Rabbits are raised and kept for many different reasons. They are kept for pets or raised for meat and fur. They are also used in medical research and some breeds for their wool. There are at least 45 different breeds of rabits reacognized by the American Rabbit Breeders Association. Our primary interest in rabbits here at the yardstead will be for their meet and droppings. Because of our limited space we are interested in small livestock and rabbits are an ideal choice. Rabbits are fairly easy to raise and produce a lot of meat compared to the amount of food they consume. They are easy to care for and produce healthy tasty meat.
Popular rabbit breeds for pets include Dutch, Jersey Wooly, Mini-lop, Mini Rex, and Netherland Dwarf. According to the ARBA the Mini Rex is the most popular breed for pets. All rabbits can be raised for meat but a few breeds have been developed specifically for meat production. These include the Giant Chinchilla, New Zealand and Californian breeds. These breeds have been selected for large litter size, frequent breeding and high milk production. All of these traits contribute to the rabbits........
.....fast and efficient meat production. The most common breeds of rabbit raised for meat are the Californian and New Zealand White. It is not uncommon however for producers of "show rabbits" of any breed to harvest for meat, the rabbits that meet the show requirements. I spoke to one rabbit farmer that raised a few breeds for show and his motto was "show the best and eat the rest."
Compared to most livestock animals, rabbits are fairly easy to keep and care for. They don't need much space and can be raised in rural or urban areas. Rabbits are not usually considered livestock so it is unusual to have zoning restrictions againt them. They make practically no noise so the rabbits are not likely to disturb your neighbors or generate complaints. Baby rabbits are completely taken care of by the does (female rabbits) and require almost no care. There is no need for additional equipment to take care of the baby rabbits. Butchering rabbits is also pretty easy and requires no special tools or equipment.
Rabbit meat is low in cholesterol and low in fat. It has a high percentage of usable protein. According to the USDA rabbit meat contains 20.8% protein and 10.2% fat. This is comparable to chicken which contains 20% protein and 11% fat, and far better than beef which contains 16.3% protein and 28% fat. Rabbit meat is also easier to digest than most other meats. Rabbit can be prepared and cooked like chichen and has a good mild taste.
Getting started raising rabbits does not require much of an investment. A good cage with feeders and waterers and some feed is just about all you need. Commercial rabbit cages are available but for a beginner it may be better to build your own. Rabbits can be housed together in a 'herd', but most people recommend individual cages. Individual cages are recommended for the rabbits primarily to help prevent the spread of disease. Cages should be at least 18 inches high with a minimum of 6 square feet of floor space for breeding does and litters. A minimum of 5 square feet is recomended for bucks (male rabbits).
For the beginner rabbit farmer it would probaly be best to start with a small number of rabbits. One buck and three does would be a good start. It will not take long however to increase the size of your herd. Rabbit does can be bred most any time and have a 60 day gestation period. Litter size can range from 1 to 10 rabbits. With numbers like these its easy to see how quickly and easily rabbits multiply.
Some of our members here at the yardstead have a good bit of experience raising and slaughtering rabbits. Feel free to post any questions about raising rabbits or anything else related to yardsteading in the forum.