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Raising Meat Rabbits

Raising Meat Rabbits

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Published by: coyotewelder6282 on Jun 12, 2009
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Cornell Small Farms Program &Department of Animal ScienceLivestock Fact Sheets
Raising Meat Rabbits
Revised 10/7/2005
Rabbits are raised for pets, show, laboratorytesting, pelts, Angora wool, and meat. Rabbitmeat—considered a delicacy by many—is lowin fat, high in protein, and delicately flavored.A part-time operation consists of fewer than100 rabbits, while the uncommon full-timeoperation would consist of at least 600 doesand 60 bucks. Each productive doe can beexpected to kindle (give birth to) 25 to 50bunnies a year, yielding 125 to 250 pounds of meat.Successful producers have a well-consideredniche marketing strategy, selling to processors,wholesalers, restaurants, or individual buyers.The margin of profit on meat rabbits is slim, sopotential producers are advised to start smalland to regard raising rabbits as a source of supplemental income.
The two best meat breeds in New York are thewhite New Zealand and Californian rabbitsbecause they produce more rapid growth and amore uniform fryer (rabbit ready for sale at 8weeks). Some producers crossbreed these twobreeds to get vigorous hybrid offspring.Californian.New Zealand
Feed Requirements
Care should be taken not to over feed rabbits,because overweight rabbits tend to have moredifficulty mating and kindling. Feedingcommercial rabbit pellets is the easiest, mostcomplete approach to nutrition. Alfalfa haycontributes fiber and nutrition, provided it staysfresh and does not mold. Offering greens suchas lettuce and cabbage is not advisable becauseit can cause diarrhea. Feeding rabbits in theevenings works well because it is their naturaltime to eat.From the time she is bred through her nursingperiod, the doe should be allowed to eat asmuch high-protein feed as she desires, asshould her young litter. A doe with her 8 youngcan consume 100-120 pounds of feed duringthe 8-week nursing period. Does without littersand bucks should be fed about 6 oz of pelletsper day. Junior bucks and young does raised forbreeding should be given 1 oz of feed perpound of body weight per day. Good qualityalfalfa hay can consist of up to 40% of the diet.Fresh water from an automatic watering systemshould be available in abundant supply, as adoe and her litter require a full gallon of watera day in warm weather.
The initial investment to build rabbit hutchescan be substantial. Since rabbits do not tolerateextremes of temperature nor moldy feeds, therabbitry must have adequate cooling, heating,and ventilation. Rabbits also require lighting 12hours a day year-round for optimum breeding.Individual hutches are frequently constructedfrom welded wire in ½” x 1” mesh, includingmesh floors, which are more sanitary thanwood or other material. Mature does and bucksneed their own cages at least 20 inches tall and30 inches wide and deep. Some producers findit helpful to suspend the cages at eye level, tominimize bending. A feed hopper and wateringsystem should be attached to each cage.Nest boxes made from scrap lumber, metal, orcardboard-lined metal will be needed fornesting does. Cages and nest boxes should besanitized after each use. Hair should be burnedoff the cages with a propane torch to preventdisease spread.Nest Box*
This simple nest box can be made from scrap lumber tofit right inside the cage.
24" total length12" height back 6" height in front12" wide12" for both open front and closed back *plans taken from Agricultural Alternative, Penn StateCooperative Extension.
Handling and Labor RequirementsI. Health
Rabbits are not routinely vaccinated fordiseases as are larger livestock, but medicinecan be added to their feed or water whennecessary. Building a relationship with a localveterinarian will be most beneficial.The most common disease among rabbits isintestinal coccidiosis, caused by parasiticprotozoa. Signs include loss of appetite anddiarrhea. Once an animal is host to coccidia, itis most difficult to eliminate, though sulfadrugs added to food or water may be helpful.The best treatment is prevention of fecalcontamination of the food, water and housingarea.A second common disease is pasteurellosis, arespiratory infection that is contagious. Infectedindividuals will cough, sneeze and show signsof wet matted hair around their eyes and nose.One route is to treat these individuals withadvice from your veterinarian. A second morepractical solution should be to separate infectedindividuals from the herd and cull them, as theyfrequently continue to carry the responsiblebacteria and develop marginal immunity atbest.Many diseases can be prevented by providingrabbits appropriate nutrition, temperature,ventilation, and sanitation.
II. Management
Producers exploring rabbit production areencouraged to start small, with 10 to 20breeding does, and one buck for every 10 does.The rabbitry can be expanded if the producerfinds rabbit keeping to his or her liking.Record keeping is essential in raising rabbits.It’s suggested that producers attach cards tohutches noting the rabbit’s name or number, thename or number of the buck to which the doewas bred, the breeding date, the date of last
Level of Skill
kindling, number of young born, number of young weaned, and weight of young at weaningtime. Breeding animals can also be identifiedwith ear tattoos.
Source of supplemental income in sparetime, 200 hours/yr for 20 does
Very little land needed
Less physically demanding than raisinglarger livestock When healthy does reach 6 to 7 months, theyare ready for breeding. Does should always betaken to the bucks cage, since does will protecttheir home territory from intruders and fightingmay ensue. Mating should occur immediately.If the doe is not receptive to the buck, removeher and try again in day or so.
Moderate initial investment in rabbitstock and facilities
Establishing market location
Slim profit margins
Requires daily chores, year-roundRabbit gestation takes 31 days. Producersshould introduce nest boxes to the hutch at 28days, so the doe can prepare to birth and nurseher litter. The average litter will be 8 to 10young. The nest box should be removed 15 to21 days after birth, and the young should beweaned in about 30 days. Fryers are sold tomarkets at about 8 weeks.
Management learning curve
Animal Source
To locate rabbit suppliers in NY State go to:Finger Lakes Rabbit Breeders Assochttp://flrba.tsbunnybarn.com/ 
Average prices received for breeding does is$10-$15 each and breeding bucks are $15-$25each.
Market Availability
Meat rabbit web listserve sign up at:http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Meatrabbits/ New York R&CBADeborah VeccihoPO BOX 33Parish, NY 13131
Reproductive Statistics for RabbitsFEMALE
Age of puberty 4 to 9 months (breeddependent)Breeding weight New Zealand &Californian at 7 lbsEstrous cycleSigns Restlessness, nervousnessand rubbing chin onequipmentOvulation 10 to 13 hours after firstbreedingGestation length 30 to 33 daysBreeding season Year around
Age of puberty 6 to 10 months (breeddependent)Breeding season Year aroundBreeding ratio 1 buck : 10 to 20 does
Adapted from. Washington State University Cooperative Extension

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