By: Tonya Barnett, (Author of FRESHCUTKY)
From chickensto pigs, interest in raising animals at home has grown exponentially. This, ofcourse, is not without obstacle. City regulations, lack of space, and complexanimal needs all contribute to the long list of considerations before decidingto take the next step in raising animals. It is easy to understand why somesearch for low maintenance choices.
For many, raising backyard rabbits has been a viable optionin which homeowners are able to efficiently use the available space.
There are many reasons to begin keeping backyard bunnies.Rabbits in the garden are an excellent way to get freemanure fertilizer. While some may raise rabbits as pets, others may chooseto raise them for meat. Regardless of the purpose, it’s important to becomefamiliar with their specific needs.
Most importantly, owners need to examine the rabbits’ needfor protection against factors such as weather and potential predators. Withthis in mind, raising backyard rabbits outdoors can be done easily andefficiently.
When keeping backyard bunnies, you will need to ensureaccess to shelter and food. The type of shelter required will depend on thetype and number of rabbits. While rabbit hutches are an excellent option forsmaller types, larger rabbits may need custom built enclosures.
It is vital that rabbits are provided with ample shelter,specifically shade, and access to cool areas during extreme heat. While manyrabbits are tolerant to cold temperatures, heat can be especially problematic. Otherequipment needed will include feeders, watering devices, and nesting boxes.
In researching how to raise rabbits outdoors, you will alsoneed to verify whether or not it is legal able to raise backyard rabbits inyour particular area. Many cities and urban areas do have strict regulationsregarding raising animals within the city limits.
These restrictions may greatly impact the number (if any) ofrabbits allowed, as well as the type of shelter that can be built. Checkinglocal ordinances beforehand may prevent many headaches and stress.
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Last Updated: March 26, 2021 References Approved
This article was co-authored by Pippa Elliott, MRCVS. Dr. Elliott, BVMS, MRCVS is a veterinarian with over 30 years of experience in veterinary surgery and companion animal practice. She graduated from the University of Glasgow in 1987 with a degree in veterinary medicine and surgery. She has worked at the same animal clinic in her hometown for over 20 years.
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If you choose to keep a pet rabbit outdoors either all or part of the time, proper precautions need to be taken to keep your bunny happy and healthy. Domesticated rabbits need an outdoor home that is spacious, secure, clean, dry, not too hot or cold, well-stocked with food and water, and not isolated from regular contact with humans and any rabbit friends. Help your furry friend live a life that is long enough and enjoyable enough to hop about!
If keeping your rabbit outside you must be mindful of these dangers:
Predators – pet bunnies aren’t as good at protecting themselves from predators as their wild ancestors. Rabbits are prey animals and are in danger of being attacked by cats, dogs, racoons, hawks or foxes.
Escape – rabbits like to dig. So, if your bunny’s home is on top of soil or grass, and is not surrounded with mesh wire all around and under the level of the soil he or she might escape.
Vegetation that’s poisonous to them – if allowed to run free in a garden or within a run that’s on vegetation, rabbits are certainly going to graze on whatever it is they find there. Look here for a list of vegetation poisonous to rabbits.
The weather – special arrangements and structural additions may have to be made to your rabbit’s enclosure to ensure it will be protected from the elements. Rabbits do not handle extreme temperatures or wet weather well.
Loneliness – outdoor rabbits often don’t get as much social interaction as indoor rabbits, especially if they don’t have a rabbit companion.
Although a lot of pet organisations and experts have started advocating only ever keeping pet rabbits indoors keeping them outside isn’t impossible or unheard of. There are risks involved, but if you’re careful to avoid them, you can.
You must be very careful and diligent in doing so. You must make sure your rabbit is in the right enclosure, has the right conditions and plenty of ways to regulate its body temperature if too cold or too hot.
Make sure your rabbits have plenty of space in their hutch
Not all rabbits are created equal. Some breeds are much larger than others.
For beginners, I highly recommend raising New Zealand rabbits. They are big, white rabbits that grow to be the size of a large cat.
Here’s a list of the best rabbit breeds for meat:
|Breed Name||Weight (lbs)||Note|
|New Zealand||10-12||Most common breed for meat|
Excellent meat production
|American||9-12||Good mothering traits|
|Californian||10-12||Good meat to bone ratio|
|Florida White||4-6||Good feed to meat ratio|
Good meat to bone ratio
|American Chinchilla||9-12||Good breeders|
|Silver Fox||9-12||Rare Breed|
Good meat to bone ratio
|Standard Rex||7.5-10.5||Most common breed for fur|
|Champagne D’ Argent||8||High pelt value|
|Satin||9-11||High pelt and fur value|
|Cinnamon||8.5-11||Good meat to bone ratio|
Relatively new breed
It is important to know that when raising rabbits for meat that the older the rabbit gets, the tougher the meat becomes. The perfect butchering age is around 8 weeks of age. This means you will need a larger breed so it will be a decent size by the 8-week mark.
Rabbits require a hutch for shelter.
A rabbit hutch is basically a wooden box divided into two sections. One section has wire mesh on all sides, and the other section is closed in with wooden sides with only the bottom being mesh wire.
Wire mesh is an essential component of the shelter because it is small enough that the rabbits can stand on without falling through. However, it makes for easier cleaning of the hutch because most of the rabbit’s waste will fall through.
Another important part of keeping rabbits in hutches is to be sure they have a piece of wood to gnaw on. This not only keeps their teeth filed down but also gives their feet a break from standing on the wire all of the time.
This piece of wood can be as simple as a small, round twig.
Watch this video to learn how to build a rabbit hutch:
Or read this collection of 50 DIY rabbit hutch plans.
If you choose not to use a hutch for your rabbit, there is a colony option.
This is a more difficult way for breeding purposes because all of the rabbits stay together at all times. If you choose a colony setting, then you just need to fence in a grassy area. The rabbits will dig their own holes for shelter.
Read this article to learn more about raising rabbits in a colony.
If you wish to build your rabbits a shelter in a colony setting, you basically just put a roof on short stilts so the rabbits have just enough room to get under it. This will provide coverage from the weather but don’t be surprised if they still dig their own holes.
Rabbits are extremely hot-natured so it is important to place their shelter in a shaded area. In the summer, it is wise to place frozen water bottles in the hutches with the rabbits to help keep them cool.
When raising rabbits for meat there are many options for food.
You can purchase rabbit pellets from a feed store. These pellets are filled with protein and will help add the necessary weight to your rabbits in a short amount of time.
If you choose to buy commercial dry food, here’s a good article that compares the nutrition for every dry food brand.
Fodder, hay, and vegetables are more natural feed options if you prefer organic meat. Fodder is sprouted wheatgrass. It is extremely inexpensive to raise and provides all of the nutrients your rabbits will need.
Learn more about growing fodder which can provide the nutrients needed, affordably.
Hay is another inexpensive feed option. It can be purchased from local agricultural stores. Rabbits truly only require a ball of hay the size of themselves to meet their daily nutritional needs.
Vegetables are favorites for rabbits. If you grow a garden and have leftovers your rabbits will devour them! They love carrots, lettuce, tomatoes, weeds, etc.
Any vegetation you have, they will eat! This is another great reason for raising meat rabbits.
To make sure you’re feeding your rabbits right, here are the nutritional needs for a rabbit according to National Research Council 1194 about Nutrient Requirement of Rabbits:
|Class of Production||% Protein||% Fat||Calories (per lb.)||% Fiber||Daily Feeding Level|
|Pregnant (21d.) or Lactating||16-20||3-5.5||1136||12-14||Free choice|
|Growing Fryer (1-3 mo.)||16||2-4||1136||14-16||Free Choice|
|Replacement (3-5 mo.)||16||2-4||1136||14-16||6-8 oz.|
|Breeding Bucks||16||2-3||1136||14-20||6-8 oz.|
|Dry Bucks/Does||12-15||2-3.5||955||14-20||4-6 oz.|
As you can tell the cost of feeding them is very little, if any. Also, you only feed additional rabbits beyond your breeding set for 8 weeks. Therefore, you not only get a lot of meat but organic meat for next to no cost.
You can use small bowls for rabbit waterers or purchase rabbit waterers from local pet stores.
Rabbits drink quite a bit of water so what we have adapted for our meat rabbits is a little different. We pay $5 for the nozzles that go on the basic rabbit waterers. Then we save 2-liter bottles and place the nozzles on them.
These modified waterers are then zip-tied to the rabbit hutches. This ensures that the rabbits have plenty of water, and we only have to refill them a few times a week instead of multiple times a day.
Rabbits require bedding in the rabbit hole sections of their hutches. This is where rabbits will sleep and have their babies.
Do not use straw in these sections.
Straw is a carrier of mites. Rabbits are very susceptible to ear mites. Therefore, avoiding straw should help avoid ear mites.
It is okay to use wood shavings in their bedding if they do not have babies in the hutch with them. The wood shavings carry a scent that can damage the kits’ (baby rabbits’) respiratory systems and potentially cause death.
You must keep flies away from the rabbit hutches.
Flies will embed themselves in the baby rabbits and feast on them. This will kill your kits. You can keep flies away with fly-away strips posted on the hutches or wipe everything down with vinegar.
Rabbits require very little maintenance.
The most important thing you can do to ensure you raise healthy rabbits is to prevent ear mites and keep their living quarters clean.
The best way to prevent ear mites is to place a few drops of oil (olive, vegetable, etc.) mixed with tea tree oil in each of your rabbit’s ears. You will know your rabbit has ear mites when you notice their ears become waxy and have a lot of scabs.
If your rabbits get ear mites, one way to treat their ears is with 2-3 drops of oil in the infected ear every other day for 30 days. Then clean their hutches out with a diluted bleach mixture to ensure all mites are exterminated.
Secondly, you must clean your rabbits’ hutches weekly.
Be sure to spray down the hutches with a diluted bleach mixture. When cleaning the hutches be sure to remove your rabbits and give the hutches time to air out before placing them in the hutches again. You can achieve this by setting up a puppy play pin and letting them spend the day hopping around in it.
You also need to scrape out any leftover animal waste, replace old bedding with a fresh one, and check their waterers to make sure they are clean and working properly.
Raising a reliable meat source starts with good health for the animals.
The easiest bedding for your rabbits is paper. Old, shredded paper.
When you go through your filing cabinet, receive junk mail, or when you toss the morning paper don’t discard that waste, invest in a shredder, and shred it! Then fill your rabbits’ rabbit holes with shredded paper.
This is safe for both the mothers and the babies.
However, paper or newspaper is not the best material because your rabbits will play with it and the ink will cover their fur. Shredded cardboard is a better option.
Wood shavings are okay for the mothers by themselves or while they are pregnant and for the bucks (male rabbits). However, wood shavings are unsafe for baby rabbits.
The best material for bedding is hay. Hay can be used as food, but it also makes good bedding for rabbits to keep them warm.
There are tricks for successfully mating your rabbits.
It is recommended to keep your rabbits in hutches because rabbits prefer to be in smaller spaces for safety purposes. It also makes keeping track of birthing dates much easier.
You need to keep your males and females separated all the time, except when mating. Take the female to the male’s hutch, this will make her less territorial and more open to being courted.
You will know your female has been bred when you see what is called a “fall off.” This is when you see the male rabbit literally fall off of the female. He will become very stiff and fall over as if he were dead.
But don’t worry, he will regain his composure after a brief rest.
If you are raising meat rabbits, learning about rabbits’ birthing habits is one of the most important aspects.
A rabbit’s gestation period is only 30 days.
This means you can have a new litter of baby bunnies in a month’s time. It will usually take a rabbit 1-2 pregnancies to figure out how to keep her babies alive.
Don’t get too disappointed if the first litter does not survive. It happens, and it is all part of your mama bunny figuring out what to do.
She will get it figured out with time.
You will know your bunny is close to giving birth when she starts pulling her own hair out. She will pull her underside almost bald when her babies are close to arriving.
She’s doing this for extra bedding in her rabbit hole, to ensure her babies are warm.
So your rabbit had babies, now what?
First of all, don’t go loving all over the babies.
This will upset your mama rabbit and might discourage her from caring for her kits. You can hover your hand over them in the rabbit fur to be sure they are alive but do not take them away from the rabbit hole.
Do not panic if you never catch the mama bunny feeding her babies.
It is a rabbit’s instinct to hide where her babies are. She will most likely never go near them during the day or with an audience. She will feed her babies around twice a day and both when she thinks no one is watching.
Once the babies gain their fur and are off and hopping, their mama will lighten up a little bit. They will start coming out of the rabbit hole.
She will wean them when they are ready. The only thing you will need to do is possibly prepare a different hutch or pin to move them to when they become too large to stay with their mother anymore.
That’s everything you need to know about raising rabbits for meat.
Raising rabbits for meat is an amazing process. Do you think you would like to raise the world’s cutest meat source?
Many people raise rabbits for fun, food, profit, and more. Rabbits are relatively easy to care for – as compared to common pets and livestock – and require fewer resources for their care. They are also multi-functional on the homestead, farm, or just in the suburban or urban home.
There are many reasons for raising rabbits, but for the gardener, one stands out above the rest: rabbit pellets (aka manure). Rabbits produce a lot of it and have the added bonus of consuming your leftover or otherwise-composted garden refuse, making it usable fertilizer far faster than your compost pile could ever do.
If you’re interested in keeping rabbits for your home and garden, read on.
Whether you live in the suburbs or downtown in an apartment, you can likely keep rabbits. Your space and legal allowances (the law, rental agreements, etc.) will determine how many you can have (or will need). If you have a container garden of a dozen plants, one rabbit’s output will be about a lot more fertilizer than you’ll really need through the year. If you get a rabbit and have container gardening neighbors or friends, you’re about to become their best friend.
Be aware of the restrictions in your area, especially on keeping and harvesting (slaughtering) rabbits. This is often heavily regulated within the city limits. Keeping rabbits as pets usually has few restrictions beyond what your landlord might have to say. If you plan to keep several rabbits and to do so outdoors, however, then more zoning restrictions could come into play. Again, know the rules before you get your first rabbit.
For the most part, rabbits are relatively hassle-free. You can feed them commercial rabbit feed, available at many grocery stores, home stores, and pet stores. Primarily, though, you should feed your rabbit leftover vegetables (without garnishment) and trimmings from your kitchen. For instance, rabbits love the leafy tops of carrots, the cutaway stubs of onions, the somewhat wilted lettuce leaves you peel off, apple cores, iceberg lettuce cores, the leafy parts of celery… Just about anything.
Be aware of what your rabbit can and cannot eat, of course, but most anything vegetarian will be fine for rabbits.
Housing is the next concern. You’ll want a spacious coop or hutch with a closed-in, small, cozy private area for sleeping and hiding when something scares the rabbit. Many rabbit owners let their rabbits roam free through a room or the whole house, but be prepared for “surprises” as with any other pet and for the nibbler to go through cords and even drapes. Many pet stores sell playpens for bunnies so that they can have a large area to move about in without being a danger to themselves or your home.
The last thing is catching and utilizing the manure (or pellets). Most rabbit cages meant for indoors will have holes in the floor and a catch pan underneath or some sort of system for easily cleaning the floors into a container so you can harvest the rabbit manure every day or couple of days.
There are dozens of breeds to choose from, boiling down to general categories. Most indoor or backyard keepers will be interested in dwarf, miniature, and medium-sized breeds. There are many of them and they range from 3 pounds (dwarf) to 10 pounds or so (medium). If you plan to raise rabbits to eat, then you’ll want to check on meat breeds as well (8-12 pounds). The bigger the rabbit, the more it will eat and poop, of course, so choose wisely.
This is where the gold is for most gardeners interested in rabbit keeping. Rabbit pellets can be used in several ways. The most common is to pour it (along with some wash water and urine) directly onto plants. If your cage requires that you wash the pellets and urine out and into a container, then this is probably how you”ll use it most often. You can also mix this directly into soil mixtures when starting plants or building new planting soil.
Another option is to compost it. Just add the pellets (and possibly litter, like straw) to the compost bin or pile as you would any kind of manure.
Finally, the pellets themselves, if dry, have the unique property of being easily handled. So you can bury these directly into the soil around your plant’s roots. A good way to do this is to poke a hole in the soil with a screwdriver or pencil, drop in a couple of pellets, and repeat all around the plant.
Raising Rabbits: A PDF from Kansas State University Cooperative Extension Service
Choosing a Rabbit Breed: A link to a PDF by Michigan State University Extension.
Now that I have already said enough about keeping rabbits cage-free indoors, let’s take our rabbit to a cage-free outdoor trip.
You might think I am crazy to let my rabbits’ cage-free outdoors.
Well, I am not crazy. There are precautions and techniques you may apply to keep your bunnies safe outdoors even when they’re not in a cage or hutch.
Not everyone likes to keep their rabbits indoors. So for them keeping rabbits indoors and cage-free is out of the question.
So, bunnies that are kept in a hutch outside in your backyard, needs to exercise every once in a while to remain in good shape.
How do you give them that chance?
Rabbits are naturally active animals and wild rabbits love to hop around likewise the domestic rabbits do.
Giving your rabbits to play in your full backyard is a good exercise.
But there are so many dangers outside of a domestic pet rabbit. Rabbits are prey animals. So their first danger is from their predators.
Predators such as:
All are predatory towards bunnies. The last thing you want for your cute bunbuns to be taken away by predators.
That’s why a rabbit hutch is important in this kind of scenario for rabbits’ safety.
Understand this you must not keep your rabbits out in the free-range environment 24/7.
Only during the day you allow your rabbits outside of their hutch/cage and give them access to the full backyard or garden. At night you must put them back in their cage.
However, during the day when your rabbit is out in the open every once in a while, you must go check on them whether they are safe or not.
One more very important thing to have is fences.
A fence that will prevent your rabbits from going out of the backyard. The outside world for a pet rabbit is very dangerous.
So you have to have fences all around your garden to disallow the bunnies going out of this free-range territory.
Pet rabbits are not at all prepared for the outside world.
The fence must be well constructed and from deep in the ground, or else your rabbit can dig a hole in the ground below the fence line and pass across the fence.
Rabbits tend to do that and I have seen it so many times. They will definitely love their garden freedom but they will also try to dig a tunnel across the fence.
One last thing about having rabbits free in the garden, you must keep an eye on your plants and where does the rabbit go.
Because rabbits will start eating through your garden in no time. So destroying your garden would not take long if you can’t keep your rabbits away from the plants.
Try having a guard for your precious plants.
While raising cage-free rabbits outdoors, you will always have to be well aware of the weather. Do not let your rabbits get wet in the rain as well as keep them safe from exposure to sunlight.
Want your rabbit to be happy and healthy?