Raising Rabbits for Income

Rabbits are one of my favorite animals.  Peaceful, kind and entertaining, I love to sit out in the rabbit colony and just watch them.  It’s a great way to unwind and de-stress, but raising rabbits has an even more tangible benefit: good income potential.

Purebred breeding age rabbits of common breeds sell for $30-$60 each in my area.  Considering the fact that rabbits breed like, well, rabbits, you can see some pretty tidy income numbers with a relatively short turnaround time.

One major benefit to raising rabbits over other livestock is their adaptability to small spaces.  I don’t personally cage raise, but know many people who do and it ties everything up into a neat income producing package: rabbits as breeding stock and for meat, plus rabbit droppings as a surprisingly lucrative add-on income.

Initial Investment Cost

While highly adaptable to small spaces, rabbits can be very challenging to keep safely contained.  Housing is going to be your biggest investment cost, but it can be accomplished with a surprisingly small amount, too.  We have about 8 mature adults running together in a 16’x25′ colony that could easily accommodate a half dozen more adults, plus all the offspring.  Using as much scrap material as possible, I think our colony cost us about $100.

Cages that house one rabbit cost about $20-$30 used in my area.  I haven’t priced the cost of building new, but you can buy bulk hardware cloth at your farm supply store and J-clips to put it all together.  If you go that route, be sure to ask for a whole roll discount – we were able to secure 15% off a whole roll at our local North 40 for hardware cloth they normally sell by the foot.

Pedigreed rabbits will run you $30-$60 each, but if your goal is not to raise breeding stock, you can often find $5-$10 bunnies.  I recommend starting with all purebred stock because while they cost the same in upkeep, their offspring commands much higher prices.

All in all, with housing and a handful of breeding stock, you can get started raising rabbits with under $500.

Space Required for Raising Rabbits

Rabbits are compact.  Figure on about six square feet per rabbit if caged and double that or more for colony rabbits.  The additional space requirements for colony raised rabbits are vastly outweighed by the reduced chore time and maintenance requirements.

I have seen cage setups in a Costco carport that worked pretty efficiently.  Look around at buildings on your property – can any of them be all or partially converted into rabbit space?  I know a breeder who runs colony rabbits in one unused wing of her barn.  Our colony is in one section of an open air pole building.  Some pavers laid over part of your yard can be fenced around to create a dig-proof section for a handful of rabbits.

Turnaround Time

Rabbits can breed at about 6 months old.  Ideally, you can get your start by getting ready to breed adults from a reputable breeder, but there is always a risk you’re getting defective animals when you buy adults, so tread carefully if you go that way.  If you start with weaned kits, expect to wait 9-12 months until you have growouts ready to sell.  If you start with adults, expect 3-5 months.

Daily Time Requirements

I average about 5 minutes per day right now caring for my group of about 50 rabbits (growouts and adults).  Our management is more labor intensive because we feed whole grains, hay and, in summer, foraged greens.  Overall, including cleaning, I’d estimate 20 minutes per day year-round average.

Caged rabbits take considerably more time because each cage needs individual food and water.  In our colony, we run a float valve for water and feed in large feeders.  At a time when I had 10 adults in a colony, I also had 3 caged rabbits and spent as much time maintaining the caged 3 as I did the whole colony.  You’ll have to weigh it out and decide which method works better for your setup.

Profit Potential

If feeding pelleted rabbit food, the cost is about $20 per 50 pounds.  There isn’t really any other out of pocket cost once cages are purchased.  We feed bulk whole grains and alfalfa, plus picked greens.  I don’t know the exact costs to grow out a kit, but we spend more in labor and less in out of pocket costs this way.  Currently, with about 50 rabbits of varying ages, we go through a bale of alfalfa a week and about 20 pounds of whole grains, which works out to about $7 per week.

According to Crossroads Rabbitry, a New Zealand rabbit will take 15-18 pounds of commercial food to get to fryer size, which is about when they’d be old enough to sell as breeding stock too.  At a cost of $.40 per pound, one rabbit will cost $6.40 in feed to get to selling age.

Mom will eat roughly 6 ounces per day, or 137 pounds per year.  Her feed cost per year comes to about $55.  If she has 3 litters per year, each litter costs about $18 in food for the doe.

Not all rabbits will be breeding stock, but if you can sell 2 per litter at $30 each and the rest as meat fryers for $3 per pound ($15), an average litter size of 6 could net you about $65 ($120 in sales – $38.40 for kits’ food – $18 for doe’s food = $63.60).

You can have 3-4 litters per year, so each do can potentially bring $125-$190 in profits per year.

Potential Markets

There are numerous ways to market when you’re raising rabbits.  There is a strong, steady demand for rabbit meat.  Commercial meat buyers tend to have exacting standards for how their rabbits are raised, but if that isn’t an option  you can also raise yours for a local niche market, selling butchered or whole, depending on state regulations.

Breeding stock is also in high demand, especially if you can demonstrate a solid breeding program with consistent stock improvement and good selling points.

Market locally, in online specialty groups, at your local feed store and small animal swaps, as well as your own website.  You can contact commercial buyers directly to secure contracts.  This would be a good start before you invest if you want to go that route.

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