In my opinion meat rabbits should be a cornerstone of a homesteader’s diet. Before you decide to raise rabbits you should really try their meat. If you and your family enjoy the taste and flavor of rabbit then you should jump in with both feet. Raising meat rabbits is relatively inexpensive to start, needing a place for them to stay, a water and feed dish, some feed, and the rabbits, of course! This article will help you choose the right breed of meat rabbit. In a future show I will discuss the cost and construction of rabbit hutches. I also plan to do a How-to video on constructing your own hutches.
If you were to start off with a pair of rabbits, a male and a female, you could conservatively produce 30 fryers totaling over 120 pounds of meat a year! Rabbits are one of the fasting growing homestead animals, doubling its’ birth weight in the first week. Rabbits are also a great source of protein and tasty as well.
The first thing you need to consider when choosing the right breed of meat rabbit for your homestead is what you want it for. As a homesteader we are interested in raising rabbits for meat production to be consumed by our families. But rabbits can have babies every 2 months and have 6 to 12 babies in each kindle. This means that if you begin with one doe (female) and one buck (male) you would have 36 to 72 baby rabbits in one year. That doesn’t even count the babies from those babies! I don’t recommend breeding your rabbits that intensively but we will cover breeding in a future show.
With the rabbit’s ability to reproduce so quickly we must consider what to do with all the offspring. This in turn will influence the breed you will want to raise. Let’s start off with the first question and discuss what our options are for our surplus rabbits. Finding a rabbit to buy isn’t hard but finding the right rabbit will take a little more time.
The options available for the surplus are the following:
- Eat it – Trade or Barter – Sell to Meat Market
- Sell for Laboratory Research – Sell as Pets - Sell as Breeders
Eat it is self-explanatory. There are many different ways to prepare rabbit. Roast it, BBQ, make stew, a rabbit ceasar salad or rabbit burgers. Freezing rabbit meat is also easy to do and doesn’t take up large amounts of space in your freezer. This option gives you the most choices in rabbit breeds.
Trade or Barter gives you the same flexibility in choosing your breed as Eat it. You should choose the breed you prefer and trade or barter the surplus. This works out great if you have a neighbor with chickens that would like some rabbit meat or a friend with extra squash or tomatoes that would like to trade.
Sell to the Meat Market requires you to find a processor looking for rabbits or develop you own clients to sell to directly. This market limits the choices of breeds you can raise. The processor will often have a breed preference and that preference should be followed. While rabbit meat isn’t found in every supermarket you may be surprised about how many processors are out there looking for inventory.
Selling for Laboratory Research use is similar to the meat market. You must find a laboratory that needs rabbits, raise the breed they desire and produce in adequate numbers to keep them happy. Some people also have ethical issues with raising an animal that will be experimented on. If this is you, choose a different option. I, personally don’t like the idea of my rabbits will be experimented on so I’ll not be using this episode.
Selling for Pets restricts your choices as well. The pet stores that sell rabbits have certain breeds they prefer and often have inconsistent demand, needing a large inventory around Easter for example. You also need to find the stores to sell the rabbits to or sell to a middleman who will take a piece of any profit. Selling rabbits as pets should be considered carefully. Many people every year purchase rabbits for their kids as pets and then when the novelty wears off the rabbits are neglected.
Selling as Breeders allows you the freedom to choose which breed you would like to raise and the timing and quantity of those sales. This choice also requires the ability to market your rabbits. Many people that are looking to buy rabbits to breed like to see a breeder that has shown rabbits and won trophies. The best way to sell you rabbits as breeders to others is by word of mouth. Only sell the best, educate the buyers on how to care for the rabbits, and stand behind your product. The rabbit breeds that are often sought after and garner the best prices are the exotic or smaller breeds. These breeds are often not suitable for the homesteader looking for meat production.