I show and breed rabbits for the show table and pets, but also have an interest in the meat side. It's great you're considering rabbits as a source of homegrown meat - they are quiet, personable animals; gentle and easy to handle, easy to house in a suburban situation, very clean and usually disease-free, and as they breed prolifically can produce more meat for their size than most meat animals. One buck and 3-4 does will probably supply enough meat for an average family, depending on what breeding cycle you adopt. The meat is low-fat and easily digestible, and the waste is great for composting or adding directly to gardens.
Some good links on meat rabbits, and rabbits in general:The American Rabbit Breeders' Association (ARBA)
- an excellent source of information about different rabbit breeds, with links to rabbit breed clubs and breeders.http://www.raising-rabbits.com
- a comprehensive, one-stop resource on all aspects of raising rabbits, including breeds, housing, husbandry, feeding, breeding, dispatching and processing.Yahoo Meatrabbits group
- a friendly, family-safe and informative group on all things meatrabbit!
Breeds: New Zealand Whites and Californians are the main meat breeds - both are large but not gigantic animals, specially bred to produce large litters of fast-maturing kits with a high meat yield. Other breeds also worth considering are Standard, Giant and American Chinchillas, Satins, Silver Martens, Sables and Rexes.
If you have an interest in rare livestock breeds, there are several American heritage meat rabbit breeds to choose from - American Whites and Blues, Cinnamons, Palominos, Silver Fox and American Sables.
If you prefer a smaller rabbit, Dutch and Florida Whites have excellent dress-out rates, on a par with those of NZ Whites and Californians. Avoid Flemish Giants - although large rabbits, they are heavy-boned, do not have a good dress-out rate, and eat like horses!
Dispatching and Processing: Rabbits can be quickly and humanely dispatched and processed in a small area. You can set up a small processing station in a shed, outside near the house; or even use your laundry, kitchen, or bathroom space.
There are several methods of dispatching - cervical dislocation, broomsticking (a slightly 'hands-off' method of cervical dislocation), a heavy quick blow to the back of the head just behind the ears, .22 gun, pellet gun (some of these can be used in suburban areas). The rabbit wringer is a method of cervical dislocation. These are covered in more detail on the MeatRabbits group and Raising Rabbits website. Look up "KainanRa" on YouTube - he has an excellent video on how to process rabbits.
The manufacturer of the Rabbit Wringer also makes the Rabbit Zinger, a humane killer/captive bolt gun powered by rubber bands. I have one of these, and it is my method of preference above all others - it is very quick and humane; does not require a lot of strength, restraint or manhandling of the rabbits. As a result is less stressful on the animals, very easy to master and probably less 'squeamish' than some of the other methods. You can see videos of this method on YouTube and the manufacturer's website.
Housing: My rabbits are housed outside in solid wooden English-style hutch blocks (several individual cage units in one structure). They are off the ground, painted to withstand weather and rabbit pee, and all the doors are padlocked. One hutch block I built myself; others I bought and modified to my needs as required. For a few rabbits, this sort of set up is okay; anything more is very labour-intensive. Most people who get into rabbits on a larger scale usually use a wire caging system inside a shed or barn.
You can buy cages purpose-made; or purchase rolls of welded wire mesh, pliers and j-clips and make them yourself. As a general rule, use 14 gauge 2 x 1 inch wire mesh for the cage sides and top, and 14 or 16 gauge 1 x 1/2 inch wire for the floor. For the meat breeds, Bucks should be housed in cages not less than 2 x 2 feet in area and 18 inches in height; does and kits need 2 x 3 foot in area, preferably more. Raising-Rabbits and the MeatRabbits group have instructions and pictures of cages and different caging systems.
Disposing of any waste: The liver, heart and a few other organs are considered delicacies by some people (I'm not into organ meats so have never tried them). You can give them to your dogs or cats; they are also sought after by people who feed their cats and dogs on raw-food diets.
The skin/fur can be saved for processing into pelts, which is worth considering if you go with one of the dual-purpose fur/meat breeds like Chinchillas, Silver Martens, Satins or American Fox. The Rex has an especially luxurious, velvety coat. The fur breeds' coats are at their best at 5-6 months of age, which is in opposition to the best time to harvest rabbits for fryers (8-12 weeks). Coats can be bagged up and kept in the freezer until you are ready to process them.
Rabbit pellets: By this I assume you mean the manure.
Rabbit manure is a great fertiliser which can be composted or applied directly to gardens - it will not 'burn' plants if applied fresh like some other animal manures do. You can use it in your own garden, or bag up to sell/give away to other gardeners. I give mine to a local community garden. If you have a wire caging system, you can have a worm farm directly under the cages, which helps take care of the odour and volume issue.
Hope that helps.
If you want to chat rabbits further, please don't hesitate to PM me!