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We’ve toyed with the idea of owning our own renewable meat source for a long time. We’ve talked about meat chickens or turkeys (something we may do next spring). We’ve also considered a small pig, but don’t have the fencing for such an animal. But over and over, we’ve heard the praises of rabbits sung for a small homestead meat source.
We made a plan to build a hutch and get rabbits sometime in the next year or so. However, when we received a free rabbit hutch from one of my husband’s co-workers, all that was missing were the rabbits and a few supplies. We finally took the plunge last month and bought ourselves a breeding pair.
Our rabbits are a mix between the Standard Rex, known for its dense, velvety fur, and the Silver Fox, a slightly larger breed whose fur resembles the fox of the same name. Both are also bred for their meat. We expect that the cross between the two should yield rabbits weighing approximately 8-10 lbs at maturity.
The pair came with names- the doe is Rosie and the buck is Peter. While I am generally not a proponent of naming animals being raised as a meat source, we expect these two will stay on as our resident “Mr. & Mrs.” for as long as they’re healthy & happy in their roles.
Rabbits are- so far, anyway- fairly easy to care for. Their requirements are few and simple, as you can see. They only need:
- Housing- a basic rabbit hutch will do just fine. Male and female should be separated until breeding. They’re pretty cold hardy and can generally be kept outdoors without a problem.
- Nesting boxes- These will serve both as shelter, and as a nest for baby bunnies. My hubby built them little boxes on the end of their hutch:
- Food and water- These guys like to drink a lot for their size! They have a constant supply of water from their bottles and rabbit feed in their little feeder bins. They also have access to the grass (we have no snow here yet) and we bring them fruit and veggie scraps as treats.
We are complete beginners with both breeding and butchering rabbits (so please let me know if anything is incorrect!), but the basic order of things goes like this:
- An adult pair of rabbits can be bred at about 6 months maturity.
- The gestational period of a rabbit is about 31 days, and we are told they generally bear a litter of about 8-10 babies, though it can vary greatly.
- The babies will be ready to process as fryers at 8-9 weeks old, or you can wait a little longer for a slightly bigger rabbit.
- The meat can be eaten fresh, frozen, or pressure canned. The furs can also be tanned and kept for various uses- this is something I know absolutely nothing about but would love to learn!
- The rabbits can be bred 3-4 times a year to repeat the cycle- providing more than enough meat for our family.
I’m sure I’ll write more on the “how to” of raising and processing meat rabbits after we’ve gained more experience. Here are some other articles on the subject that we’ve found helpful:
- The Guide to Raising and Breeding Rabbits for Meat
- Raising Rabbits on the Homestead
- Harvesting the Rabbits
Do you raise your own meat source? Any words of advice for us newbies?