Raising meat rabbits is an easy, inexpensive way to enhance your family’s meat supply. Rabbits are relatively easy to care for, produce many offspring, and do not require a great deal of space. When raised correctly, they experience very few health issues and are an excellent source of quality, fresh meat. However, proper set-up, good breeding practices, and correct daily maintenance are crucial to ensure your rabbitry is a success.
Purchase the Best
Carefully research which breeds are best for meat production and are available nearby. While many breeds can be used for meat production, some breeds such as the New Zealand offer excellent feed to meat conversion rates and boast better meat to bone ratios compared to other breeds.
When selecting your stock, buy only from a reputable breeder, and be sure to ask for pedigrees. Steer clear of auctions and flea market sales, because people selling at those types of venues are only looking to get rid of problem stock. Your goal is to find the best so that you can produce the best.
Protect Your Herd from the Elements
Generally, rabbits do quite well in cold temperatures. However, you will want to protect them from the wind and keep them dry at all times. During periods of below-freezing temperatures, you may need to thaw their water bottles or bowls several times a day. Remember that a rabbit that can not drink will not eat. Any newborn kits can be brought inside if temperatures are extremely cold. Just bring the nestbox back to the mother twice a day so that she can nurse them.
In the summer, it is crucial to keep your rabbitry at a comfortable temperature. Rabbits can succumb to heat exhaustion rather easily, and bucks that get too hot often become temporarily sterile. In addition to providing plenty of shade, many breeders run several fans in the rabbitry during the hottest part of the day. Others prefer to offer each rabbit a 2-liter bottle of water that has been frozen solid. Spraying the rabbitry roof with cool water can help to bring down the temperature too.
Meticulous record keeping will be a tremendous asset as your herd grows. You will want to keep accurate records for each rabbit noting:
• date of birth
• pedigree information
• breeding performance
• number of successful litters
• any health issues
Many breeders use hutch cards to display basic information on the cages and make use of record keeping software as well. Keeping a calendar in your rabbitry to jot down due dates and dates to provide nestboxes is a great help too. Whichever record keeping program you choose to implement, be diligent and update information regularly.
Use High Quality Feed
To maintain peak condition, optimum performance, and healthy growth rates, you must provide your rabbits with a high quality feed. Talk to other established breeders and find out what the ideal brand is in your particular area. Pellets should contain a minimum of 16 percent protein, and Timothy hay should be fresh and free of any mold.
While treats are fun to dish out, do not go overboard. A small piece of apple or carrot, a few black-oil sunflower seeds, or a bit of parsley offered twice a week or so will be plenty. You want to keep your stock trim and fit because overweight rabbits do not breed well or produce large litters.
Keep the Best
As litters begin to arrive, you will soon be faced with some difficult decisions. The saying goes, “Keep the best, cull the rest.” This is exactly what you should aim to do. Learn how to correctly evaluate your chosen breed, and then carefully go over each rabbit, judging according to breed standards. Select and keep the finest to add to your breeding program, and process the rest for the freezer. Having an experienced breeder demonstrate this process can help you develop a keen eye for spotting a terrific rabbit.
Raising rabbits for meat is a huge step toward becoming more self-sufficient. Utilizing these tips will put you and your rabbitry on the right track to ensure that your herd remains healthy and productive for a long time to come.