You *can* eat any breed of rabbit. But some of them have been bred to convert food to meat faster than others. If you just want efficiency, go for a meat breed.
WARNING: This article discusses choosing a rabbit breed to raise for human consumption. If this topic disturbs you, please do not proceed.
If you are interested in pelts as well, any medium/large sized breed works well. Giant breeds like the English Lop, Giant Chinchilla, and Flemish Giant all grow their bone structure before they fill out, so while they are big animals, they are not efficient meat producers.
Choosing the right breed of meat rabbit for your situation can be very confusing. There are so many meat breeds of rabbits available, and everyone has their own preference.
Things to Consider When Choosing a Meat Rabbit Breed
As we are looking at harvesting between 8-14 weeks old, all the giant breeds have a similar amount of meat on the as the medium sized breeds.
However, they do consume a little more food to get there, so they may not be worth the extra expense in feed to get the same amount of meat at the end.
If you are raising ‘meat mutts’ which are a crossbred mixture, a few giant genes in the mix can be helpful. There are several other things you can do to ensure your rabbits reach their potential size.
Considerations when you are Choosing Meat Breeds
To get good strong usable pelts they rabbits need to be closer to 24-28 weeks old, so you will no longer have ‘fryer’ rabbits, you will have ‘roasters’.
They aren’t as tender and need to be cooked longer. But the pelts of fryer rabbits are very soft and tear easily. So you do need to decide your priorities.
There is, however, no rule saying you have to do one and not the other. You can, of course, do some young ones and keep your fave pelts to grow out the the roaster stage.
Of course, a roaster rabbit will need more room and more food than a fryer rabbit too.
If you are wanting meat to be your main aim then New Zealand Whites or Californians are the way to go, they are efficient breeders, good mums and fast growers.
If you want to do pelts then the Rex is the gold standard, their pelts are in demand for fashion and craft and they come in wonderful colors.
What Rabbits are Available in NZ
In NZ our choices for meat rabbits are somewhat limited as they simply are not available here. What we call Silver Foxes in NZ are not the same as what you may read about on US pages.
We only have NZ Whites, not Reds or Blues like you read about elsewhere. Some breeds like the Californians and Giant Chinchillas are quite difficult to find.
The weights given are the NZ standard, some of them like the Flemish Giant are quite a lot smaller than US rabbits.
The Difference between Cage and Colony Stock
If you are planning on colony raising your rabbits (highly recommended!) I do suggest you try and find a breeder near you that also colony raises.
You can move caged/older rabbits into a colony, but they seldom thrive the same way colony-native bunnies will.
Our rabbits we got from cages, but they were quite young and adaptable when we got them, so they have taken to it with fly colors.
There are some breeders working towards disease resistance in their colonies, so that is another thing to consider. Rabbits from proven meat lines, with good chunky square form, are more desirable than one that happens to have a pedigree.
Meat Rabbit Breeds
Despite the name, this breed is American in origin Large in size. These are healthy, hearty, high production rabbits. Short coated and mainly bred for pelts and meat. Sentinel rabbit for laboratories. 4-5.5kg.
Medium to large in size. Short coated and mainly bred for pelts and meat. Considered a rare breed in NZ and the breeding pool is getting limited. Originally bred from NZ White, Himalayan and Standard Chinchilla. 3.5-5.5kg
The largest breed in NZ. Short coated and mainly bred for pets. Can be bred for meat and pelts. An adult will take a lot more food than a smaller rabbit to maintain and the fryers weigh about the same as a smaller breed rabbit at 8-10 weeks. A great animal to cross into a line to add size and vigor. Comes in a range of colours. Flemish/NZ White cross or Flemish/Californian make great meat babies. 5-6.5kg
Medium in size. Short coated and mainly bred for pelts. Fur is soft and luxurious. Kept for fur and the meat is a byproduct. Medium in size. 2.8-3.5kg
There are very few of these left in NZ, you will never see them up for sale. Large in size. Short coated and mainly bred for pelts and meat. 6-6.5kg
Medium in size. Short coated and mainly bred for pelts and meat. 2.5-3.5kg
Medium in size. Short coated and mainly bred for pelts. Their pelts are super shiny. 2.8-3.5kg.
There are also what are known as “meat mutts” which are a mixture of breeds, simply a person’s best producing meat stock crossed in together.
One upside to mixed breeding is what is known as “hybrid vigor” which is the tendency of a cross-bred individual to show qualities superior to those of both parents. They tend to be hardier and benefit from the good qualities of both parents.
What rabbit breed you choose to use is up to you, and may be dependent on personal choice, what is available to you and what your goals are.
To find out what meat breeds are available to you in your area I suggest joining a meat rabbit group on Facebook like Meat Rabbits in Colonies or Commercial Rabbits NZ.
Be warned, pet breeders/owners can get twitchy if you go in asking if you can eat their bunnies!
What Breeds do you have at your place?
For further reading I would recommend:
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