If you don’t have a ton of space, but you want to raise your own meat as a hobby or an alternate source of food, one of the best options is rabbit. This inexpensive meat is lean, delicious, and extremely cheap. Fed with various scraps from your garden and commercial food, rabbits breed easily and grow rapidly, providing you with a reliable food source.
Before You Start
Make sure this is not going to be violating any local ordinances. Rabbits are considered a rodent, but they are considered livestock in some areas and many communities ban livestock. They are quiet and relatively clean, so that usually isn’t a problem, but it is important to know that if someone does complain, you did the legwork and ensured legality ahead of time.
Figure out where you are going to place your rabbit house and then examine what type of house you need. Bigger houses store more rabbits but are far more work, smaller houses are easier to work with. Also, depending on your outside weather you may need to put some effort into insulating the houses and keeping the water source from freezing. Rabbits can take a cold day or night as long as they can shelter themselves from it and stay warm inside.
Rabbits are easily obtained. If you can, call a 4-H club, since they often have rabbits breeders in the program. You will probably want more than one breeding pair to start, in case one dies or is hurt. Rabbits will breed readily, so you don’t have to worry about them not getting along. Select a breed designed for meat production. Starting rabbits are pretty cheap as well.
Don’t keep rabbits for multiple generations to avoid inbreeding. Instead, pull in rabbits from other sources. If you really want to establish your own lines, try keeping only females and importing each generation of males, or be prepared to keep a lot of rabbits, since genetic diversity takes a pretty big starting population.
Harvest rabbits once they are fully grown. This doesn’t take long, and you don’t want to wait too long or the females will start having more litters. Rabbits mature in as little at 2 months, so be ready. A littler may have 8 mature rabbits.
Harvesting for your home use is fairly simple. You can choose to dislocate the neck with a hard jerk, or it can be hit behind the ears for a rapid, painless death. Slaughtering for meat is a necessity for any meat livestock, so don’t take on the responsibility of raising them if you cannot handle that.
Personally, I consider it the duty of the animal husband to provide a safe, healthy, and comfortable life for all of his animals up to death, and in return, to be allowed to take some for meat. While it may seem cruel, this is the same trade-off that every meat-eating person makes, although most remove themselves from it by using a supermarket.
By raising your own meat, you can ensure the comfort and hospitable treatment of the animals from birth until death, whereas factory farming doesn’t always share those concerns. Try to be as kind as you can to your animals.
Mississippi State University Extension Service: http://msucares.com/livestock/small_animal/slaughter.html
Raising Rabbits For Meat: http://www.raisingrabbitsformeat.com/2009/07/02/how-to-portion-a-rabbit/