Raising Meat Rabbits in North Carolina

Chris100

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Hello,

I have recently gained an interest in raising rabbits for meat. I have done a considerable amount of research, but have several questions that are more pertinent to raising rabbits in NC, as well as a few general questions that I'm hoping others who have raised rabbits for meat purposes could answer.

I'll separate my questions into two categories, those that are specific to NC, and those that aren't.

Raising Rabbits in North Carolina:
-I live in Raleigh, NC. Is there anywhere nearby here that I can have rabbits processed for me?
I am not fully opposed to doing this myself, but depending on pricing, it may be easier for someone else to put them down than to do this myself.
-What breed of rabbit would do well in Eastern North Carolina, where we experience both warm summers and fairly cold winters.
-Does anyone have advice on where I can obtain meat rabbits that would do well in Raleigh?
-Does anyone know of somewhere I can have rabbit hides tanned for me?

General Rabbit Raising Questions:
-Do rabbits need sunlight? There is a spot under our sunroom/back deck that would be a great spot, as well as one under a shaded area near our chicken coop, but I would not want to deprive them of direct sunlight if they need it to be healthy.
-How many kits should I expect in a litter? (if you can base this on recommended breeds, that would be ideal!)
-How difficult is it to tan rabbit hides?
-What uses have you found for rabbit pelts?
-How time consuming is raising rabbits? I currently raise chickens and garden quite a bit, but I'm curious how effortful raising meat rabbits would be.
-Important: How long could I leave home without having someone check in on the rabbits? I have 4 chickens and can easily leave enough water and food in their feeders/waterers to leave home for about a week without anyone needing to check in on them.

Outside of this, are there any tips or general advice you would give for someone looking to start raising rabbits for meat production?
Are there any challenges that I should consider before diving into this habit?
 

Pastor Dave

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Well, first of all, welcome to BYH! :frow

Your questions are good, but answering could turn out to be a book.

New Zealand White (NZW), NZReds, Blacks, Broken patterns are all good. White hair doesn't show as much on carcass.
Californians are good too. And, a lot of folks like NZW/Cali cross for meat. They should do fine in NC. Similar climate to IN. Rabbits prefer 55F-75F, and so much better in cold than heat.

They need daily care, so somene would have to feed/water and check them if you need to get away.

You will just need to check with ARBA for NC for breeders and contacts to establish your purchase of breeders. Expect $20-30 for pedigreed Jr buck and Jr does. On average, a buck can service 3 maybe 4 does. Litters are abt 6-8 kits. Sometimes more, sometimes less. 28-31 day gestation, 5 or 6 weeks are good for weaning. 5lbs live weight by 10 weeks to produce 2-1/2lb to 3lb. carcasses. Most processors I know won't deal with small game or animals. Best to learn how.

A rabbit hide isn't mature until 10-12mos. The younger the rabbit, the more thin and fragile the hide. I throw mine away. If you can scrape and clean one well, Google "Brain Tanning". That's the direction I would go.

Rabbits need fresh air. Too much sun usually causes too much heat, so not much direct sun. Keep them dry and if possible out of a draft. If it gets above 50F in Winter, I open up the shed doors to give them some fresh air. I use straw to give them something to burrow in to hunker down in their cages if it gets down to 20F-25F. If it gets over 75F, I turn on some fans. 90F and higher, 2 liter soda bottles with water frozen. The lay next to and cool down.

If the water freezes, I spend an extra hour twice a day with them. In heat, it takes time to put in frozen bottles, and at end of day putting them back in freezer. I rotate 2 sets to get them to freeze solid. Feeding, watering, cleaning up takes time, and depends on how many you have. The manure is not hot and doesn't have to age. Good for fertilization straight from butt to plants. So, there is always hidden time consumers to find.

So much more to consider. Alfalfa pellets for rabbit with 16-18% crude protein. Grass or Timothy hay is good daily too. I use a tsp of BOSS each day. I use Calf Mana too. Tsp for adults and non-lactating. Tb. for lactating does, and a couple Tb for grow-outs. I like to use 2Tb ACV (cider vinegar) per gallon of drinking water. Tastes good, so drinks more. Less chance of UTI, adds Vit A.

Cages: 24"x24" and 16"-20" tall works good for bucks.
30"x30" good for does ans nest boxes.
36"x30" or bigger for grow out pens.

If you think of anything more, just hollar.
:welcome
 

Latestarter

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Greetings and welcome to BYH. I see Dave has already provided feedback to your questions. There are quite a few other Rabbitteers on here and lots of posts on the various threads you can peruse. By all means browse around at your leisure and make yourself at home. Glad to have you with us.
 

Tale of Tails Rabbitry

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Lots of questions but there are two that really concerned me.

Firstly, I would not leave my rabbits for a week without eyes on them and providing hands-on care as needed. I have left them for about 30 hours on a weekend when the weather was mild, otherwise I hire someone to care for them.

Secondly, I have not found it to be cost effective to pay someone else to process them or tan the hides. However, a taxidermist in your area might be able to help you with the tanning part. I was not fortunate to find someone locally who will do either for a percentage that he will keep, so we do it our ourselves.

As to how time consuming it is to raise rabbits depends on many factors like how many breeders you have and how often you breed them, the type of cages and ease of cleaning them, if you will be handling the rabbits much or not, what type of watering system you will have and if it freezes or builds up algae, if you will be keeping records or not, if you are tanning or not, etc. I have yet to meet two rabbit keepers that have or do everything exactly alike.

I live in a neighboring state and, in the Southeast, it is the heat that is the biggest concern. We have had New Zealand Whites, which are more heat tolerant, and Silver Foxes, which are said to be more cold tolerant. I have not yet seen even one of our rabbits in either breed pant, however I have seen blind kits come out of the nest because they were too warm one spring when it was particularly hot. In the summer, we use fans, do not breed them, and keep them out of direct sunlight.

This winter has had some bitter cold days with wind chill factors in the single digits. We always use wind breaks, which is very important as well as keeping them dry. We now have warming pads in our cages, but in the past we have used nesting boxes with straw for our breeders to stay warm and sleep in.

Our New Zealand Whites had large kindles, too large most of the time, from 8 to 13. We always had to intervene when over nine or we could easily have lost up to half of them when over ten and often lost a couple or more; we tried different techniques until we had a higher rate of success of keeping them all alive. However, NZWs are a solid meat rabbit and if you are interested in the pelts, they can be dyed. Plus, it is a popular breed so it is easier to find a breeder.

General advice: Do more research. Find a few rabbit breeders in your area and talk to them; some breeders are listed that at the ARBA website and you might find some on Craigslist.
 
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Chris100

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Well, first of all, welcome to BYH! :frow

Your questions are good, but answering could turn out to be a book.

New Zealand White (NZW), NZReds, Blacks, Broken patterns are all good. White hair doesn't show as much on carcass.
Californians are good too. And, a lot of folks like NZW/Cali cross for meat. They should do fine in NC. Similar climate to IN. Rabbits prefer 55F-75F, and so much better in cold than heat.

They need daily care, so somene would have to feed/water and check them if you need to get away.

You will just need to check with ARBA for NC for breeders and contacts to establish your purchase of breeders. Expect $20-30 for pedigreed Jr buck and Jr does. On average, a buck can service 3 maybe 4 does. Litters are abt 6-8 kits. Sometimes more, sometimes less. 28-31 day gestation, 5 or 6 weeks are good for weaning. 5lbs live weight by 10 weeks to produce 2-1/2lb to 3lb. carcasses. Most processors I know won't deal with small game or animals. Best to learn how.

A rabbit hide isn't mature until 10-12mos. The younger the rabbit, the more thin and fragile the hide. I throw mine away. If you can scrape and clean one well, Google "Brain Tanning". That's the direction I would go.

Rabbits need fresh air. Too much sun usually causes too much heat, so not much direct sun. Keep them dry and if possible out of a draft. If it gets above 50F in Winter, I open up the shed doors to give them some fresh air. I use straw to give them something to burrow in to hunker down in their cages if it gets down to 20F-25F. If it gets over 75F, I turn on some fans. 90F and higher, 2 liter soda bottles with water frozen. The lay next to and cool down.

If the water freezes, I spend an extra hour twice a day with them. In heat, it takes time to put in frozen bottles, and at end of day putting them back in freezer. I rotate 2 sets to get them to freeze solid. Feeding, watering, cleaning up takes time, and depends on how many you have. The manure is not hot and doesn't have to age. Good for fertilization straight from butt to plants. So, there is always hidden time consumers to find.

So much more to consider. Alfalfa pellets for rabbit with 16-18% crude protein. Grass or Timothy hay is good daily too. I use a tsp of BOSS each day. I use Calf Mana too. Tsp for adults and non-lactating. Tb. for lactating does, and a couple Tb for grow-outs. I like to use 2Tb ACV (cider vinegar) per gallon of drinking water. Tastes good, so drinks more. Less chance of UTI, adds Vit A.

Cages: 24"x24" and 16"-20" tall works good for bucks.
30"x30" good for does ans nest boxes.
36"x30" or bigger for grow out pens.

If you think of anything more, just hollar.
:welcome
WOW! This has been INCREDIBLY helpful. You are certainly right in stating that replying to all of my questions might have resulted in a book in itself, but you've laid a wonderful foundation for me!

Based on your response, I think that under my patio might be best. It is elevated 6-7 ft. off of the ground, receives indirect sunlight (which might prove beneficial in the summer when temperatures in the sunlight might reach 90-100 degrees, but likely 10-15 degrees cooler in the area below our deck. I will probably provide an area that pokes out into the sunlight so that the bunnies can warm themselves in the sun when it is cooler in the winter months.

We receive some pretty drastic temperature swings here in Raleigh. It was 4 degrees last Friday and got up to 75 degrees just 4 days later.

Do you have any advice on growing food? I've seen some posts with folks who feed their rabbits wheat grass, but would this alone be a sufficient diet?

Any advice on feed I could grow on my own in my garage with grow lights? I am in the process of setting up an aquaponics system, but don't necessarily want to dedicate this to the rabbits, as the primary purpose is to give us fresh veggies in the colder winter months when they won't grow outdoors.
 

Chris100

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Lots of questions but there are two that really concerned me.

Firstly, I would not leave my rabbits for a week without eyes on them and providing hands-on care as needed. I have left them for about 30 hours on a weekend when the weather was mild, otherwise I hire someone to care for them.

Secondly, I have not found it to be cost effective to pay someone else to process them or tan the hides. However, a taxidermist in your area might be able to help you with the tanning part. I was not fortunate to find someone locally who will do either for a percentage that he will keep, so we do it our all ourselves.

As to how time consuming it is to raise rabbits depends on many factors like how many breeders you have and how often you breed them, the type of cages and ease of cleaning them, if you will be handling the rabbits much or not, what type of watering system you will have and if it freezes or builds up algae, if you will be keeping records or not, if you are tanning or not, etc. I have yet to meet two rabbit keepers that have or do everything exactly alike.

I live in a neighboring state and, in the Southeast, it is the heat that is the biggest concern. We have had New Zealand Whites, which are more heat tolerant, and Silver Foxes, which are said to be more cold tolerant. I have not yet seen even one of our rabbits in either breed pant, however I have seen blind kits come out of the nest because they were too warm one spring when it was particularly hot. In the summer, we use fans, do not breed them, and keep them out of direct sunlight.

This winter has had some bitter cold days with wind chill factors in the single digits. We always use wind breaks, which is very important as well as keeping them dry. We now have warming pads in our cages, but in the past we have used nesting boxes with straw for our breeders to stay warm and sleep in.

Our New Zealand Whites had large kindles, too large most of the time, from 8 to 13. We always had to intervene when over nine or we could easily have lost up to half of them when over ten and often lost a couple or more; we tried different techniques until we had a higher rate of success of keeping them all alive. However, NZWs are a solid meat rabbit and if you are interested in the pelts, they can be dyed. Plus, it is a popular breed so it is easier to find a breeder.

General advice: Do more research. Find a few rabbit breeders in your area and talk to them; some breeders are listed that at the ARBA website and you might find some on Craigslist.
Thank you so much for the advice. Very helpful. I have done more research since formulating these questions, and it's obvious I'd need to have someone watch them and care for them if we leave for more than a few days.


One follow up question I have from your post: When you have large litters, and you say you intervened, what action did you take exactly?
 

Bunnylady

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I'd need to have someone watch them and care for them if we leave for more than a few days.
You will need to have someone come and look after them if you leave for more than 1 day. Humidity is one of your greatest enemies in North Carolina, particularly in summer; rabbit feed pellets here turn fuzzy with mold in the matter of 3 days in the summertime. One of the worst mistakes people can make is thinking that they can fill those feed hoppers and walk away - the rabbits have food for a day or two, then the rest turns moldy, sticks to itself, and the rabbits starve until someone takes the feeder off the cage, cleans the mess out, and gives them fresh food.

Even the largest water bottles need to be checked at least once per day, because the steel balls in the tips can stick, which won't let the water out. I have an automatic water system, which works well as long as the temperature is above freezing, but it still needs to be checked daily because valves and lines can get blocked.

Rabbits won't eat if they don't have the water to process the food, and they can die of starvation in about 3 days. The flip side of that is that rabbits will overeat, and fat rabbits either won't breed or can have potentially fatal complications if they do. Maintaining rabbits at correct weight usually means controlling the amount of feed available to them; so much each day.
 
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Tale of Tails Rabbitry

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One follow up question I have from your post: When you have large litters, and you say you intervened, what action did you take exactly?
We tried different techniques. Like bottle feeding the smaller, weaker ones who were not getting enough nourishment from nursing, too many kits for just eight teets, with kitten replacement milk (and on that note, if we had milking goats that would have been better). However that was very time consuming and they need to stay very warm while you feed them. It also seemed like the smaller ones basically just barely survived until their eyes open and then they could go out of the nest and find the mother themselves at around eleven days. I felt like I was doing something to help them and most survived but nothing is as nourishing as rabbit's milk is for them.

Probably the best method is to put some in with another lactating doe but we did not have the space in the first years to breed both our does at the same time, besides both had very large kindles.

The method that I reluctantly tried that actually had the best results for us was to take the larger, well-fed kits out of the nest, create another nest to bring inside so they stay warm enough for about twelve hours and then return them to the nest.

I thought it sounded cruel but in reality the smaller ones were on the verge of starving to death because the stronger ones would push them away from the mother, so no more cruel than that. This would allow the smaller ones to get at least one good feeding, usually two or more. I usually only have had to do this one time per kindle, but once I did it twice for one kindle. It was the less time consuming and the most effective method to save those little ones. The results are immediate as to them getting on track with their development and thriving, not just surviving. Plus the larger ones are not noticeably stunted.

I still have New Zealand Whites but I prefer Silver Foxes. Their kindles are usually 6 to 9 and I never have lost one kit or had to worry about intervening with a SF doe yet.
 

Pastor Dave

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I don't think anyone has addressed the organic, grow your own food. They need vitamins, minerals, protein. If you grow wheat grass or give alfalfa hay, you can't determine for sure they're getting the right percentages. If you do just organic and no pellet supplement, I would use a mineral wheel/block to lick and use the ACV in the drinking water to add Vit A and help renal system. They will grow slower and grow out slower to processing weight, but some pop in and out of here saying they are trying it. I never hear the followup results.
 

Tale of Tails Rabbitry

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My rabbits are not "living off the land" so to speak (not yet that is), but they do get organic pellets as I am very opposed to GMO alfalfa as well as toxins in our food chain. I think you will find that the grow out progress is longer, but if being self sustaining for whatever reason is a priority with you, then that may not be a big issue because food will not cost you as much either.

It has been far more important for my family to raise healthy rabbits with as little toxins as possible and no GMOs. As I mentioned before, I have never found two rabbit keepers that have the same set up or do things the same way, so it is because we do not all have the same priorities.
 
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