If you want to breed rabbits for a sustainable meat supply, there’s a few things to take into consideration. Rabbit meat is popular among homesteaders because rabbits are easy to raise, and they breed easily and birth in less time than other traditional homestead livestock like sheep, goats, pigs, and cows. Rabbits also produce lean, healthy meat that’s low in fat, and is a culinary delicacy in many countries around the globe. It’s just one reason why rabbits on the homestead are a great idea.
Best of all, for non-traditional and suburban homesteaders, most city ordinances allow you to keep rabbits, so in areas where chickens and other livestock are not allowed, meat rabbits make a great alternative. Unlike roosters, rabbits don’t crow, don’t smell, and don’t free range (unless you build a special tractor), so your neighbors are unlikely to object.
Choosing Meat Rabbit Breeding Stock
Before you begin breeding, you will need to first choose parent stock. On our homestead, we breed New Zealand and Rex crosses, mostly because of their large size and docile natures. We do have a wild rabbit that has been tamed (we acquired all of our rabbits from someone who did not want them anymore) but she is difficult to pick up, and still has a wild streak. She is also quite small. However, she is advantageous to our breeding program because, well, she likes to breed.
For first time meat rabbit breeders, I recommend going with a breed that is more domesticated, because they will be easier to handle and you will have a better experience.
Rabbits are able to breed at around 7 months of age, and we also prefer to wait until that age to harvest them because they are nearly full grown.
When looking for parent stock, look for rabbits that are robust and large, and have healthy-looking coats. Although rabbits can live 10 years or more, choose breeding stock that’s on the younger side, and look for a reputable breeder in your area. If they will not let you see photos of the rabbits before purchasing, avoid that breeder. Some breeders will not allow outside parties to view the area rabbits are housed; this is another red flag.
Some breeds to consider are New Zealands, Rex rabbits, Californians, Chinchilla, and Flemish Giants. These are large breed rabbits, and since these breeds don’t eat much more than smaller breeds, but use their feed more efficiently, they’re a better option in my book.
We specifically choose to breed crosses because I believe cross breeding yields very healthy animals, and it’s our goal to have a self-sustaining herd of meat rabbits.
How to Arrange a Breeding Schedule
We breed one female each month; that way we aren’t overwhelmed with rabbits, but since they have a 30 day gestational cycle, we still have plenty of meat available. Rabbits can have large litters, anywhere from 1 to 14 offspring, so with such a short gestational cycle, it’s easy to get overwhelmed.
For now, our plan is to keep our original parent stock, and to use the offspring for meat, unless one or more seems like a keeper, or if we lose a parent rabbit to old age, disease, predators, or the like. With 5 females and 4 males, we will be able to breed for quite a while! We keep our males and females in separate cages; most people who keep rabbits will keep one rabbit in one cage, however, I prefer to do it differently. I like to keep at least 2 rabbits in a cage, and of course we keep them in cages that are large enough to comfortably house them. Rabbits are herd animals, and don’t live solitary lives. Since our goal is to give them happy lives before harvesting them, I want them to be able to interact with other rabbits.
How to Breed Your Rabbits
When actually breeding meat rabbits, the male should be put in the female’s cage, not the other way around. Because we keep more than one rabbit in a cage, we temporarily remove the any extra females for the duration of the “date.” Once the male has bred the female twice, he is removed, and her female companion put back into the cage. When the bred female is close to giving birth, her buddy is also removed until the offspring are bigger. Not everyone does it this way, but it works for us.
** Disclaimer: There has been some concern about this method. Many people say the female should be moved to the male’s cage. I don’t have rabbits myself, but this is the method that works for Maat. Use your own discretion when breeding your rabbits. **
Breeding meat rabbits is very easy, and a great way to have a continual supply of fresh, lean meat! If you’re interested in keeping rabbits, download my free checklist, the Top 10 Things You Need To Know About Keeping Rabbits!