Raising Rabbits for Meat. Learn how to start raising meat rabbits for food and profit. Find meat rabbit info, resources and rabbit supplies for sale.
Far from the greasy texture of wild cottontail, domestic rabbit is a fine-grained white meat that has been regarded as a qualify food source since the Middle Ages. Rabbit Meat is 20.8% protein and only 10.2% fat. It has 795 calories per pound. Thus rabbit meat has more protein and less cholesterol than chicken, turkey, pork, beef, or lamb. In fact, rabbit is such a special source of nutrition that once upon a time the USDA advocated calling it by a special name, “Domestic Venison.” The name never caught on, but with today’s economy, more and more people are raising rabbits as a healthy and cost-effective meat source for their families.
How many rabbits do I need to start with?
If you’re raising rabbits for meat to feed your family, you can keep a fairly small herd and still keep the freezer filled. It’s better to have fewer does and keep them in production than to have more does and breed them less often. A commercial-type doe such as a New Zealand Rabbit or Californian Rabbit has an average of 8 to 10 kits per litter, and should have four to six litters a year. Kits take about ten weeks to reach fryer size. If you have a small family, you may prefer the Florida White breed, which weighs only about six pounds as an adult, yet produces an excellent fryer. Florida Whites Rabbits may take a bit longer to grow to butchering weight, fryer size will be slightly smaller, and litter size will be about 5-8. Based on this information, you can determine how many does you would need to keep in production to provide for your family’s needs. Leave some room in your calculations for missed conceptions and kit loss due to weather or poor mothering. It’s important to prepare a few more rabbit cages than you think you will need, because crowding young rabbits keeps them from thriving.
Management of the Rabbitry
Meat rabbits, like any others, need to be raised in a safe, quiet, clean, and well-ventilated environment to do well. They thrive on a pelleted feed with hay and fresh water. You can first breed does as six months of age. Commercial breeders often keep a more rigorous schedule than hobby breeders, mating does again at two to four weeks after kindling, then weaning the kits at four to six weeks. If you’re operating on a smaller scale, you can breed your does at four to six weeks after kindling and wean at six to eight, but it’s important to keep a doe in production. If she sits for months without carrying or raising a litter, she can quickly become out of shape.
Every breeder should keep records on his or her stock, but those who raise rabbits for meat will want to know different things than those who raise them for show. You should mark every one of your breeding animals should have an identification tattoo in its ear. Take the effort to keep rabbit pedigrees on your replacement stock, so you will be able to tell what lines produce the best and avoid too much inbreeding. For your rabbit pedigree needs we recommend that you purchase Rabbit Pedigree Software such as The Easy Rabbit Pedigree Generator. Keep records on conception rate, litter size, number of kits weaned, and rate of gain. Compare this data to your management practices to see what seems to work well, and which of your rabbits produce the best. Little by little, your venture will grow more profitable. See also our article on Raising Rabbits for Profit.
Raising Rabbits for Meat Commercially
There is a definite demand for rabbit meat in the United States. There are a few full-time commercial producers, but nowhere near as many as there could be if the public became aware of rabbit meat’s nutritional qualities. As is, producers are having trouble supplying the demand. Starting a commercial enterprise is a huge undertaking, but can be profitable if you do your research, then start small and grow as you learn the techniques and the market. Commercial producers usually raise special lines of Californians or New Zealands, or crossbred strains of the two rabbit breeds. Talk to buyers to learn the trade. You can find a list of buyers, suppliers, and processors at arba.net/processors.htm.
Do you need a USDA license to raise rabbits for meat?
If you raise meat rabbits for your family table, you do not need a license. If you sell live rabbits intended for meat consumption, you will almost certainly not need a USDA license. Meat rabbits are considered livestock, and the livestock industry is not regulated by the USDA. The pet industry is, however, so make it clear that you are selling rabbits for meat only, not for pets or show stock. If you sell processed meat, that’s a different story. Processed meat is overseen differently than livestock, and you should check into USDA requirements before you sell dressed animals.