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Why I chose meat rabbits

Roast rabbit I've been considering raising rabbits for quite some time as an inexpensive source of meat for consumption. I had pet rabbits when I was a toddler and teen, but haven't really had much experience with them since then. Rabbits can be a good source of protein, and they are generally easy to raise. I've eaten rabbit in the past (both wild and domestic), so I know I like the taste of the meat.

Many homesteaders choose to raise chickens as a protein source; however, personally, I don't eat many eggs. I've wondered if I have an egg allergy of some kind. I've noticed for a number of years that when I consume eggs, I often don't feel well afterwards. A couple of years ago I was discussing this with my mother, and she claims to have the same symptoms. I haven't researched it, but I wonder if there is a genetic trait that causes intolerance to a protein in eggs?

So, if one doesn't plan on consuming eggs on a regular basis, this makes raising chickens a lot less appealing. The alternatives to chickens and other fowl on a small homestead that I can think of are goats, sheep, pigs, rabbits, and perhaps a handful of more exotic livestock. Rabbits seem to me to be easiest to raise of this list, and perhaps require the least amount of preparation and planning.

One strong advantage to raising rabbits is the fertile manure one ends up with in a concentrated area. This can be used to significantly enrich poor soil, of which we have 3 acres worth. Our soil here is quite poor, so anywhere we garden has to be enriched. This sometimes means a pickup load of garden soil from the local nursery, but we hope to do this less in the future as we start to bring in horse and rabbit manure. We'll cover rabbit manure much more in a future post.

And so begins our adventure into rabbit husbandry. We hope you'll enjoy reading about our experiences as we tread off into unknown territory with meat rabbits.

Shannon and Dawn will be sharing their experiences with raising meat rabbits on Tuesday afternoons. Shannon and Dawn homestead on three acres in Louisiana when time off from life and working as a sys admin permits.



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I look forward to reading about their experience with rabbits. I'm interested in how many rabbits they have and how many they'd recommend for X number of people.
Comment by Heath Tue Aug 21 14:55:59 2012
Heath --- I'm very intrigued to hear about their adventures too. I'm pretty sure Shannon is reading comments, so I'll bet he'll include answers to your questions in later posts. :-)
Comment by anna Tue Aug 21 15:31:13 2012
What part of Louisiana I frequent bogulusa to visit my dad. We have some rabbits that are. New Zealand and California mix. I love rabbits for the little space they take up plus you can feed them alot of stuff out of garden. We grow a patch of clover just for the rabbits. Only downfall we have had is if they get out. We had two escape and we could never catch them and talk a a about the damage to the garden.
Comment by Olan Tue Aug 21 18:11:09 2012
I have a rabbitry in the works! One of my mother's friends is a national champ shower and breeder of Palamino rabbits, which are a meat breed. We raised a few bunnies for meat when I was a young boy and I want to get back to it. I think with a permaculture approach they may be the best livestock choice for a small homestead, if you can call them stock since they take up so little room! The biggest battle here is the hot weather during the summer. Electric fans and misters are almost a necessity.
Comment by Phil Tue Aug 21 18:53:16 2012

Heath: We've only three rabbits for now... We're looking for a better breeder so we can fill out the herd. The source we previously used might be questionable. As for numbers... as time goes on, I'll get a better feel for how many rabbits are required to keep around for a steady supply of meat. I'm learning as I go for now.

Olan: I'm east of Baton Rouge by ~45 minutes. We've been feeding them quite a bit of fresh and dry grass/hay out of the yard. One of the rabbits who's still tame enough to let out of the hutch without a pen definitely tends to gravitate to the clover when we let him graze. I plan to experiment with setting up some kind of pen to graze them in... we'll see how that goes. I've been considering crossing Californians with NZ Whites also. I'd love to hear more about that!

Phil: Heat is bad here too... we took to putting frozen two liter bottles in the cages for a while. They really enjoyed that... I think the worst of the heat is starting to let up here now, but I can tell the heat of the summers in the deep south will be rough on a herd. I think we'll limit breeding to spring and fall.

Comment by Shannon Tue Aug 21 21:47:55 2012

Well you are close of to be our neighbor. Our farm is near Wiggins, MS The heat definetly plays a factor. This is our first year of starting the farm. We are getting our stock built up. We let one of the rabbits live in a ground hutch and he dug a huge burrow on his own to stay cool. He never tried to get out. Good luck with your adventures and we will keep in touch.

Comment by Olan Thu Aug 23 00:10:18 2012

Congrats on choosing meat rabbits; it's an excellent choice for lean, healthy, low fat/low cholesterol protein. I've been breeding meat rabbits for 37 years and plan to continue for as long as my body will allow it :) Just a comment - raising rabbits is anything but inexpensive. Something you'll learn after you've been in it about a year :) Feed costs have been rising rapidly over the past 5 years and this summer's drought will probably double it. Also, consider that a dressed rabbit (hide removed & gutted)is only 50-60% of its live weight and of that 50% that remains, about half is bone. A 10 week old 5 pound fryer will yield about 1.5 pounds of actual meat. Not trying to discourage you - but to share what i've learned so you dont set unrealistic expectations. Good luck; its a lot of fun and a lot of work, but its worth it for homegrown all natural healthy protein.

Comment by Anonymous Thu Aug 23 16:36:04 2012
Anonymous --- Raising chickens for meat has the same stumbling block. I seem to remember, though, when I googled the topic a few months ago, that the feed to meat ratio for rabbits is better than for chickens. So, even if you're buying expensive feed, you'd be buying less of it per pound of meat than you would be with poultry. I'd be very curious to hear if you kept track of the amount of feed you used to raise a rabbit and the weight of the carcass.
Comment by anna Thu Aug 23 18:07:33 2012
Olan -- My uncle has 10 acres just up from you near Purvis. There is a one room cabin there that my cousin and I make use of quite often and we've done a lot of work fixing up the place. We found that the small creek can produce catfish up to 8 lbs with a trot line, not to mention other game. I was quite surprised... I'm sure I'll make some trips up there once it starts cooling off this fall/winter. Perhaps we can cross paths at some point.
Comment by Shannon Thu Aug 23 21:10:40 2012

Anna:

Yes, I've kept detailed records of my feed conversion rate. Since i've been at this for 37 years (almost 38 in a couple months), I've had to just to stay out of the red.

10 years ago, rabbits could be raised inexpensively. However, since the USA has begun exporting 80% of the grain grown in this country, feed went sky high. I dont use/cant afford the top of the line feed, but I do use a good quality feed. Currently, it's $21.00 a bag. 3 years ago it was $18.00 a bag and 3 years before that it was $15.00 a bag. In the year 2000 it was $11.99 a bag. Because of the massive drought the country had this year, feed costs are expected to nearly double. I belong to a meat rabbit forum and some members have already seen a drastic increase. One girl's feed went from $18.99 a bag to $25.99 a bag last month alone.

People look at the numbers and think - well, why is a $2 or $3 dollar price hike so horrible. If you are buying only 1 bag of feed, its not. My herd, which is raised EXCLUSIVELY for home use (no meat ever leaves this house) uses 20 bags a month. When it was $11.99 a bag, I could feed my herd on $240.00 a month. At its current cost of $21.00 a bag, it's costing me $420.00 a month. A HUGE difference.

Non pregnant/non nursing does and bucks dont eat much. But once a doe has a litter, they need to be on full feed and eat a LOT and once the kits (babies) start eating solids, they eat like machines 24/7 up until butcher weight.

I have thousands of pages of data analyzed every which way and the increase in cost has been extreme. Many people are getting out of the hobby of raising meat rabbits because of it.

It used to be a cost effective way to grow lean healthy meat. Currently, it's one of the most expensive animals to feed.

With everything factored in, One pound of cleaned, butchered, BONELESS rabbit meat costs approximately $7.00 worth of feed. I'm sure next month that will be MUCH more when the drought prices are input.

When people talk about how raising rabbits is cheap, well, sure, feeding an adult rabbit 1 cup of pellets a day is cheap, or at least it used to be. But the cost of feeding a nursing mother and her growing kits is NOT cheap. As I said before, a 5 pound rabbit will yield about 2.75 of meat and bones once processed. Of that, about half is meat. Most people calculate the cost to raise that 5 pound rabbit, which is not realistic since 75% of it wont be eaten. When you calculate the cost of the edible part of a rabbit - it's scary.

Comment by Anonymous Mon Aug 27 10:38:05 2012

Anonymous --- Awesome data! But I want more. :-)

When the industry does their feed:meat, they weigh the carcasses with no feathers (for chickens, so I'd say no skin for rabbits) and with the entrails out, but with bones in. Do you have an idea of how many pounds of feed you give your rabbits per pound of meat, bone in?

I'm guessing, from your data, that it would be $3.50 per pound if you include the bones. If your bags of feed are 50 pound bags, then my math is showing that your bone-in feed:meat would be 8.3:1. (Feel free to correct me if I'm off base!)

The best feed conversion rate I've come up with for our pastured chickens is about 5:1, but when I provide unlimited feed, I'm at more like 5.6:1. When we feed moderately high quality feed, we spent about $18 per 50 pound bag on broiler feed this spring. In which case, your rabbits would be more expensive per pound than our chickens. But my math might be off!

Comment by anna Mon Aug 27 11:03:46 2012
Seems we will definitely have to keep some detailed records soon. 20 bags of feed is 1,000 lbs. I'm curious how many rabbits you are feeding? Do you supplement the feed with home grown hay or grass?
Comment by Shannon Tue Aug 28 00:41:08 2012

In reply to your last question, the number of rabbits i'm feeding varies. I have 16 does and 3 bucks and generally. I follow a one day breed back schedule which means the does are bred the day after the kindle (deliver) a litter. So at all times my does are pregnant, have an unweaned litter with them and have an older litter in the grow out pen. When she's due to kindle again, the oldest litter gets butchered, the litter that was in with her gets moved to the growout pen and the newborns are born in her cage. The cycle repeats year round.

On average, I have about 150 fryers 7-8 weeks old at any given time that are on full feed, and since the does are always pregnant and nursing, they are also always on free feed. The only controlled feed animals in my herd are the 3 bucks.

Hope that helps.

-Also, I remember being asked if I knew how much food a rabbit eats to get to butcher weight. Kits average a 4:1 feed ratio. It's nearly impossible to improve on that's only obtained by culling to have the best of the best in your herd. I've seen rabbitries open and close within a year because they are at a 5:1, 6:1 or even 7:1 ration.

Lets say 4:1. That means it takes a kit (growing baby rabbit) 4 pounds of food to gain one pound of body weight. This equals 20 pounds of food to equal a 5 pound butcher weight. If a 50 pound bag of feed is $20.00 (which is cheap - it's a lot more now), then that comes out to be .40 cents a pound. .40 cents a pound * the 20 pounds it takes to grow a kit to butcher weight is $8.00 worth of food. This is assuming they hit butcher weight at 8 weeks, after 8 weeks the feed ratio is HORRIBLE - more like 9:1. So you've invested $8.00 into a 5 pound rabbit. After dress out the rabbit will be about 2.75 pounds and once the bone is removed, you'll have about 1.375 pounsd of food - which is 19 ounces. You have 19 ounces of pure meat and it took $8.00 to grow it - so rabbit costs almost $8.00 a pound to grow That does not include the cost of the feed for the breeding stock, which must be factored in because without the breeding stock, there are no babies and without food, there is no breeding stock. It also doesn't factor in equipment, supplies, supplements, hay, etc. and the biggie - TIME.

Lisa L.

Comment by Anonymous Wed Aug 29 16:47:39 2012
Have you ever tried growing your own feed to help bring down the cost?
Comment by smallblockfuelie_gmail.com Wed Aug 29 18:13:28 2012

..you mentioned about allergies to eggs..my nephews have allergies to eggs and my brother is allergies to all poultry so yes, it is possible.

Nice job on going this route..been wanting to try it for a while! Keep up the good work!

Comment by eagergridlessbeaver Thu Aug 30 15:27:23 2012

@ smallblockfuelie_gmail.com

In my situation, growing my rabbits food is really not an option. i live on a 1/4 acre lot at a 4 way intersection in the middle of suburbia. The zoning laws are very strict and garden sizes are severely restricted for anyone having less than 2 acres of land. I grow a small veggie garden in the summer and have some berry bushes, but that's all that zoning will allow - in fact, i'm actually over the allowance by several feet. Beyond that, I live in Connecticut which means the only absolute frost free months are June through September. Only 4 months a year - which is a very short growing season. Last year, we received a snowstorm of 27" of snow 2 days before halloween! and we were still getting frost as of May 21st.

The limited garden size combined with the short growing season makes offsetting feed cost not possible.

I do give them some scraps - such as the garden plants that are done producing and all my rose bush and raspberry bush trimmings - but it's not enough to make a noticeable difference in cost.

Comment by bunnygal_comcast.net Sun Sep 2 11:58:50 2012
My meat per pound comes out to $1. I gotta ask too... what the hell are you feeding 150 grown rabbits to each month.
Comment by Ant Fri May 3 18:23:25 2013

@Ant

"I gotta ask too... what the hell are you feeding 150 grown rabbits to each month." Comment by Ant — Fri May 3 18:23:25 2013"

I don't have 150 GROWN rabbits each month. My post said "On average, I have about 150 fryers 7-8 weeks old at any given time that are on full feed" 7-8 week old rabbits are not full grown.

Lets say I have 150 8 week old rabbits @ 5 pounds each. Remove the hide and guts and each rabbit is down to about 3.25 pounds. Of that 3.25 pounds left, 35-40% is bone (including the head). Remove the bone and what's left is just over 2 pounds of rabbit.

We have to be real - we don't EAT the hide, we don't EAT the guts, we don't EAT the bone, so we have to base our figures on the actual edible portion.

Cleaned and deboned, those 150 rabbits that were 5 pounds each are down to 150 rabbits that are a slight bit over 2 pounds each of MEAT only.

That's 300 pounds of meat. Divide that by 30 days in a month and it comes out to 10 pounds of meat a day.

My biggest dog, weighing in at 160 pounds, eats 4 lbs 12oz a day. My smaller dog, weighing in at 125 pounds, eats 3 lbs 5oz a day. I have 9 cats that eat a total of 2 lbs 8oz a day.

That's a total of 10.56 pounds of meat i'm feeding to my pets a day or 316 pounds a month and 150 rabbits a month yields about 300 pounds.

My pets eat more than I grow, which is fine, because I don't feed rabbit every day anyhow.

Now factor in the humans, say a family of 6, who would eat 2 rabbits in a meal, and if it were 2 days per week, that's 4 rabbits per week or 16 rabbits a month. Now the 300 pounds I grew for my pets (even though I need 316 pounds) is down to 268 pounds of meat.

For those who say your meat is $1 a pound, either you are getting food ridiculously cheap or you are not doing the math right. Remember you MUST include the feed and the cost of the feed that the ADULTS eat in with the costs to raise the kits because the adults are the reason you are getting kits and their maintenance needs to be factored in.

In June, it will be my 37th year in raising rabbits and my records go back 3 decades and are very accurate. With rising feed costs, I've seen a 500% increase in the cost of raising rabbits. The feed I pay $21.99 a bag for now cost me $12.99 a bag only 8 years ago.

I don't leave out any expense; my numbers are real.

Comment by Lisa Sat May 4 12:01:16 2013

Thank you for this very detailed information on raising rabbits! I had been looking into it for my family, but it seems like its too expensive, given the going cost of feed plus time involved. You may have saved me from a costly misadventure. Thank you for your valuable input.

To the guy who can't eat eggs, you may want to look into duck eggs as a palatable alternative. I've heard some breeds of ducks can outlay chickens, too!

Comment by Homestead mom Wed Oct 16 23:15:59 2013