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Cost effective rabbits for meat

 
Tuco Jacobs
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I'm a total newbie. I'm researching things for a future urban homestead that I'm planning. I'm trying to become more self sustainable and would like to raise/grow as much of my own food as I can on a small (1/2 acre-ish) plot of land. Rabbits seems to be a logical option for on a small lot. What are some ways to make raising rabbits for meat more cost effective? ie: most cost effective breeds, feed, growing own rabbit food, etc. thanks
 
Su Ba
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I raise rabbits for meat purposes, and expenses are a significant concern to me, too. So this is how I've handled the situation.
1- I got my rabbits from a meat breeder. They are mostly New Zealand with a bit of Californian mixed in. Not show rabbits, but proven meat lines instead.
2- no rabbit pellets. I use alfalfa hay cubes instead. In my locale the cubes are almost half the price.
3- I grow or forage most of their fresh feed. I'm finding that by using a lot of fresh feed that the rabbits tend to be too lean, so I've had to use a bit of oats and corn to provide more energy in their diet. I'm growing corn for them but still need to start growing my own oats.
4- I've found that young sweet potato leaves and the growing tips of the vines are exceptionally good for feeding. In fact I've fed some weanlings mostly sweet potato greens and some oats & corn daily and they finished out very nicely. They did get some other greens, but at that time I was short on feed due to drought but had plenty of sweet potato vines on hand.
5- some of the young rabbits are sold as pets or as meat rabbits in order to bring in money to buy the hay cubes.
6- the hutches were built out of recycled wood pallets and used metal roofing panels in order to save money. I did buy new fencing material for the sides and floors.
7- although I use most of the manure in my own gardens, I will at times sell rabbit manure. Another source of a bit of cash.

My future plans include growing oats and growing alfalfa. I have enough land to grow the alfalfa I need, therefore eliminating the store bought hay cubes. It's just a case of getting the land ready and setting up the system. I haven't tried growing alfalfa here yet, so I'm not even sure it will grow well. But I'll figure it out.
 
Mike Cantrell
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Su Ba wrote:I raise rabbits for meat purposes, and expenses are a significant concern to me, too. So this is how I've handled the situation.


Awesome first-hand info, Su!

If it's not too intrusive, would you be willing to share what's your total cost on a finished rabbit? And do you know the average weight of meat you end up with at that cost?
 
Su Ba
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Total cash outlay for commercial feed comes to $3.30 per rabbit raised to slaughter. That cost includes everything......feeding of the adults year around, feeding of the weanlings to slaughter. That's based on 14 breeding does and two bucks. I could breed the does more frequently and bring that figure way down but I want my rabbits to have a decent life rather than get worn out being constantly pregnant. Quality of life is more important to me than having the best bottom line.

That $3.30 per rabbit gets offset by selling a some of the youngsters as pets or meat rabbits. I get $10 to $20 per youngster I sell, thus making my own meat free (cash wise that is).

I don't use much commercial feed. The vast majority of the feed is either homegrown or foraged. So I don't have a cash value assigned to that feed. It cost me my time to grow and gather that feed, so in a sense it's not free. But there is no cash outlay either.

I don't bother to weigh the carcass. So I can't give you a figure. The hind legs and loin go on the dinner plate. The rest goes to feed the cats and dogs.
 
Joe Camarena
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Adding in the cost of infrastructue I have just under $7 into each butcher ready rabbit. I butcher at 11-12 weeks with a live weight of 5-5.5lbs and a dressed weight of about 3lbs.

When I started with meat rabbits my goal was to have brood stock that produced 8-10 kits at birth, with 8 making it to market weight (5lbs) in 12 weeks, or less. My motto I always follow is, "Keep the best, sell the rest." "The best" to me means most litters there is a pick of the litter doe and buck, but not in all litters. Only sell your best (if you do not need replacement stock) and you will earn a great reputation as a meat rabbit breeder. There are very few who specialize in breeding meat rabbits that you'll will soon have waiting lists once your stock reaches market standards.

I keep a detailed journal for my rabbitry. When potential customers can read through my records, see all the litters the doe has had, what the buck produces, etc... this adds value to what you are trying to sell. I charge $35 for a pick of the litter doe, or buck, and sell them as soon as I list them for sale. $70 buys me three 50lb sacks of feed...that lasts a while!

I feed a corn free, non-gmo, 18% protein, alfalfa based pellet for about half of my rabbits calories. The rest is fodder from around the yard, crops specifically planted for them and my new favorite...sweet potato vines. Check this link out...

http://users.tamuk.edu/kfsdl00/Meat%20Rabbits%20Finished%20on%20Sweet%20Potato%20Forage%20Looks%20Good%20in%20Texas%20Research.pdf

To be cost effective my suggestions would be...

1) buy the best stock you can find
2) only keep the best to improve your stock, eat the rest
3) keep diligent records
4) feed fodder
5) plant crops just for the rabbits, or crops that you can share with the rabbits (radishes for me, tops for the rabbits)


The best results I have gotten is breeding a Californian buck to NZW does. This outcross produced 5lb kits for me in 10 weeks. HTH,

Joe
 
Ethriel Riverstone
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Location: North Carolina 7b, 8a
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My question is a little off topic but I'm new in the rabbit world (at research stage still). The fencing for rabbits....I understand most people use fencing for the floor to keep prey out of the coop or whatever the rabbit equivalent for a home is. Does the fence hurt their feet at all or do you place hay or something on top for them to walk on? I've wondered the same for chickens which I don't have yet either but plan to. I'm such a softy for their well being which I know you all are as well. Most homesteader types care more about their health than any profit. I am learning a lot from these forums and all your experience so thank you.
 
Su Ba
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I use 1"x1/2" welded wire for the flooring. Each pen has an elevated, solid floored, wooden 2'x2' lounging shelf. The rabbits use both pretty much equally for laying about. So it doesn't appear that they dislike the mesh flooring. The only problem with the shelf is that some of the rabbits will poop on it. Tilting the shelf slightly has helped keep it cleaner (the poop tends to roll off.)

I use mesh flooring for sanitation and health. Urine and most feces fall through, keeping the pen cleaner and dry. Moisture on the flooring, such as a urine soaked wooden floor or wet bedding, has caused sore feet in my rabbits before I switched to mesh flooring. My own rabbits are definitely better off on mesh. I live in the tropics where moisture can be a real problem.

As for my chickens, they are housed part of the day in a 10'x30' pen. The flooring is deep litter (6" to 8") over dirt. The pen has a tarp roof to keep the rain off.
 
Ethriel Riverstone
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Location: North Carolina 7b, 8a
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Thank you for that information. I didn't think about urine soaking into the flooring but I'm sure I would notice that. Good to know now then to be frustrated later rebuilding parts. I thought wire may be fine since cages are made that way for the small house pet and they do fine usually. I tend to over think things but I'd rather ask the dumb questions than needlessly hurt my animals. Thank you.
 
Craig Dobbelyu
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Don't forget about the pelts. The pelts from younger rabbits aren't worth much money on the market but you can still make use of them at home. They can be made into some pretty awesome winter hats and mittens. As you cull older animals you may find a market for their pelts though you'll likely have to save them up to sell in one big bunch.

Selling manure, breeding stock, meat, pets, 4H projects and even cages can help bring in a few extra dollars. Winter time is a good time to sit by a fire and put together welded wire cages. Once you get the hang of it you can make one in about a half hour and sell it for 50 dollars. There are plans online of course. I like a 36 X 30 X 16 inch cage for breeding does and growing litters. 24 X24 X 16 inches work well for a buck.

It's worth it to buy externally mounted feeders and water bottles too. They save time and feed as well as ensuring that your stock doesn't get away from you. I failed to latch a door once after messing with a water crock and ended up with eight bunnies (3 weeks old) running all over my front garden. Thankfully it's fenced well enough to keep them in, but catching them all was a task. Quick little things! Oddly the doe stayed put in the cage.

Also, welded wire nest boxes work better than the solid sided ones for me. 1/2 inch x 1 inch mesh keeps kits from sticking their heads through the side of the nest box and getting stuck. I like welded wire because it lets the nest breath and stay drier. In winter I line the bottom and sides with cardboard.

Breeding many does at one time means that they should all give birth on the same day or so. This can save you some money if you have one doe with too many kits. You can foster some kits from a large litter to a doe with a small litter to help increase your survival rate. Recently I had a doe give birth to 12 kits. Her sister deliver 6 kits the next day. During our morning "role call" I moved a few from the large litter to the small one. Each doe had 9 kits now and they all survived.
Some people put a little vanilla extract on the foster does nose to keep her from IDing the foster baby right away and rejecting it. This gives time for the foster baby to pick up the scent of it's new nest mates to avoid detection as an intruder. If it saves a few kits it worth it.
 
Henry Ikeme
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Newzealand and californian breeds have adapted well to wire floor cages. Bigger breeds like the flemish giant will have problem with it.
 
I agree. Here's the link: http://stoves2.com
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