes from now, you’ll gain solid knowledge about starting your rabbit breeding and raising operation to supply your homestead with fresh, organic, and surprisingly affordable meat!

Benefits of Raising Rabbits for Meat

A farmer and his wife with meat rabbits overlooking the homestead.png

In my life, raising rabbits is a significant blessing. First of all, I choose to eat animal meat. And I believe humans are supposed to have some of that in their diets. That’s why we have these pointy K9 teeth in our mouths. I eat mostly plants, avoid carbohydrates as much as possible, and also like eating meat!

So, given that I will most likely be eating dark and white animal meat for the remainder of my life, I find it critical to take responsibility for sourcing it. That way, I understand what the animal ate, its health, and how it got treated throughout its life.

Some of the many benefits associated with raising meat rabbits on your homestead include:

  1. You won’t need a separate meat freezer like you would if you purchased a half or whole cow
  2. You can raise rabbits just about anywhere, including barns, sheds, and even your garage
  3. Rabbits reproduce rapidly, providing a new supply of meat about once every two months
  4. Butchering rabbits is fast and clean compared to processing other types of animals
  5. You don’t need special equipment to dispatch and butcher rabbits

And perhaps the most important benefit, at least to my wife and I, is that the rabbits we raise get treated humanely, given everything they need to have lovely rabbit lives, and fed organic diets that keep them vigorous and make them healthier for us to consume.

No pesticides, herbicides, steroids, “vaccinations,” or other poisons for our meat rabbits, thanks!

Speaking of consuming rabbits, how much meat does an average rabbit produce?

Let’s learn!

How Much Meat Rabbits Produce

Adorable farm rabbits enjoying their afternoon lunch.

Of course, larger breeds of meat rabbits produce more significant amounts of meat than smaller breeds. And giant breeds make even more, although it may not be as cost-effective. We’ll discuss this in more detail in a few moments.

Different breeds produce different numbers of kits (baby rabbits) per litter. For instance, the American Chinchilla typically throws about 9-12 kits per litter. And a mature Chinchilla rabbit will weigh around 10-12 pounds while living.

So, after dressing one out, you can generally expect at least five or six pounds of meat. But let’s say four pounds for our purposes here.

If you have two does and a buck, you can breed each doe roughly every 90 days, although you probably won’t need to supply more than enough meat for your household.

Assuming that each doe throws only six kits per litter and each will provide four pounds of meat, that’s 24 pounds of yummy meat – per doe – every three months. (And six kits is a somewhat low birth rate for most breeds.)

That’s 48 pounds of prime rabbit meat every 90 days, or about 192 lbs of bunny meat yearly – much more than my wife and I need. It’s not like we eat rabbits every day!

So, one breeding trio (two does and a buck) provides more than enough meat for us. Of course, you may need more does if you intend to sell rabbit meat or barter with it.

How Much Money Can You Make Raising Meat Rabbits?

Before we get into this, it’s always wise to check with your local government before raising meat rabbits. Unfortunately, the government likes to keep its dirty paws on everything, and rabbit raising isn’t permitted everywhere equally – as it should be.

However, in many localities throughout the US, rabbits are not considered livestock (yet). So you should be golden. But – it’s just always a good idea to be sure.

Fact – In Queensland, Australia, where our editor lives, raising rabbits is illegal! They are not allowed to keep rabbits for pets, meat, or other purposes.

Many families, even folks in the cities and suburbs, raise rabbits for profit. You can sell rabbit meat as pet food for about $9 per pound. And a properly tanned rabbit pelt can bring in an easy $20.

Plus, you can sell rabbit manure as a fertilizer for about $10 per 5-gallon bucket or use it in your garden beds. Rabbit droppings will make your plants thrive without burning them like chemical fertilizers often do.

Learn about the most profitable farm animals (which includes rabbits!)

OK, time to get into what we’re all here for.

Let’s Start Raising Rabbits for Meat!

You’ll be happy to know that raising rabbits is a straightforward process that does not require a lot of special equipment or heavy investment. However, there are some things to know before you jump in because you want to ensure a safe, pleasant, and positive environment for these meat animals.

You’ll have to decide on which rabbit breed to raise, prepare a proper living environment, acquire certain supplies you will need, and plan what you will be feeding your rabbits. It’s not much to understand and plan for, but it’s necessary.

Let’s look closer at each of these factors.

Choosing the Best Meat Rabbit Breeds

The American Rabbit Breeders Association (ARBA) recognizes more than 300 different heritage breeds of domestic rabbits that live in at least 70 countries worldwide. Of those, approximately a dozen are the best breeds to raise for meat production. The best breed of rabbit to raise for meat should have the following attributes.

  • A strong, natural immunity to sickness.
  • Can build muscle and gain weight quickly.
  • A high meat-to-bone ratio.
  • A high meat-to-feed ratio efficiency.
  • A docile personality.

For your breeding trios, you will need a strong buck and does that are known for their maternal characteristics and ability to produce large litters.

Also, don’t make the mistake of thinking that a heavier rabbit breed is necessarily better. Larger breeds, especially giant breeds, require larger housing, and a larger cage costs more to build.

Heavier rabbits also eat more, take longer to mature, and do not necessarily have as impressive meat-to-bone ratios as smaller and medium breeds.

Some famous meat rabbit breeds to research include the American Chinchilla, Harlequin, New Zealand White, Rex, and Silver Fox.

Are you getting excited about raising meat rabbits yet?

I knew it!

This Harlequin rabbit relaxing outside their barn has a fancy and colorful color scheme.

Best Meat Rabbit Breeds

We try not to discriminate when choosing meat rabbit breeds. Most popular farm rabbits taste scrumptious – no matter the variety.

The problem is that some bunnies are trickier to raise than others. And some rabbits are much heavier than their peers. It pays to know what you’re getting into!

That’s why we have our preferred bunny breeds for delicious meat, size, maintenance level, excellent feed conversion, and pleasant temperaments. They are as follows.

Meat Rabbit Breed NameDescription
American Blue RabbitsHeritage breed. Docile temperaments. Soft, beautiful fur. The females (does) have reputations as being excellent mothers.
American Chinchilla RabbitsAmerican Chinchilla Rabbits are a popular farm breed known for their excellent pelts. They also reach fryer weight faster than other rabbit meat breeds.
Californian RabbitsCalifornian Rabbits are hefty and adorable bunnies with big ears that stand erect. They’re usually white with dark black or brown points on their nose, tail, ears, and feet.
Champagne D’Argent RabbitsChampagne D’Argent Rabbits are excellent, sweet-tempered rabbits raised for fur and meat. The babies are black – but they eventually turn a silverish-gray.
Flemish Giant RabbitsFlemish Giant Rabbits are a heavy-hitting breed that comes in various colors. Their hair is usually thick and fluffy. They’re also gentle and make excellent pets.
Florida White RabbitsFlorida White Rabbits are the perfect meat bunny if you seek a rabbit on the smaller side. They’re usually 100% white without markings. They have albino-red eyes.
Harlequin RabbitsHarlequins are famous for their beautiful fur designs. Their lovely color schemes add lots of personality and include white, black, orange, or beige swirls – among other colors.
New Zealand White RabbitsNew Zealand are adorable all-white bunnies with stout bodies and straight ears. They also have flyback fur – so their fluffy coat always points in one direction. (Even if you brush it the other way!)
Rex RabbitsRex Rabbits are excellent, medium-sized rabbits famous for meat, fur, and companionship. They’re also good-looking and friendly bunnies, so some homesteaders keep them as show rabbits.
Silver Fox RabbitsSilver Fox Rabbits are another friendly, docile, easy-going breed. They make yummy meat rabbits. Young kits are born black or blue. But their fur famously gains an attractive silver glint after around four months. (They change color similarly to Champagne D’Argent Rabbits.)
Best Meat Rabbit Breeds

We also wrote about our favorite meat rabbits in much further detail. Check out our 10 Best Meat Rabbit Breed article for more insights.

Rabbit Housing & Supplies

Rabbit raising is one of the least expensive animal husbandry projects to launch. Startup costs are low for the various items you will need, including:

  1. Your rudimentary herd of two does and a buck
  2. Soft resting pads to prevent sore hocks
  3. Pellet feeders and hay holders
  4. Nesting boxes
  5. Water bottles

And, of course, every rabbit needs a hutch! It’s their spot to call home. Let’s examine your options for bunny hutches and other rabbit housing now.

Rabbit Hutches

Cute and adorably fluffy bunny rabbits eating green forage.

Building a rabbit hutch is a piece of cake – especially if you have some scrap lumber around your homestead. Wood and wire cages work well for me, as they have for decades. You’ll need some framing lumber, wood screws, a pilot bit, and rabbit wire. (Don’t use ordinary chicken wire mesh, please!) That will make the hutch frame. Then you can add bedding for rabbits and other amenities to fit your unique design and needs.

I do not recommend using treated lumber for rabbit hutches. It contains toxic chemicals you don’t want your rabbits ingesting, and rabbits love to chew on things. So, instead, use untreated lumber to build your rabbit cages and ensure that they always have some chew toys available. Teeth management is critical for the health and happiness of your herd.

You can find stackable and hanging cages for rabbits, but I don’t recommend them. It’s easy and inexpensive to build a DIY rabbit cage custom-designed to your exact standards. You can construct a movable pen and raise your rabbits inside a small outbuilding or garage. Just ensure they have plenty of cool and fresh air because rabbits get overheated easily.

And, of course, there is the colony method of rabbit raising, meaning they are raised outdoors, in a fenced grassy area, where they can dig their holes for housing and eat grass and other natural foods they find. You only need to provide some low-to-the-ground stilted hole coverings to protect them from wind, rain, and other natural elements. Of course, you’ll need isolated buck cages.

This natural outdoor method is the housing design that I use. And you should know that when you raise rabbits outdoors instead of only in cages, they will have a slightly gamier taste, but that can get reduced with salt water brine if you don’t like it. I typically place a freshly processed rabbit in pink Himalayan sea salt brine water inside the refrigerator for at least six hours. Sometimes, I leave it there overnight.

Also, if you are raising your rabbits colony-style, think about protection from predators. My bunny pens have rabbit wire for ceilings, stretched tightly and secured very well. Without protection, a hungry hawk can swoop in very quickly and grab your rabbits, taking them on a high flight of brutal death!

No rabbits or rabbit owners want that!

Also, I posit that if you properly care for your rabbits and ensure they are protected, safe, and comfortable while they live, it’s nobody’s business whether you want to raise rabbits for meat where you live. Or not!

So, with that in mind, remember that rabbits are quiet animals. They only scream or make loud noises when frightened, distressed, or in pain. So, even if you’re not permitted to raise rabbits where you live, keep them out of sight, and don’t mention them. Nobody will probably ever know.

Finally, wherever you raise your rabbits, ensure they have plenty of fresh air – whether in a cage, a hutch you built, or a movable pen. And give them some shade from the sun. Rabbits in hutches can get overheated easily. Learn how to keep your farm animals cool in summer without electricity!

Bunnies sport dense fur, for Bug’s sake! And they like to stay chill. Just like us!

Read More!

Feeding Your Meat Rabbits

Rabbits are strict vegetarians and grow very well on only hay. Of course, you can get some commercial pellet feed to increase the range of nutrients they receive. Also, to cut back on hay costs and pellet feed budgets, you can give your rabbits scrap vegetables from your kitchen.

My rabbits are also very fond of:

  • Grass and weed trimmings from the lawn
  • Just about any variety of tall grass
  • Dandelion greens and flowers
  • Black oil sunflower seeds
  • Tree and shrub leaves
  • Purple dead nettle
  • Barley fodder
  • Cowpeas
  • Carrots!

In my experience, rabbits tend not to like tomatoes or potatoes. If you put some scrap vegetables in your rabbit pen as a treat in the evening, and they are not interested in eating them by morning, then remove the scraps from their pen and make a note that they don’t like that kind of food. Then, avoid giving them that again in the future. It’ll help keep your feed costs down.

Your rabbit hutch should get equipped with a hay rack, and you can fill it with alfalfa, Timothy hay, leafy clover, vetch, or any other type of nutrient-rich vegetation. Our rabbits also enjoy nibbling on scraps of dry bread, but we don’t give them that often.

And, of course, never forget to keep your waterers filled with fresh, clean, soft water. Always! Constantly nibbling on vegetables, rabbit pellets, and grass makes a rabbit thirsty!

Keeping Your Meat Rabbits Healthy and Happy

Lovely French Lop bunny enjoying an organic lunch.

Rabbit health matters. Successfully raising meat rabbits has a lot to do with providing them with the care they need while alive. Rabbits don’t need a whole lot. However, you should ensure that your herd keeps its nails trimmed back, which you can use cat nail trimmers to accomplish. And be sure to keep areas of soft spaces on your wire cage floors to keep your bunnies comfy.

And if you have a long-haired herd, you might want to brush their pelts here and there to keep them unknotted, chilled, and comfortable. It’s also wise to have quarantine cages for any of your rabbits exhibiting excessive lethargy, vomiting, or other health concerns.

And don’t forget the chew toys and fresh, chilled water!

Butchering Meat Rabbits

I don’t know of any decent person who enjoys dispatching rabbits or any sources of meat. However, it’s part of the game if you want to benefit from this sustainable meat source.

Everything in nature eats everything else. And I find it much more karmically rewarding to kill and butcher my meats relative to purchasing them from a grocery store chain supplied by massive livestock farming operations.

So, killing and processing a rabbit should be done as humanely, painlessly, and quickly as possible. The good news is that rabbits are much easier to do this with than other animals like chickens, and especially cows or pigs!

The three most common methods of dispatching meat rabbits are:

  1. Using a broomstick handle to whack them in the back of the skull at the base of the neck
  2. Using a pellet gun from a distance to deliver a clean kill shot to the head
  3. Using a commercial product called the Hopper Popper

All three of these methods provide a quick exit to the innocent creature. I have never enjoyed killing a single rabbit. And I have had to dispatch many over the last 45 years. I take a moment to honor the life of every rabbit that I have to kill to provide healthy, organic meat for my family, and I encourage you to do the same.

You can begin harvesting most breeds of meat rabbits as early as eight weeks of age, although I prefer to wait a little longer so that they’re bigger and have more meat on them. You don’t want to wait too long because as a rabbit ages, its white meat becomes less tender and more gamey tasting, like a wild rabbit.

Also, consider the financial viewpoint. The longer you raise backyard meat rabbits, the more it costs you. But your mileage may vary – and you will find the best harvest age as you continue experimenting with your process.

When you systemize your rabbit-raising operation, you will develop a schedule for providing your family’s lean meat needs. And if you’re like us, you’ll stuff more healthy rabbit meat in your freezer than you need. And you can always give some to your neighbors or barter with them.

Let’s Hop On Outta Here!

Rabbits are economic meat sources, and raising your own can be a game changer for your family’s health and finances. If you go to the grocery store today and buy some pasture-raised, organic beef, pork, or chicken, you will find it shockingly expensive! My wife mentioned the other day that a one-pound T-bone steak costs $23. I think that pricing is criminal. And it blows my mind!

The world is a toxic place, and becoming more toxic every day. Somehow, the air, water, and mainstream food supplies continue to get more contaminated with pesticides, herbicides, heavy metals, and various carcinogens that detract from our health and happiness. Raising your meat animals is one very effective way that you can fight back against this global atrocity.

While it will take some direct experimentation to understand rabbit raising better and hone your processes, I hope you find the information in this guide helpful – and that it gives you a firm foundation to launch your operation. In our family, rabbit raising is a blessing. And I hope it becomes that for yours as well.

Thank you for reading!

Raising Meat Rabbits – References, Guides, and Works Cited:

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