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{Around the Homestead} Raising Meat Rabbits

It's not a subject that I talk about often -- raising meat rabbits.

Unfortunately, there are still so many people in today's society that freak out when you say "yes, we're going to eat them..."

Maybe I should find a better way to say it.

None-the-less, rabbit meat is going to be a very important part of our diet from here on out, so it's only natural for me to take delight in tending to our brood.

If you wish not to read about the good and the bad, please, just close your screen and wait until tomorrows beautiful blog about Jesus and love :) 

Our "homesteading" journey is still fairly new. We've slowly eased into homesteading over the past 2 years, but we just recently took on raising our own meat, especially, meat rabbits.

When we first tinkered with the idea of raising rabbits for meat, I wasn't a fan of the idea. Yep, you read that right, I didn't want them. We actually had a pet rabbit growing up, and he was part of our family, so thinking about raising these things and eating them later really didn't set right with me.

But the more my husband talked about it, the more I became intrigued. Here's why.....
  • Rabbits are high in protein and in most cases, can replace chicken in your diet. Hows that, you ask? They are completely all white meat. No dark meat. Many times, you can replace chicken with rabbit in almost every chicken recipe.
  • Rabbits are more cost efficient than chicken and other "livestock". They are much easier to raise and very independent.
  • Rabbits aren't considered "livestock". So they are a great option if you live in a subdivision or have a small backyard. We live on a half acre and know others that live on less than a 1/4 acre and raise their own rabbits for meat. 
  • For every 8 ounces of rabbit meat, it would take 12 ounces of chicken in a recipe.
  • One doe (female) can produce offspring that can bring in up to 300+lbs of meat per year. 
  • Most doe's are amazing mothers and raise their own kits (babies) -- no incubator or brooder necessary! Rabbits are also very easy to breed, only taking 30 minutes per breed.
  • There aren't an overabundance of rabbit meat breeds, so typically, they are easy to find in your area when you're just getting started.
  • Rabbits are very self sufficient, which means, if for some reason the world turns into the TV show "Revolution", I won't have to worry about incubation, feed, and heat lamps.

We built our own chicken coop when we got chickens, always with the thought in mind that we could add hutches on the side if we decided to get rabbits. As you can tell, everything is still a little unfinished, and probably will be until Fall when work starts slowing down.

Many people prefer all wire hutches for their rabbits, and rightfully so. However, we chose to make the sides of our hutches wood, as we have a lot of predators that come through the woods, daily. The bottoms and doors of the hutches are wire. I do not suggest chicken wire, even though you may see it on the door closest in the photo. It's all we had at the time when she needed a new door.

Far back you'll find one door that is solid wood. This is our nursery area. It is connected to the hutch next to it and allows mama to go back and forth between the two when she is raising babies. This particular doe has mated and kindled her litter right up next to that door, so we have to be extremely careful when opening it. We also switch our rabbits out, daily, so that they can get fresh pasture. Many of our rabbits are strictly on pasture, aka, the backyard grass.

2 week old kits | Flemish Giant cross
When first getting into your rabbit adventure, you'll need to decide which breed to go with. Most people enjoy the New Zealand (can be red or white), Californian, Flemish Giant (cross), Satin, or Silver Fox rabbits. It's really all in how much you plan to harvest and the space you have available for the rabbits.

In our case, we chose Flemish Giant cross rabbits. This means that we have pure bred Flemish Giant doe's and a smaller breed or mixed breed buck. No matter which breed you pick, you must make sure your buck is smaller than your doe, even if you choose the same mating breed. Should you choose to mate a buck to a smaller doe, it can cause miscarriage or premature labor for the doe, or even death while giving birth, due to the fact that her kits may be too big for her to birth.

The reason we do not breed pure bred Flemish Giants to one another is because the Flemish Giant breed has a larger bone to meat ratio, meaning, their bones grow quicker than their meat, which does not make for a good meat rabbit. However, crossing two breeds together create beautiful offspring. Flemish Giants are an extremely large breed, some reaching over 20lbs, so make sure you have enough room for them!

When it comes to processing, it's really no different than processing chickens or even a deer (for those of you who have hunting husbands). In fact, processing rabbits is much easier, I would say. Because they are small and need only to be skinned, instead of plucked, they are very quick and easy to process....even I can do it, which is saying something. As with chickens and other livestock, you can also use every single part of your processed rabbit -- no waste is a great thing in my book.

We typically process the rabbit completely; separating breasts, thighs, etc...rather than cooking the whole rabbit. This takes up less room in the freezer and also allows for quicker thawing come dinner time. This also ensure's that my mother has no clue she's eating rabbit when she comes over, and says "oh man, this is the best chicken I've ever tasted".

Rabbits reach butchering maturity between 12 weeks and 5 months, really depending on when you'd like to butcher them and what you've been feeding them. We like the all natural approach, so our rabbits main diet is alfalfa (baled straight from the field), and all natural pellets. They also get veggie treats and free range in runs every now and then. You can purchase a higher protein pellet that helps your rabbits grow quicker, but why rush a good thing?

As you can see, there really isn't much to raising rabbits. You'll need a hutch, some food, a little pen for them to graze freely, waterer's, and a lot of strength and tissues (if you're a woman, like me) to process those adorable boogers.

If you prefer not to butcher all of your rabbits (or can't come to processing them yourself), then you can certainly make a profit off of selling them. Rabbit meat is quickly coming into high demand, so you should have no problem selling them if marketed as "meat rabbits". You can also share your processed rabbit meat with family and friends and make a profit that way. Rabbit meat rates fluctuate weekly, however, it is one of the most expensive meats on the market right now. Make sure you do your research before pricing.

We are currently enjoying our 2 week old kits that were born to our Flemish Giant doe, Missy. They are growing quickly and are going to be amazing little meat rabbits. Until that time, however, we are extremely grateful for the experience of raising them, and thankful for the new life that is on our homestead. We do not take it lightly or for granted, and it is an honor to give them a beautiful life while they are here. Raising rabbits doesn't mean you just "take care" of them and then butcher them. As with all of our livestock, we care for them, sit with them and talk to them, enjoy their companionship, and thank them for their bounty on their final day with us.

Happy Homesteading!

{This blog post is linked over at The Elliott HomesteadThe Easy Homestead, and Simple Saturdays Blog Hop!}

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