5 Meat Rabbit Facts to Know Before You Buy
What you Need to Know About Raising Rabbits for Meat
Raising rabbits for meat is a wonderful way to harvest your own meat in a small area. But there are some rabbit facts you should know before buying your first rabbit.
1. You can raise meat rabbits in colonies or in separate cages
When it comes to meat rabbits, you have a couple choices for housing. Some rabbit owners prefer to keep their rabbits separate and only allow them access during breeding times. Other owners feel a colony is healthier and closer to a rabbit’s natural environment.
Both types of housing have their benefits. But a fun rabbit fact is that they can be very territorial (see #5 below), and we did not have a good experience keeping our rabbits together. Our does began fighting, and during one disastrous event, a doe began attacking another doe’s litter of newborn kits.
We also found that we had much less control over breeding, and during the winter, this could mean a lot of lost babies, since we had no idea when the mothers would birth.
However, there are strong proponents of keeping rabbits in colonies, and I do encourage you to read about it and make the best decision for your rabbits. Our rabbits are able to see and touch each other a little, which I think is necessary for their mental health. They can’t hurt each other, however, nor can they touch any other doe’s kits.
2. Any rabbit will give you meat, but some breeds are better than others
While it’s true any breed of rabbit can be kept for meat, some meat rabbit breeds were developed to yield more meat while eating less than other breeds. We breed mostly New Zealand rabbits for meat, although we do have one wonderful wild rabbit doe that has been tamed.
Although she is smaller, she gives us nice, large litters and is an excellent mother. In our area, buyers prefer the taste of wild rabbits, particularly older buyers who like to fondly recall their days as hunters. So, we try to keep a supply of meat rabbits with her bloodlines to satisfy them. If you’re wondering what to feed meat rabbits, a high-quality commercial feed is a good place to start.
3.Rabbit gestation is 31 days – and you better be prepared!
An important rabbit fact you should know if you want learn how to breed rabbits is that rabbits have a 31-day gestation period. Your does can give birth anywhere from day 28 usually until day 31. I’ve learned the hard way that you better be ready to hand your doe the tools she needs to build a safe, warm nest for her kits. Day 27 or 28, be prepared to give her a nesting box as well as clean hay or straw to begin building her nest.
Some does like to build their nests themselves, so on day 27, I leave a pile of hay in a pregnant doe’s cage and let her do her thing. She then builds her nest out of the hay and her own fur.
When we first started breeding, we did not keep records of when we bred. Big mistake! Make sure to always write down when you breed your does, and leave a card attached to their cage, or somewhere near her cage where she can’t chew it. That way you can better plan when to offer her a nesting box and keep your eye out for the emergence of any baby bunnies. The last thing you want is for her to give birth on a cold, windy night and have no nest to keep her babies warm.
Larger rabbits are said to have larger litters, while smaller rabbit will have smaller ones. Although this might something you commonly hear, in my experience, it is not true. Our wild-bred doe is quite small, maybe only 3 or 4 pounds, but she has sizable litters of five to six kits.
4. If you’re not picky about breed, you can get your rabbits for free
Yes, it’s true. We’ve gotten the majority of our wonderful breeding rabbits free from people who did not want them any more. Out of 5 does, 4 were free, and out of 4 bucks, 2 were free. If you wait, and if you’re patient, you can certainly come across a bunny in need of a good home.
The caveat to this rabbit fact is you cannot be picky about breed if you want to have a few breeding does and bucks quickly (although you should always be picky about health. If the rabbit is sick or appears in poor flesh, then you should decline). But that being said, you do not have to spend a lot starting to farm meat rabbits, and I’ve had no trouble acquiring large, healthy rabbits for our breeding shed.
5. Rabbits can be very territorial
One fun rabbit fact is that they tend to be very territorial, and does are worse than bucks. In fact, does can be so territorial that another rabbit entering her cage can cause a lot of flying fur. Even does that used to be housed together can fight if separated for long periods.
For a while, we started raising rabbits in a colony, but after some disastrous births, we began keeping our rabbits in separate cages. We can no longer keep any of these does together, and although they got along well previously, that honeymoon is over.
Raising rabbits for meat is probably one of the most gratifying parts of homesteading. There are always things you’ll have to learn as you go along, but these rabbit facts will get you started in the right direction. For more tips on raising rabbits, grab my checklist at TheFrugalChicken.com/rabbitchecklist.
Do you raise rabbits for meat? What breed do you raise? Let us know in the comments below.