Growing rabbits for meat is gaining in popularity as the demand for high-quality protein increases globally year after year. And, although meat may be a top reason to keep rabbits on the homestead, there are plenty of other benefits to having these furry friends around.
Here at Growing Wild Roots we have kept meat rabbits for the past several years. It has been one of our all-time favorite small homestead endeavors (read about more suggested projects at 10 Small Homestead Skills to Focus On). Here are some of our favorite reasons why raising rabbits may be right for you.
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10 Reasons to Keep Meat Rabbits on the Homestead
1. Lots of high quality meat
A finished rabbit will weigh in at 2.5-4lbs (meat and bones) and will be ready in approximately 3 months. An average litter size can range between 6 and 12 kits. Additionally, a single doe is able to have a litter every 31 days. This means a single doe can produce 25-40lbs of meat in a month. That is a lot of high-value protein. This meat is also cleaner than chickens because rabbits are strictly vegivore. Chickens will eat—well—almost anything.
If you’re thinking of getting into meat rabbits ensure you do the math beforehand to ensure you have enough cage space for all the grow outs—the kits that are growing to butchering size—based on your breeding schedule.
2. Bunny honey (AKA rabbit poop)
Bunny honey is gold for your garden! Any fruit-bearing plants will thrive with added rabbit poop. You can even purchase it as a high-quality fertilizer if you don’t keep rabbits.
Bunny honey is a cold manure and can be applied directly to the garden beds topically or mixed in without any risk of harming the plants. Many people will be familiar with chicken manure, which should be aged before applying to garden beds or it may burn your plants.
Rabbit manure is also much easier to work with due to its shape and size, which also causes it to dry out better. This black gold can also be collected and sold to other gardeners, adding value as a byproduct.
3. Rabbit pelts
With a little bit of science and elbow grease, rabbit pelts can be tanned and turned into other products. Hats, gloves, baby boots, bags, and much more can be created from a rabbit hide. The pelts can also be dehydrated and used as superb dog treats. (We have done this. Take note that they do not store well, but are well received if used quickly.)
4. Rabbits are cold hardy
Rabbits are quite tolerant of weather and can easily live in most climates with a few considerations in cage design and breed. They are particularly adept at living in colder climates as they can grow a wonderful fur coat that keeps them toasty.
A good cold-tolerant breed is a Satin Rabbit. There are also many proficient breeders in warmer states such as Texas and Florida, but more considerations need to be taken in hotter climates. Take a look here for heat tolerant breeds. The most important thing to consider when caging rabbits is to keep them out of the wind and precipitation.
5. There are options for how to keep rabbits
There are 2 main options for keeping meat rabbits—cages, and colonies. Cages are usually less maintenance and it is easier to control outcomes like breeding schedule, feed consumption, and controlling disease.
Colonies, on the other hand, are somewhat more “natural” as the rabbits can run around in a larger space and interact with other rabbits, forage, and sometimes dig holes. This method can have issues with rabbits fighting, frequent and uncontrolled breeding, and a number of unknown outcomes because of letting things happen sporadically.
Depending on the space you have, and how you want to manage your rabbits, either is a viable option for producing meat. Some rabbitries are creatively designed and have elements of either method to cater to their farm’s needs and wants.
6. Not much space is needed
Keeping rabbits takes up far less space than most other livestock, making it ideal for those who have limited space for animals. There is some debate over what is humane and what is acceptable in the world of raising rabbits.
Most will agree that solo hutches for your breeding stock of 36” by 24” are of adequate size. A grow-out pen, however, assumes a different calculation of minimum size of 1 sq. ft. per rabbit. My grow-out pens are 2’ by 5’ because my litters can have up to ten 10 kits.
Remember that it only takes three months for your rabbits to be of butcher age, and the first month is spent with momma rabbit. Rabbits can also be stacked vertically in cages to be more space efficient. In colonies, rabbits will utilize ground space as well as they burrow and make dens.
Bottom line? You don’t need a lot of room to keep rabbits.
7. Rabbits can eat food waste
Much of the raw veg or fruit waste we produce can be consumed by rabbits to supplement their diet. There is nothing better than getting extra value for the food you have already purchased or grown yourself. In our home, we have our rabbit-bin compost and our chicken-bin compost, which we take out each day to the animals.
We notice a large reduction in feed consumption when there is plentiful fresh-food scraps during different growing seasons as compared to the winter months. This not only reduces the household waste but produces meat and beautiful compost. Really… It is beautiful.
8. Easy daily upkeep
Rabbits can be kept with little daily monitoring and management. I try to keep my daily trip to the rabbits down to about five minutes—often it does take longer because I enjoy spending time with my rabbits and poking around to make sure they are comfortable. Rabbits need water, pellets, and hay or fresh grass. You will also need to make sure you have a system in place to manage their waste (bunny honey).
Water for your rabbits can be easily automated with a rabbit watering kit or a DIY approach. Hay and pellets can often last days before they need to be refilled, depending on set-up. I would recommend the largest food hoppers possible for this reason. (That link is to a reasonable Amazon option. However, consider patronizing the small business where we ordered our larger feeders. They’re great quality and crafted in Ontario.)
The best way to manage the rabbit’s waste from cages is to have it drop directly to the ground either by movable pens, or elevated cages off the ground directing the waste with a slope or letting it freefall. This is the Number one thing you can do to simplify your rabbit raising experience. Check out the picture of our set up below to get an idea of how to do that.
9. Very little cleaning necessary
If you are raising rabbits in cages than you should build everything completely with metal—typically a welded wire mesh. The result will be that you need to do very little cleaning.
Rabbit hutches should be made using as much metal as possible for a few reasons: The first is durability as the cage won’t rot or get chewed on. The second function is that it creates a much more sanitary environment for the rabbits, which will be living in a relatively smaller space.
The floor of a rabbit hutch is interesting as it is typically done with ½” by 1” welded wire, which is rigid enough to hold a solid floor for the cage being suspended, wide enough for the poop pellets to fall through, and also provides enough surface area to be comfortable on the rabbits feet.
The most frequent cleaning you will need to do is usually excess food scraps that have dried and created platforms where poop can collect. Even this mess can be easily scraped through the bottom of the cage.
10. Rabbits are easy to process
I love how easy rabbits are to process on butchery day. No fancy equipment is necessary, and the whole butcher can be done in a reasonable amount of time. Also, there is no need to pluck! A cleaver, a three-foot piece of skinny rebar (you can use a broomstick), cutting knife, cutting board, a hose, and some buckets for guts is all the material you will need.
There are a few tricks to learn that will help keep the fur off the meat, but once you get the hang of it processing rabbits for meat is a simple process. There is no need for a giant production to get these guys ready for the freezer. This was one of the biggest selling features for me when deciding to get into meat rabbits.
All in all, meat rabbits are a simple, productive, and low-maintenance animal to add to any backyard. We have thoroughly enjoyed having meat rabbits in our lives. If you are interested in keeping meat rabbits (and you must be, if you read this whole article), a small set-up investment will bring these great little animals into your life.
You can also read more about our winter setup: Raising Rabbits Underground: Getting Started with Our Walipini Warren