Access to several acres of land is a luxury for most people. We can’t all live on rolling pastures dotted with sheep and cattle, and raising livestock requires time, skill, and a significant financial investment. That doesn’t mean that home-raised meat is out of reach. Meat rabbits offer families with smaller yards the opportunity to produce a tasty, high-quality meat with minimal financial investment or effort.
Why Raise Meat Rabbits?
You’ll want to taste rabbit before you get too excited about raising rabbits for meat. The flavor is mild and the meat is as versatile as chicken when it comes to cooking, not to mention the comparable taste and consistency, but that does not guarantee that you will enjoy it. Some grocery stores carry rabbit and you can also look for restaurants in your area with rabbit on the menu.
If you do love rabbit, then there are many good reasons to raise meat rabbits on pasture. Rabbit is a low-fat meat, making it a healthy source of protein, and rabbit manure is a great fertilizer. Grass-fed meat is generally considered healthier than grain-fed meat and provides rabbits with exercise and a better quality of life. Plus, rabbits make excellent lawn mowers and, unlike chickens, are allowed in most neighborhoods.
What Type of Rabbits Are Best for Pasture?
You probably are not going to find the rabbits you need at the pet store. I found my meat rabbits on the Farm and Garden section of Craigslist, which is a good place to start your search, along with checking out bulletin boards at feed stores and local farm and garden publications. The Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association recommends the following breeds:
Champagne d’Argent (12 pounds)
Californian (10.5 pounds)
American Chinchilla (16 pounds)
Cinnamon (11 pounds)
New Zealand (12 pounds)
Palominos (11 pounds)
Satin (11 pounds)
Each breed has its own merits and you can choose the one that fits best with your needs. The Flemish Giant is not listed, due to its large size, but they could be a good choice provided you have a larger enclosure.
Movable Rabbit Coops
Rabbits consume a surprising amount of grass. You may have to move your coop once or twice a day, depending on the size of your rabbit coop and the number of rabbits in it, so you definitely want your hutch to be light and easy to move.
There are many plans for moveable rabbit pens on the Internet. Your pen will need wheels, a sturdy frame, sides, and a wire bottom—unless you want your rabbits burrowing out. You will also want to give them some shade and a nesting box. To give you a general idea about the size pen you need, a 4’ by 8’ pen is an appropriate size pen for one litter of rabbits and won’t take up too much space in your lawn.
Grass is delicious, but it is not enough for your meat rabbits. Plan for grass making up approximately 40% of your rabbits’ diet. The other 60% will come from hay and other greens. Beet greens, comfrey, chicory, millet, green rye and winter wheat combined with hay for roughage will fill out your rabbits’ diet and can be supplemented by other treats from your garden.
Your rabbits will also require a mineral block unless you also feed free-choice rabbit pellets. Pellets do not have to make up all of your rabbits’ diet, but the vitamins and minerals included in the feed do make calculating rabbit nutrition much easier, especially if you do not have ready access to fresh greens.
You will need to supply your rabbits with root vegetables, hay, greens, and/or pellets during the winter time. Ideally, you will only keep your breeding rabbits over the winter, which significantly reduces the feeding costs of keeping your rabbits.
If you do choose to raise meat rabbits on your lawn, make sure you don't spray with harmful herbicides and pesticides. Not only will this hurt your rabbits, but it could also harm you if you eat them.
Pasturing rabbits on the same grass year after year can cause a buildup of diseases and parasites. Coccidiosis is of particular concern to rabbits, especially young kits, so try and rotate your grazing on a yearly basis. Keep your rabbits on half of your lawn during one year and the other half during the next, and consider raising your kits in indoor enclosures for the first few weeks to reduce the risk of disease in your litters.
With the right pen and grazing rotation, you can certainly raise your rabbits outdoors from the time they are kits, as long as you are aware of the risks of disease and escape. I made the mistake of letting my does give birth on pasture in an inadequate pen. I didn’t have any issues with disease my first year, but the tiny kits were able to escape the enclosure. I spent a lot of time tracking down baby rabbits, and while I am proud to say that I only lost one, I decided to keep future kits indoors for the first four weeks after that. Most meat rabbits will grow to fryer size in 10 to 12 weeks on pasture.
Are Meat Rabbits for You?
If you want to try your hand at raising a healthy grass fed meat for your family but have limited space, meat rabbits could be a perfect fit for your lifestyle.