Raising Rabbits for Meat and Breeding Stock

These multipurpose lagomorphs require little and yield lots; an ideal quality that supports raising rabbits for meat.

| May/June 2011

In the early 20th century, the rabbit was an incredibly important and valuable domestic animal, providing fur, food, and – for the fancier – intense competition in the showroom. The Belgian Hare boom of 1898 to 1901 brought thousands of rabbits to the United States, commanding outstanding prices. The record price paid for a rabbit at the time was $5,000 for Champion Fashoda, an imported Belgian Hare buck. That’s $132,000 in today’s dollars. It’s no wonder names such as Rockefeller and DuPont showed up in the Belgian Hare world.

For the average person’s 1919 budget, an American Blue doe could still command a price of $25, which adjusts for inflation to about $300 today. An advertisement in an issue of Hares and Rabbits that year has an advertiser seeking all or part of five million rabbit pelts. Edward H. Stahl, developer of the American Chinchilla rabbit, became the first person to make a million dollars with rabbits, in 1938. Highly useful, rabbits were not only a significant economic product, but also a standard feature on many small farms.

Times change.

As every aspect of agriculture and the food system changed in the last few decades, so did rabbit production. Traditional meat and fur breeds gave way to pet breeds, as the majority of people began to think of rabbits as furry friends instead of livestock. Several useful breeds were on the verge of disappearing entirely.

In 2005, the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy voted to add rabbits to their conservation mission, and 11 breeds were placed on the Conservation Priority List. Three of these, the Silver Fox, the American and the American Chinchilla, are unique to North America and were placed on the Critical list.

Fortunately, rabbits are experiencing a renaissance on the small farm. Propelled partly by a growing desire to feel more connected to where food comes from, partly by a desire for a healthy choice for meat, and partly by a desire to leave a more sustainable footprint on the environment, meat rabbits are proving to be a viable option on the farm.

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