Yeah, I said it.
Raising rabbits with the intention of eating them. While it may sound incredibly off-putting to those who haven’t encountered the idea before, those homesteading in small spaces have probably at least heard of the practice if they haven’t already done it themselves.
While yes, some keep rabbits as pets, rabbits were originally domesticated with the intention to provide food for a family. It’s eaten regularly in fine restaurants and isn’t at all unusual in Europe and other places. In fact, rabbits have been able to provide an inexpensive, high-quality meat source for struggling families in third-world countries.
Around here, it’s our main meat source.
I know, I know. They are cute. They are fluffy.
They are also delicious.
All joking aside, we did not take the decision to raise rabbits for meat lightly. I am an animal lover, and it pricked my heart to think of taking such a cute and fluffy animal’s life and turn it into a meal.
However, I love all animals. That includes the chickens, pigs and cattle raised in factory farm settings. Standing in their own feces, confined to horrifically small spaces, and subject to all manner of diseases and the drugs that become necessary as a result of their living conditions. Often times, they are also subject to mistreatment and abuse at the hands of the people who are supposed to be their caretakers.
When I pick up a styrofoam package of meat from the store, my money goes into the pockets of the people and companies that allow these unsafe and inhumane practices to continue.
When I take a rabbit out of my freezer, I support not only my own family with clean, healthy meat, but I also support taking personal responsibility for the life of the animal whose meat we eat. I know that rabbit was happy and healthy. It was given fresh grass and wasn’t taken from its mother at an unnaturally early age. That rabbit was fed good food, given fresh water, and treated kindly from the moment of its birth to its humane and quick death.
That’s the kind of meat I can support. If the only sacrifice is the sadness I feel at how closely I must participate in the ending of its life, well, it’s worth it.
Now, that being said, there are a lot of reasons why raising rabbits for meat is ideal for the backyard homesteader with limited space.
Rabbits are prolific. Their pregnancies only last about 28-32 days. They can have anywhere from 4-14 kits (baby rabbits) in a litter, but ours average around 8. They also have a fast turn around time, and can be bred again the day after they have their babies. We typically do not practices this, as it can adversely affect the health of the mother, so we give each doe (female rabbit) a month or two (often even more) between pregnancies.
Rabbits don’t take up a lot of space. They can live happily in the right sized cage with no problems.
Rabbits love forage. Grass clippings or surplus greens from the garden are a welcome addition to their diet.
Rabbits grow quickly. We usually process our rabbits between the ages of 8-10 weeks old. When you choose the right breed, you get a good meat to bone ratio and a good sized meal in a very short amount of time.
Rabbits taste great! The flavor is similar to chicken but a little stronger. Any recipe that uses chicken or pork can be used to cook rabbit. The only difference is that because rabbit is such a lean meat, you need either add fat to the recipe to keep it from becoming rubbery, or cook it “low and slow” so that the meat stays tender.
I use a crock-pot for a lot of my recipes and I’ve been able to tweak it between a slightly firmer meat and a tender, falling-off-the-bone consistency. Pressure cooking is also a great way to cook rabbit.
Honestly, I could go on and on about the virtues of raising rabbits for meat, but these are some of the most basic reasons why raising rabbits for meat is great for backyard homesteaders, or any kind of homesteader, really! I have plenty of more information on rabbits to share in future posts, including how to get started, how to butcher, and even some great rabbit recipes!