How To Raise Meat Rabbits: A Beginners Guide

So you want to learn about raising meat rabbits. 

Whether you want to know how to raise meat rabbits to have healthy meat for your family. Or you are wanting to raise meat rabbits to dip your toes in the waters of homesteading rabbits are awesome in my personal opinion. 

They don’t require a ton of space and they are QUITE! My favorite.

While I do not butcher my rabbits because they grow too slow and are way too expensive, they are a meat breed. 

Rabbits are going to be the easiest source of meat to get started with. Especially with the short turnover time getting you pounds of meat very quickly.

A Simple Option To See If Raising Meat Rabbits Is Right For You

It is possible to find people selling off a younger litter of baby rabbits at your local fair for as little as $5 a head. You could even make someone an offer for a litter and they may sell the kits (young rabbits) to you. 

Go to your county fair website or schedule and look for the youth rabbit show. Sometimes they will have a special market rabbit show. That night or the following day people are often allowed to sell rabbits. 

I would call the fair office to check and make sure they allow this if you are driving special. 

You could also keep an eye out on Craigs List from early May to the end of summer and find some good deals. 

This way you could raise the kits to butcher age to see if you like raising meat rabbits or the rabbit meat itself. 

Because you may not. This way you can test the waters and not be stuck with breeding stock that you don’t want to keep. 

There are some key things you need to think about before you go out and buy your rabbits.

Cage Space And Rabbitry Location Space

It is not only the cage size (which I will get to in a sec) but the space that rabbits will take up in your yard, barn, or garage…  

You don’t want to end up with a breed that takes more space than you bargained for.  

I know for me if things feel like there is too much in one space I feel overwhelmed. You want this to be enjoyable, not stressful.

Mother rabbit making a nest for her litter

The Space That The Litters Take

Most meat rabbits have an average of 8 in a litter and some have been known to have as many as 12-15 in a litter.

Granted not all survive. However, a litter of 7-10 is still a lot of babies, but in the end, that is the whole goal. The more babies you raise the more meat there is on the table.

For a doe and her litter to be raised until about 6 weeks old you will need a cage that is at minimum 30″ X 42″ inches.  Once the litters hit six weeks they can be separated.

You Will Need Grow Out Pens

While you don’t “have to” separate each individual rabbit in the whole litter it does help them to fill out better and get firm flesh if they are not competing for food.  

Baby french lop rabbits

It is almost impossible to put each rabbit in its own cage if you have a huge litter but if you can keep it to three per cage max that is a good ratio to separate them out. Always separate the bucks from the does then work from there.  

You should at the very least take the doe (Mamma) out of the litter by the time they are 6-8 weeks of age so that the doe will have time to recoop. Especially if you plan to breed her again in the same year.  

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Size Of The Breed You Want To Raise

Flemish giants are becoming a popular meat rabbit breed once again but those are going to require a cage three times the size of a newzeland or Californian.   So if you want more rabbits then you have to be careful which breed you choose. Not to mention it takes a Flemish Giant much longer to grow big enough to eat.  

Housing For Raising Meat Rabbits

Rabbit housing needs to have good ventilation because there can be a lot of health issues if the rabbits are breathing stagnant air.

The ability to keep the temperature and humidity low is also important. The ideal temperature for rabbits is 50 degrees fahrenheit. But it should never get above 85 without giving the rabbits something to help them keep cool. 

If your rabbits get too hot they won’t eat as much which is obviously not what you want to happen because they will not fill out as well. 

The best thing that has been working for me for years are my lean-to-style rabbit hutches with cages hanging inside work great.

The rabbits have a three-sided shelter and I am able to put up tarps when the weather is bad. I have never lost a rabbit to respiratory issues with this setup. 

I also love it because the rabbit manure falls to the ground and is far away from the rabbits themselves. This is another healthy aspect of the lean-to-style hutches.

A garden shed or barn is also fine but make sure they have a way to be opened up and air run through during the day. 

Look at the space you have in the area you want to keep them. Then see how many cages you can fit in that space and choose your breed based on that. 

baby rabbits

Recommended Cage Size by the ARBA for SINGEL Rabbits

  • 18x24x12 for rabbits under 6lbs
  • 24×26-36×18 for rabbits above 6lbs and under 11lbs
  • 24×36-48×18-24 high for rabbits above 12lbs

Recommended Cage Size by the ARBA for DOE and Litter

  • 48x30x18 high for doe and litter.

You can go longer if you want but also think about the height. French lops sit up on their butt a lot like Holland lops do. So my cages are 20-24″ inches high.

Humidity & Temperatures

Humidity and high heat are your enemies. And together they are a deadly combo. Ideally, you want to have less than 60% humidity and 80 degrees or less in your rabbitry. So this should be a factor in choosing your housing location. I go deeper into how to keep rabbits cool here in this post.

When choosing a location for your rabbitry, choose an area for trees if possible. They are nature’s cooling system and while shade from a building is ok, it still won’t be as good.

woman holding a rabbit learning how to raise meat rabbits

When I walk down to where they are housed, I can feel a huge difference as soon as I get under the trees.

Pro Tip: Also keep an eye on where the sun hits throughout the day. Make sure that your rabbits have a way to get out of the sun at all times. You would hate to find a good spot but then have the cage facing the sun for five hours out of the day and cause your rabbit heat stroke.

Meat Rabbit Breed Selection

If you are raising rabbits for meat you want to get something you like but you also don’t want to get something that takes forever to be able to get to the size to harvest.

The breed I raise (french lops) are actually a meat breed but they have huge bone and take a while to reach a good weight to butcher. You would probably have to wait until they are 9ish months old before they would have enough meat on them. But there are other breeds that can be ready to harvest as early as three to four months of age.

woman holding a white rabbit

Careful Of Bone Size

The larger breeds like French Lop and Flemish Giant have extremely large bone. I speak for all French lop breeders when I say we breed for it. The bigger the better.

The show quality breeders are wanting as large of bone as they can get. This will cause the butcher weight to be significantly less. So when choosing your breed take a look at the breed standard to help you decide if they would be good for meat.

Top Meat Rabbit Breeds

Everyone has their own opinion on the right breed and to be totally honest it’s up to you and what you like. But the overall goal is to get them to grow to almost max weight with firm flesh and not supper huge bone as quickly as possible right?

Here are some breeds of rabbit suggestions that will meet your needs but also not be too hard to find.

The max weight is according to the American Rabbit Breeders Association standard of perfection.

  • American Chinchilla (Max weight: 12 pounds)
  • Californian (Max weight: 10 1/2 pounds)
  • Champagne d’Argent (Max weight: 12 pounds)
  • Crème d’Argent (Max weight: 11 pounds)
  • New Zealand (Max weight: 12 pounds)
  • Palomino (Max weight: 11 pounds)
  • Satin (Max weight: 11 pounds)
angora rabbit

Finding Rabbits To Start Your Backyard Rabbit Operation

To start I would buy one breeding pair or a trio which is one buck and two unrelated does.

If you can find adult rabbits you can start a breeding schedule sooner. The problem with that is most breeders don’t intend to sell an adult animal that they have raised to age. So be kind and don’t push them.

Pro Tip: A doe is born with as many eggs as she will have. She doesn’t make more. So If the doe is two years or older she has likely had a large number of her kits already and you could end up with the raw end of the deal. So unless someone makes you a deal on an older rabbit I wouldn’t buy a rabbit past a year and a half old.

Each doe will usually have four or more liters of six to ten kits every year. Those kits should reach an approximate dress-out weight of between 2 1/2 to 4 pounds by 10 to 12 weeks. It can be a lot of meals for one person over the course of a year’s time.

You should take care when selecting healthy rabbits, as they will be used for breeding.

If you can find a reputable breeder it is best to buy from someone who knows what they are doing and can advise you. 

Feeding Your Meat Rabbits

If you are raising rabbits for meat you want them to eat and eat a lot. Because if they don’t then they will grow slower and will not fill out nicely.

I will share a list of things you can feed them as treats if you want but they should still be fed sparingly.

A good rule of thumb for growing rabbits is that they need a 16 percent ratio of protein in their diet. Pregnant and lactating does need 16 to 20 percent. 

a truck bed full of rabbit feed bags

You can also add fresh plant material to your diet. Some homesteaders grow crops for themselves and for their rabbits. They grow kale, Swiss chard, other greens, and weeds pulled from the garden for their rabbits.

Adults should be fed enough to maintain a healthy weight, but not too much. Grow-outs can usually be fed free-choice feed to help them gain weight quickly.

Hay Won’t Give You Good Results

First off let me say that hay is not the key ingredient that rabbits need. FIBER is. If you want to hear more about why I don’t feed my rabbits hay read this post.

Hay is LOWER in protein than commercial pellet feed for rabbits. So by giving rabbit hay you are taking up the space in their digestive system with lower protein feed. Causing them to not fill out as quickly as they would if they ate a full diet of pellets. 

Pellets are formulated to have all a rabbit needs in its diet.

My Top Rabbit Must Haves

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If You Choose To Feed Hay

Hay protein levels can vary greatly, depending on the type and time of harvest. The older the hay is when it’s been cut, the lower the protein content will be.

Protein levels can range from 8% to 14% in grass hay, and 15% to 22% in alfalfa hay. 

If your rabbits haven’t been fed green foods before, start by feeding them green foods sparingly. They may also eat too much and bloated or get diarrhea which can be fatal for rabbits.

But don’t leave any leftover feed in the pen for more than 24hrs. It can cause molding in the food and give your rabbits digestive issues. 

 Feeding Pellets

A rabbit’s feed should contain 14-16% protein. For show feeds you will often find higher numbers in protein and sometimes fiber as well as a few other ingredients.

These tend to be a bit higher in price per bag but the quicker you get your animals filled out the sooner you can harvest the meat. 

The feed should also be approximately 4% fat, and at least 18% fiber. Pregnant and nursing females can use a slightly higher protein content, but an 18%+ protein content is too rich for many small rabbits. You should also be wary of “least cost formula” recipes that don’t have a fixed list of ingredients.   They tend to buy whatever is cheapest at any given moment. All ingredient lists for animal feeds are ordered from the highest amount in the mix to the lowest. If you want to learn more about what to feed your rabbit you can read that post here.   When all is said and done do what works for you and your rabbits.

Treats And Other Options

Rabbits are funny creatures when it comes to food. They can go off feed of any reason and you have to guess at why they are not eating.

Personally, I try not to interrupt their normal habits. You will have better results if you just keep feeding your meat rabbits the same things consistently.

Word Of Warning With Treats

Rabbits are also stubborn critters when they want something. Like humans, they can not live off of candy. If they get a taste for a particular food that they will only get small amounts of they can essentially get addicted to it. Causing them to only eat the treat and not their own food.

This is why I am very careful when using supplements (or treats) intended for better flesh conditions or fur because often there is a sweet flavor to them. The same goes for fruits and veggies. 

I had a rabbit that decided she only wanted to eat the supplement and it took almost two weeks of barely eating anything before she caved and started eating pellets again. She lost A LOT of weight but she would not survive only eating the supplement.

Needless to say, we were done with the fun stuff after that.

Unless you are growing some of these things in your garden they are not worth buying from the store to “save money” on feed. All of these are much more expensive than a $16-$18 bag of feed.

  • Apples (best to remove seeds),
  • Banana Peels (or the whole thing but I eat the banana and they get the peel)
  • Blackberries (any part of the plant)
  • Blueberries
  • Raw beets
  • Carrots
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Soybeans
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Turnips
  • Raspberries
  • Strawberries (or the tops if you eat them and don’t what to waste the tops)
  • Alfalfa Sprouts
  • Beet greens
  • Bell peppers
  • Kale
  • Pumpkin
  • Squash
  • Swiss chard
  • Spinach

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Feeders And Water’ers

Feeders can be for both hay and pellet feed and may need to vary in style by individual rabbit, as some are more prone to food-wasting than others.

Rabbits should always have access to clean water. There really is not a right or wrong type of system to use. Water bottles are the first thing people think of but honestly, I don’t like them because they leak more often than not. Your rabbits ending up without water on a hot summer day could end badly. 

I started using bowls years ago and have never looked back. Here are my current favorites. Rubber bowls are often best to switch to in the winter because the bottles will get frozen in the cold weather and ruin the bottle spouts. The rubber bowl will work as an ice cube tray and you can just pop the ice out much quicker than having to thaw out the bottles.

Domestic rabbits are very versatile and can learn quickly where their water comes from. You simply have to show them a few times. Often dipping your fingers and the water and touching their nose with your wet fingers (while they are facing the watering device) and they should get it.

Breeding Meat Rabbits

Breeding rabbits for meat is a whole different ball game then raising show rabbits. Also, different breeds are going to bounce back from raising their babies and giving birth much quicker than others.

How Often To Breed Your Does

How often is up to you but most meat rabbit breeders will let the mamma raise her babies to 4-6 weeks old (sometimes a little less) and breed her again. Keep in mind she is not raising babies through the winter months unless she is housed somewhere with controlled temps.  

Some meat producers will breed a rabbit as many as four times a year. If you do this I HIGHLY recommend to only letting her raise the babies to 4-5 weeks or her physical condition will drastically decline.   

It is to your advantage to keep your backyard meat rabbits in good condition.   

How Often To Breed Your Buck Again this depends on the buck and the breed but a buck should be able to breed one to two does in a single day but make sure they are hours apart.   

You could breed a single buck once a day for several days but after about two weeks it is best to give him a week break. Otherwise, you might start to have unsuccessful breedings. Wasting valuable production time.

Breeding In Action

When you are ready to breed a doe you always take her to the bucks cage The main reason is that she can become aggressive and possibly hurt the buck.

But also if the buck is distracted by the new smells in the new cage he is not going to be focused and get down to business.  

If the breeding is successful you will see the buck freeze and fall off to one side of the doe. You can read in more detail about rabbit breeding here.

Slaughtering Rabbits

I have only butchered a few rabbits in my time. I have seen more wild rabbits processed around our house.    

Options For Dispatching The Rabbit

Your choice in dispatching the rabbit is totally up to you. Go with whatever you can stomach. As a word of warning the rabbit will thrash no matter what method you choose. They are dead it’s just what the body does.   

Kind of like a chicken with its head cut off.

  • You can break the neck by putting the head under a pool on the ground and pulling up. (breaking the neck is not easy to do, a man is going to be the best at this. Ladies just don’t bother)
  • You could slit the throat.
  • Use a pellet gun and shoot the rabbit right behind the crown from the back of the head. (personally, I love this one because it is lights out fast)

Here is a great video showing you how to process the rabbit.  

Rabbits As An Additional Source Of Income

Running a rabbitry business is my jam.  I could go on forever about this. But there are three keys to having a profitable rabbitry.  

  • Knowing your numbers. (How much you need to make to cover your cost, and how many rabbits you need to sell to make that amount and TRACKING IT.)  
  • Consistently marketing your rabbitry. (getting people to know you are selling rabbits)  
  • Creating a great customer experience so they will tell others about you.  

If you want to learn more about the business side these posts will help you.  

So are you still thinking you are ready to dive into raising meat rabbits? While you likely have a long checklist of to dos like finding rabbit pens, commercial rabbits, choosing food sources, and more.   

If you dip your toes in first instead of getting expensive supplies and more rabbits than you are ready for you will be much better off raising meat rabbits.          

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