There are SO many great reasons to raise meat rabbits. They are one of the least expensive sources of lean protein because they grow out to processing weight so quickly. They are prolific, producing litters of 6-10 or more kits with each breeding. They’re tasty, healthy, and don’t require a lot of space or pricey equipment.
However, we found that meat rabbits are just not a good fit for our family. Some of the very same things that are such great benefits to raising rabbits are also a detriment for families like ours. Let me explain what I mean.
Meat rabbits! If you’re new to home-butchering, the idea of raising a rabbit just to eat it probably sounds off-putting. However, there are many reasons why meat rabbits are a perfect choice for the hobby farmer looking to get into home meat production.
Before I begin typing this, I must tell you a secret: I don’t personally care for owning meat rabbits. I keep trying to convince my husband to sell them all off and use the money for getting another goat or perhaps a sheep. I promise I’ll share why in another post- but for now, let’s look at the positives. 🙂
Rabbits are an inexpensive investment. Meat rabbits cost relatively little. A registered goat can easily cost $200-400 a pop, and pig and cattle certainly aren’t cheap. However, rabbits can be found for about $40-60 for a breeding pair. (We got our pair for $25, but that’s unusual!) You can also purchase a breeding trio- one buck and two does- so you can alternate breeding with two different mamas.
They don’t take up much space. You don’t need acres and acres to raise rabbits. All you need is a small hutch (or hutches) to house each rabbit. FYI- if you’re new to this, don’t keep your male and female live together on a regular basis. There’s a reason for the phrase “breed like rabbits.”
They don’t make noise. Rabbits are usually silent. Enough said.
They have one of the shortest birth to processing times. Rabbits can be processed at 8-12 weeks old. Each litter requires a relatively brief time commitment.
They produce the most lean protein per dollar spent out of any meat animal. Or so they tell me. Honestly, I don’t know where this statistic is from, but I remember hearing it many times when we were researching rabbits. (Tell me if it’s true, will you?) However, with litters averaging 6-10 kits and each rabbit averaging about 4 lbs, it’s easy to see that there’s a potential for a lot of meat. We average about 24-40 lbs with each successful breeding.
You don’t need expensive equipment for butchering. My husband uses a pellet gun for dispatch and a good knife for skinning and gutting. (There are other methods for dispatch, but we find the pellet gun to be simple and humane.) Also, rabbits are pretty light (3-5 lbs), so you don’t need any fancy hooks or a big space to hang them for processing like you would a larger animal.
They can mow your lawn for you. You read that right. Check out this post to see what I mean. I would recommend, however, making sure that the bottom fencing on your DIY rabbit mower is strong and regularly inspected. If you didn’t know this already, rabbits are good at digging.
Rabbits are a free fertilizer factory. Rabbits poop. A lot. And that poop is hailed as gold for your garden. If you raise rabbits, you can collect those golden nuggets (ahem) for compost and fertilizing. Now you know.
Care is relatively easy. All you have to do occasional cleaning & daily fresh food and water. Bonus: Rabbits love vegetable ends, so they also take care of food scraps for you!
They taste good. It’s true- rabbits taste somewhat like chicken. You can make roast rabbit, rabbit stew, or pretty much any chicken meal that with rabbit meat.
We, the coalition, Meat Eaters Against Treating Poor Animals Like Meat (hereafter referred to as MEATPALM), are ready to take a stand.
You heard us. We eat meat. But we can’t stomach the idea of you killing an animal yourself. We believe that animals should always be treated like animals–never like meat. The meat on our dinner plate is different.
We have words for you people who choose to butcher your own meat. Words like: “mean,” cruel,” “heartless,” and “beastly.” How could anyone be so cruel as to raise an animal just to eat it?!?
Now, we have nothing against people who get their meat humanely (in a grocery store); eating meat like that is healthy, normal–it’s the people that get their meat from killing animals we can’t stomach.
Chickens who live a happy life in the sun only to end up in the pot are the objects of emotional abuse–there are no two ways about it. How could you earn their trust, their love, only to slaughter them later? No healthy, compassionate person could do a thing like that. No one has the right to take a life like that.
Sure, chicken owners give a good speech. They talk about giving the birds pasture and sunshine, knowing their animals’ health individually, and dispatching them humanely. We all know It’s just a farce to drum up attention. To cover their evil deeds. To hide their bloodlust. Normal people eat chicken nuggets, chicken fingers–not chicken pets.
Home-butchers need to realize that animals no longer have to be treated like meat.
Thanks to amazing scientific and societal advances, no one actually needs to butcher an animal for food anymore. You can buy your poultry, pork, and steaks at Walmart, where no animal was harmed and products were manufactured in a sterile environment. We have incredible machines and computer controlled factories now–nobody has to get blood on their hands for food. That was our grandparents’ problem, not ours.
You home-farmers are sick, backwards cavemen. C’mon. We live in the 21st century, people. Animals can just be our friends now, not our food.
We know this may be hard for you backyard butchers to grasp, but you have to realize that your urge to kill animals for meat is something you can control. It is something 21st century humans have overcome. Just focus on the meat in the grocery store. It has no hair. No feathers. No happy cluck. It is clean and ready for consumption, sealed in plastic. That’s meat. Think of meat that way and you’ll never have the urge to kill innocent animals again. It’s simple, really.
We can rest in peace knowing that this chicken wasn’t harmed.
Unlike yours, that you butchered in your backyard. You disgusting person, you.
Yes, we, the people of MEATPALM, have come a realization:
If we don’t think about where our meat came from then we can eat it without guilt, shame, or hesitation. We can buy it from a store whenever we want it, we can get it on super sale, and we can toss the scraps without feeling bad. You see, we are modern, refined, cultured individuals. We don’t have to stoop to the level of the butcher, the farmer, or the hunter.
But as for you people who use animals for food?
Shame on you.
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In case you were wondering, this post is satire. It’s not meant to be critical of vegetarians, vegans, or omnivores. I respect your individual dietary choices. It’s not meant to suggest that everyone has to or should butcher their own meat. It is meant, however, to point out the problems with the view that it’s okay to eat an animal but it’s not okay to participate in killing it.
Believe it or not, many of the objections I voice in this post are paraphrases or exact quotes of real-life arguments from people I or my fellow HBN bloggers have faced personally. These ideas are wildly untenable for the meat-eater.
I believe in knowing where my food comes from and in taking part in its production in whatever capacity I am able to. I believe in raising animals compassionately, healthily, and humanely. I believe that meat animals can be a beautiful provision for my family, and I am thankful for them. But most importantly, I value people over differences of opinion. If we disagree, we can still be friends. 🙂
Many thanks to my friends for donating photos, and to my husband for editing/co-authoring this post!
Maybe you’ve been dreaming of having fuzzy bunny pets. Or maybe, like us, you’re on the start of a meat rabbit venture. But, as with any new animal, we’ve been surprised by some of the rabbit habits we hadn’t known about before acquiring them.
For example, rabbits eat a lot for their size. Point one: Expect to buy rabbit food for two rabbits more frequently than you buy grain for your dwarf goat. Seriously.
They also eat a lot of what’s on the ground. Point two: The rabbits can serve as a lawnmower if given pasture. They will gnaw that grass down (and leaves, and twigs, and whatever else is underneath of them) within half a day.
And did you know that rabbits are extraordinary diggers? (That’s point three.) So good, in fact, that if you do give them pasture, they will decimate your yard with small holes. So do make sure you keep moving them so as to prevent giant pits of ankle-twisting doom about your property.
Not to mention point four- that digging ability also makes them great escape artists. I have discovered this several times when our buck, Peter, weasels his way over to the doe’s side of the tractor for an unscheduled rendezvous. I rediscovered it yesterday when I saw Rosie, our doe, hopping onto the front porch. (She had dug herself a tunnel to freedom.) “Rabbit’s loose!” I hollered to my husband in the front door, and the two of us had a rabbit rodeo trying to track her down and hold onto her long enough to transport her back to the cage.
Which brings me to point five- rabbits mate whenever given an opportunity. We accidentally returned Rosie to the wrong side of the run, and Peter got to her before we could switch her back to her own side. I mean, I know there are jokes about rabbit reproduction, but it’s really true! Accidental mating has happened here three times despite our best efforts to keep them separate until scheduled breeding times. And since rabbits experience induced ovulation (they ovulate following intercourse), this means we’ve likely got another round of babies on the way.
There you have it. Five things I didn’t know about rabbits before getting them. Do I need any other heads up? 😉
You’ve bought the breeding pair of rabbits. You’ve let them do their business. (Perhaps by accident, like us!) Then all you can do is wait and wonder for a month whether or not you’re going to be a fur baby mama. Right?
Not necessarily. Some indications of pregnancy in rabbits are not all that different from pregnancy in humans! While none of them are surefire, there are several different factors you can check to “test” for pregnancy in rabbits.
Your doe is being moody. Rabbits undergo pregnancy hormones just like people, and may start acting cranky or mean. (Phew, it’s not just me.) Perhaps she is spending more time by herself, or even running from you when you come to her cage. Unusual behavior of this type may be a sign of pregnancy.
You’ve got a nest-buiding fiend. If your doe is frantic to dig holes, gather hay, pull fur, or otherwise make a cozy nest, it’s likely she may be pregnant. Rabbits, like people, want to prepare for the arrival of their babies by making a safe and comfortable place.
You can feel babies. In order to feel the baby rabbits, you must palpate your doe. This is best performed between 10-14 days gestation, when the babies are large enough to feel, but still small enough to be distinguished from the other internal organs. Palpation is done by gently securing the doe with one hand while feeling along the undersides of her abdomen for grape-sized lumps with the other hand. (Lumps on the sides are babies, and lumps in the center are poop pellets! Just a minor distinction. 😉 )
You must know that I have not been able to successfully palpate our doe, as she is quite irritable and won’t let us handle her right now. So, I present to you a video of someone more experienced than I performing this task:
As for our doe, my guess is that she’s likely pregnant. She’s not letting us handle her at all right now. Also, she usually visits us at the water bottles every morning, but recently she’s been hanging out in her nesting box almost nonstop. She’s been out of character and solitary- so perhaps we will have babies in March?
However, aside from a successful positive palpation or a blood test, it can be somewhat tricky to tell if your doe is actually pregnant. Rabbits don’t always get all that large during pregnancy (unless they have a big litter), so you can’t always see it. Rabbits also have this tricky little thing called false pregnancies- when they act hormonal and pregnant, and may even build a nest- but all to no avail.
So as you can see, pregnancy signs in rabbits can be a little bit of a guessing game. I’m getting the gist that it’s best to look at combined factors to make an educated guess on your doe’s status- and then wait 31 days to find out for sure. 😉
Here are more resources on checking your rabbit’s pregnancy status:
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: