Homesteading

How To Raise Rabbits From A to Z

rabbit featured image

Rabbits are one of the best survival livestock options. They are far less expensive to buy and keep than nearly any other meat source – and of course reproduce rapidly. You don’t need much space at all to keep even a fairly large colony of rabbits, making them an ideal source for a prepper who lives on only a small parcel of land or in the suburbs.

With just a little bit of training and not much more than a sharp knife, most folks can learn how to butcher rabbits themselves in their own backyard. Rabbit meat can be smoked, pressure canned, and dehydrated to preserve it for use in stews, soups, or cooked over an open fire during a long-term disaster.



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Cost Of Raising Meat Rabbits

Money

The price of meat rabbits varies not only by location and time of year, but by the breed of rabbit as well. Top quality meat rabbits, like the favored New Zealand breed, usually cost about $25 to $55 each for either females or males. Although you might be able to find meat rabbits for about $10 each, the animals might not have possess a satisfactory bloodline or regularly produce healthy kits – baby bunnies.

• Rabbits cages can typically be purchased for around $50 from an agricultural supply store. A typical commercially produced rabbit cage about 30 inches deep, 18 inches tall, and 3 feet wide. You can make your own out of scrap wood (or buy plywood) and hardware cloth (wire fencing) for about half that cost in many areas.

• Watering containers for rabbits cages typically range in price from $5 to $10 depending upon the amount of water it can hold.

• A rabbit feeder costs roughly the same price as a waterer, with the sticker price also varying due to the quantity it is capable of holding.

• A female rabbit (doe) will require a nesting box for use during pregnancy. A wood or metal commercially produced nesting box generally costs around $20. A thick plastic bucket or homemade wood or metal nesting box can also be used/constructed for the same purpose.

• A 50-pound bag of rabbit pellet feed will cost approximately $12 to $20 each – depending upon the type and quality of feed purchased. It is best to keep the feed in a plastic tub with a firm-fitting lid to avoid water and moisture from getting inside and ruining the feed. Rabbits will become severely ill if they eat mildewed feed. Rabbits should be given a daily ration of ½ of a cup of feed per every six pounds of body weight. The pellet feed should possess a high fiber content, ideally at least 18 percent of the feed should be comprised of fiber. Rabbit pellets should be high in fiber.

• The rabbit’s diet must be supplemented with hay if it does not have a grassy area to roam and forage and during the winter months. A square bale of hay typically costs about $5 each. Strive to purchase quality hay bales that contain a mixture of oat, grass, and Timothy hay. The concentration of alfalfa in the hay should be limited and not comprise the majority of the bale’s ingredients. See healthy treats list below.

• Straw or some type of similarly safe bedding must also be purchased to put in the nesting box and to help keep the colony warm during the winter months. A square bale of straw usually ranges in price from $3 to $5 each.

• Depending upon your climate, it might be advantageous to necessary to purchase solar powered fans (about $25) or solar powered heaters (around $50) to prevent the rabbits from contracting frostbite or heat stroke.

Time

The weekly care time estimates below are based upon keeping a colony of between 80 to 100 meat rabbits.

• Hutch cleaning – 5 hours
• Feeding – 2 hours
• Nest care and weaning of kits – 3 hours
• Mating – 2 hours
• Health checks – 2 hours

Meat Rabbit Buying Tips

Whether buying rabbits from a private or commercial breeder or from an agricultural store, educate yourself about the visible signs or health and illness of rabbits before opening your wallet. If possible, always ask to see the breeding pair that produced the kits you are buying to inspect their overall health as well.

• A rabbit’s teeth should be aligned properly and show no signs of overgrowth. During the regular course of chewing its food, the rabbit should be able to grind its teeth down naturally. If the rabbit was unable to do this, resulting in an overgrowth, the misaligned teeth could be a sign of substantial internal health issues or a jaw problem that may deter proper consumption of food.

• The eyes of the kits should be visibly bright and clear – cloudy eyes could be a sign of a health problem.

• The nose of the rabbit should be free from discharge. Sniffling or snuffing in rabbits could be a sign of Pasteurella, a contagious and often deadly, disease.

• The coat of the kits should be soft, clean, and show no signs of molting fur. If molting is visible it may be a sign that the animal has been living inside a dirty hutch and exposed to raw feces on a regular basis.

• A rabbit that often keeps its head tilted and its ears laid back, is lethargic, may have stains on its front paws or discharge coming from its nose is likely ill and should be quarantined or even put down to protect the rest of the colony from disease.

Top 30 Healthy Treats For Meat Rabbits

Remember, fruits and greens that can cause bloat should only be given in moderation.

1. Carrots – tops in moderation
2. Dandelions
3. Cucumbers – including the leaves
4. Spinach
5. Lettuce
6. Kale
7. Parsley
8. Pears
9. Turnip Greens
10. Plums
11. Radishes
12. Apples
13. Cherries – after pits and seeds have been removed
14. Peaches
15. Basil
16. Papayas
17. Melons of all types
18. Kiwi
19. Swiss Chard
20. Mint
21. Berries of all types that are safe for humans to eat – seeds can remains
22. Bananas
23. Nectarines
24. Pineapples
25. Cilantro
26. Brussel Sprouts
27. Broccoli – the entire plant
28. Cabbage
29. Celery
30. Daisies

Meat Rabbit Reproductive Habits

• Rabbits typically reach the age of maturity (reproductive age) when they are only six months old. Larger breeds of rabbits may not hit maturity until they are 9 months old.

• The gestation period for rabbits is usually around 31 days.

• Kits are considered weaned when they are 5 to 7 weeks old.

• When a doe kindles (gives birth) she can be bred again in about six weeks.

• A rabbit colony comprised of only three does and one buck (male rabbit) could produce up to 320 pounds of meat from offspring during a single year.

• Nesting boxes should be 30 inches square.

Top 15 Meat Rabbit Breeding Tips

1. It is typically safe to breed does every 90 days.
2. Only place a buck in a doe’s cage when it is breeding time. Bucks can be extremely territorial and attack a doe if she is introduced into his cage or they are placed together during non-mating times in close quarters.
3. There is no season of heat for rabbits. Does go into heat simly via stimulation – meaning when a buck mounts her, she is prepared to accept him and produce more kits. She will generally remain in this state of readiness for several days after the initial mating session. It may take more than one mating session to achieve success, especially with young does.
4. A buck will literally fall off of the doe due to exhaustion once the mating ritual is complete. The buck may appear dead for several minutes before it summons the strength to get up and move about the cage – eager to return to his own home base.
5. If the rabbits are living in large quarters or free ranging (yes, it is possible to free range rabbits) does and bucks can live together, but the possibility of over-breeding and related health issues increases.
6. It could take a young doe several litters until she begins to fully grasp her maternal expectations. The kits will die if the doe refuses to let them nurse – unless you are capable of feeding them a kit formula nearly around the clock through an eye dropper.
7. When it’s time to give birth, a doe often pulls off basically all of her belly fur as part of her nesting instincts.
8. The doe will likely keep her kits tucked away from view in the nest for up to two weeks and nurse them as covertly as possible to avoid them being exposed to other rabbits, predators, and even their human caregivers.
9. Inbreeding does not typically pose a problem in meat rabbits.
10. If a buck is bred when it is over 85 degrees outside or too frequently, he may become either temporarily or permanently sterile.
11. A pregnant doe often refuses to be touched and may try to bite anyone or anything that comes near either her or her nest.
12. Even though a doe can breed more frequently, it is recommended to limit breeding to four to six times per year to preserve her health and to help ensure strong kits are born.
13. Typically, does bred 14 to 28 days after a success kindle have around an 85 percent conception rate.
14. A typical kit litter can range from as few as five baby rabbits to up to 10, on average.
15. A 15 percent kit litter mortality rate before the weaning process is completed, is not uncommon.

Rabbit Feeding And Hutch Management Tips

• Vegetable snacks should be given only as a special treat – once a week or twice a month.

• Vegetable treats, especially greens, can be given to the rabbit colony on a daily basis – but only in moderation. Rabbits who consume too much kale, lettuce, broccoli, and the tops of carrots can contract bloat, which can become deadly if the build-up of gases is not eliminated. Root veggies make the most healthy treats and commercial feed supplements for rabbits.

• Do not offer feed to kits until they are at least three weeks old. Around week four begin introducing softened pellets and a small amount of hay into their diet. Just like with newborn humans, introduce only one healthy treat at a time so the digestive system of the young rabbits can learn to tolerate the new food source.

• Grow fodder, like wheat grass, to supplement the diet of rabbit who live their entire lives in cages or for eating during the long winter months. A run attached to the hutch or the use of a chicken tractor, will allow more freedom of movement and the consumption of a more natural (and free) diet of grass, along with their pellet rations.

• A lactating or pregnant doe requires a feed that is comprised of a minimum of 20 percent protein, up to 14 percent fiber, and up to five percent fat. She should also be given extra root vegetables and healthy greens free choice as a snack.

• To cut down on mess inside the rabbit hut, purchase or make hanging waterers and feeders instead of the more typical bowl style food and water delivery systems.

Top 10 Meat Rabbit Breeds

white rabbit

1. New Zealand Whites – This breed of meat rabbits generally grows to weigh between 9 and 12 pounds. They can grow as large as 6 pounds in only 8 weeks.
2. Rex – This breed is renowned for not only its meat quality but its fur for making coats, hats, etc. as well. A Rex rabbit typically weighs about 10 pounds when mature.
3. Flemish Giants – This top meat rabbit breed can hit 20 pounds when fully mature.

silver fox rabbit

photo above is of a silver fox rabbit, courtesy of Kwinterperez [CC BY-SA 4.0], from Wikimedia Commons

4. Silver Fox – This old-fashioned breed is not commonly sold by breeders outside of private homesteading keepers. A Silver Fox meat rabbit generally weighs in at about 10 to 12 pounds.

American Chinchilla rabbit

photo above depicts an American Chinchilla Rabbit, courtesy of Carl Heuer

5. American Chinchilla – If you have eaten rabbit at a restaurant it was probably one of this breed. Chinchilla rabbits weigh only around 9 pounds when mature but are delicious both roasted and barbequed..
6. Californians – This type of meat rabbit was created by crossbreeding Chinchilla rabbits with New Zealand Whites.
7. Cinnamons – These meat rabbits are one of the top breeds sold on both domestic and international food markets. Cinnamons weigh in around 10 pounds when mature.
8. Satins – These rabbits are a favorite with rabbit meat fans and fur trappers alike. Satins generally weigh between 10 to 12 pounds.
9. Palominos – This is another quality and popular meat rabbit breed that can grow as large as 11 pounds on average.
10. Champagne D Argent – This type of meat rabbit has been raised for food production since the early 1600s. They weigh about 9 pounds when mature.

Heritage Meat Rabbit Breeds

Heritage livestock are original breeds that have been around for at least 100 years or centuries. These hardy breeds are typically better adapted to living in harsh environments with little to no human intervention. Although they mature more slowly than modern commercial brees because they have not had their genes altered via massive crossbreeding, hormones, or antibiotics, their meat is generally highly valued and boast a distinctive wild flavor.

Many heritage breeds of rabbits and other livestock are on the threatened or vulnerable livestock list. Purchasing heritage meat breeds will almost always cost a little more and require a bit of extensive searching to find them than common breeds, their longevity, durability, and price they will bring if selling kits or meat, can definitely make the extra work far worth the bother.

Top Heritage Meat Rabbit Breeds

1. Belgian Hare
2. Blanc de Hotot
3. Giant Chinchilla
4. American Rabbit

Rabbit Butchering Tips

The entire process from slaughtering to butchering a rabbit takes only about 15 to 20 minutes for a novice. Most home rabbit butchers use nothing more than a standard filet knife to both quickly and humanely kill and then butcher the rabbit. The rabbit is hung upside down while being skinned so its fur can pull fairly easily off of the entire body with a few firm tugs.

Soaking the rabbit meat overnight in a salt brine to decrease tension in the muscle to avoid a stringy texture to the meat is highly recommended.

Identifying And Treating Common Rabbit Health Issues

1. Ear Mites – Squirt a couple of drops of a carrier oil (almond, olive, coconut, or vegetable oil is recommended) into the inner ear every other day for about 30 days to completely destroy the mite infestation.

2. Gastrointestinal Stasis – This is a potentially fatal health problem. Poor diet often leads to this problem and it may be avoided by ensuring the rabbits consume enough fiber. When a rabbit develops gastrointestinal Stasis is wil stop eating, drinking, become lethargic, become bloated and stop dropping pellets and urinating. In the absence of vet care, try to force as many fluids as possible safely into the rabbit and massage the sides only of its belly gently to help release the gas. If possible, get the rabbit to eat a little coconut or other carrier oil before the bloat massage.

3. Hock Soreness – Rabbits can develop sore or swollen hocks (legs and feet) if they do not have enough room to move about, have a sagging floor in their hutch, or are living in unsanitary conditions. If this conditions develops clean the hocks with an antiseptic and massage calluses with coconut oil and then clean the hutch and replace the sagging floor.

4. Coccidiosis – This deadly disease usually develops in kits when they are 4 to 6 weeks old. Afflicted rabbits will become lethargic, get scours (diarrhea) become bloated, and refuse to eat or drink. It stems from the presence of a parasite in the stomach and is highly contagious. Remove and slaughter an infected rabbit, disinfect the hutch, waterer, and feeder, and quarantine the remaining kits separately until you know they too have not been stricken with Coccidiosis.

5. Head Tilt – This condition is yet another possible deadly health issue in rabbits. It is also often referred to as wry neck. Stricken rabbits will often have rapid eye movement and be unable to walk properly. Wry neck might be caused by a brain tumor or brain damage prompted by a hard hit to the idea – or could be a simple inner ear infection. A vet will be able to determine what is wrong, or quarantine the animal and treat it for an ear infection and see if the condition subsides.

6. Red Urine – This often appears when the animal has consumed too much food that is pink, brown, or red in color – especially fruit and vegetable snacks. A vet and review a urine sample, but the issue will usually clear up on its own after dietary changes are made.

7. Flystrike – This issue emerges after a fly lays its eggs inside a moist part of the rabbits skin. Once the fly eggs hatch and become maggots, which can happen in just one day, the maggots then burrow into the skin of the rabbit and release a poison that is often fatal. Keeping the hutch and the area around it clean will help prevent it from becoming a welcome area for flies. If the infection is caught early a vet may be able to save the rabbit. Attempting to carefully remove the maggots with tweezers and then using an antiseptic spray on the little wounds might also save the rabbit – but only if you get them all, the poison released is not extensive, and infection does not set in.

8. Diarrhea – If your rabbits develop scours mix raspberries or blackberries in a 1 to 1 ratio with a carrier oil and feed to the colony.

9. Digestion Issues – Give the rabbit with minor stomach problems some ginger root as a treat to help settle the belly and prevent bloating.

10. Parasites – Sprinkle powdered garlic on feed or offer fresh garlic as a free choice snack once a week to help thwart or prevent parasite infestations.

11. Conjunctivitis – Sprinkle powdered chamomile onto feed or mix it into a tea and pour in a waterer to help treat the symptoms of conjunctivitis.

12. General Pain – Feed the rabbit willow bark to help relieve its pain naturally.

13. Kindling Pain – Let the doe munch on raspberry leaves free choice before and during labor to help alleviate the pain of kit birth.

14. Minor Wounds, Sprains, and Bruises – Offer marigold flowers (fresh or dried) as a free choice snack to help heal the minor physical impairments.

15. Immune System Boosters – Offer the rabbit colony echinacea (fresh or dried) as a free choice snack on a daily or multiple times per week basis, to help keep their bodies healthy and strong to ward off infections and to prepare for breeding.

How To Build A Rabbit Hutch

Before deciding where to build the rabbit hutch, consider also making a compost pile bin to be placed under the hutch. Rabbit droppings make great garden composting material.

1. Use 2-inch by 2-inch lumber strips to build the frame of the rabbit hutch.
2. The lumber should be secured firmly in place by using 2 and a half inch galvanized screws.
3. The corner sections of the frame should be cut at a right angle and meet flush against each other.
4. Always use hardware cloth and not chicken wire to make a bottom and the sides of the rabbit hutch. Chicken wire is not sturdy enough to prevent sagging and is pliable and thin enough that a predator, like the dreaded mink, could push its way through. Hardware cloth comes in multiple different varieties, choose the type with the smallest square openings for the rabbit hutch.
5. The roof should be made out of pressure treated plywood that is one inch thick or a sheet of corrugated metal to protect the rabbits from both the elements and predators.
6. Use quality hinges, flat boards, and a 2-step locking mechanisms to make the doors for the rabbit hutch. A raccoon has no problem at opening a simple hook and bar 1-step lock.
7. Rabbits should each have at least 6 square feet of living space inside their hutch.

Wrap Up

Raising meat rabbits is a food security survival skill the entire family can work on together. Even young children can learn how to help care for the rabbits and be involved in the barnyard to table process.



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Tara Dodrill

About Tara Dodrill

Tara Dodrill is a homesteading and survival journalist and author. She lives on a small ranch with her family in Appalachia. She has been both a host and frequent guest on preparedness radio shows. In addition to the publication of her first book, 'Power Grid Down: How to Prepare, Survive, and Thrive after the Lights go Out', Dodrill also travels to offer prepping tips and hands-on training and survival camps and expos.
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