When many people think of raising rabbits, the image of a cute and cuddly pet comes to mind. If that’s your only frame of reference for raising rabbits than beware as this article discusses a far more important reason for raising rabbits…raising rabbits for meat production. Raising rabbits is an inexpensive and potentially stealthy way to help your family become more food secure and self sufficient. Throughout mankind’s history, and in many cultures, domesticated rabbits have been valuable source of food. The following is a list of the Top 10 Benefits To Raising Meat Rabbits:
1. Rabbits are one of the most productive and economical livestock available. One rabbit can produce 6 lbs of meat on the same amount of feed and water that a cow produces only 1 lbs of meat. Think about that for a minute…600% more efficient than beef! The only livestock animal that can out produce the rabbit in terms of turning feed into meat is the chicken due to egg production.
2. Rabbit are prolific breeders. Because rabbits are prey animals; an animal that provides food for the higher level predators, they are biologically hard wired to be prolific breeders. Let’s face it, a rabbit’s primary functions in nature are to make babies and get eaten. Female rabbits are fertile 365 days a year unless environmental stress causes them to temporarily become infertile. Their gestation period is about 28 days, and a female rabbit can become impregnated again within 24 hours of giving birth.
3. Rabbits mature quickly. Again, genetically rabbits are hard wired to grow quickly. Baby rabbits, known as kits, wean at about 4 weeks. It only takes about 8 weeks for a rabbit to reach butchering weight. All this means that under an intensive and highly managed breeding program, a buck (the male rabbit) and 2 does (the female rabbit) can produce enough kits to give you almost 300lbs of meat a year.
4. Rabbits take up a relatively small footprint. Depending on the size of the breed, adult rabbits only need from 1.5 to 5 sq ft of space, each. Typical meat breeds need from 3-4 sq ft to be productive. Because of this small foot print, many rabbits can be raised in a given space that larger livestock, like say cows, pigs, or goats.
5. Rabbits can be raised where other livestock can’t. Even though there is a nationwide movement in the US, there are many places where raising livestock is prohibited, or highly regulated. Because of the small foot print and zoning laws in many municipalities, rabbits can be raised where other livestock can’t. Often rabbits are allowed even in places that ban chickens. Except if caught by a predator a rabbit is nearly silent…no noises to bother the neighbors into calling the authorities. If I was unlucky enough to live in a town that didn’t allow me to raise meat rabbits, I might just have to have a few rabbits as ‘pets’ and because they are also relatively clean, so they don’t generally raise any red flags with neighbors or city officials.
6. Compost. Rabbit create a prolific amount of poop. This by product is excellent for composting as it is high in nitrates. Composted properly you are left with high quality amendment that can be used in your garden, or sold to others.
Production Bonus Benefit: Raising Rabbits With Children. Home rabbit production provides an additional benefit to those with young children. By including your children in the rabbit production process your kids should come away with a greater appreciation of what it takes to put meat on the table and the fact that meat doesn’t really come from a Styrofoam package.
7. Rabbit meat is high in protein. In fact, out of all the readily available protein sources (store bought and farm raised), rabbit meat has the highest percentage of protein. A 3oz serving of rabbit contains about 24.7 grams of protein. The proteins in rabbit meat are also easily digestible.
8. Rabbit Meat is very lean. Rabbits do have fat, but unlike beef and other livestock, the fat is not distributed throughout the muscle but is primarily deposited around it’s internal organs. In fact, a 3oz serving of rabbit meat contains about 6.8 grams of fat which is about 1/3 of the fat that you’d find in a comparable serving of beef. Because of this, there is actually a risk of starvation if you eat nothing but rabbit meat but as part of a well rounded diet it’s a very lean, healthy protein.
9. Rabbit meat is low in cholesterol. If you suffer from elevated cholesterol, rabbit meat is a good alternative to other protein sources. 3oz of rabbit meat contains about 70mg of cholesterol. The American Heart Association recommend no more than 300mg a day, and no more that 200 if you already suffer from heart disease.
10. Rabbit meat has a very mild flavor. Unlike beef, rabbit meat does not have a strong flavor. This means that it makes a very good canvas for other flavors in the dish, much the same way chicken does. This makes rabbit meat a very versatile food to cook with.
Culinary Bonus Benefit: Rabbits have a high meat to bone ratio. Meat rabbit breeds have been developed to yield a high meat to bone ratio. This means that there is more edible meat on the carcass of a butchered meat than can even be achieved with chickens. A live 5lbs rabbit will dress out at about 3lbs.
I have been raising rabbits for meat production for about 5 years. I have learned a lot along the way. There is something fulfilling about knowing exactly where my food has come from and what is in it. I’ve also gotten a lot of enjoyment out of the process. I enjoy going out and spending time with my rabbits. My family makes fun on me, because I talk to them and interact with them but just because a creature is livestock doesn’t mean that it should be treated as, well…livestock.
While rabbit isn’t on the daily menu for most of us here in the U.S., rabbit recipes abound especially in the culinary traditions of Northern Italy and France. If you can’t find a rabbit specific recipe that sounds good to you, do not fret. Because of it’s versatility, you can substitute rabbit in many recipes that call for chicken. Low (temp) and slow (time) are the watch words when cooking rabbit.
I’ve gained a lot of perspective while raising rabbits both on my family’s nutritional needs and the mechanisms we use to fulfill those needs. When raising my rabbits, I endevour to provide them with a healthy and happy existence before they are butchered, dispatch the animal humanely and utilize as much of the rabbit as possible. The rabbits we consume are making the ultimate sacrifice for me and my family, and it is the least I can do for them. If you are looking for an alternative source of meat, during the good times, as well as the bad, raising rabbits is something you should seriously consider.