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. Let’s take a look at some of the more popular breeds when raising for meat.
- New Zealand – put on weight quickly with a good bone to meat ratio. Fully grown, the doe will be around 9-12lbs with the buck being 8-10lbs.
- Californians – a smaller breed than the New Zealand but still a popular choice for both meat and fur.
- 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.
- Florida White – smaller than most others that are raised for meat but if space is limited, this could be the perfect choice.
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 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 of 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.
When it comes to feeding your rabbits you have a few options such as:
- Rabbit pellets – filled with protein and great for adding weight.
- Commercial dry food
- Fodder, hay, vegetables – great if you prefer organic meat.
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 ensure 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 little 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.