Shhhh… I have a secret. We’re raising meat rabbits. I know that probably makes about 70% of you uncomfortable (or downright upset).
If you browse homesteading blogs, you’ll see lots of posts about cows, pigs, goats, sheep and chickens, but it seems people shy away from talking too much about meat rabbits. I found it difficult at first to find a lot of information. So with Storey’s Gude to Raising Rabbits by my side, we dove in anyway.
Here’s why we decided meat rabbits were a good choice for our homestead…
1. Meat rabbits are “easy” livestock to keep.
I wasn’t born into a family that raised livestock, so my experience with keeping animals didn’t extend much beyond cats, dogs, and a few more “exotic” animals like ferrets and degus. Jumping right in with beef cattle or pigs would have been a little intimidating, so something smaller seemed like a good choice to start. That left poultry and/or rabbits. Rabbits aren’t all that different from the other small mammals I’ve kept as pets over the years, so I felt pretty comfortable working with them.
2. Meat rabbits have low start-up costs.
Rabbits don’t need a lot:
Cage or hutch (probably the most expensive, but if you’re handy, you can build it yourself)
Food bowl (I recommend this type, which doesn’t get tipped & allows the chaff to fall through)
Nest box (for the females when kindling), and straw bedding to fill it
Recommended– a wooden or plastic platform for the rabbits to rest on in their cage (to prevent bumblefoot)
Optional– a few toys (we give ours paper tubes, sticks and bits wood, etc.)
Rabbits themselves can range quite a lot in price, depending on breed. In our area, basic New Zealand meat rabbits sell for between $10 to $25, so it’s very affordable to buy a breeding pair or trio. We decided to start with a trio (two does and a buck) and have them in wire cages hanging in an unfinished stall in our barn.
3. If you choose eat meat, rabbit is one of the healthiest meats you can eat.
In recent years, rabbit has become a popular meat choice for people with heart problems because it is so low in cholesterol. It’s one of the the lowest in calories among common meats we eat today (even chicken!), and it’s high in protein, with 28 g. in a 3 oz. serving. It’s also a good source of iron, phosphorous, potassium, and other vitamins and minerals. Some say rabbit could be the next super food. It is worth noting, though, that rabbit shouldn’t be an exclusive food source. Rabbit starvation, or protein poisoning, can be caused by consuming a food so low in fat and high in protein exclusively.
4. Rabbits produce fantastic manure that’s great for your garden!
Rabbits are really good at two things: reproducing and pooping. Seriously, I am consistently amazed at the amount of little poo-pellets these guys produce. Fortunately, it’s a GOOD thing, as rabbit manure is great for your garden! Even better, unlike chicken manure, it can be applied directly without having to compost first. You can even use it to grow red wiggler worms.
5. Rabbits are easy to process.
This was ultimately our deciding factor that made us choose rabbits over chickens.
To have enough chicken for the year, we figured we’d want to raise 50 birds during the summer, either all at once or perhaps two batches of 25. That’s a lot of birds to pluck and process, and it would have to be done all at once or within a window of a couple weeks at most. I didn’t really think it was feasible for Mike and I to pull that off, especially as novices with no one to guide us.
Rabbits, on the other hand, can breed throughout the year, and we’re able to process them in smaller batches. New Zealand rabbits typically birth 8-12 kits at a time, and can easily have 6 or more litters a year. The young rabbits (fryers) are ready to process around 8-10 weeks old. So that means a consistent meat source throughout the year, that doesn’t require “bulk” processing all at once. That is definitely more do-able for us.
Overall, rabbits make a fantastic homestead animal. They’re easy to keep and suitable for homesteads of all sizes. Lots of urban homesteaders keep them because they’re quiet and because they blur the line between pet and livestock, they can often be kept where zoning prevents other traditional farm animals. It’s easy to tuck a few rabbit cages at the back of your garage or in a back yard shed, and the neighbors will be none the wiser!