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When I was a teenager, I had a girlfriend who had a pet rabbit. That guy was the king of the household, and often got lost in the yard.
Though she and I broke up, that rabbit practice has served me well. Why is that?
Because I have gotten into raising rabbits. This time, not as a pet, but for their meat.
Why Raise Rabbits for Food
Adorability is not the only positive quality of rabbits. They are prolific breeders which mature quickly and do not require too much attention or space.
Those qualities sure sound attractive for livestock, right? Well, it just so happens that rabbits taste good, too!
Rabbits have been raised for meat for a long time, and for good reason. Since the 1500’s, in fact.
Do you know how much meat you can get from a few dedicated breeders per year? With one male and two females—known as a buck and a doe, like deer—you can get up to one hundred and eighty pounds of meat.
That’s a lot of meat! That’s a lot of rabbits! It can take as little as an hour of effort per bunny to end up with multiple pounds of delicious, high-protein meat.
That’s also a lot of fur, which you can either use for crafting or sell for a profit. It is also cheap to feed rabbits, they do not eat anything expensive.
Plus, it is pretty easy to butcher and dress a rabbit. Well, theoretically easy. The hardest part of raising rabbits for their meat is the butchering…
What Breeds are Best for Meat Rabbits
There are a lot of fancy rabbits out there. But not all rabbit breeds are good meat breeds. You want to choose a breed that has large litters and grows relatively quickly, possibly to a large size.
Though do note that the larger the rabbit breed, the longer it takes before they are ready to butcher.
Some good meat breeds include
- New Zealand White
- American Chinchilla (not really a chinchilla, it just looks like one)
- Californian Rabbit
- Champagne D’Argent (don’t get scared off by the French name, they have been raised for their meat for 400 years)
- Flemish Giant.
How to Get Started Raising Rabbits for Meat
It is very easy to start breeding rabbits for meat.
Get two to four rabbits. You want one buck for every one to three does. Two does and a buck is known as a trio, and is a good starting point.
If you start with more breeders than that, your rabbit population may get out of hand very quickly.
The starter bunnies should be bought while they are young, so they can acclimate to their accommodations.
Speaking of which, first you want a place to stick the rabbits. Else they will run around your yard or house, get underfoot, and potentially escape.
A simple cage works okay, but that cage should be inside. A hutch is more complex but can be placed outside.
A rabbit run is even better as it gives the rabbits more room and lets them kick their paws around, but it takes up even more space.
Finally, make sure the breeder from which you buy your rabbits is raising healthy and happy bunnies.
Building a Rabbit Hutch
Rabbits handle the cold better than the heat, so they need shade, ventilation, and access to clean water and food.
The home for your rabbits does not have to be too fancy, although very nice self-cleaning hutches exist which automatically water the rabbits for you.
Or you can build your own watering system.
There are many different designs to build rabbit hutches. Basically, a rabbit hutch is a wire cage inside of a wooden frame, with a roof to provide shade and protection from the rain, and legs to keep everything off of the ground and away from predators.
Rabbits love to chew on wood, so do not use treated lumber for any part of the frame which might get nibbled on by the bunnies. The legs should be treated though, lest they rot into the ground.
For a trio, a space up to 3’x10′ is a good idea. Note that you want one cage per rabbit, so that is a little bit more than 3’x3′ per rabbit. They only need to be 18″ in height.
You can build the cage yourself or buy one.
If you are building one then use 14 or 16 gauge rabbit wire. Chicken wire is too weak; trust me, I have had to chase down an escapee before.
The sides and top of the cage should be 1″x1″ or 1″x2″ mesh, and the bottom should be 1/2″x2″ mesh. Large enough for rabbit droppings to drop, small enough to support their paws.
Make sure to build a door into the cage so you can get the rabbit inside!
And make double sure that the door latches well!
The frame should be a little bit larger than the cage. This both makes it easier to remove the cage and also helps keep inquisitive teeth away from your wooden frame. Attach metal brackets inside the frame for the cage to sit upon.
The roof can be made from shingles or corrugated metal. Either way it should be slanted to rain runs off.
You probably will want more than one hutch, as the baby rabbits will need more space when they grow up. You can build multiple hutches, an extended cage with a divider, or even layer rabbit cages upon each other like some sort of bunny apartment complex.
If you do that, then make sure to have a wooden layer between the rabbit cages, so one rabbit does not drop its droppings on another. Also make sure that the bottom of the cage and this wood has a gap.
The cage with a divider is a good idea as well, as immature rabbits can do better when raised as a group, so using a divider allows you to use the same space to section them off after they reach maturity.
Your rabbits may appreciate it if they also have an enclosed space in which they can seek shelter, such as a wooden box with a hole. It does not have to be fancy.
Free Rabbit Hutch Plans
Building a Rabbit Run
To create a rabbit run, section off a portion of your yard with rabbit wire or a tall, tight fence, and install a ramp from the cage’s door to the grass.
You may have to put the rabbits up at the end of the day, and keep an eye on them because they will be vulnerable to predators, but happy bunnies make good food.
Free Rabbit Run Plans
Setting Up a Rabbit Room
What’s that? You want to keep your rabbits indoors? That is possible too!
One of the easiest ways is to dedicate a room to be the rabbit room. It should have easily cleaned floors, and install a gate in the doorway. Hide all electronics (nibbling rabbits + power cords = impromptu cooked rabbit), give them a box to hide in, and they will be happy.
Or just do the cage thing, with a tray underneath to catch the droppings. Clean it out occasionally and you should be fine.
What to Feed Meat Rabbits
Meat rabbits should have constant access to hay. Alfalfa is a good choice, as is clover. Quality does matter here; healthier rabbits make for better eating. Vetch is another acceptable choice.
You can also throw other organic “waste” their way. Bread scraps, the tops of carrots, and the remains of other vegetables from your kitchen. You can even feed them weeds you’ve pulled from your garden and lawn trimmings.
Just make sure to remove everything they do not eat before too long. About a day is okay. Not all bunnies will eat everything.
Also, too much green food too fast can make them sick. Please do not just overload them with green vegetables and such.
Commercial rabbit feed works as well, but will increase the cost of raising the rabbits by quite a lot.
You can feed rabbits grain, but make sure it is whole grain and not a huge part of their diet. If you try to feed them flour, they may just glare at you then kick the flour around and make a mess.
Rabbits are jerks like that.
Breeding Meat Rabbits
Rabbits have a 30 day gestation cycle, and become mature at seven months. You can breed the same doe once every 90 days.
After about seven weeks the rabbits are grown enough to butcher, and are called fryers. At this point they are weaned and should be placed in their own hutch, then butchered after a couple more weeks.
If you let them reach three months old, separate the bucks from the does. They will still be economical until about eight months. If you let them get that old, they should probably be butchered and frozen, or adopted as a breeder.
Though some rabbits can live to a ripe old age of ten years old, generally rabbit breeders will butcher their breeding rabbits once they reach three years old.
Once your rabbits are old enough, move the doe into the buck’s cage. Watch to make sure they breed at least once, preferably twice, then return the doe to her own cage.
You can either breed all of your does at once, or stagger them so you are never inundated with baby bunnies.
How to Butcher Meat Rabbits
Here comes the hard part, butchering the rabbit.
You want the process to be as stress-free as possible for the poor bunny, as the adrenaline otherwise released will worsen the flavor of the meat.
If you feel bad about butchering a rabbit, keep in mind that your rabbit will face a much easier fate than a wild rabbit.
Predators do not try to humanely slaughter their prey, and that’s if the rabbit does not succumb to disease, starvation, or exposure first.
First, withhold feed for a minimum of 24 hours, perhaps even up to 48, to allow the digestive system to clear.
There are a few methods for actually killing the rabbit. One of the simplest and most effective is to dislocate the skull from the spine.
To do this humanely, hold the rabbit by its rear legs so it hangs with its head down.
Take a pipe or rod and strike the rabbit on the back of the head, underneath the ears, directly downward. It should die immediately.
Then remove the head with a sharp knife and hang the rabbit by its legs until it is dry.
Then skin the rabbit, remove the entrails, clean the carcass of fur, then put it in ice water to cool the meat. Once cool, you can cut the meat however you desire.
How to Cook Rabbit
There are many ways to prepare rabbit such as grilling, baking, or, my favorite, deep frying. I could go on and on about rabbit recipes but ain’t no one got time for that. So here are a few recipes you can try:
For the homesteader or prepper, having a consistent source of protein is a constant need.
Rabbits fulfill that need, providing a surprising amount of inexpensive and high quality meet throughout the entire year, with less effort required than even chickens.