Raising Meat Rabbits on a Suburban Homestead

Sunday, August 16, 2015

From Hutch to Haute Cuisine


Image result for rabbit dishes

This article was written a few years ago, but still remains one of our most popular, so I decided to bring it back to the top of the line-up.

Second to chickens, I have always thought that rabbits made the perfect homestead livestock. They are quiet, easy to raise and don’t take up too much space. Plus, they are a great food source and provide the gardens with mounds of excellent fertilizer.

With just one breeding trio – two does (female) and one buck (male) – I can raise more than enough meat to feed my family for a full year. And the best part – it’s all done on an 8’ section of our barn wall.

But, before we get too far, as I always say when talking about raising any meat animal the biggest question to ask yourself is “Can You Do The Deed?” meaning, can you butcher your own animals or have them butchered by someone else. If you can, then in just a few months you will be well on your way to raising your own supply of healthy, drug free, humanely processed meat for the freezer.

To me the most important first question is how much meat you want to produce. This will determine how many does and bucks to buy. It will also dictate the size of your rabbitry. The average doe produces about 8 kits (babies) per litter, and she can be bred several times a year. With my two doe’s kindling (giving birth) twice a year I can raise enough meat to put rabbit on the dinner table almost every week of the year.

The next decision is what breed to raise. There are four main breeds used for meat production – New Zealand, Californian, Champagne D’Argent and Florida White. I prefer the New Zealand or Californian, or a cross of the two because they produce good sized roasters with lots of meat and fine bone.

Finding rabbit breeders can be a challenge, the best place to start is locally. Aside from researching breeders on the internet, I would recommend contacting your local or county Farm Bureau office and 4-H Office to find out if they have a list of rabbit breeders. You can also contact local 4-H clubs or FFA chapters for referrals. If your county fair has a Pen of Meat Rabbits class as part of their livestock show they should be able to put you in contact with local programs or breeders. If all else fails, contact a rabbit processor or retailer and track back to the breeder (this is what I did). Most important is finding quality, healthy stock.

Once you’ve decided on the size of your rabbitry, the breed you want to raise and where to buy your stock you can set up your cages. I have a row of cages mounted to my barn wall, one for each breeder. Below is an 8’ growing cage where the young rabbits are fed out. Since I am only raising one litter at a time I don’t need more growing space. But, if you plan to have multiple litters at once you will need more room for the growing babies.

Fed and water are important ingredients for a well managed rabbitry. Rabbits are browsers and like many different foods, but the easiest way to get them all the nutrition they need is to feed them a commercially balanced pellet with a good quality timothy/alfalfa as roughage. The amount of feed depends on their size and if the doe’s are bred. Use the chart below as a guide. Remember though, each rabbit is an individual, and these are guidelines only. You should learn each rabbit’s needs, and adjust its feed accordingly. These are daily amounts. The first amount is for medium breeds, and the next is for larger breeds.

Bucks, 3-6 oz. to 4-9 oz.
Does, 6 oz. to 9 oz.
Does, Bred 1-15 days 6 oz. 9 oz
Does, Bred 16-30 days 7-8oz. 10-11 oz.
Doe & litter 10 oz. 12 oz. (Litter size-6-8 young, one week old)
Doe & litter 18 oz. 24 oz. (Litter size-6-8 young, one month old)
Doe & litter 28 oz. 36 oz. (Litter size-6-8 young, 6-8 weeks old)
Young, weaned rabbit 3-6 oz. 6-9 oz.

If refilling water bottles every day doesn’t interest you then an automatic system can be set up using simple piping and special lick-its designed for rabbits. Check out this link for supplies and installation directions.

With everything set up and your breeding stock purchased, settled in and of breeding age your ready to breed your does. The most important thing to remember when breeding rabbits is to ALWAYS take the doe to the buck’s cage to be bred. If you put the buck in the doe’s cage she will attack him trying to defend her territory. You should also stay close by while the breeding is taking place just in case the doe is not ready to stand for the buck. If she’s not ready to breed she will run around the cage. At this point you can remove her and try another day. If she is ready she will let the buck mount her and raise her hindquarter for him. When he breeds he will let out a high pitched squeal and fall off the doe onto his side. The doe can be rebred 8 to 12 hours later just to make sure she took. With the breeding complete you should have babies in about 31 days.

At this point it’s important to keep a record of the breeding date and the estimated kindling date. You’ll also want to keep the following information for rabbitry management.

• Name of Doe
• Breeding Date
• Buck Used
• Kindle Date
• # Kits Born
• # Weaned
• Weaning Weight
• Notes

About a week before the doe is due you’ll want to put a nesting box in her cage. It can be a metal or wire nesting box, lined with cardboard, wood or even an old shallow drawer or wine box, filled with hay, straw, wood shavings or shredded newspaper.

As kindling time nears, the doe may become more nervous than usual. It’s important that animals and strangers and anything causing loud noises be kept away from the rabbitry during this time so the doe doesn’t become scared and stressed. After the nesting box is placed in the cage the doe may start making her nest right away while others may wait until the last minute. When she has arranged the bedding she will begin to pull fur from her belly and dewlap to provide a warm bed for her kits and to make her nipples easier for the kits to find and nurse from.

After the doe has kindled, gently pull aside the fur and take a quick count and record it on the Doe Card. Any dead or deformed kits should be removed and the litter covered back up.

The kits will begin opening their eyes at about 10-days and will begin to emerge from the nesting box in about 3 weeks ready to eat solid food. At this point you can take the nesting box out. The growing babies can be weaned and moved to the growing cage at 4 to 8 weeks or left on the doe if she will allow it. The longer the babies are with the doe the better they will grow. I leave mine in for 8 weeks before moving them to the growing cage.

Doe’s can technically be rebred when the babies are 6 – 7 weeks old, but depending on the amount of meat you plan to produce in a year you may want to wait longer. I breed my does in the spring and then again in later summer or early fall, giving them time to get back into shape after nursing hungry kits.

Feeding Out Meat Rabbits

There a few different ways to feed out meat rabbits. One is to leave the babies on the mother for as long as she will nurse them. Some does will nurse for 8, 10 even 12 weeks. Another is to feed them out as you would any other meat animal.

While the kits are still young decide what kind of meat rabbit you want to put in your freezer – fryer or roaster. This will determine how long they stay on feed.

Fryer rabbits usually weigh 3 to 5 pounds at butchering. Roasters can weigh 5 to 8 pounds. The important factor is to butcher before the rabbits are 12 weeks old. This is especially true of the bucks (males). As they reach breeding age their meat can be affected by the increase in testosterone. Females should be butchered no later than 12 weeks, any longer and the meat can become tough and stringy.

I like a larger roasting rabbit so we butcher at 10 or 11 weeks regardless of sex and weight.

If the doe weans her babies instead of nursing them, then you will have no choice but to feed them separately. Move the kits into the growing cage and set them up with a creep feeder filled with rabbit pellets and some alfalfa for browsing. The growing rabbits can stay on this feed until they reach butcher weight.

For a more vigorous growth, add some Calf Manna to the creep. We start our creep ration with ¾ part rabbit pellets and ¼ part Calf Manna then gradually increase the Calf Manna until the ration is ½ and ½. With this combination I can butcher roaster sized rabbits in less than 10 weeks.

Once the rabbits have reached the desired weight they are ready to process.

If you want to learn more about home processing skills check out this link.

These videos are graphic, but well made and informative.


Our favorite way to eat rabbit is a simple recipe of white wine, butter, garlic and a few herbs or slow cooked in a mild mustard sauce.

Rabbit in Mustard Sauce


1 roasting rabbit, cut into parts
Salt and pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, chopped fine
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped finely
2 teaspoons fresh sage, chopped finely
2 teaspoons fresh thyme, chopped finely
1-1/2 cups white wine
2 cups homemade chicken broth
4 tablespoons Dijon mustard


• Heat olive oil in a large, deep skillet or Dutch oven.
• Season rabbit with salt and pepper.
• Brown rabbit pieces on all sides. Add more oil as needed; transfer to a plate when done.
• Sauté onion, garlic and herbs in remaining olive oil in the skillet and cook over medium heat until softened. Add wine and broth.
• Bring to a boil. Return rabbit to pot. Cover and simmer for 1 hour.
• Remove rabbit to a warm plate.
• Boil sauce until it is reduced by about half. Whisk in mustard and adjust seasonings.
• Return rabbit to the sauce for a few minutes to reheat it before plating.


Creative Commons License photo credit: Tomi Tapio

9 Responses to “Raising Meat Rabbits on a Suburban Homestead”

  1. Matt says:

    With regards to caging your growing kits, do you place the entire litter into one cage or separate them somehow into multiple cages until they are ready for processing? Thanks!


  2. jenn says:

    Hi Matt,
    We usually raise only one litter at a time. And, yes, when they are ready to wean we put them into one growing cage. We use a 6 foot cage to grow them out and that has been enough space. When we raised two litters at a time it was too small.

  3. Jessica says:

    Im interested in getting started raising meat rabbits, so I’ve been reading a lot online. This has been the most helpful I’ve read so far. Thank you.

  4. Tammy says:

    If I am using NZ rabbits. Do the does have to be white? Does it matter?

  5. Kelly says:

    I raise meat rabbits, California, New Zealand & Flemish Giant. Your information has been very informative. I am due to have a litter this week & a little nervous with below 10 dergree temps. Anyway I was wondering if you have a video on your cage set up??? I do not have the smaller wire around my cages on the bottom & I notice you have a board in each cage. Interested in improving my set up. Thank! Kelly

  6. Floyd Knipe says:

    I have raised lots of rabbits. White NZ are my choice but most medium size breeds are ok for basic meat use. Rex / NZ cross produces a nice firm fairly fast growth meat. In cold weather I put a 1/2 inch or more thick piece of styo under the boxes. A pizza box under even works fair. Four layers of cardboard is a fair insulator. I grow out up to 12 fryers in a 3 by 4 feet cage. I use 2 liter “sodie” bottles with the lick nipples. A funny. A friend bought 10 does and 2 bucks for a daughter’s fair project. Before long they had 300 plus rabbits since they couldn’t dress or “undress” any of them. In case someone is interested if you got 1 doe and 1 buck today in a year she could have produced 1200 pounds of rabbit. This is fact using a fast breed back, 21/2 t o 4 weeks, and average female percentage born. I never do this. 6 weeks breed back works well for me. My four does produce plenty of rabbit for us, friends and family. About dressing. Your local coop can usually tell you someone that will dress the bunnies. Another place to ask is a hunting fishing store. Leave a note on the wall there or at the local Tractor Supply. Leave an email not a phone number if you like. The livers are great. Most folks say their better than chicken. Our favorite way to eat bunnies is slow smoked and bar b q. But fried rabbit goes pretty fast as well as mushroom soup fried rabbit. You need to know this. When you see a crust forming in the rabbit’s ears, take a cotton ball soaked in cooking oil, mineral oil etc and rub it on the crust. The oil smothers the critters making the crust, ear mites. Keep your cages as clean as possible but ear mites are just a problem most rabbit folks will have. Remember rabbits can take cold pretty well but they can’t take heat worth a flip.
    I love to add a bit of color to my farm. So I have one black buck. He is NZ / Rex cross.
    Have Fun.

  7. Ursa says:

    We found out about raising rabbits after discovering our city doesn’t allow backyard chickens :( but it looks like raising rabbits is just as great as having chickens. I do have one questions about the kits; obviously if the kit is dead to remove it but what is to be done with those that are deformed? I assume to humanely dispatch it but I’m wondering as to how? (Gruesome Q’s but needs to be known like butchering fryers) This article had a lot of good info and facts. Thanks for writing it. :)

  8. jenn says:

    Delicate question indeed:) And, one that can result in a backlash of horrified comments. But, I am a livestock person, and a realist. There are always unpleasant tasks to be done on a farm and not all livestock can or should be saved if it negatively effects your finances. Sounds harsh, I know, but my livestock are here to do a job. They are not pets. It’s important to come to terms with the difference. So here goes.

    No livestock person likes putting down an animal it has spent time rearing, but life being what it is this is sometimes necessary. I can honestly say that after 30+ years raising livestock this is still the most difficult task. When we first bought our breeding doe’s and buck the breeder we purchased them from gave us this advice for kits that needed to be put down in a quiet and humane manner. Place the kit in a small plastic bag, then lay the bag flat in a freezer. The cold air will calmly and quietly put the kit to sleep before the kit’s body functions cease and it dies. At that point the kit can be buried or disposed of in a manner you are comfortable with.

    Like I said, this is never easy, but this method seems the least traumatic to all involved. If other readers have alternative methods we’d love to hear from you.

  9. Chris says:

    Another, perhaps more humane method, would be a carbon dioxide gas chamber. There are rather elaborate means of setting this up but an effective method that I have used to euthanize rats is by placing a block of dry ice on a tall screned aquarium. The dry ice is frozen carbon dioxide which is the vapor that can be seen comming off the block. The gas is heavier than air so it sinks into the aquarium. As the concentration of gas increases the animal goes into a deep sleep and then dies of aphyxiation. Carbon dioxide gasing is considered one of the most humane forms of euthanasia and is often used in labratories. Some use a baking soda and viniger mixture to make the gas but you have to make sure to have enough to produce the gas needed to fill the aquarium.

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