Why Is Rabbit Meat So Expensive?

New Zealand White rabbit sniffing the edge of the cage

Why is it that the cost of rabbit meat is high compared to other meat? Rabbits are common, pretty easy to raise and don’t need expensive facilities to be raised in.

Shouldn’t that make rabbit cheaper than other meats?

Rabbit meat is expensive because fryers are not able to be effectively fed in large groups, require a more expensive feed ration than most other livestock and processing costs are higher per pound of meat sold.

The cost of rabbit meat is high compared to other commonly available meats in the supermarket, however, compare rabbit to specialty meats that are not factory farmed and rabbit meat is right in line, price wise.

How Many Meat Rabbits Do You Need? shows you how to figure out the number of breeding rabbits you need to have to keep your family supplied with rabbit meat, based on the amount of rabbit you want to eat per week.

I did a quick search for rabbit meat for sale online and got Grande Premium Meats, the link is to the rabbit meat page.

I saw prices anywhere from $18.95 per pound for tenderloin to $7.95 for front legs, with $10.95-12.95 being more of an average.

Sites that sell premium meat have prices that are much higher.

Cost of raising rabbits is higher

Because of the individual care the rabbits need, raising rabbits for meat takes up quite a bit of the producer’s time.

That extra time to raise the fryers (young meat rabbits) will be reflected in the price of the meat.

Why? There is no economical and productive way automate or mostly automate rabbit raising.

Anything that can not be automated or highly automated takes more barn space and people time for the animals raised.

Get Started Raising Meat Rabbits shows you the costs to get going with a trio of high quality meat rabbits and purchased cages.

The rabbits stay with their mom until they reach market size

One of the biggest disadvantages of meat rabbits compared to other quick growing meat animals, like broilers, is that with rabbits the doe (the mom) needs to stay with the baby rabbits (called kits) to raise them to market size.

This means that a significant portion of the cage and the feed is going to the doe (who is not being sold).

The feed still has to be paid for, but the rabbits being sold did not eat it!

Rabbits need more cage space than other animals

The second difference with rabbits compared to other animals is that rabbits, despite being in cages, end up needing more space per head (on a body weight basis) than a chicken or a pig.

Meat AnimalAnimal Weight
(pounds at
processing weight)
Pen Space needed
(sq. ft.)
Sq. Ft. needed
(per pound
at market weight)
Broilers (chickens)520.4
These are university numbers, I do not personally agree with them, especially the pigs!
The purpose is to show that even in using the space to grow the most meat per square foot, rabbit requires much more space per pound than chicken or pork.

This information kind of catches you off guard, since rabbits are small you don’t think of them as needing much space. Per head, they don’t. But per pound that’s different.

Raising more animals per barn is how factory farming reduces the cost of meat. To be clear, I am not a supporter of factory farming!

I am pointing out that when one person can raise thousands of chickens for instance, per barn the labor costs to pay that person are lower per pound of meat than with something like rabbits that take more time from the producer.

bowl of rabbit feed pellets
Bowl of rabbit pellets that my daughter is feeding to her rabbits.

Rabbit feed is much higher priced than other commercial feeds

Another challenge we ran into when raising rabbits commercially was the cost of the feed. We could not get the feed cost below $14.00 per 50 pound bag.

Normally, the way we get lower feed prices is to buy in bulk, but no bulk feed is available for rabbits.

Compared to other feeds available in 50 pound bags, $14.00 is not crazy. But compared to other livestock feeds, that is super high!

For instance, purchased pig feed from a feed mill is $14.00 per 100 pounds, that’s half price of the rabbit feed!

We also tried some lower priced feed from individuals who were dealers for rabbit feed. Good idea, bad result. The rabbits did not eat the cheaper feed!

This was a huge road block for us and any other small rabbit producer. If we could have gotten a more economically priced feed, we could have continued to raise rabbits, but at those prices, not worth it.

 It takes approximately 4 pounds of feed to every pound of weight you put on your rabbit.  

Feeding Commercial Rabbits For Rapid Growth by Carla Carter

To get into a bit of math here, your rabbit will be market size at 5 pounds live weight. That will take 20 pounds of feed per fryer.

The feed costs $0.28 per pound (what I have been able to buy).

20 pounds of feed x $0.28/pound=$5.60 in feed costs per fryer

To be more specific the 4 pounds of feed per one pound of gain has the feed for the doe included.

If you are just counting the fryers themselves, it is more like 3:1, but since you have to pay for it, we count it!

Processing rabbits is costly (per pound)

The final hurdle to raising rabbits for meat, that keeps costs high, is the lack of processors available. To sell the meat it must be processed at an inspected facility.

We are lucky enough in our area to have an inspected rabbit processor about an hour away. This is a facility that processes mostly poultry but will also do rabbits for $5.00 each.

For comparison, this same processor will do broilers for $3.50 each. A broiler weighs 5 pounds live, the same as a rabbit, but costs $1.50 less per head to process.

Most places in the country will have to drive further than an hour, if you can find a custom rabbit processor in your area, at all.

This is why you have a hard time buying retail rabbit. Getting the required inspection to sell the retail cuts can be near impossible.

This is why you see people raise rabbits for sale privately, but rabbits are not easily purchased as processed meat animals.

Also, let’s add up the costs we are into here: $5 for processing + $5.60 for feed =$10.60 in out of pocket costs per fryer.

To make a normal retail amount of money per rabbit the rabbit producer would need to charge over $20 per fryer or just under $7/pound for the meat. Even then the rabbit producer is only keeping $9.40 from each fryer.

While that sounds like quite a bit to profit, remember this $9.40 goes to pay the person, utilities, cages, repairs, etc. And, of course, this level of profit only happens if someone is willing to pay it!

Is Raising Your Own Meat Rabbits Worth It? gives you a budget and other things to consider when thinking about raising your own fryers.

Rabbits do not factory farm

As mentioned above, rabbits do not work out for a factory farm setting.

While there are some very big rabbit farms, the needs of the rabbits remain the same as the needs of the rabbits on small farms.

The pen size is the same. The feed (pellets of complete feed) is the same.

Rabbit farms with loads of rabbits would have automatic watering set up and possibly even automatic feeders, but the care of the adults would still need to be done by hand.

Things like putting in nest boxes, taking out the mom at weaning, putting the mom in with the buck again, all done by hand in rabbits.

Anything that is done by hand will cost more. That only makes sense, they farmer doing the work needs to be paid for her time, just like you!

Rabbits have a small carcass

Rabbits that are raised for butchering are normally processed at the 5 pound live weight.

This size of rabbit is called a fryer and they will have 3-3.5 pound of meat per carcass (about 60% of live weight).

While a 60% carcass yield is good compared to other meat animals, there is only a small amount of meat per animal, meaning more rabbits need to be killed to provide 100 pounds of meat than a bigger animal.

The reason this matter is that puts a high kill fee per pound of meat on a smaller animal.

What do I mean? For instance, in our area the kill fee for a pig is $80. Since most people would be processing a full size market hog they would get about 130 pounds of meat.

$80 divided by 130= $0.62 per pound kill fee for pork.

Compare that to the $5 dollar per head charge for processing rabbits.

If you didn’t do the math that’s $1.43 per pound for a 3.5 pound rabbit carcass and $1.67 per pound for a 3 pound rabbit carcass.

This puts the processing fee for rabbits at over twice the cost per pound of meat as pigs, as an example.

Scarcity, not many farmers raise rabbits

The final challenge to getting lower cost rabbit meat is that not too many farmers are willing to raise rabbit for the price that they can get paid for that rabbit.

Back about 5 years ago I was raising quite a few rabbits and selling the fryers at a local processing facility.

They would pay about $0.80-1.25 per pound for rabbits (depending upon age and size).

While that may seem okay, remember to take out the cost of the feed to get the rabbit to that size.

According to my numbers it will take about 20 pounds of feed and 8-10 weeks to get a rabbit to the 5 pound mark. 20 pounds of feed costs $5.60

Take your $1.25 x 5 = $6.25 for top price on a 5 pound fryer. Now subtract the $5.60 in feed costs and you end up making less that $1 per rabbit (actually $0.65). Not good.

These numbers only work out on litters that perform well and in the times of the year that are rabbit friendly. In the summer, no way!

This is the reason why not too many people raise rabbits, they do not get enough money per fryer sold to make raising rabbits a profitable business when selling commercially.

Private sales bring more money to the rabbit raiser

These numbers, especially the profit, would be very different for someone privately selling rabbits.

As a private seller you would be able to set your price so that you would get enough money to make it worth the effort. As is, for the commercial market, not so much.

Show breeders will have extra rabbits

An exception to the producers wanting to be a profitable business would be people who are raising rabbits for show or as a hobby.

Any extra rabbits that do not have the “right stuff” to be a show animal would be sold as meat.

If you are looking for rabbit meat, show breeders would be a great place to start.

ARBA (American Rabbit Breeders Association) has a list of recognized breeds, click on the one you are interested in to find the breed association that will have a breeders list for you to contact.

Not all animals, even from high quality parents, will make the cut for showing. Those that don’t need to go to pets or the freezer.

This is your opportunity to get some high quality rabbit meat from a local producer, look into it!

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