Rabbits for Self-Sufficiency

by Amy H.
(Northeast Oregon)

Rabbit meat is very high in protein and low in fat. Being low in calories per weight, it's not ideal for sustaining hard labor, but it can definitely do in a pinch. Rabbits also have one of the most efficient feed:growth ratios, keeping feeding costs way down. You could get about 70 lbs of fryer meat a year out of each doe, and one buck can service 8-10 does. In addition to meat, rabbits also provide great nitrogen-rich fertilizer, and their pelts are very soft and supple.

You will want to plan on having 2 litter pens per doe, a cage per buck, and a few other extra cages for raising replacement breeders. Litter pens are ideally a minimum of 30x30 inches. I recommend 24x24 cages for bucks and replacement breeders. Cages can be all wire, or wooden hutches (with wire). I prefer all wire cages as they are easier to keep clean (you can even clean them with a torch), and they can be maintained individually. I like to stack cages 2 to 3 tiers to save on floor space, but doing so requires dropping pans to be mounted under the cages, which have to be dumped frequently to avoid fly problems. Single-tier cages can just let the droppings fall to the floor, or into the garden or compost. Letting the droppings fall onto well-drained soil is a great way to have a nearly odor-and-fly-free operation. When figuring out where to put the cages, keep in mind that rabbits do not handle getting wet very well. A barn is a great way to keep the weather off them, as well as provide shade. Sometimes it works better (especially for ventilation) to keep them outside. In that case, you will want to make sure they have a roof, and walls protecting them from the predominate weather directions with only the door side of the cage open.

For feeders, I recommend externally-mounted metal J feeders. Metal feeders may have a diamond-shaped mesh or riveted hardware cloth for the bottom to sift fines. Hardware cloth isn't very hardy against abuse, though. I've never had a rabbit destroy it; instead, it was a dog that decided that the rabbit feed tasted really good. The final reason I prefer metal feeders is that they are usually mounted to the cage using a couple of bent wires, and can be maintained completely from the outside of the cage.

To provide water, I recommend getting the opaque (usually white) bottles rather than clear. My favorites are 32 oz., although some people get by with 16 oz. for meat breeds, and they do make half gallon and gallon-sized bottles. They also make kits that will let you turn any pop bottle (I recommend 2-liter) into a water bottle, although you will have to replace the bottles frequently (as much as twice a year). If you live where it freezes during the winter and you're not keeping the rabbits in a heated shelter, I recommend two bottles per cage so you can swap frozen for thawed during the winter. If you choose not to double up, you will have to force thaw the bottles twice a day using a pot of hot water (or running hot water from the tap). The other option, which is an amazing time-saver if you have several rabbits, is an automatic watering system, which usually consists of a bucket kept above the cages, and a series of pipes, tubes and valves. There are products on the market for keeping the pipes and bucket from freezing.

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Oct 28, 2011
Harvesting and Florida Whites
by: Amy H.

3 lbs would be their live weight around 3 months old (typical age to butcher fryers, for any breed). So, no, Florida Whites won't be ready any faster, but they stay smaller (thus can be kept in smaller cages).

Most meat-type rabbits have a dressed yield of about 40-55%. So a 3-lb fryer should get you about 1-2 lbs of meat to work with. A typical New Zealand fryer, of 5 lbs will get you 2 to 2-1/2 lbs of meat.

Oct 27, 2011
Florida whites?
by: Michelle

Thanks Amy for all the great info. We want something functional- not too showy :-)lol Rabbits are too cute as it is. We start getting something showier, then we might have trouble harvesting it for meat :-)lol
We have never heard of the Florida whites. If they are harvested at about half the weight would they be ready in about half the time? 3 lbs would be a decent size for my son and I at a time (I am assuming you mean 3lbs of meat? Or is that 3 pounds at harvest? Apx how much meat would that be if it is at 3 lbs body weight for harvesting?).
I am leaning towards the Florida white, Californian or New Zealand as our best bets

Oct 26, 2011
Breeds for Rabbit Meat
by: Amy H.

The leading breeds of meat rabbits are New Zealands (particularly the whites, although the blacks do almost as well; reds tend to be smaller; blues, which are harder to get a hold of are mostly from black lines) and Californians. Both breeds have very efficient feed:growth ratios, high yield (most figures I've seen were around 55-60%), and low bone:meat ratios.

If you want to go for something a little different, Palominos and Silver Fox make decent meat rabbits. Certain lines of Rex and Satins also work well (but you have to actually look for the lines which are consistently heavy). Other breeds, which can be hard to find, but also work, are D'Argents (Champagne, Creme, Brun), American Chinchillas (not standards or giants), American Sables, Cinnamons, Blanc de Hotots, and Silver Martens. I have also heard of people using Florida Whites, which are essentially miniature New Zealand whites, but mature at only 6 lbs (fryers from them probably only weigh about 3 lbs compared to the 5-6lbs you'll see with New Zealands).

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