Meat Rabbit care guide
*Disclaimer: All breeders have their own methods for raising rabbits. The information presented below is based on research and our own personal experiences here at Hephzibah Homestead. Our hope is that this advice will set you on your own path to the amazing experience of raising your own livestock!
Originally bred for their meat and fur in California, New Zealand and Californian rabbits have similar origins. Their rounded bodies and larger size make them great brood stock animals for the family and homestead alike. They make great pets as well as show rabbits when accompanied with a pedigree.
Our crossbreed of rabbit is incredibly hardy during harsh winters when provided with adequate shelter and bedding. However, their size and thick coat can cause issues in hotter climates. Be sure to provide proper ventilation and frozen water bottles or ice during hot summers.
Does do not have cycles and can be bred at any time (hence the saying “breeding like rabbits!”). Larger breeds reach sexual maturity at 4 ½ months but some breeders find they’re most efficient at breeding when they reach 6 months of age.
The doe is placed in the buck’s hutch when breeding begins. Never place the buck in the doe’s cage! She can become aggressive and wound (even castrate or kill) your buck. Once in the buck’s hutch, they may chase each other or your doe may try to mount your buck. She will illustrate readiness to mate when she lifts her tail. Successful breeding has occurred when the buck has mounted the doe, and fall off. The buck will often let out a humorous shriek or squeal before falling off. Two to three fall-offs are optimal for assurance of pregnancy. After breeding, remove the doe and place back in her own hutch to prevent any further stress. Never leave them unattended: if the doe doesn’t want to breed and becomes aggressive, intervention will be necessary.
The doe’s gestational period is between 28-33 days. Hormones allow belly and leg fur to loosen allowing the doe to pull fur in her nesting box prior to birth, giving you an indication of when you’ll have kits! Litters vary between breeds and rabbit health but average between 6 to 8 kits for this breed. It is important to check the kits several times a day during the first week to make sure the doe is feeding and covering the litter. Check for warm, rounded bellies and remove any stillborn or cold kits. The doe will separate any kits she feels unfit for survival.
The kits should have fur and open eyes by 2 weeks of age and can then begin to wander from the nest box. Make sure to take proper precautions if your litter is born in a colder climate/season. Remove the nest box when kits are roughly 4 weeks of age (or when they stop spending most of their time in the box and have full fur) to prevent it from being used as a litter box.
When handled from birth, kits acclimate to human touch very quickly and will catch on to daily routines. They will recognize their caretaker’s voice and can even learn basic commands and to use a litter box (ideal for indoor/pet rabbits). This can make raising rabbits with children very rewarding as it gives them the chance to understand the responsibility of raising a simple livestock animal.
Harvesting age is entirely up to the breeder. Meat kits can be weaned from their mother between 5 to 6 weeks of age but most breeders recommend to wait until the kits are 8 weeks of age to separate from the mother. Rabbits between 8 and 12 weeks (weighing approximately 3 to 4 pounds live) are called “fryers”. “Roasters” are between 12 weeks and 6 months of age (weighing approximately 5 ½ to 8 lbs live). The typical butchering age for most breeders is between 8-12 weeks.
Allow several days in between weaning your kits and rebreeding your doe to give her some time to rest. This will help extend her lifespan. However, If your doe is overweight, some breeders suggest to separate/wean her kits at 5-6 weeks and rebreed her promptly. Excessive weight gain can prevent successful pregnancies and lead to health issues.
• Free-feeding a high protein (16-18% protein) complete pellet is the easiest way to put on the pounds for a healthy, balanced development.
• Fresh hay must be provided daily as hay makes up approximately 80% of your rabbits’ diet. Orchard grass, Timothy and Alfalfa hays are all sufficient. It is recommended, however, to limit the amount of Timothy hay or to blend it with other varieties due to its higher sugar content.
• Supplementing with fresh vegetables such as dandelions from your yard and bell peppers and from your garden is a great way to keep variety in their diet and cut feed costs. Fruit should be given sparingly as a treat: rabbits are prone to diabetes when given too many treats high in sugars.
• Rabbits’ teeth never stop growing so they instinctively chew, chew, chew! If building your own hutch, make sure your wood choice is rabbit-safe: untreated woods and plywood are optimal. Treated pine and cedar are NOT safe for the inside of the rabbit hutch. Giving your rabbits fresh twigs from apple, pear and maple trees are great options to avoid excessive hutch destruction and for chewing enrichment to ward off boredom or obsessive behaviors such as over-grooming.
• Coated hardwire mesh is a great choice for the bottom of your hutch. Allowing waste to fall through flooring is best to prevent infections from the rabbit sitting in waste. This also saves on bedding expenses and the time devoted to cleaning!
• Provide a den in the hutch as a place for your rabbit to hide. Rabbits are natural burrowers and need a place in which they feel safe. This can also serve as a wind block during colder seasons.
• A dry rabbit is a happy rabbit! Make sure the inside of your hutch stays dry during harsh weather with adequate roofing if your hutch is outdoors.
What to stock in your first-aid kit:
• Ivermectin cattle pour-over ( for treating ear mites)
• Vetericyn antimicrobial wound spray
& Vetericyn ophthalmic gel
• VetRx respiratory care
• Safe-guard dewormer pellets
• Cat nail clippers
• Small brush for grooming