In the past, many Americans raised rabbits for food. Not only was this food source essential for families for their own nutrition, but in some cases rabbit meat provided extra income in exchange for little cost and effort. Though less common today, raising rabbits specifically for meat has gained renewed interest as people have an increasing desire to grow or raise their own food for health and economic purposes. Rabbit meat is low in fat and cholesterol when compared to other meats making it a healthy choice for those who are on calorie or cholesterol limited diets. This quality of rabbit meat also makes it a desired product in restaurants and health food stores, where the meat can be sold for extra income.
If you are interested in raising rabbits for meat, there are a few things to consider. First, you must determine an appropriate breed. Large breeds like the New Zealand White and California are good choices and are common, as they can reach 10-12 lbs. In general, rabbits do not require a lot of space, but breeding rabbits should be housed individually to prevent aggression and infection due to overcrowding. The recommended space is 5 square feet for bucks and 6 square feet for does and litters. The animals should be housed outside with adequate shelter from the elements, and the cages should be cleaned regularly. During cold weather, additional hay should be supplied to help insulate the rabbits, whereas in summer months when the weather is over 85 degrees, it is essential that animals be shaded and given fresh water (during extreme heat, ice cubes in the water are a good idea). The usual time frame to harvest young rabbits is around 8 weeks, or depending on the size of your operation, when they reach an appropriate weight. Bear in mind that rabbits can breed relatively young, around 5 months old, and give birth after 4 weeks, so if you want to control your populations you should separate the young animals around 3 months after birth.
Rabbit feed is generally inexpensive, though high protein feeds can cost more. In general, a basic rabbit feed supplemented with hay and garden or veggie scraps is more than adequate. Commercial wire-bottomed feeders that dispense food as it is eaten are recommended, as these prevent other matter from getting into the food. Fresh water should always be supplied, and again dispenser bottles prevent dirt and particulate matter from contaminating the water while dispensing water on an as-needed basis. Because of these feeding methods, rabbits can often be left for a few days without care, making them convenient to raise even if you need to leave occasionally.
There are a few options when it comes time to harvest the animals. You can of course locate a professional butcher, however this does cost money. If you are interested in butchering your own animals, it is important to first look at a step by step guide on how to do it in order to minimize processing time and to avoid waste. Such resources can easily be found online.
If you have never raised rabbits before, it is best to start out small, with just three does and one buck. If you are looking for profitability by selling meat, this can take time and depend greatly on food regulations in your state. Before you consider selling meat, try to talk to potential buyers to gauge interest. In addition to meat, rabbit pelts can sometimes be sold, as can their manure. If you are resourceful you may be able to locate buyers for these products, or can learn to use them yourself. There are many advantages to raising rabbits, but bear in mind they are living animals that need to be humanely treated and cared for. If you can do this properly, you will be on your way to a more economic, sustainable and healthy lifestyle.