Don’t even bother setting traps for those gray and brown hares hopping blissfully around your yard. They’re not worth the effort. If you’re serious about keeping rabbits for meat, you need a breed built for the job. Meat rabbits are longer, fatter, and fluffier than your typical wild bunny. These are generally regarded as the best rabbits for eating – though some make good house pets as well. Unless otherwise noted, all are recognized and sanctioned by the American Rabbit Breeders Association:
- Champagne D’Argent: This larger heritage breed has been around since the early 17th century. Though it’s less common these days, it’s still regarded as a fantastic domestic breed – prized for its distinctive black fur in addition to its meat.
- Palomino: These attractive, pale-orange bunnies range from eight to 12 pounds. They’re quiet and cooperative – perfect for denser urban neighborhoods.
- Flemish Giant: These monster bunnies can grow up to 20 pounds. Unsurprisingly, they’re prized for their meat, though they’re also raised for fur. Originally hailing from Belgium’s Flanders region, Flemish giants are regarded as one of the most docile rabbit breeds around.
- Chinchilla: Not to be confused with the funny-looking desert rodents after which they’re named, these fluffy, stocky rabbits grow up to 12 pounds. Though they’re frequently kept as pets, they’re prized for their meat and make good livestock.
- New Zealand: Despite the name, this breed originated in the United States, though it may trace its lineage to New Zealand at some point in the now-forgotten past. It’s regarded as one of the best meat breeds. Adults grow up to 12 pounds and come in five colors: white, blue, black, red, and broken (multicolored). New Zealand whites’ flesh has a distinctive pinkish hue, like undercooked poultry. Don’t worry, it’s safe to eat – and delicious.
1. What Does a Meat Rabbit Cost?
Rabbits aren’t especially expensive. Whereas pet rabbits purchased from shelters typically carry adoption fees ranging from $50 to $100, New Zealand rabbits can cost as little as $10 apiece, according to Crossroads Rabbitry. Non-pedigreed Flemish giants cost $20 to $50 apiece.
Younger rabbits almost always cost less than mature rabbits, since they’re smaller (meaning less meat) and face higher mortality risk. You can buy rabbits as young as four weeks, just a few days after they’re weaned.
Small operations need only one buck (male) and two does (females) to get started. This is fortuitous, as many municipal rabbit codes limit non-permitted backyard farms to three adult rabbits. To avoid extended rearing time, you’ll want to start your herd with adults. Expect to pay at least $75 total for three healthy adults – more for certain breeds.
2. How Much Can You Get for Rabbit Meat?
Many hobbyists are perfectly content not to sell their rabbits’ meat. If you’re starting your backyard rabbit farm simply to reduce the long-term environmental and ethical costs of your carnivorous habits, you don’t need to worry about this part.
According to reputable sources I’ve seen, commercial meat processors pay anywhere from $1 to $2 per pound for live rabbits. You’ll likely need to work with a non-USDA processor or locker plant, as USDA-certified facilities aren’t permitted to butcher meat from non-USDA-certified farms. To find one, search online for locker plants in your area or check with your state association of meat processors.
If you’re able to process your rabbit meat on-site, you can expect to get $5 to $7 per pound, depending on quality. However, as a small operation, you’ll likely struggle to find butchers or independent meat markets willing to purchase small batches. Unless you have the space, resources, and legal runway to scale up, it may be best to live-sell any excess rabbits you produce, reinvest the (modest) proceeds into your operation, and eat as much as you can.
If you’re relying on a processor for meat that you’d like to eat, you should expect to pay the difference between the meat’s retail cost and the price the processor is willing to pay for your live rabbits: $3 to $6 per pound. However, you can probably negotiate a better deal on a recurring or bulk processing arrangement – perhaps as low as $2 or $3 per pound.
Pro Tip: This guide is geared toward hobbyist rabbit farmers. If you’re interested in launching a legitimate commercial rabbit farming operation as a source of primary or secondary income, check out this guide from Crossroads Rabbitry. It includes additional details around cost, breeding schedules, and logistical considerations, beyond what I’ve included in this post.