If you are looking at raising your own livestock for meat then look no further than the rabbit. These are a cheap and easy to keep protein source that just keep giving and will provide you and your family with meat all year round.
The Best Rabbit Breeds
When it comes to raising rabbits for meat, some breeds are better than others. New Zealand rabbits are a popular choice as they can grow to be the size of a big cat. You need to understand that you are going to be butchering these animals so if that is going to be a problem then you may need to select a breed that you don’t find outwardly appealing. Let’s take a look at some of the more popular breeds when raising rabbits for meat.
- New Zealand – put on weight quickly with a good bone to meat ratio. Fully grown, the doe will be around 9-12 lbs with the buck being 8-10 lbs. Kits can reach 8 lbs when they are only about eight weeks old. They have been raised for meat and fur since the early 1900s. New Zealand rabbits may not suit an inexperienced homesteader as the does can sometimes be rather aggressive.
- Californians – a smaller breed than the New Zealand but still a popular choice for both meat and fur. They have a white body with black points on the ears, nose and feet.
- Americans – the American is a large dual purpose rabbit that can reach 10-12 lbs as an adult with a lovely mandolin body shape.
- Champagne D Argent – good meat to bone ratio. These are generally docile and good mothers too. These are one of the oldest recorded rabbit breeds, with a history back to the 17th century.
- Florida White – smaller than most others that are raised for meat but if space is limited, this could be the perfect choice.
- Silver Fox – these are considered a “fancy breed” with dual or all purpose qualities for meat, fur and pet. They are a large breed, with adult rabbits weighing around 10 – 12 lbs. According to the Livestock Conservancy is has one of the highest dress-out weights at nearly 65%.
- Cinnamon – This is another breed that has been used as pet as well as for meat and fur. It is a large breed that reaches weights between 8.5 and 11 lbs.
One thing to remember is that the older the rabbit is allowed to get, the tougher the meat will be. The perfect age for butchering is around 8 weeks of age. This is why you need a larger breed so that it will be a good size by then.
All rabbits need a hutch which is basically a wooden box divided down the middle. On one side it should be closed in with wooden sides and wire mesh floor, the other being wire mesh all round. The more space they have, the better. If your rabbits can freely bounce around the cage, they build muscle and gain weight. Ample cage space is not a waste, it is very important to your success.
The wire mesh makes it easier to keep the hutch clean as the rabbit waste will fall through. An important part of keeping rabbits in hutches is to be sure that they have a piece of wood to gnaw on. This not only keeps their teeth filed down but also gives their feet a break from standing on the wire all the time.
Rabbits require bedding in the rabbit hole sections of their hutches. This is where rabbits will sleep and have their babies. I recommend that you avoid using straw as it is a carrier of mites. Wood shavings are OK but not once the babies arrive as the shavings carry a scent that can damage their respiratory systems and potentially cause death.
The easiest and most inexpensive option is to use old, shredded newspapers or cardboard for the bedding. The best however, is good old hay.
Apart from the option of keeping your rabbits in hutches, you could also choose to keep them as a colony. All you would need is a fenced-off grassy area and the rabbits will dig their own shelters. This can be more difficult for breeding however.
Rabbits are extremely hot natured so it is important to place their shelter in a shaded area. In the summer, you should place frozen water bottles in the hutches with the rabbits to help keep them cool. They will appreciate it.
Fly strips are important to use as the flies will embed themselves in the baby rabbits and feast on them which will in turn kill your kits.
The BEST way to feed rabbits that are being raised for meat is with a pellet-only diet consisting of high protein (18%), high fiber (18% or more) and low fat (2% or lower). Before settling on a feed, read the labels and make sure that you know what every item on the ingredient list is. There should also be no cheese or animal by-products in your feed or sugar or molasses as an additive.
Rabbits drink quite a bit of water so you must always be sure that they have enough. You can use a bowl of water or the store-bought water feeders.
When it comes to mating your rabbits there are a few tricks you can try for a better chance of success.
Males and females must be kept apart at all times except when mating and when introducing, remove the female from her hutch and take her to the male. This way she won’t be as territorial and more likely to mate.
You will know your female has been bred when you see what is called a “fall off.” This is when you see the male rabbit literally fall off of the female. He will become very stiff and fall over as if he were dead. All he needs is a little rest and he will be back to normal.
Signs of Birth
The gestation period of a rabbit is only 30 days. This means you can have a new litter of baby bunnies in a month’s time. It will usually take a rabbit 1-2 pregnancies to figure out how to keep her babies alive. Don’t get disheartened if the first litter doesn’t survive, mom will figure it out.
You will know your bunny is close to giving birth when she starts pulling her own hair out. She will pull her underside almost bald when her babies are close to arriving.
She’s doing this for extra bedding in her rabbit hole, to make sure her babies are warm.
After Birth Behaviour
Do not get the urge to remove the babies from their mother as she can become distressed and stop caring for them. It is a rabbit’s instinct to hide where her babies are. She will likely choose not to go near them during the day or when there is an audience. She will feed her babies around twice a day and both when she thinks no one is watching.
Once the babies gain their fur and are off and hopping, their mama will lighten up a bit. They will start coming out of the rabbit hole.
She will wean them when they are ready. The only thing you will need to do is possibly prepare a different hutch or pin to move them to when they become too large to stay with their mother anymore.
How to Kill a Rabbit
When killing your rabbits, it is important that you do so as humanely as possible and which cause the rabbits as little pain and stress as you can. We are going to look at three methods here; the broomstick method, the arterial bleed, and the fatal blow.
The Broomstick Method
For this method, a broomstick is placed on the rabbit’s neck to secure the head on the ground while the rabbit is pulled upward at 90 degrees by its hind legs.
- First, place the rabbit on the ground in front of some alfalfa hay or other treat and place your broomstick across the rabbit’s neck.
- Step on one side of the broomstick while simultaneously stepping on the other side of the broomstick, and then pull the rabbit’s body upward by the hind legs. Pull firmly and you should feel the neck bones disarticulate.
- The rabbit will begin to shudder in death throes which are proof of death. The neck bones have been completely separated at the base of the head, terminating all signals from the brain to the heart, lungs, and rest of the body.
- Using a sharp knife, cut off the rabbit’s head through the break in the neck. This involves cutting through muscle and fur only, since the neck bones are completely separated.
- Hang the rabbit up by the hind legs to complete the rabbit slaughter and cleaning.
The Arterial Bleed
Although this is a common method used, it doesn’t result in instant death which is why I personally do not use this method.
- Place the rabbit on the ground in front of a handful of alfalfa or other treat.
- Slice through both jugular veins. After a minute or two the rabbit will be dead, and begin to shudder in death throes.
- Using a sharp knife, cut the head off and hang the rabbit up by the feet so it can finish draining.
The Fatal Blow
This method, when done correctly results in instant death. While this method is humane, there is a chance of error on your part.
- Hold the rabbit by the hind feet, head down. He will settle down after a short while.
- His back, which is straight up and down, will form a V with the ears, which will be alertly forward. You want a generous V. If you need to, you can nudge the ears a bit more forward.
- You want to strike the rabbit a sharp blow to the point of the V – immediately behind the ears but not on the shoulders. Strike downward.
- You can use a narrow rod which is about 30 inches long, or so.
- Immediately cut the head off using a sharp knife. Cut along the same trajectory as the blow you struck. Your knife will slip easily through the dislocation in the neck.
- Hang the rabbit by the hind legs, even while in the throes, on heavy hooks, or with slip knots in shoelaces secured by a nail in the side of the butchering space.
- Allow the rabbit to finish bleeding dry.
How to Skin a Rabbit
Whichever method you chose above, you should have by now seperated the head from the body and allowed the blood to drain. If so, you now need to make a small incision on each hind leg between the muscle and the skin. Next, peel the skin with the fingers until the top of the hind legs. Cut off the tail. Cut the fur near the genitals and peel it back in both directions. Pull the skin down until it comes off at the front paws. It is entirely up to you what you do with the furs but you can use them to make clothing or accessory items once they have been processed.
Remove the Entrails
Now it is time to remove the entrails. Pinch the meat at the base of the belly and poke a hole in it. Stick two fingers inside and point them towards the rabbit’s chest. Slide the tip of the knife inside the meat and between the fingers, being careful not to puncture any of the internal organs. Cut the meat to the chest. You can start off by removing the bladder. Pinch it off and cut so that the bladder remains intact and no urine spills onto the meat. Next, pull out the intestines as best as you can. Slice the rabbit open to the anus to remove all of the intestines. Reach into the abdominal cavity and free the stomach, liver, heart, and lungs. On the liver rests the gallbladder which can be identified as a greenish tube. Remove it carefully so that you don’t break it. Cut the rabbit down the middle to the throat. All that is left on the inside are the kidneys which you can go ahead and pull out. Cut the paws off, give it a wash and your meat is ready.