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Rabbits are amoung the easiest and most cost-effective animals that can be raised. They are a little more work than chickens, but considerably less expensive than any other food animal. They are cold tolerant, easy to process, and reproduce quickly. The skins can be used for leather and the waste products can be composted.
Lops, Flops and Mini-lops and all the smaller breeds are more suited as pets. For meat, stick with a plain white rabbit. The Flemish Giants and similar giant breeds are slower growing, and not as worth the effort IMO.
Feeding & Watering
Commercial feeds are fine. Green garden waste are always appreciated. Timothy, Alfalfa or good quality praerie hay should also be made available. Snacks can include small pieces of fruit like apple and pear or vegetables like carrot. A ceramic food bowl is the best, or a metal feeder that hangs down on the outside of cage and pokes through. Do Not Use Rubber or Plastic - they will be eaten. Clean water should always be available, and changed once a day.
Use an all-metal cage - any wood components will be chewed and eventually fail. One-inch mesh works fine for sides and top, but a smaller 1/2" mesh (also known as hardware cloth) should be used for the flooring. Make sure to use only galvanized mesh, not a vinyl coated wire that would be chewed off and injested. Build the cages at least 24" wide by 18" deep by 18" tall or larger, with a hinged door that can be securely fastened. Metal braces are required. Angle iron works fine, or whatever is available. If the cages can be elevated three or four feet off the ground, cleaning will be made much easier. One cage per animal - do not keep adult rabbits (of any sex) together in the same cage.
Cover about half of the cage floor with a few inches of hay or straw. This will provide bedding material to keep the animal warm, as well as a light snack to chew on.
For breeding does, make a wooden box aproximately 10" wide by 10" tall by 14" deep (more or less depending on the breed of rabbit). Do not use pressure-treated wood - it is poisonous. Cheap pine is fine, scavenged pallets work as well. The box should be open fronted, with maybe a three-inch lip of wood to keep the babies in. Fill the box with hay and add it to the cage.
In general, do not allow the rabbits to be rained on, or suffer excessive heat for long periods of time, or freezing temperatures without adequate protection.
Ear mites are an occasional problem. If the rabbit scratches its ears excessively, or the inside of the ears are crusty or red, you might have a problem. Consult your veterinarian or the over-the-counter drug section of your local feed store.
Rabbits are ready to process by fourteen weeks of age, or when they reach five to six pounds.
Drive two sixteen-penny nails into a tree at about eye level, approximately six inches apart horizontally. Snip off the heads of the nails. These nails will be used to hold the carcass while it is being processed. After you kill the animal, place it on the tree head-down by pushing the ankles onto the nails so that they push through the tendons. Cut a 'Y' through the skin from the ankle of each back leg, down to the vent, and straight down to the throat. Cut around the fore-limb ankles, and slit up to the chest. Slit all the way around the ankle skin, and pull the skin down. You should be able to pull the skin all the way down off carcass, leaving it hanging around the head. Remove the head and skin at this time, then slit the belly and remove the entrails. The cleaned carcass can then be removed from the tree as you remove the feet.
Wash the carcass thoroughly and freeze if not to be used immediately. The meat can be treated as you would fresh chicken: fried, baked, BBQed, or stewed (rabbit and dumplings are delicious!!!)
With six breedings per year, 20 does and a pair of bucks, and an average litter size of 8 kits, at three pounds of meat each, 144 pounds of meat per year can be expected. Your milage may vary. Feed will be the largest recurring expense.