If you've ever considered raising rabbits for meat, this post is a must-read. We're discussing everything from meat rabbit breeds, whether raising rabbits for meat is worth it and if it's profitable, how long it takes to raise rabbits for meat, whether you can raise meat rabbits in your backyard, and so much more!
In this podcast (episode #317), I'm talking to Jeremy Chambers who graciously taught me about raising meat rabbits as though I knew nothing (which I didn't before, now I feel armed with knowledge for raising our own meat rabbits).
Jeremy and his family live on a five-acre homestead in rural Southeast Michigan called Independence Acres. They've transformed their homestead, raise and homeschool their three children and have started a YouTube channel dedicated to the homesteading lifestyle that allows them to live self-sufficiently.
Home-Raised Meat Alternative
Even though we raise most of our own meat here on our homestead, I do love that I have the option to order from a company like Butcher Box where I can get high-quality meat shipped and delivered right to my door.
Right now (at the time of this posting) Butcher Box is offering free chicken, burgers, and hot dogs with your first order! If you can't yet raise all your own meat, Butcher Box is a great solution for maintaining that high-quality meat we all want.
I personally haven't eaten rabbit meat since I was a little kid. My uncle raised rabbits and I can remember it tasting like chicken.
Jeremy describes the meat as having the flavor of white meat turkey with the texture of white meat pork. It is delicious especially when you learn how to properly cook rabbit.
Jeremy's favorite rabbit breed is Californian because they're the quintessential commercial meat-style rabbit. They also raise American Chinchilla because they add a bit of color and vibrancy. They were actually developed in the United States as a meat rabbit.
When it really comes down to it, all rabbits are meat rabbits. However, some will grow to be much larger in size, while others will have different personalities and care needs.
There's really no hard line in the sand for which breeds are best for meat rabbits.
There are breeds that have been developed that are well-suited for warm dry climates. There are also breeds that can handle temperatures from 90 degrees F all the way down to negative degrees with no problems.
The bottom line is that you want to make sure your rabbits are getting good airflow and that have been well acclimated to that climate.
You don't want to get meat rabbits that will be transported from somewhere that's much hotter or much colder than your current temperature.
The perfect scenario is to get meat stock from a local source.
Where to Buy Meat Rabbits
In my local area, I haven't heard of anyone who sells meat rabbits for breeding. Jeremy mentions that those people who breed rabbits to sell aren't really big on advertising, so taking to Google to find your source may not always work.
The best place to find quality rabbit stock will be at your local 4H fair. If you can buy 2-4 quality meat pens then it's very likely that you're going to have quality stock. If you can't buy any pens at that time, it's a great place to make some connections with reputable breeders.
The other option is the American Rabbit Breeders Association website.
When it comes to housing your rabbits you have two options:
- Hutches or cages
- Colonies and more natural environments
In order to decide which housing will work best for you, you have to consider your climate.
6 square feet per rabbit so they have enough room to move around. They also should have enough space to completely layout and stand up completely on their rear legs without hitting their head on the top of the cage.
This equates to a cage with the dimensions of 24-36 inches wide and deep by about 16 inches high.
Cages & Hutches
If you live in a very rainy climate you may have a high parasite load. This would lend best to using hutches or cages to keep your rabbits healthy and safe.
You can also easily collect their manure to use in the garden and keep your rabbits safe from predators.
This makes handling, feeding, and caring for the rabbits much easier. For more inspiration on hutch and cage ideas, take to the internet!
Hutches and cages are also great to use when you're just getting started with rabbits. This gives you time to learn about the breed, your climate, etc.
This would be where you allow your rabbits to have more room, maybe a dirt floor, and places to tunnel and play. This is great for rabbits to build more muscle in the meat.
If this works for your climate then it's a fantastic option.
If you must raise your rabbits in hutches or cages, consider having an area where they can hop around from time to time, but not completely live out there where it might be dangerous for them to do so due to parasites.
One buck (male rabbit) can service up to six does (female rabbits) in one day. So you can see how quickly rabbits can multiply!
Jeremy recommends starting with a trio (two does and a buck), and in a 12 month period on a moderate breeding schedule, you could raise from 250-300 lbs of meat.
If you have a good quality stock you could increase this a bit and get upwards of 500 lbs of meat in a year.
Gestational Period for Rabbits
The gestational period for rabbits is roughly 29-32 days. And unlike most other mammals that have an ovulation schedule of every 28 days or 12 months, etc., rabbits ovulate when they're bred.
How Often Can You Breed Rabbits
Technically speaking, and you'll see this in the wild, you can breed your rabbit the day they give birth.
This is not an ideal situation and would be considered a very aggressive schedule, but it can be done.
Ideally, you'd want to give your doe about 4-6 weeks to rest, nurse her litter, and regain some strength for the next round of breeding.
On this schedule you could get about 120 rabbits at about 4 lbs per rabbit for 3 lbs of actual meat, giving you about 360 lbs of rabbit meat per doe.
How Long it Takes To Raise Rabbits for Meat
We generally raise our rabbits to about 12 weeks. This will give you about 3 lbs of meat per rabbit and produces a very delicious quality of meat.
In order to make raising rabbits a profitable market, you may not always be able to afford organic rabbit feed.
Jeremy's go-to for maximum growth is a commercial feed that's made locally to him. It's been well blended to give the rabbits their protein needs, enough roughage for fiber, and all the vitamins and minerals they need.
Jeremy also mentions that they free-feed their rabbits, keeping their bowl full morning and night, so the rabbits can eat as much as they want up until butchering day.
For their breeding stock, they only get about 1/4 cup of feed in the morning and 1/4 cup feed at night. This is more of a “maintenance” amount of feeding.
They also give them garden scraps, branches, leaves, the occasional carrot, etc.
If you'd like a more organic approach, you can check out the book “Beyond the Pellet”. However, Jeremy did mention that this method is a bit more difficult because it's harder to ensure your rabbits are getting the appropriate ratio of protein, carbohydrates, nutrients, etc.
I haven't read this book so I can't give it my stamp of approval, but it is one other option for feeding.
For more information on feeding your animals and tips to keep costs down, check out Stocking Up on Animal Feed (+ How Much to Feed Animals).
Other Rabbit Benefits
It's always best if we can use as much of the rabbit and rabbit by-products as possible. Here are a few benefits that come with raising rabbits for meat.
Because rabbit droppings are not considered “hot”, they can actually be used directly in the garden straight from the hutch or cage.
This is fantastic news for gardeners who are used to having to age their manure before using it in the garden.
Pelts are one of those things that have a market that's either hot or cold. Oftentimes, for Jeremy, they end up in the compost because the pelt is of poor quality. Since the rabbits are so young, their skin is very thin so it doesn't hold up to being tanned well.
If you're wanting to raise rabbits for their pelts you'd be raising them to about 20 weeks (not 12). You'd also only harvest those pelts in deep winter or deep summer when they're not in a molt.
There are entire markets out there that are taking rabbit ears and strips of rabbit pelts, twisting them, and drying them (or smoking/curing) for dog treats.
The feet and tails can be processed to use for keychains. The tails have also been popular as tassels hanging off of purses or jackets as well.
Liver, Kidney & Other Organs
Rabbits have one of the largest liver-to-body size ratios and make a delicious pate. You can also hold out the kidney and other organs to feed your pets.
There is a very large market out there for whole-food, natural dog treats.
Where to Find Jeremy
I'm very excited because Jeremy will be at the 2021 Homesteaders of America Conference in Virginia where he'll be demonstrating how to process rabbits and I can't wait to see it.
If you can't make it to an HOA Conference, you can catch Jeremy on his YouTube channel or on Facebook. And be sure to check out his specific playlist on Cuniculture, which is all about raising and breeding rabbits.
Melissa K Norris: Hey there, pioneers, and welcome to episode number 317. Today's episode, we are talking all about raising meat rabbits. Specifically, what are the pros and cons of raising meat rabbits? How much are you going to get on average per rabbit? At what specific age? So, at how many weeks do they usually average so many pounds? What is the feed output look like? How many pounds of feed to get so many pounds of finished rabbit. Hutch requirements? Is it better to use a hutch, is it better for them to be on the ground and move things around like you would a chicken tractor?
The best breed of rabbits for raising meat. What are some of the biggest challenges? How do you choose what type of feeds? So many amazing things that we are going to learn about today with our meat rabbits, and I'm really excited to bring on our guest. Speaking of meat, today's podcast is sponsored by ButcherBox. One of the things that I love about ButcherBox is well, raising it yourself or buying it from a very local farm is absolutely one of the best ways and things that I like to support.
We can't always do the best thing. So, I love ButcherBox because they come in when you're not able to do that. For example, there is no way that we can get lobster and there's no way that we have a local source for getting lobster, but I can get seafood that is wild caught from ButcherBox and have it delivered straight to my door, even out here in the very rural booties, or out in the boondocks, as we like to say. Even if it comes at the end of the day, because we're one of the very last stops for the delivery people, it comes still frozen solid.
I love that ButcherBox sources their meat from partners with the highest standards for quality. So, 100% grass-fed beef, free range organic chicken, and as I said, wild caught seafood. Now, I don't know about you guys, but when we get our meat back from the butcher for our beef, one of the things that we have to be careful for right before the next butcher comes around, or make sure that I'm allotting it out so we don't run out early, is hamburger. Hamburger is really one of the most versatile things that we have as far as meat and preparing lots of different meals for our family.
ButcherBox has right now, a very special offer. They are giving new members free ground beef for life. You can sign up at butcherbox.com/pioneeringtoday, and get two pounds of ground beef free, and every order for the life of your membership. Just log into butcherbox.com/pioneeringtoday to claim this deal. And I have actually tested their ground beef against our own grass-fed organic raised ground beef. There's this grass fed ground beef. It's not certified organic on the beef, but I was actually very impressed with the differences.
I will say that our homegrown ground beef was a little bit brighter, more red in color, but as far as cooking and taste and texture and everything else, I didn't even tell the kids it was different because I wanted to be able to truly test and see if they could tell a difference because they've only had, in our home, our organic grass fed raised beef, actually for my daughter's entire life and since my son was a toddler, and they could not tell the difference. They thought it was just great and so we were very happy with it.
Okay. Now, on with today's episode, all about learning how to raise rabbits for meat. Without further ado, let's get straight to this interview, and remember that any of the resources and links that we're talking about can be found in the blog post that accompanies this episode at melissaknorris.com/317. So, that's just the number, 317, because this is episode 317.
Jeremy, welcome to the Pioneering Today Podcast.
Jeremy Chambers: Thank you so much. It's an honor to be here.
Melissa K Norris: Well, I'm really excited for this interview because meat rabbits is not something that we have done. When I was growing up, I had a great uncle that raised meat rabbits. He was actually in a wheelchair. He was paralyzed, and so he could have the hutches up high and that was something that he could take care of and he could butcher with the help of his family and everything, and so I've had rabbit, and it's delicious. I have to say, from my memory as a kid, it's been a while.
Jeremy Chambers: Understandable.
Melissa K Norris: It really did remind me of chicken. It was kind of similar.
Jeremy Chambers: It's very similar. It is very similar. There are some differences though, I would probably more describe it like a white meat Turkey with a little bit of a white meat pork texture, if you really want to get a better accurate representation of what it tastes like.
Melissa K Norris: Yeah. That is a really good explanation because yeah, it is ... I remember, even as a kid, it was slightly different. Easter, we would have this big potluck and he would deep fried it, or his wife. I don't know. I can't remember now who actually cooked it, but anyways, it was like, there would be plates of fried chicken that we would have, and then there would be the plates of the rabbit, and they would set them side by side, so as a kid, you would just grab one. Sometimes you could tell the difference, but how you described it, yes, it like triggered my memory bank. That is a very accurate, really good description.
But we are considering doing meat rabbits. It's not something we've done before. So, I'm really excited to talk with you. Basically, pretend I know nothing about meat rabbits because I actually know very little when it comes to raising them. So, some of our first questions is picking the best breed, or some of the breeds when you're going obviously after meat rabbit. So, do you have any guidelines or some favorite breeds that you guys use?
Jeremy Chambers: Well, what we use on our homestead is Californian because they are just your quintessential commercial meat style rabbit. Then we also raise American Chinchilla because it just adds a little bit of color and vibrancy into our rabbitry, but they also were originally developed in the United States as a meat rabbit. But when it comes down to it, all rabbits are meat rabbits, and it's important to find the breed that's going to match your needs and the breed that's going to match your lifestyle, because some are going to require just a little bit more care than others, and some are going to be much larger in body type.
So, If you have a smaller family, it doesn't make sense to raise rabbits that are going to dress out at five, six pounds. It would make sense to raise rabbits that can dress out at a pound, pound and a half. There's really no hard, this is a meat rabbit and this is not a meat rabbit, when it comes to raising them for your own purposes.
Melissa K Norris: Okay. Thank you. Now, because we have listeners from all over the country, are there certain breeds that do better in cooler climates, that do better and hotter climates? I mean, obviously they all have fur, but are there any really breed specific or is it just making sure you have things set up optimally for whatever your weather is for the rabbits?
Jeremy Chambers: That's another great question. There are breeds that have been developed, specifically Texas A&M developed a breed of rabbit that is well-suited for a warm, dry climate, and they have great growth rates, they can handle the warmer temperatures with no issues. Then there are breeds that are rain ... They can handle temperatures from 90 degrees Fahrenheit all the way down to negative 30 Fahrenheit without any problems. Rabbits, in general, do much better in cooler climates. The main goal is always going to be to make sure that there is plenty of airflow no matter what kind of rabbits you have, or even where you live, in all honesty.
But it's important to find quality breeding stock from the area in which you live, because they're already pretty well acclimated to that climate. Living in Michigan, I would never, in the middle of summer, sell a rabbit and transport it down to somebody who lives in Texas or Florida for that matter, because they would have a hard time acclimating because they're in the middle of their summer coat. If I'm going to transport to that area, that region, it's going to be either in spring, so they have a slow intro to the heat, or in the fall so that they can get a nice cooler climate and then a full intro into the heat.
Really, the key is, is to find quality breeding stock in the area in which you reside. If that's absolutely impossible, then moving them around when the climate can give them a chance to acclimate is usually best.
Melissa K Norris: Okay. That brings me to my next question, because I'm like, I know where to find great hatcheries if you don't have a local source for chickens, pigs, cattle, but for rabbits, that was going to be my actually next question because that's where we were at, as we were just starting to research around us. If you don't know of anyone, I mean just Google like your area, or do you have some good parameters or some ways to find, and what to know would be a reputable breeder or what would be a good stocker, just things to keep an eye out for.
Jeremy Chambers: As a general rule of thumb, people who raise rabbits for the sole purpose of meat, we're not big on advertising. Google is not usually going to be your best friend if you just search for meat rabbits in my area. It's one of those things, obviously having to deal with the idea, the mentality here, especially in the United States, that there are certain animals that are meat and there are certain animals that are pets, and rabbits, believe it or not, originated in the US as meat. They were never considered pets, up until about the 1950s.
The best place to actually search for quality rabbit stock is your local 4-H fair. They actually have meat pen competitions for rabbits that are growing the proper rates. Usually, at the end of the 4-H fairs, they'll actually have auctions, and so if you can buy one or two meat pens at a 4-H fair, you pretty much can almost guarantee you're going to have decent stock. If for some reason you're not able to get in on those meat pens, that's a good place to start making connections with reputable breeders.
Another great place is the American Rabbit Breeders Association website. If you're looking specifically for commercial type rabbit, let's say like a Californian, a New Zealand, American Chinchilla, or Rex are sometimes used also as meat rabbits, but also a lot of times for their fur, for people who do fur crafting. You can go into the ARBA website, search your area and then search for a specific type of breed.
Melissa K Norris: Okay, perfect. I love that you said 4-H. I was afraid kid, not with rabbits, obviously, with horses, and so my heart is always near and dear two 4-Hers and fair time. They work so hard for those fairs, so I love that.
Jeremy Chambers: Thank you. They are amazing people and they love to talk about their rabbits. One of our favorite things to do, our 4-H fair here in our local county is going to be coming up next weekend, and I can't wait to go and just start talking with the range of breeders who will be there, and just chew the fat a little bit, figure out what feed is working well for them, some of the issues they might've been dealing with. One of the things here in Michigan, our seasons have been absolutely backwards. So, we had a hot summer like spring, and now we have a cooler rainy, like summer, spring like summer. So, bugs have been a major issue.
We're all dealing with how to deal with the flies and the mosquitoes, and all of those things. We really love going to the 4-H, the local 4-H fair, and we're really happy that they're back again this year.
Melissa K Norris: Yeah. Same here. It's been a nice blessing as we move into this summer to see ... Be able to go to something that weren't available to us last year.
Jeremy Chambers: Absolutely.
Melissa K Norris: Speaking of feeding the rabbits, but also getting your meat rabbits, hutch requirements or pen requirements, what is best for that, and then also leading right into your best feed.
Jeremy Chambers: Okay. When it comes to housing your rabbits, there's pretty much two veins of thought. You've got those who are pretty strict on hutches or cages, and then you have those that are pretty strict on creating a colony or a more natural environment for their rabbits to exist in. Both of these ideas have merits and both of them have cons. There's a lot of back and forth. The best thing that I would recommend is to number one, understand the stock that you have, because there are certain breeds of rabbits that do much better in hutches and cages, and there are certain breeds who might do better in a ground environment based upon their coat, their fur type, and the quality of the fur pads on their feet.
There's a lot of things that play into it. But number one, that I think a lot of people have realized is that it's going to come down to climate. For us here in Michigan, as I said, we've had a really wet and rainy summer so far. Because of that, we have a very high parasite load in our soil, and so we prefer to raise off the ground and in cages or hutches, and that also helps us to collect our manure a little easier, so we can use it in the garden. Got to use that bunny gold everywhere you can, whether it's ... We use it in seed starting ... Anyway, you're going to get me in a bunny trail. Because I go out, and let me try and stay on topic here, okay? I love talking rabbis. Cages, it also gives you the ability to handle your rabbits a little more often.
As far as size goes, you want a minimum of about, anywhere from, depending upon the size of the rabbits, but let's just stick with a commercial breed, like a Californian. So, they're going to be medium to medium large breed of rabbit. They're going to max out at about 10 to 12 pounds live adult weight. You want to give them about six square feet of space to move around. The rule of thumb, according to like the American Rabbit Breeders Association and some other universities that have done this, is that you want to make sure you have enough room for them to horizontally, completely lay out, fully stretched out, and also so that they can stand up on their rear legs and won't be able to hit their heads on the top of the cage.
For most rabbits, you're looking at one of your side dimensions needs to be 24 to 30 inches and at least 16 inches in height in order to make sure they have enough room to be comfortable. That also will help you, when it's time to handle them, because if you have too large of a cage and you can't reach that back corner, well, that's where that rabbit's always going to go, is in that back corner. Because while some of them do love affection, when it comes to actually being picked up, they don't like it. They like their feet to be on something solid.
With cages, and some people will get stacking pages, so they'll have three high with dropping collector pans underneath each of those layers, so obviously they're not dropping on the ones below. Some people will raise them in hanging cages in a solid single row across a barn or a carport. There's a lot of different options. Honestly, you can go on, this is another place where the internet and technology is our friend, you can go on and you can get inspirational ideas from around the world when it comes to how to house your rabbits, whether cages or hutches.
Then a colony idea is creating a larger area with a dirt floor and giving them things to tunnel into, and just creating what some would consider a more natural environment for rabbits. It's a good idea because it gives them some more room to hop into play. One of the things that helps to build muscle is activity. If you don't have enough space for your rabbits to run around, it might be difficult for them to build that muscle that you're looking for, for meat, because that's what meat is obviously.
The colony has some great ideas, but we can't do colonies. We have attempted to raise rabbits on the ground in some grazing tractors and it works good for a couple of weeks. We'll put them out maybe just for a day or two in order to get some fresh air and stuff, but any longer than that, and they begin to collect parasites such as fur mites, fleas or things like that from the other animals that they might come around, and then they can also pick up intestinal parasites off of the ground. Another thing is coccidia, which is ... That's a problem with the chickens too sometimes.
There's some back and forth. If you live in a dryer region like Arizona, West Texas, a climate like that, where your community levels are much lower and your soil is not as dump, well, a soil doesn't give a good environment for the parasites to exist, and so you might be able to get away with that and not have those issues in your rabbitry.
Melissa K Norris: Okay. Interesting. I didn't realize that they could cross with some of the same disease issues as the chickens.
Jeremy Chambers: Well, it's similar, but it's not the exact same strain of coccidia. Yeah, so it all affects them differently. There's different strains that affect different animals. But the biggest thing is if there are wild rabbits in the area. Anything the wild rabbits carry will transfer over. So, any of those diseases that ... You're told, don't eat rabbit, only harvest rabbit in the wild ending in R, well, that's usually because they don't have quite as much of a parasite load at the time. In the middle of summer, you don't want those wild rabbits intermingling with your domesticated rabbits.
Melissa K Norris: Okay. Which makes sense, and I'm really glad you talked about the soil conditions if you're considering those outdoor pens because living, where we are in the Pacific Northwest, now typically, talking about typical in your weather patterns, we are still cooler and usually pretty wet except for about the month of August. However, this year, I think we switched. You guys are getting all of our rain. We haven't had any rain since the beginning of June, and we actually had a weekend where we were 120 degrees Fahrenheit here, a couple of weeks back. Yeah, so I'm like, oh, well, this summer we would actually be quite dry and it would probably work, but in a typical year, I'm thinking for us, especially having the chickens and the cattle and the pigs and rotating with all of them, it sounds like doing a hutch type will be better suited for our area and for the rabbits.
Jeremy Chambers: Yes. I would definitely recommend it for somebody starting off, is to always start off with a hutch or a cage off the ground. Then, as you get a little bit better at recognizing and managing any possible disease outbreaks in your rabbitry, then you can start experimenting with some different housing ideas.
Melissa K Norris: Okay. Now, so I have to ask this part, so I know the different breeds, you said live weight, 10 pounds dressed out. I'm assuming it's going to be like maybe around five or six. Is that about accurate, as far as the meat you're going to harvest?
Jeremy Chambers: A dress carcass, yeah, you're looking about 60% to 70% of your live carcass, of the live weight being in a dressed carcass, similar to chicken, yes.
Melissa K Norris: Okay. With the rabbits again, complete novice here, I know I could Google some of this, but I have you here, and I love getting information from someone with lots of experience, but what is their typical ratio? So, female to male, doe and buck, and then the gestation period, and then how old are they when you generally get that they're at a harvestable weight? So, the grow out to butcher time.
Jeremy Chambers: Okay. No, those are, once again, wonderful questions. When it comes to the ratios in your rabbitry, one buck can service up to six doe a day.
Melissa K Norris: Oh, wow. Okay.
Jeremy Chambers: It's a pretty hardy character. When it looks at ratios, once again, depending upon your needs for your family, and most of the time, I recommend starting with a trio. So, you have to doe in a buck, and in a 12 month period on a moderate breeding schedule, you can produce anywhere from 250 to 300 pounds of meat in a year, just from that investment into your breeding trio. That's obviously good genetics, good quality breeding stock to begin with. Those numbers can fluctuate a little bit, but you can even be more intensive and get it closer to 500 pounds of meat if you have good quality stock.
They're a very versatile animal when it comes to ... They'll kind of work on your schedule here. Gestation period for a rabbit is anywhere from 29 to 32 days, sometimes goes a little longer, and most of the time you're going to begin starting the gestational clock at the point of reading. So, because of sometimes delays in the implementation of the actual breeding activity there, it can take a couple of days for things to actually work. You might be looking at 32 up to 34 days to get those rabbits fully developed in the mom and then birthed out.
Gestation period is relatively short. The great thing about rabbits is they are on-demand ovulators. Unlike most other mammals in the known world, they have monthly cycles or yearly cycles, however, rabbits, the doe will ovulate when they are bred. It is possible to be breeding your doe back to the buck within the same day that they have given birth.
Melissa K Norris: Oh my.
Jeremy Chambers: This happens in the wild, and if you are colony raising, you might see this happen where, while she's in the middle of giving birth, the buck is trying to breed. That's why you kind of get that term, breeding like rabbits, but it's a little bit of a misnomer because it doesn't always work quite as well as you hope it will. If a very aggressive breeding schedule, you could introduce the buck and doe, the falloff occurs, you start your clock. That's at 30 days, if everything happens as expected, she has a litter. Then she is going to be nursing that litter for 4, 6, 8 weeks, depending upon how long you decide to allow your litters to nurse.
Then, at weening, you remove that litter. Now, as far as breeding back the doe, you can do it within 10 days of her ... Give her some time to gain some condition back. Breed her back within 10 days. So, it's possible to every 40 days to be having that doe producing a letter, which is a very aggressive schedule. But if you do the math here, and we're looking at every 40 days, so that's approximately nine liters a month, excuse me, nine liters a year. Oof, my math is way off there, nine liters a year, approximately nine liters a year at 10 to 12 babies or kits or bunnies, or however you choose to call them, every litter.
Okay, my math is terrible, so that's nine times ... We're just saying about a hundred a year would be born per doe. Each of those, if raised to five pounds live weight, will put out about a three pound carcass. If you do the math, you're looking at, from a single doe, it's possible, it is possible to get about 300 pounds of meat produced from a single doe and buck. That is very aggressive.
Melissa K Norris: Okay. That's what I was going to ask, is that like, as a mother myself [crosstalk 00:25:29] thinking about that. I know that they're bred to do that even in the wild, and that but, as far as you managing it, allowing the buck to have access and all of that, I'm assuming, if you have a little bit more of a rest period in there, that her overall health would be improved, so what would be a less aggressive ...
Jeremy Chambers: Yeah, for us, we usually breed back at four weeks after kindling. Then we would remove the babies at six weeks so that they have enough time to nurse. They don't have all of that immunity that they need when they're born, so the longer they can nurse, the better gut health they're going to have. Rabbits just have a very sensitive digestive system. So, weaned at six weeks, they have a greater chance of not having any intestinal distress and they also have kind of max ... So, you've also maximized the caloric output of the doe at that point. So, your feed is going to even be less at that point.
This is a more moderate schedule. And then sometimes we have even let our does nurse all the way up to eight weeks. Just as a test, one time I had my favorite doe, and she's one of our first, I let her nurse until it was almost time for processing day, which we process usually at about 12 weeks, which gives us a five pound live weight. And she was still nursing her babies at 12 weeks. And they were an amazing litter, and we didn't process. We ended up selling those off as breeding stock because they were just absolutely amazing rabbits. She was feeding 12 week old rabbit, so basically with lifting her off of the bottom of her cage to nurse.
It was quite a sight to see. Now, I don't recommend that, but it was kind of a test because we wanted to see just what really are the mothering qualities of rabbits, and they really are great mothers. That's some things about certain breeds is they make ... That mothering ability has been bred into them over time. When we look at like the Californian and the New Zealand, because they were developed as a commercial breed, they were selectively bred for their growth rates, for their mothering abilities, for their temperament, because these breeds were developed in the early 19th century, excuse me, early 1900s, not 19th century, that'd make them the 1800s.
The early 1900s to become the white meat of America. They were selectively bred over about seven years, and so that they could be raised in battery cages. We see chickens nowadays in these commercial battery cages for laying eggs and developing them for meat. Well, they were trying to do the same thing with rabbits, and so they were really looking for even tempered animals. They were looking for ones that had pelts that were usable so they wouldn't let things go to waste, and also for large litters, and mothering ability. If you really look at commercial breeds, they're that way for a reason, because that's how they were bred to be.
Melissa K Norris: Okay. One of the things I wanted to talk about is you mentioned they have, their digestive systems, when we were talking about the babies and allowing them to nurse, that is finicky. Food-wise, what are we looking for one, if we're trying to get them to harvestable weight by 12 weeks? When we're doing these to get them, like I'm saying with the meat birds, making sure they have the correct protein ratio and all of that. Is there a difference in the food when you are raising them to get them to harvesting size versus just your breeding stock? Just break that down for me.
Jeremy Chambers: Well, so this is a little controversial. So, especially as home setters, and this is something that we struggle with. Our go-to when it comes to feed is a commercial made pellet that is made locally. We do try to keep our resources as local as possible. We did find a mill that's about 30 miles away from us, and it's sold by a smaller farm store near us, and so we try to purchase their feed. Unfortunately, it's not organic, but it has been well blended to give them the protein needs. Some of them will include a lot of roughage in order to make sure that they can maintain their fiber needs, and it's got the vitamins and minerals that they need.
There are tons of commercially made pellets, pelletized feed available. Don't feel bad if that's the route you choose to take, because it has been developed for many decades now in order to give them the output, or the input they need to grow to the output that you desire. In order to get that growth rate, we do free feed our rabbits. They're usually nursing for about the first two weeks of their life. Once their eyes open and they start getting out of the nesting box, they begin to snack when they see moms snacking, when they see mom eating in the bowl, they come over and they'll sit right in the bowl and eat whatever the mom is eating.
They do the same thing with the water bowl. You walk in there and there's four of them piled into the water bowl, and you're like, what are you guys doing? They're not swimming. That's just because, well, mom was there, so they want to be there. For the first two weeks, they're going to be mostly dependent upon the milk produced by their mother. Then after that, we pretty much free feed. So, we keep their bowl full morning and night so that they can eat as much as they desire up until processing day.
Then, for all of our breeding stock, we only feed them about a quarter cup in the morning and a quarter cup at night, and that is more just as maintenance. Then we'll also give them weeds that we pull out of the garden, wild forageables that we get all over, anything from lambsquarter or plantain, branches from our apple trees, pear tree, they eat a variety of things. In order to get that maximum growth rate though, a commercial feed is the best way to go, but there are other avenues of feeding your rabbits. There was a book written a little while ago, it's called Beyond the Pellet, and it stirred up a little bit of controversy because they were trying to find ways to feed their rabbits without buying a commercially made palette, which was understandable.
It's something that I think everybody who is raising rabbits, because personally, I think rabbits are the ultimate self-sufficiency animal. No incubator is necessary. We don't have to usually worry whether or not, oh, is the mom going to sit on the nest long enough to incubate the eggs. They're one of those animals that they're fairly reliable and you can hold back some of your babies for future generations of breeding stock, but when it comes to self-sufficiency for rabbits, finding a way to feed them is difficult and still maintain those growth rates.
It's important that number one, that they're getting enough protein, about anywhere from 16% to 18% of their diet should be protein. One of the ways to achieve that is through alfalfa or other high protein leafy greens. I had mentioned some of the wild forageables that we get, lambsquarter and plantain are both a high protein leafy green. But then also finding that balance of not giving them anything that will have too much sugar because it'll cause an imbalance in their gut flora, which can cause digestive distress through bloating.
Rabbits are not able to naturally fart or pass gas. Therefore, if they get gas buildup in their gut, they're over with ... Ir can be deadly for sure. Too much sugar, my sons like to tell the joke, how come you never see a rabbit wearing glasses? Well, that's because the carrots, right?
Melissa K Norris: Right. But they're high carb.
Jeremy Chambers: High carb, high sugar. Too much carrots or corn, or anything of that nature, could be very deadly for them. But as a treat, not a problem. But finding that balance of things that they will eat and what will provide the nutritional needs for their diet can be kind of difficult, because even allowing them to graze out in the yard, they're going to get enough mass, but it might not have the nutritional need to helped them to gain the weight that you want. I know there have been many experiments done with pasture raising rabbits, similar to what is done with, like the red ranger, broiler birds, now the freedom rangers.
They've been successful, but limited because they have slightly slower growth rates. The feed costs go up, but they have slightly slower growth rates, and so the time to butcher, to processing becomes extended, and so therefore your overall investment does get extended a little bit. When it comes to the feed to rate ... Excuse me. When it comes to the feed to weight conversion ratio for rabbits, on average, they're about three to one if you're feeding a good balanced commercial pellet. So, it takes about three pounds of a pelletized feed to get them to one pound of live weight. I know for meat birds, that's usually about two to two and a half. So, they're similar, but they're different.
Melissa K Norris: Yeah, but that makes sense. I think it's why it's like ... With the meat birds, we've even went through that same thing. Do we do the Cornish cross broilers? Because they do come to weight faster, and then our time investment is less, or do we go the red ranger route and do you try to do more of a free range where you ... I think, with all of these, you have to know what your specific goals are for that time period, and then pick what works best for you. I'm glad you discussed both sides though.
Jeremy Chambers: With no shame.
Melissa K Norris: Right, exactly.
Jeremy Chambers: Like I said, I always hesitate to say that we use a non-organic feed, but it's just what is the most readily available to us at the moment and it's local. Now, if that same local granary were to begin creating an organic food, we would absolutely change over, but I'm not going to be paying, I'll just say this very carefully, I'm not going to be paying a big corporate conglomeration for organic feed at the expense of a local company being able to survive. I would always prefer to buy local than to buy from an international conglomerate just because it says it's organic.
Melissa K Norris: Yeah. Again, knowing what is most important to you. I like that we're having this conversation because I know that there are some listeners who they're like, organic is more important to me, for whatever reason or maybe it's specific [crosstalk 00:37:07].
Jeremy Chambers: Absolutely, that's fine. Absolutely.
Melissa K Norris: Yeah, but I think it's important that we have this talk like, that you pick what it is for you, because I think even within home setting or farming and all of that, people can get very dogmatic and convinced that there is only one way, and that's the absolute best way. I mean, and there's best practices overall, of course, but there's a lot of things that you have to make work for you and where you're at and your journey, and what goals, and what things are important to you. I think it's really great that we actually get to have this conversation and cover all those different aspects and then give people ... They could go out and decide which ones for them, but then they know where all of these exists. I really appreciate that you actually brought that up and covered kind of both sides.
Jeremy Chambers: Absolutely. No problem.
Melissa K Norris: Yeah.
Jeremy Chambers: That's always our goal. Our main focus is to be an educating homestead, and I'm never going to tell you that I do it best, and I'm always open and willing to hear better ways. But even in my presentations, I don't say this is the only way. I'd say, this is one way. And if you do some research and you find a better way, then go do it, and then tell me how you did it because I want to do it too.
Melissa K Norris: Yeah. No, I appreciate that, a lot actually. You actually answered a lot of questions. So, if they're given the proper ratio of protein, etc, that it's at about 12 weeks that they're going to be at harvestable size then from birth.
Jeremy Chambers: Absolutely. Now, there are some overachievers out there, that they've got breeding stock, they're able to make it between eight and 10 weeks, and they're really able to compete with the Cornish cross in that area. But most of them are ... A good target is five pounds live weight by 12 weeks. If you're seeing that, then you know that you're consistently going to be reaching that three to one ratio.
Melissa K Norris: Okay. Now, one of the great things that we had briefly mentioned, but where I'm intrigued with rabbits, I think I shouldn't say over chickens, because there's place for both of them on homestead. But what I'm finding fascinating as we're talking about the rabbits, more so than the meat birds, because we have meat birds going right now, is one, their poop is not hot. So, you can put that directly on the garden without an aging period, correct?
Jeremy Chambers: Absolutely. As a matter of fact, this year, I did a little test. I mixed in rabbit manure directly into my seed starting soil so that we could give all of our plants a little nitrogen burst once they started to root. We did amazing. We never had an issue with any of our plants, wilting or dying, germination rates were off the charts. Well over 90% germination rates with all of our seeds. Yeah, even seedlings can handle having a little rabbit manure around their roots.
Melissa K Norris: Okay. That I got to tell ya, I'm kind of liking that thought. Then the other part is the pelts. So, it's not just the meat, but there is, I'm assuming a market, or is there a market like where you can actually just sell the pelts, or are most people using the pelts and making things out of them just to use for themselves, then when they get an excess, perhaps offering, goes for sale? Or what do you see happening a lot with the pelts with rabbits?
Jeremy Chambers: Well, the pelts are one of those things that the market's hot or cold. You have to either find a creative way in order to use your pelts, or for us, sometimes they do end up just in the compost, because they are either a pelt that is of poor quality because they're young rabbits, and so the skin is going to be very thin. So, they don't really hold up to being tanned well. If one of your main focuses is getting that additional bi-product of the pelts, then you're going to be raising your rabbits to a minimum of 16 weeks of age, closer to 20 weeks, more than likely.
And you're also going to only harvest your premium pelts in deep winter or deep summer when they're not in a molt because the molt will ruin the quality of the pelt and it'll have a lot of fur slippage. You have to find some creative ways to use the rest of the rabbit in order reduce your waste. We try to teach, in all the lectures or classes that we do, we try to teach as, use as much of the rabbit as you can, but don't feel bad if there's things you can't use, but almost every part of the rabbit will have a purpose beyond just the eating for human consumption.
There are people who have found a great market in their area. They're taking the whole pelts, cutting them into strips, twisting them, and making dog treats out of them, whether they're dehydrated or smoked or baked, or however they're deciding to cure them. The ears can be dried out and used as dog treats, as can the feet even. Obviously there's ... Rabbit's feet can be ... We process the feet and the tails, make key chains, use them in crafts.
The tails make these little nice little fur balls that, the fashion that was pretty big about five years ago, the furry balls that people were hanging off of their purses, ladies were hanging off their purses. We sold a lot of tales in that manner after they were properly processed. A lot of the internal organs can even be used, if you choose not to use them for human consumption, because just as a side note, if you're a liver pate lover, the rabbit liver, it's one of the largest livers, as liver to body size ratio, one of the largest livers in the animal kingdom.
It is also considered an extreme delicacy. So, if you enjoy liver, whether it's fried liver or liver pate, personally, I don't enjoy liver, but we have heard people raving about the rabbit liver. Some people will use the livers, the kidneys in soups and stews. We like to hold out our kidneys, livers, lungs, and hearts, and we will dehydrate those for dog treats, and they can be sold at farmer's markets or to friends, as long as your local laws allow it, of course. But a lot of the rabbit can be used, even if you're not necessarily using it for your own consumption.
If you're raising your rabbits out to five weeks and you're holding the meat back for yourself, and then using the rest of the products to either make craft items or animal treats, there is a good market out there for all natural, whole, possibly organically grown dog treats.
Melissa K Norris: Yeah. No, those are ... That's a wealth of different options there. That's really exciting. I'm really glad that you specified though, with the pelts, like with a molting, because I guess with the fur animals, I wasn't even thinking, like I know what the, when I used to have horses, I don't currently, but yeah, their coats are very different in the winter and summer. I wasn't really thinking about summer coat, winter coat when you're looking at for the pelt part. Yeah.
Jeremy Chambers: You know when it is molting season. We'll walk out into our bunny barn and it looks like it snowed overnight. You're just pulling fur out of your mouth and out of your eyes. It's just floating everywhere. It's bogged up all the fans we have in there. It gets pretty rough sometimes during molting season.
Melissa K Norris: Okay. This is good information to have though, so that you're not shocked and you know what's coming. That's really good. Well, there's so much more that we could cover and you are going to be, this year again, at the Virginia Homesteaders of America's Conference and you're going to be teaching some on rabbits, correct?
Jeremy Chambers: That's correct. We'll be doing an hour lecture on rabbits on the homestead, going all the way from picking out your breeding stock, all the way through processing, and even since the very beginning of Homesteaders of America, we will be doing a live rabbit processing at that class.
Melissa K Norris: Okay, great. I'm really hoping that it's not the same time as mine, because I want to catch that. I want to be there for that. For those who would like to find out more information now, or may not be able to attend the conference, where is the best place for people to connect with you to continue to learn more about the rabbits and homesteading and that type of stuff?
Jeremy Chambers: Well, I'll be honest with you, I run everything for our social media, so that could go days without posting anything, but we try to keep everybody updated through Facebook at Independence Acres Homestead, or Instagram using the same handle, Independent Acres Homestead, and we also have a lot of our rabbit content on our YouTube channel. We are still a small YouTube channel, so we're growing a little bit. But most of our rabbit content we did make earlier in our YouTube life. So, we'll probably be remaking some of those as the years go on here, but it ages pretty well.
We've got an entire series on Cuniculture, which is actually the accurate name for the practice of raising rabbits for meat or other byproducts.
Melissa K Norris: Say that again. I need to hear that then.
Jeremy Chambers: Cuniculture.
Melissa K Norris: Cuniculture. Okay.
Jeremy Chambers: Yes. You can find that ... Unfortunately with my nerves, if I try to spell it for you, I'm going to screw it up.
Melissa K Norris: That's okay. Well, you can send me the link and we will put it in the blog post ...
Jeremy Chambers: I will do that.
Melissa K Norris: That accompanies this episode, and then anybody who's listening needs a clickable link to all of the things that you just mentioned, we'll make sure that, that's included in the blog post that goes out with this episode.
Jeremy Chambers: Absolutely.
Melissa K Norris: Great. Well, thank you so much. I learned a ton. I know I'm going to have more questions, so I'm really looking forward to your class, and don't be surprised if you get an email from me.
Jeremy Chambers: You can reach out anytime. I'm more than willing to share, and I will probably talk too much when it comes to rabbits.
Melissa K Norris: Oh, I love that. I'm right there with you. When I'm passionate about it and you find somebody, you're like, yes, let me tell you all the things.
Jeremy Chambers: Oh, you want to know about rabbits, do you?
Melissa K Norris: Aw, this is awesome. Thank you so much, Jeremy. Like I said, this was really exciting. I'm going to be having ... My daughter is the one that actually, she's 12, and she really is the one that wants to take on rabbits and get a breeding pair, or perhaps two does to the buck, the ratio that you told us there. So, she will be listening to this episode as well, because I told her, if we got rabbits, they were going to be her project. Of course, we'll help, but it's something that she's-
Jeremy Chambers: There you go. Got to love that ownership, right?
Melissa K Norris: Yep, she's going to be taking on. So, she'll be listening to this episode, and will also actually be accompanying me this year in October to HOA, so she'll [crosstalk 00:48:06].
Jeremy Chambers: Now, are you guys going to be there the day before for the hands-on class?
Melissa K Norris: We are, yeah.
Jeremy Chambers: You're doing a class, aren't you?
Melissa K Norris: I am, but yeah, but she's not.
Jeremy Chambers: If she's going to be there, you can send her to come find me and I will allow her to audit the class.
Melissa K Norris: Oh, that would be amazing. Thank you.
Jeremy Chambers: No problem, it's my pleasure.
Melissa K Norris: Oh, awesome. Okay. Well, I'm very excited now, even more so, especially for her. I can't wait till we get off here and I get to go and tell her that. So, thank you so much. This was a wealth of information. I really appreciate it. Thank you for coming on.
Jeremy Chambers: It's been my pleasure. I really appreciate it.
Melissa K Norris: I hope that you enjoyed this episode as much as I did, and I can't wait to hear if you decide to start raising meat rabbits, or if you are raising meat rabbits and have any tips to share with those of us who are not yet, we would love to see them in either a review of the podcast. You could go to the blog post and leave those in the comments or share with me on social media. But I hope that you enjoyed this and you learned a lot right along with me. I've got another jam packed, awesome episode for you next week that I can't wait to share with you. So, until then, blessings and Mason jars from now.
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