Saturday, July 7, 2012

Rabbit Q&A with Samantha Johnson!

I have been getting requests via email and blog comments for more information and advice on raising rabbits. I saw some comments in a fairly recent post about them from this author, Samantha Johnson, and asked her if she would agree to do an interview here on the blog. I hope this helps answer some of your rabbit questions, and please feel free to ask more questions in the comments section. Hopefully Samantha will take care of your concerns there, and if not, I'll do my best. There's a big rabbit workshop here at the farm in August, and if you are hankering for some hands on time with the buns, that will be the day to come! Enjoy this interview!

1. Why should people consider raising backyard rabbits along with their chickens and veggie gardens? 
 In my opinion, one of the most compelling things about raising rabbits is that they are suitable for rural and urban areas alike. Having raised rabbits since childhood, I can attest to the fact that rabbits are one of the easiest types of livestock to maintain; requiring minimal time and space. At the same time, raising rabbits is a rewarding endeavor, regardless of whether the rabbits are raised for meat, wool, or fancy (show) purposes.
2. For beginners, total beginners, what can they expect to spend to get started? How many rabbits should they buy?
It’s a lot less expensive to get started with rabbits than it is to get started with many other types of livestock! The actual investment will vary, depending on the type of equipment (will you create your own hutches or will you buy cage kits?) and the breed of rabbit that you choose. The small fancy breeds are often more expensive than some of the larger breeds, although this doesn’t always hold true. I always suggest starting with just a few rabbits. Get a trio (one buck and two does of the same breed), and introduce yourself to the world of rabbit keeping without overwhelming yourself with too many rabbits. It’s easy to increase your rabbit population, so it’s safe to start small. I would say that you could easily get started with a trio of rabbits for under $300 (including equipment), and possibly much less. Another option is to choose a few (three or four) rabbits of varying breeds and sizes; this way you can acquaint yourself with a variety of breeds and then evaluate which breed best suits your needs and preferences.
3. What breeds do you suggest?
That will vary depending on your situation and your plans for the rabbits. I have dabbled in a number of breeds over the years from Rex to Jersey Wooly, but I currently focus on Holland Lops and Mini Rex, mainly because I love their size, which is small and easy to handle. I’m also very fond of Dutch rabbits. For anyone with an interest in raising breeding stock or showing at ARBA shows, then a popular breed (Netherland Dwarf, Mini Rex, or Holland Lop) can be a great and rewarding choice. If you are looking to raise meat rabbits, then Californian, Florida White, and New Zealand Whites are commonly chosen and have proven themselves without question. For fiber endeavors, you will need one of the Angora breeds (check out my article on this topic here []). If you want a top-notch, family-friendly breed, the Dutch is a fantastic choice. And if you strictly want an endearing companion with personality plus, you can’t go wrong with a Holland Lop. They are incredibly entertaining.
4. Can you describe the time period from breeding your doe and buck to rabbit stew? How long does it take to raise meat rabbits?
It’s generally a pretty quick process in comparison to other types of livestock. The average gestation for a doe is 28 to 33 days, averaging at 31 days. The length of time from birth until “stew” will vary from breed to breed, but 8 to 12 weeks is common. (Admittedly, this isn’t my area of personal expertise; I keep fancy rabbits.J)
5. What are some of the advantages to rabbit meat or rabbit wool over a backyard egg business?
 A backyard rabbit business can be less labor-intensive than a backyard egg business, which can be a definite benefit.
The rabbit manure is undoubtedly another benefit—in terms of organic fertilizer for your garden, it’s hard to top the quality of rabbit manure. Some gardeners go so far as to say that it’s the best fertilizer you can find. Rabbit manure is extremely high in nitrogen and phosphorus, and while many other types of manure are also high in nitrogen, not all are good sources of phosphorus.
6. Why are Americans generally so squeamish about eating rabbits?
 I think a big part of it is simply that rabbit meat is just not as common. Chicken, beef, and pork abound, and they have achieved mainstream normalcy. Rabbit meat has just not achieved that same level. Or maybe it’s the popularity of characters like the Easter Bunny, Bugs Bunny, and Peter Rabbit. From an early age, we subconsciously learn that bunnies are sweet and fluffy and lovable, and it’s sometimes hard to reconcile that image with meat on a dinner plate.
7. Any last advice? Words of wisdom?
 Do your best to select healthy rabbits of high quality. This will ensure that you start your rabbitry off on the right foot and can save you a lot of trouble and anxiety down the road. Don’t hesitate to ask lots of questions before purchasing, and avoid making hasty decisions. Avoid any rabbits with runny noses or eyes, and look for rabbits that are in good body condition with alert expressions and healthy coats.
And most of all: enjoy your rabbits! Raising rabbits is a rewarding and enjoyable pursuit—they are pleasant to care for and never fail to bring smiles. There are thousands of rabbit enthusiasts across America, why not join the fun?
About Samantha
Samantha Johnson is an award-winning writer and the author of several non-fiction books, including How to Raise Rabbits, The Field Guide to Rabbits, and The Rabbit Book. Her articles also appear regularly in national magazines, including American Profile, Hobby Farms, Hobby Farm Home, Urban Farm, American Gardener, Grow-Cook-Eat, Homemade Bread, Illinois Farm Bureau Partners, Out Here, and Rabbits USA. Her work also appears regularly online, including,,,, and others. Samantha is a horse show judge and is certified with the Wisconsin State Horse Council and the Welsh Pony and Cob Society of America, and she has judged horse shows across the United States.

Samantha resides on a former dairy farm in northern Wisconsin, where she raises purebred Welsh Mountain Ponies and keeps Holland Lop, Dutch, and Mini Rex rabbits. Her hobbies include heirloom vegetable gardening, genealogy, animal color genetics and pedigrees, and politics. You can follow Samantha on Twitter:


Blogger Kristin said...

Thanks for the advice! I'd thought of adding Rabbits to my menagerie. Hubby isn't so keep on the idea, but I love rabbit meat. Maybe next year ;)

I am in south GA. I'm assuming, like most fiber producing animals, that angoras don't do so well here?

July 7, 2012 at 7:55 AM  
Blogger doglady said...

The Silver Fox is an excellent choice for backyard meat production. They dress out at 65% of their live weight and are ready in 8-10 weeks for fryers but can grow nicely for longer. Does reach 12 lbs and buck 11 lbs. They breed easily and raise large litters.
Silver Fox is a heritage breed listed by ALBC. They are recognized by ARBA and are fun to show.

July 7, 2012 at 8:05 AM  
Anonymous Susan said...

Hi there, thanks for the great post! I have a couple of questions- these might be for you, Jenna, since they deal specifically with meat rabbits, but Samantha can feel free to weigh in as well if she has anything to add! :)

1. Is inbreeding considered acceptable when raising meat rabbits? For example, could a doeling from one litter be kept and bred to her sire, or should new potential breeders always be brought in from other stock? I'm not suggesting inbreeding over multiple generations, but what's the general consensus on a related breeding pair?

2. Is the meat that you get from harvesting an older rabbit tougher than the meat from a younger rabbit? Does it need to be treated differently?

Thanks for the info!

July 7, 2012 at 8:20 AM  
Blogger Michelle said...

For folks wanting to raise rabbits on forage, Californians are NOT the way to go - they've been bred intensively since WWII and do NOT do well on anything except pellets. I raise heritage breeds - American Blues, Cinnamons, Cremes d'Argent, Palominos, and New Zealand Reds - and the American Blues are hands down the BEST on pasturing or supplemental forage. They are also listed by the ALBC as 'threatened' - up from 'critical' in the past five years!

To Susan - yes, inbreeding is fine, for a number of generations. At some point, you'll find that fertility decreases, litter size decreases, and growth of the young slows. Then it's time to introduce some new blood! The exception to this is if you find some defect appearing with increasing frequency in your herd.

Meat from an older rabbit is much less tender than from a young fryer. An older rabbit is also MUCH harder to skin - the connective tissue is very, very strong. If I have to butcher an older rabbit, I just gut it, then raw-feed it to my dog, or crock pot it, skin and head still on, for the hens. However, if you do choose to butcher it out for home use, plan to cook it low and slow, such as in a crock pot.

July 7, 2012 at 10:15 AM  
Anonymous Jessica said...

Is it weird that the only hangup I have on raising meat rabbits is the skinning part? Not even the slaughter itself...just the skinning. Anyone have any words of wisdom/advice/tips?

July 7, 2012 at 11:55 AM  
Blogger Tara said...

Our Californians did beautifully on forage. ??

July 7, 2012 at 11:58 AM  
Blogger Catherine said...

I have a question about getting your rabbit(s) from the local animal shelter??? Can you guess at the breed type just by looking at an animal? Is this a good idea if you wanted to continue to raise the rabbit at home for meat?? Thanks for the advice!

July 7, 2012 at 1:58 PM  
Blogger Robbie Knight said...

Thanks for this resource! My rabbit experiment has been much more difficult and expensive than I anticipated. We did not have an outbuilding for them so we bought and moved and reassembled, by hand, a used Tuff Shed-I know now that meat rabbits can handle much more adverse conditions than wool rabbits, so I was going on the wrong information from the beginning. Also, I have NOT found rabbits to be "docile" in the least, and have the scars to prove it. I handle them as gently as possible, but they so hate being picked up that it's always traumatic for them AND for me.

That said, I love my French Angoras an want them to be happy and healthy and live long, comfortable lives. Can they really be happy in cages their whole lives? We've had such horrible heat that I haven't had them out for weeks, but they love to stretch their legs and run and do "bingies". The problem still is the way they fight and hate being lifted out of their cages.

Any advice on moving them and grooming them with less stress would be awesome. Thanks so much,


July 8, 2012 at 4:44 PM  
Blogger redbird said...

Thanks Jenna and Samantha...excited to see an author of one of my how-to rabbit books on the CAF blog! Just getting started with meat rabbits, but so far I’m absolutely in love with my New Zealand/Californian cross for how she’s built meat wise. She’s noticeably superior to the pure New Zealand and Californian.

July 9, 2012 at 3:40 PM  

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