Warning: This is an article about raising rabbits for food. If you are a devout animal lover who is easily offended, this may not be the article for you.
This is just a quick outline of information I think stands out concerning this subject. Its about what we did, what we went through to do it and how it’s all coming along. More detail concerning breeds, etc. will come later on.
This year, we decided to start raising Rabbits for meat. Can I just say now that we went through absolute hell finding rabbits. We had our goals set. Two different breeds that we wanted, Age we were looking for, and nothing that was considered a “pet.” Now, while we spoil and give our animals a good life until “the day” comes to cull, I do draw the line on what was breed to be cute and stuffed animal like and what is considered a meat breed. Some don’t care. Some may find my opinion absurd. I live for us, not them.
While I admit, my rabbits are one of my most easiest animals to keep and one of my most happiest to have, it wasn’t so easy getting started.
When looking for Rabbits, you may or may not have run across some of the same problems we have clawed through. For example, when looking for rabbits, you will find a ton of “meat Mutts” all over Craigslist and local Animal Swaps. These are rabbits that are mixed. They may or may not know what they are. Many buy them having no problem with that. I didn’t want what someone else already experimented with. If I was going to mix a rabbit, I wanted to mix my own breeds and discover my own problems or successes. Besides, how do I know what they mix these rabbits with? At one Animal Swap, someone was selling Dwarf Lionhead and New Zealand mixed Mutts. A Dwarf Lionhead is not a “meat Rabbit” to me. Its meant to be a pet. This hits one of my Don’ts on my Do’s and Don’t’s list. Besides, most of these Meat Mutts will sell for the same price as a purebred Rabbit. So, take that into consideration as well.
Research breeds, if this is something that you want to do.
I researched and read into “Raising Meat Rabbits” and “Breeds” for an entire year. Now, I am not saying anyone has to take that long to do this. I had my reasons. One, my husband wasn’t so crazy about the idea at first. He loved to rabbit hunt and rabbit was one of his favorite things to eat, but he didn’t quite know if raising them was something we should waste our time in. Two, I wanted to be 100% sure what I was getting myself into. I wanted to know what I needed as far as getting through winters or what kind of breed I wanted. There are a lot of Meat Breeds out there. And there is a lot of information about each and every single one. Plus, there is a ton of information about how to raise, butcher, and even sell them. I was in no hurry and I wanted to do this right.
Of course, again, as I just said, my husband wasn’t completely sold on the idea. Maybe as we get older, we get a little more cautious? Regardless, last winter, my husband took our youngest son rabbit hunting with some relatives. Couldn’t find a thing. He had noticed that the rabbit population had been dwindling over the years. Maybe that’s because of the rising population of Coyotes? A number of predators could be to blame, so finally, my husband became open-minded about my new idea. At night, before bed, I would go over, a little here and there, of what I found. Raising them, Breeds, etc. So, we started watching Craigslist… to see what Breeds were being sold around us and for how much. During this time, we started to decide on what Breed we wanted. For months, we kept an eye open for Flemish Giants and New Zealands. Boy, did we have a hunt in store for us. But before I get into that….
Flemish Giants are a large breed of rabbit. They can grow up to 25 ibs but most people don’t realize that they wont reach that weight by the time butchering day comes around. You want to butcher rabbits between 12-16 weeks. (More on that below.) Not many people who raise Rabbits for meat fool with Flemish. They claim the meat to feed ratio doesn’t justify keeping them. Meaning, the feed goes into making the larger bones before it goes into making the meat. So normally, they mix Flemish with other smaller meat breeds, like New Zealand’s. We wanted to see for ourselves, so we decided to get Flemish, but also, we decided to go with New Zealands.
New Zealands is the commercial breed for meat. They are usually ready to butcher around 12-16 weeks. They reach 9-12 lbs.
The hunt was on but it wasn’t going as smoothly as I had hoped. People in our area and surrounding Counties pretty much knew who had what Breeds and when. They also knew they had the Market for certain breeds pinned down and under their control. Flemish were being sold for $50.00 and that was for a two year proven doe that had been bred to bits. (Proven means, she is a “proven” breeder and has done so, time and time again.) That’s even if I could find a Flemish. And as far as New Zealands, they were easily mixed with something else being sold as babies for $10.00 or we could drive two hours for a pure bred one costing the same.
Again, our hunt went on for months until finally, my husband got aggravated and said, “Let’s just drive two hours.” And that was for one Flemish buck who was seven weeks old. No does. No other hope in sight. But that little family road trip ended up opening doors that we never saw coming. We went after Charlie, above, who was 7 weeks old but was ten dollars. I was floored at the ten. I thought, this cant be for real. Once we got there, after explaining to the man what hell we had been through, he gives us directions to a woman who lives about ten minutes away, who has an entire backyard filled with nothing but rabbit pens. “That’s where Charlie’s Parents came from.” He said.
Taking the chance, we went looking and like he said, the house was hard to miss because of all of the rabbit pins. My husband gets out of the car and knocks. We were both thinking, even if she has them, she probably wants an arm and a leg like everyone else. IF SHE HAS THEM—because so far, no one has had them. We hit gold. Not only did she have two 8 week old Flemish Females who we would name Lucile and Gypsy, but she also sold us two New Zealands—a proven, one year old Buck and female. We paid ten dollars each for all.
And – the honesty was free. What do we mean by that?
She told me to text when we got home so that she could send me their birthdates. When I did, she told me she had made a mistake. The female was two years old and she never bothered breeding her. “She was given to me because someone couldn’t keep her. That’s what I do. I give them homes even if I can’t sell them. They stay forever. Anyway, I tried breeding her one time and she only had one kit. I never bothered with it again. Just kept her. Gave her a home.” Being very nice about her mistake, she said, “If you want to bring her back, I understand. I’ll give you a rabbit of your choice—any age—or your money back.”
We declined. We were touched by her honesty, so we kept her anyway. Decided to see how she did with us. However, that bit of honesty, we went back and bought another one year old New Zealand with six of her babies. And that’s the thing we would come to learn, keeping rabbits is not that hard. Keep the pens clean. Feed them, water them, and know how to breed them—and you are good to go. We give our rabbits pellets and Timothy Hay. We pick greens for them in the warmer months—dandelions, other types of grasses. We give them the left over fresh vegetables from our salads and gardens. We keep good records—this is a must.
We have our breeder rabbits – which are the ones we draw close to and then we have those we butcher. I try to give the ones we butcher the best life possible. They get the best greens, treats and first go in the chicken tractors I move around for them in the yard.
Rabbit meat is a very clean meat. Very clean. I absolutely love it. Some compare it to chicken with the texture of pork. You may not understand that until you have it. To me, it is like Pork Loin. As far as taste, it might be a cross between Chicken and Pork Loin, but to me, not so much one or the other. When we butcher, we soak the meat for a day or so in a good briny salt water. Some say this helps to take the gaminess flavor out. We butcher 16 weeks, so not sure if there is no gaminess due to the salt soak. Just know, we don’t have any.
Butchering goes like this, or so the experts say:
8 – 12 weeks are considered to be Fryers. That means, the meat is supposed to be tender. You can fry it or BBQ it without having to worry about it being tough. Of course, some stretch this to 16 weeks because of size. We did when it came to New Zealands. Ours didn’t look like they were at a good butchering weight at 12 weeks, so we let it go to 16.
12 weeks – 6 months are considered roasters, or anything unbred. That means, the meat will be tougher, so you may want to roast it in the oven, like a beef roast, or some boil before they grill or fry, etc.
6 months or more are considered best for the stew pot.
KNOW HOW TO BREED BEFORE YOU BREED!!!!!!
There is such a thing called a BLOB. If you don’t know what that is, you will, soon as your rabbit has one. If they do have one, it’s you’re own doing. This comes from breeding them after they have been bred. It messes up the hormones, so any baby inside them turns into a BLOB. Contrary to belief, this is why you keep all rabbits separated, or one very important reason. When it comes time for breeding, you put the female in the male’s cage. The male will not waste time. This is why some Breeders stand by and watch. Soon as they see the deed is done, they will put the female back in her own cage. I leave them in together for a day and night. Next morning, I separate them. Some say the whole putting the female in his cage is essential. Females are territorial. Put him in her Cage, he will be too busy sniffing her scent everywhere rather than doing his business. She may also kill him. (Territorial.) Other breeders don’t bother with that. I’m not taking any chances, though. So, I put her in his cage.
Again, I’ll get more in detail about all this later. These are just some tidbits, I learned right away by trial and error or for whatever other reason.
I will also say, my New Zealands, well, they could care less if Im there or not. I am a feeder and that’s all they are concerned with. I’m the Maid, lol. My Flemish, are very dog like—friendly. If I feed them, they want me to pet them awhile. If I pet somewhere they don’t want me to, they will bite. So, I guess they are doglike with a cat’s temperament, lol. Also, as my rabbit lady told me, they kind of stick around even when they escape.
I put our butchering ones in a chicken tractor before we went to town one day. Came back, and the little Houdini’s had dug their way out of prison. I saw two just hopping about the yard. Freaked because I was missing one. Was sure he got through the fence and was somewhere lost in the National Forest. Having to work at it, caught the ones still in the yard. Went inside to get my jeans on so I could hunt the thicket-thick woods, came back out and there was the lost boy. Plain as you please. Now, while I wouldn’t let them run around in the yard all the time, I don’t panic as bad if one gets loose. Like I said, they know where their food is or where it will be come evening.
That’s all for now chickadees! More later!