Rabbits are one of the best meat producing animals one can own. They multiply quickly (31 day gestation period) and provide a very healthy meat (less fat than chicken and more protein than beef!). Rabbits eat food that you grow such as weeds, grass, clover, carrots (of course), corn, lettuce, etc. etc. Having a farm I grow alfalfa which feeds my goats primarily but is a daily staple for my rabbits as well. Consequently, rabbits are considered some of the cheapest meat you can raise.
Rabbits wean at about six to eight weeks. They are butcher size at 8 to 10 weeks (I prefer 10 weeks myself). Rabbits typically birth six to eight bunnies. You breed a doe to your buck and pretty much on target the vast majority of the time 31 days later you have your bunnies which the Doe feeds exclusively for at least six weeks maybe up to eight. Then, you put them into separate cages ( I generally place up to four per cage). Where I feed and water them for two weeks and then butcher. By timing all my breeding two weeks apart I am assured of having enough cages (I have three extra) to house the bunnies for the two weeks needed.
Commercial rabbit raisers will breed the doe four or five weeks after birth (yes, before the litter is weaned!). I don’t think this is healthy for the long run so I wait until two to four weeks after the litter has been weaned. A litter of eight bunnies will produce about 40 pounds live weight or about roughly 15 to 20 pounds of edible meat! And you should be reasonably able to get 3 to 4 litters per year or 45 to 80 pounds of meat from one doe!
My four does I expect will produce about 180 pounds to 320 pounds of meat per year! That provides on average about 3.5 to 6 pounds per week. Now that is of course if everything goes perfectly which it never does. I generally figure for my four does I will get about 200 pounds per year or just about 4 pounds per week. Still impressive for the low overhead in feed.
What you need to get started:
You will first of all need cages to raise the rabbits in. Mine I made myself and they are 36 inches wide by 24 inches deep and 30 inches high (rabbits like to sit up). My cages are made from garden fencing material with holes about 1/2 inch by 1 inch. This spacing allows their waste to fall through yet provide a comfortable walking and sitting platform. Here is a site with instructions on making rabbit cages with good information. They are slightly different than mine (I like giving my rabbits a little more room for instance).
Building rabbit cages
They will go over the materials and tools you will need to make good rabbit cages.
Another item is the food bin or feeder, I feed my rabbits pellets (as well as the other plant and vegetable items) and this is a great feeder to use.
For the alfalfa and other plant materials I feed my rabbits (main source of their diet) I just place them in the cage…be sure the cage is free from droppings and contaminated plant material (urine). I always empty out any left over debris each day before feeding.
Rabbits need water…when it is hot they will drink a quart of water in one day! I use water bottles like below
However, when temperature drop below freezing these bottles will not work. I have used ceramic bowls with a small water heater in them, but I found the electricity costs a bit so I use smaller bowls (I have two per cage) and change out the water bowl two or more times per day. This is labor intensive so one has to balance time versus convenience and cost. I am at my farm pretty much all the time, or someone else is who can share in the responsibility. But, I did use the heaters for a couple years and it was much easier. You can water once a day generally.
You will also need a nesting box for the pregnant doe. I make my own out of 3/4 plywood. You can also buy them, but stay away from the grass ones…the rabbits eat them. Mine look similar to below.
I put the same wire as I use for the cage on the bottom to allow droppings to fall through, although I always put grass or straw in the bottom for the doe to make a nest in so not all of it falls through of course.
I raise New Zealand breed rabbits, they are all white which allows me the ability to dye their fur. I have not yet made anything from rabbit pelts but are just beginning to save the pelts and tan them. I hope to make my wife a rabbit and deer fur hat for winter soon. Rabbit skin is easy to tear so by sewing it upon deer leather it will have the soft, warm qualities of the rabbit fur with the strength of the deer leather. New Zealand rabbits are good meat producers, California rabbits are also good. You can research and find which rabbit breed works for you.
I dispatch my rabbits that we are going to consume by carefully and gently bringing them out of their cage and outside the shed they are in where I shoot them in the head with a .22 pistol. I have seen videos where one breaks the neck and you may prefer to do the same. I like the speed and lack of violence one can dispatch them with with the pistol.
To butcher I made a gambrel which is a device with which to hang the animal for comfortable and more accurate skinning. Here is what a large animal gambrel looks like:
I made a adjustable small animal gambrel utilizing 1 inch dowel rod and thin braided rope and meat hooks. I drilled holes about every two inches along the dowel to insert the meat hooks into so that I can butcher various sized animals like rabbit, squirrel, raccoon, etc. I have a large animal gambrel like the picture above for deer and goat.
Here is a link to a video to get you started on skinning and butchering a rabbit.
Generally speaking I cut the skin (not the meat) just below the paws, then cut diagonally from there to the anus. I do both sides then slide the pelt off by pulling downwards. I don’t use the hide around the head so when the pelt is pulled off to the chin I cut it. Which then gives me a full “tube” pelt which I can then slide on the fur stretcher I bought.
This allows the hide to dry and makes it easier to cut the fat that is adhered to the skin off. Which must be done to keep the hide from going bad. Then I hang it on the stretcher from a rail I have in the ceiling in one of my shops and let it dry for a few days. Then you wash it, dry it again and rub tanning solution on it.
Then dry and rinse after a couple days and your hide is ready to use for making things like hats, gloves, slippers, etc.
Rabbits are a great food animal to raise, they are relatively easy in control, feeding, watering, processing, etc. You can learn more by reading books or looking up information online. One of my favorite books is Storeys Guide To Raising Rabbits.
Many urban areas will allow raising a few rabbits, you can do so in your garage or even your basement.