Raising Rabbits: How Hard Is It?

lovely broken doe at the county fair

Many first timers are looking into raising a few rabbits. Especially with the uncertainty in the economy and the hit or miss availability of food at the grocery store, raising food for yourself only makes sense.

Rabbits seem like a great place to get started in becoming more self sufficient. But what is the reality: are rabbits easy or hard to raise?

Rabbits are easy to raise. They need a pen, feed that is commonly available, water and temperature control (like shade or fans).

Rabbits are easy to raise, if you can get around/deal with a few challenges when raising them.

First we’ll start off with the easy stuff, then move to the challenges.

Is Raising Rabbits For Meat Worth It? goes over your budget for raising your own fryers.

Looking for how long it will take to raise your meat rabbits to butchering size? Click the link for another article.

5 Things that are easy about rabbits

Rabbits are easy to house

Rabbits are easy to get a pen for or build a hutch. Used hutches show up all of the time online.

Really, any cage or pen that they can not squeeze through will work great.

For a few rabbits, a used rabbit hutch will be super. Once you get into larger numbers of rabbits, you’ll want to get a more convenient set up.

Most people that raise a larger number of rabbits like all wire cages that are up off the ground so the poop falls through.

These cages will stay clean more easily and will have more ventilation, which is especially important in the heat.

New Zealand White doe relaxing in her cage
This doe is one of my daughter’s rabbits. They live in a small town and have rabbits in their backyard. As you may have guessed, this is a New Zealand White.

Rabbits are small space friendly

Being small space friendly is where rabbits really shine! You don’t need hardly any space at all to raise quite a few rabbits.

Getting Started With Meat Rabbits shows you the items you need and what you should plan to pay to get started with high quality meat rabbits.

Do you mow your lawn or have any flower beds? If so, you have space for rabbits.

Any spare room in the garage? You’ve got space for rabbits.

Generally, a rabbit needs three square feet in the pen. So if you have a pen area that is 24 inches deep by 36 inches long that’s 6 square feet, enough for two rabbits.

If you have an area the size of a pickup truck bed available for rabbits, that is 4 ft. x 8 ft. which is 32 sq. ft. enough space for 10 rabbits!

Rabbits eat grass in a rabbit “tractor”

Another great option for rabbits is a rabbit tractor, a cage in the yard that has grass come up through the wire or wooden slatted floor.

These are very similar to the chicken tractor you hear about when people raise their own meat chickens, the rabbit tractor just needs a floor or they dig out!

Rabbit tractors will have your rabbits “graze” your yard. Move the tractor as the rabbits eat the grass.

If your yard is bigger than a pickup truck bed, this will work for you!

Rabbits are a family friendly animal to raise

One of the best aspects of raising rabbits is that they are kid friendly, at least feeding wise.

Some rabbits are nervous being picked up and can be scratchy, but you don’t need to pick them up to feed them!

A second aspect to the family friendly aspect of rabbits is the poop! Yes, it’s true. Rabbit manure is great fertilizer for your garden or flower beds.

Rabbit manure is a safe, effective fertilizer that helps you make the most of your yard while keeping a chemical free family area.

All without the big manure “pies” for you or your kids to step in!

It’s easy to find rabbits to buy

At least in my area, rabbits are easy to find, especially online. We also see rabbits posted for sale on bulletin boards at the local farm store.

In our area, north central Ohio, there are also quite a few auctions that are selling small animals, like rabbits.

Please be cautious when considering an auction rabbit, you don’t know what you are getting!

I have seen some really sharp rabbits go through the local sales and some really crummy looking ones for sale.

An auction is a complete guessing game. For the best results, get your rabbit from a breeder!

Word to the wise, not all rabbits that you see for sale are high quality! You’ll need to do a bit of digging to see who has high standards and is producing great rabbits.

An easy place to look is people who sell rabbits for the local fairs or people who show rabbits. These folks will be very concerned about having and selling high quality, healthy rabbits.

Place to get rabbitsComments
ARBA Breeders
American Rabbit Breeders Assoc.
The link is to the breeds page.
Pick a breed then look at the
specific assoc. or an ARBA listed breeder.
Online listingsMaybe good, maybe not.
(Good place to ask if anyone has
some for sale, if no luck locally.)
Word of mouthGreat idea! Also, ask where the
local 4-H kids get their fair projects.
Local auction or flea marketUsually not a great idea.
You never know what you’ll get
genetics or disease wise.

You’ll notice in the table above I mention the American Rabbit Breeders Association first. This was intentional.

Breeders who care enough about their rabbits to belong to an association and participate in that association are generally good people to get rabbits from.

You don’t need to get registered rabbits to raise your own meat rabbits.

But you do need to find people who are selecting for traits that matter and have experience raising rabbits.

Getting your breeding stock from people who are active in the rabbit raising community is a great place to start.

Easy to find/buy feed for rabbits

For some specialty animals, finding and buying reasonably priced feed for them is challenging but for rabbits, it’s easy.

Look into getting feed at a farm store, if at all possible, instead of just getting a bag of whatever at the grocery!

The pet food isle will not have the selection you need, especially if you are looking to raise meat rabbits!

All you need to do is read the bag and make sure it states 18% feed. Fryers (young meat rabbits) will be growing very quickly and need a higher level of nutrition than normal pet rabbit food.

chart showing weight gain of fryers (young meat rabbits), gain shown in grams per day
This chart highlights why rabbits are great to raise, look at how much weight they gain, especially when they are little! To grow to their potential, they need high quality feed.

Rabbits are easy and quick to butcher

As far as raising your own meat goes, nothing is quicker to butcher than a rabbit. Really!

If you are new to butchering, this can be intimidating, I completely understand! Our first few rabbits were a challenge for us as well. But, wow, now that we know how, it’s fast and easy!

Learning to butcher your own meat is a huge step towards self sufficiency and will give you a tremendous boost in confidence. Give it a try.

If you are a complete novice, have a person with some hunting experience help you. Hunters, especially deer hunters, are a huge asset to a new meat raiser!

5 Things that are hard about rabbits

I won’t tell you that raising rabbits is all roses, it’s not. For the most part, I enjoy them quite a bit, but there are a few drawbacks that you need to be aware of.

Rabbits can scratch you

It’s crazy, we have raised all manner of livestock from cattle to quail and the only thing I have scars from is a rabbit!

Seriously, my first rabbit scar is from when I was 9 or 10 with my 4-H rabbit at the fair. I’ve gotten a few since then, as well!

All of these are my fault for not having on long sleeves!

Even so, your rabbits will occasionally scratch when you are moving them around, so be ready for it. Long sleeves are a must!

Another option I have seen is rabbit raisers wearing “sleeves” specifically made for scratch protection.

The sleeves are thick but flexible material that extends up to the elbow and has a hole for your thumb. Look them up online!

Rabbits do not like hot weather

Hot weather is tough on all of us, rabbits especially. Anything over 65 degrees and they are feeling a bit toasty.

Your best defense here is to keep your rabbits in the shade and to add ventilation, like fans, as needed.

Some people put frozen water bottles or pint size plastic drink bottles in the cage for the rabbits to lay next to. If you just have a few rabbits, this will be great.

If you have more than a few rabbits, consider a fan or two to keep your critters cool and comfortable.

My daughter has her rabbits under a roof overhang next to their garage. It has a cement floor and stays in the shade all day.

Her rabbits stay comfortable even in the heat of summer.

Getting past the special rabbit breed hype

Rabbits, like anything else, have a new, cool breed that is the talk of the town until another new, cool breed is newer and cooler!

Be sure to investigate what people are saying about their rabbits before you buy them.

The more unusual of a rabbit you are looking for the more likely it will take longer to feed and be less economical as a meat rabbit than a more typical meat breed like New Zealand or Californian.

Get whichever breed you want! Just try to remember that the most common rabbits are common for a good reason!

For instance, if the buyer is saying these are great meat rabbits, get some information.

How is the feed conversion (amount of feed needed to put on a pound of weight)? How many kits (baby rabbits) are in a litter? What is the time to 5 pounds (normal market weight for fryers)?

If you are looking into a non meat rabbit, what are the breed specifications? You need to know this!

What is the breed known for, both good and bad. Are you willing to deal with the bad that comes with the good?

Also, I feel obligated to point out that just because you paid $80 each for your really neat, special breed rabbits, does not mean other people in your area will want to pay that price. (I’m referring to breeding stock prices.)

In some areas, people just want a mix breed pet for their kids. Nothing wrong with that.

If you are counting on breeding stock prices, look into the demand before you get going.

Breeding stock is a long term thing, with loads of culling, planning and adjusting involved. I enjoy it, but it’s not a short term money maker!

Rabbits have a smaller carcass size

The carcass of a rabbit is 3-3.5 pounds. The good news is they do not take up much freezer space, even if you butcher 3 or 4 at a time.

The bad news is that if you have a lot of eaters or just like to eat a lot of meat and have some leftovers for tomorrow (like us), you’ll need to count on more than one rabbit per meal.

To figure this out, you’ll need to do some math.

This is one of my favorite channels, they talk about homesteading and specifically rabbits, showing how to calculate how many rabbits you’ll need to raise to feed your family.

How many rabbits do you need? Sprague River Homestead has a great video showing you how to calculate the number of rabbits you will need to raise to feed your family.

Finding a butcher for rabbits is a challenge

This is a tough one. We are lucky enough in this area to have a small, family owned custom processor that will do all kinds of poultry and rabbits.

The challenge is that they are currently doing poultry only, due to the huge volume of customers they have this summer.

I just called today to see what their rates are and if they are still doing rabbits. They are not taking any rabbits until sometime this winter.

When they do decide to start processing rabbits again, the cost will be around $5.00 each.

If you are counting on a processor to butcher your rabbits for you, you may run into problems like this. You could ask around, but most likely you are in a tight spot.

Butchering your own is easy, you’ll learn fast. This will only work for the ones you want to put into your own freezer.

Any rabbits that you had hoped to sell retail will require processing at an inspected facility (at least in Ohio).

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