Failing at raising meat rabbits

Raising meat rabbits is hard

I was about to throw my arms up in the air and call it quits.

Raising meat rabbits is hard. I was about to give up when I had a change of heart | www.pickytoplenty.com

I am failing miserably at raising meat rabbits.

I woke up yesterday morning to a dreary, rainy day. The day was made worse when I finally braved the elements and headed outside for my morning chores. A peak into the rabbit hutch and my day was instantly ruined. It’s not easy raising meat rabbits.

Just two days prior it was the opposite. A quick peak in the hutch and my day was instantly made. Tucked in a corner was a nest with six baby bunnies. Yesterday, I found a nest full of dead bunnies. Just like that, they were gone.

I’m not having a good go at raising meat rabbits. It’s been a roller coaster.

First, we lost Thumper. Then we were delighted to discover he had successfully done the deed before his passing. Six healthy babies were born. Six babies who many months later are still hopping around the hutch.

Raising rabbits for meats is a lot of work. Is it worth it? | www.pickytoplenty.com

A nest of baby bunnies.

Raising rabbits for meat is hard. Homesteading, in general, is hard. I struggle with the idea of butchering the fuzzy little hoppers every time I look at them and they look back with their big eyes and long ears. I have a hard time looking at them as food. Maybe it’s because rabbit isn’t already a part of our diet. In fact, I’ve never even eaten rabbit.

So why raise rabbits for meat if you’ve never eaten rabbit?

To cut costs on feeding ourselves and our dogs. At least, that was the idea anyway.

In theory, it sounded like a great concept. Get a couple of rabbits, feed them, breed them and voila, dinner for us and dinner for the dogs. Just one buck and one doe, depending on the breed, can produce up to 100 offspring in a year. That’s 100 times more rabbit than I ate last year and 100 dinners that can be produced in our own backyard. What can go wrong?

A lot.

A whole lot.

Despite the hours I spent reading up on raising rabbits for meat, I have utterly failed at doing a good job at it. My hutch, while it gives the rabbits a lot of space, is hard to clean and impractical. It worked with three rabbits — a male on one side and the two does (sisters who had been together since birth) on the other. It did the job.

But then we had a litter of six, healthy baby bunnies. And those bunnies grew quickly. Too quickly. I wasn’t prepared to butcher them so instead, we kept them. With winter on its way, we decided to keep the babies with the two females so no one would freeze. They survived the winter with few problems. But now it’s spring time and the boys are a little too enthusiastic about it.

Is it worth raising rabbits for meat?

Four healthy, happy bunnies.

Having everyone together is no longer working out. While it is possible to colony raise meat rabbits, they need much more space than our hutch provides. It was never our intention to raise them in a colony, it just kind of happened when winter arrived and we had all these rabbits.

Ready to give up

After discovering the dead babies yesterday, I was ready to call it quits. I was ready to sell the rabbits I do have, tear down the hutch and raise only poultry for meat. I was ready to just walk away from it all.

Heading into this lifestyle, I knew it wouldn’t be easy. I knew it was going to take hard work and lots of it. I knew there was going to be as many failures as there are successes. If I let every failure discourage me I wouldn’t be collecting fresh eggs from the coop every day, I wouldn’t have had fresh produce all last summer and a shelf full of preserves in the basement. Giving up is easy, sticking it out is hard.

I have two options: I can get rid of the rabbits and chalk this whole journey up as a failure, or I can learn from my mistakes and have a successful meat rabbit operation.

Starting over with meat rabbits

I shouldn’t say the entire journey has been a failure. The reason I am struggling now, is because I successfully bred meat rabbits. I just haven’t been able to repeat that success and it’s completely my fault. Luckily, mistakes are our greatest teachers and I have learned many lessons from my first foray into raising meat rabbits.

So where do I go from here?

First thing is to fix the hutch. To create a space that is both functional for cleaning and comfortable for the rabbits. We chose the design we have because we wanted our rabbits to have space, what we didn’t consider was how often a rabbit cage needs to be cleaned. The most important improvement to the hutch will be adding a wire floor so that poop can drop through, creating a cleaner space for the rabbits. For some reason, the girls like to poop in the house part of our hutch, not in the run part. By adding a mesh floor, cleaning the houses will be easier and the area will be kept cleaner for the rabbits. I also want to make the door bigger so I don’t have to crouch into the hutch to clean the run space. The next step will be to construct proper nesting boxes, one for each doe.

In fixing the hutch, we will also be fixing Thumper’s side, which has been vacant since he passed in September. The house part on that side needs easier access for cleaning as well as a wire floor. We will also need to split up that side if we are going to be keeping more than one buck.

The most difficult part of starting over, is figuring out what to do with the rabbits we have. The girls, two New Zealand whites, will be staying, along with the lone doe remaining from our first litter (one buck and doe went to a friend who is raising her own meat rabbits). It’s the three bucks I have to make a decision about. A decision I don’t want to make.

The most logical solution is to butcher two of the bucks and keep one for breeding, This will cut down on feeding costs and space. But it means butchering two rabbits. The thing I have dreaded since deciding to add rabbits to our homestead.

I've dreaded the idea of processing rabbits since the day we brought home our first buck.

I’ve dreaded the idea of processing rabbits since the day we brought home our first buck.

I dreaded processing day for the chickens. I doubted I would be able to watch without crying as our seven roosters met their end. I surprised myself. There were no tears, no squeamishness. But those were chickens.

I am not one of those people who name their chickens and treat them as pets. I don’t particularly like chickens, though they can be pretty entertaining. I have no desire to pick them up and pet them. I do talk to them on occasion. Every morning they are greeted with “good morning chickens” and the day ends with a “goodnight chickens.” The hens get a “thank you” when they leave me an egg. That’s about the extent of my relationship with our flock.

The same goes with the rabbits. They get a good morning and a good night. I don’t pick them up and pet them much. I don’t consider them to be pets either but I seem to have more of an attachment to them. There is something about the idea of butchering a bunny that puts me off. They are cute and furry, not creepy and feathered. No matter how much I try and talk myself into it, I don’t know that I will ever be prepared to butcher a rabbit. But I have to be.

Of course I can always just sell two of the bucks and prolong the inevitable. Eventually, I will have to go through with it, or very quickly our little homestead will be overrun with little hoppers. But it’s just so damn hard to think about.

What I have to remind myself is this: home-raised meat is far more humane than what is available in the grocery store. We are providing our animals with the best life possible. A life that includes fresh air and sunshine, not tiny cages and a closed in space. I keep telling myself this, but it doesn’t make it any easier. The alternatives are to pay someone to do the deed (which goes against our entire reason for raising meat rabbits — cost savings) or get rid of them and focus on birds (which are less cute and easier to think of as food).

A good friend has offered to help me with the first two (if I decide two of the bucks have to go). That will be the ultimate test on whether or not raising meat rabbits is for me. Only time (limited, eek!) will tell.

Do you raise meat rabbits? Did you struggle with your first processing? How did you overcome the fear of butchering bunnies? Share in the comments below.

Meat rabbit butchering resources

Raising Meat Rabbits: a tale of food self sufficiency from Daily KOS

Harvesting the Rabbits from The Elliot Homestead

Confessions of a Former Rabbit Killer from The Self Sufficient Home Acre

How to Butcher a Rabbit from Raising-Rabbits.com

 

22 thoughts on “Failing at raising meat rabbits

  1. I *love* how you work through it, face the difficulties, and recognizing that meat-eating means accepting the butchering.

    It’s hard. All of the stuff we read about “just do this” and “just do that”. I’ve told my husband that I’m going to scream at the next person who tells me to “just” do something, because it’s always something far, far more difficult and complicated than “just” would indicate. Just fence an acre of pasture. Just build a barn. Just kill a rooster or rabbit or young goat.

    I echo your thoughts on chickens. I’m glad I have mine, and they’re entertaining, but I don’t get the chickens-as-pets thing. They’ll peck your eyes out, given a chance, and they’ll go at each other, given half a chance. I suppose it didn’t help that, when we started, four of our two-month-old chickens got hurt and bloodied – and the rest pecked them to death. I saw first hand how nasty they can be.

    No names, no pets, and no tears when one comes to the dinner table.

    We have had young goats that we probably should have butchered – instead we sold them. When we get rabbits this year, I’m going to have the same struggle that you have

    • Thanks Marie! There’s a lot of ups and downs in this kind of lifestyle. Butchering, I think, will always be a difficult task, no matter what the animal. It’s about working through the tough jobs and enjoying the rewards.
      I’m not sure I could ever butcher a goat. I desperately want goats for milk to make cheese. I can understand why you sold them rather than butchered. I would probably do the same.

  2. Raising animals for the purpose of eating them brings us face-to-face (literally) with our food. It’s not for everyone, but those of us who want to be self-sufficient eventually work through it. You managed with the chickens, you can do it with the bunnies. Is it easy? Nope- the first time we ate one of our chickens was actually tough, but it does get easier. It kinda brings into focus the whole concept that something has to die in order for us to live. Eventually, you reach a point where there is a deeper appreciation of each meal.
    On the topic of rebuilding your hutches, drop me a line. I’m currently trying to work out how to implement a European system for housing rabbits- it’s all underground and fenced run. If you have a decent hillside , you could go this route.

  3. Thank you for posting this. My husband and I are considering getting meat rabbits, and after wading through so many “how to” posts you get starry-eyed about the whole thing. Yesterday, we found our first dead chicken in the coop. We don’t know why. It was sobering to bury her without getting to use her for meat or eggs, and sad to see an animal we took care of pass unexpectedly. So I appreciate your balance and honesty in this post. I’ll let you know if we DO end up getting rabbits.

    • It’s always a sad day when you discover death on the homestead. But it is also part of the journey towards food self-sufficiency. I keep telling myself someone has to do it, and at least when we do it ourselves, we know that the animal had a good life, ate great food and met their end in a humane manner. Good luck if you decide to try them out.

  4. I really appreciate you sharing your thoughts and experience here (and Marie as well). We’ve gone through this with hunting to some degree. Some ideas work great in the planning stages, but are just too hard to carry out. After getting a bow, learning to shoot, and going out a couple times during archery season, I have decided I am not cut out for hunting. I will cook the meat and make sure not a bit is wasted. I am truly grateful for this source of allergen safe meat for our family. But I can’t kill them myself, or even sit still in a tree stand all day. I also decided not to have the rabbits threatening our garden as food. I love them, and all the other cute and furries, and can not bring myself to eat them. There were a few days when it seemed like a brilliant solution, but I just can’t. That’s ok too. We have to accept who we are, and what is comfortable for each of us. I can always grow more potatoes, right?

  5. Delores says:

    I so appreciate your honesty! I think I would like to raise rabbits for meat, but I won’t butcher them. And since my husband is unwilling (he is not squeamish, just doesn’t think it is worth the effort for so little meat) we just stick with chickens.

  6. We got three bucks as pets for the kids to start out. I thought this would help.me learn about rabbits, how to care for them, etc. It did. We have an awesome hutch built out back with little to no clean up needed, my kids do all the feeding and watering. And I don’t think I’d have a problem butchering them. The ones we have though will always be pets. Two of my kids are in love with them. My daughter talks about hers all the time and leads it around on a leash. Making the transition in the future may be difficult for them, but I’ve said from the beginning that they have their pets, but no one names or even plays too much with the others when we get them…..We’ll see……

  7. Allie says:

    This is my first time visiting your blog, found it while looking for others who may have advice as we start our own little homestead. I think this is a very interesting perspective, and I enjoyed reading your thought process. I’m a vegetarian and could never kill an animal myself (actually seeing a chicken get slaughtered for dinner at my aunt’s house when I was 8 was what convinced me to stop eating meat) so I understand the struggle you face. Hopefully it all works out for you!

    • Thanks. I had another setback today. Lost three breeding age rabbits including my two females. Looks like something tried to break into the rabbit house and they had heart attacks. I have four baby bunnies who are about a week old, although one looks like it is only days old. They are keeping warm in a shoebox made with their nest and some fresh straw and wrapped in a towel. We syringe fed them kitten meal replacer with heavy cream today and they all ate it. Time will tell. Two of them are just opening their eyes and they might have a fighting chance but I am rooting for the little guy too. I know these will not be butchering rabbits after bottle feedings which is ok since I will need new stock. Life on the homestead is not easy.

  8. Billie Day says:

    I am raising rabbits for meat. Last spring I bought one adult pair and then my son bought me a pair of babies. I bred the grown ups twice last year and after raising the second pair, bred them once. I ended up with 17 babies. My father and brother were hunters and I had no problems cleaning them, I just could not bring myself to kill them. A friend of my son told me he would be happy to butcher and dress them for me. He did this and I gave him 2 of the rabbits. He told me he would be happy to make that type of trade anytime, and came back to let me know how good they were. I didn’t breed during the winter and put my older pair together the first week of April. I will breed the younger pair after the first litter are weened. I have had people this spring ask me about buying babies from this first litter, the parents are French Flops, they are huge. people want them to breed some size into their meat rabbits.

  9. Shana says:

    I have butchered a lot of different animals in my life. I’ve never felt able to do rabbits, so I’ve never kept them for meat. I hope that you are able to be successful. Rabbits are a great way to get protein on a homestead.

  10. Katrina says:

    I thinks its wonderful that you are sticking too it despite all the troubles:) i have found rabbits one of the harder livestock to breed. Although i do quite enjoy raising them. This year though well be putting them in pasture type cages for the warmer months. As for butchering we have even blessed with a friend who will do it for us and we pay him in freshly butchered rabbits:)

  11. Tru sticking with it no matter how hard it is. My dad used to raise meat rabbits when I was a kid. I startes to raise meat rabbits in 2013, more then 20 years after my dad stopped raising rabbits and 10 years after my dad passed away. My first litter was raised in summer 2013, 4 little onces that I loved and adored, I was dreading to butcher them, well actually I was scared of the having to kill them part, the actual butchering afterwards Ibwas fine with… In the end one of my baby rabbits had an accident and knocked out her teeth and she needed the mercy killing so she would not starve ( she was 6 month old at that time and ready for butchering anyway). In the end it worked out and with each butchering my confidence grew. In 2014, I lost my first 3 litters ( between 3-4 little once each) because mom decided to eat them. I stopped using that doe and got two new onces, first litter with doe 1 dies after 3 days (10 little once) because mom wasnt feeding them, I bred the doe again (11 little onces) mom wasnt feeding them again, so I tried to hand rear them, grtting up and feeding them every 3 hours, after a week the first little once died, 3 days later they were all dead, i stopped using that doe and by then doe number 2 was old enough to breed. She reared two healthy litters in 2014 with 9 and 11 little once. Loosing so many litters in 2014 was tough and a learning experience. I have butchered all my rabbits and currentlybhave none. 2015 I am taking a break as I am expecting twins in the next few days and cleaning the rabbits etc wS too muchbwork being pregnant. I plan on getting another buck and doe in fall but need to do some changed around the hutches too, to make cleaning easier and practical (wire floor). As you said its hatd work raising meat rabbits but Ibkove the taste of rabbit meat and knowing were my meat comes from

  12. Hang in there. We raise meat rabbits and have 24 hutches. Losing litters is always hard, but we’ve come to expect it from a first time mom. Butchering, once you get past that first one, you’ll find is much faster and easier than chickens and they are so very tasty.

  13. MicrofarmMax says:

    i am contemplating getting meat rabbits…I have had the dreaded “too many roosters” issue yearly since I incubate my own chickens and of course many turn out to be Roos. Love you blog, your insights and honest reflections.

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