Selecting a Rabbit Breed

Here on the homestead we only have three types of rabbits, but there are several dozen to choose from. When selecting a rabbit for your homestead, the primary goal tends to be meat, with secondary goals of fur or perhaps the occasional sale of a breeder or pet. Later show sometimes becomes another factor. That limits the options to breeds primarily grown for the commercial market, but there are still many choices.

The nice thing about rabbits is that no matter what breed you get rabbits are all made out of meat. I know someone who butchers her Netherlands dwarf rabbits for her dog’s food when she has culls! That is about as far from a production breed as you will get! But no matter what rabbit you choose you get rabbit hides and meat out of them. This is just a list of some popular breeds and their pros and cons!

New Zealand
This is our primary breed of rabbit, known for its excellent production. It is pretty regular to expect any New Zealand to give good litters with fast growth and reasonable meat to bone ratios. These are large, 10-11lb rabbits. New Zealand Whites tend to be the most common and the best developed of the colors, but they also come in red, black and broken varieties. Blue and steel are colors that are still in development but we may see on the show table in the future. This is THE all around production rabbit, is inexpensive and easy to come by.

Californians
These rabbits closely resemble New Zealands in quality. They are the number 2 production rabbit in the world and are a great choice for most people. The primary difference between this rabbit and a NZ are the color (Californians only come in white with black or sable tips) and meat to bone ratio. Californians are known for their lighter bones, but have a very slightly smaller overall size. If you were a commercial breeder the difference of a half-ounce or two per rabbit might add up but for homesteading purposes these rabbits are about the same as a New Zealand. It is very common to cross them with New Zealands to try to get some hybrid vigor out of the kits.

Rex
Rex rabbits are a primarily fur breed, but they have a good size (9lbs) and strong growth. Their fur is like no other, it is unmistakably soft and plush. It is extremely short and dense and has a texture almost like velvet. Rex furs are the most valuable and extremely diverse coming in a wide range of colors and patterns. Our own Kibbles is a Rex, and has proven to be a high production rabbit. Rex tend to be a bit smaller and slower growing than major production breeds, but are still a great choice.

Mini Rex
Mini or dwarf rabbits seem like an odd choice for a farm, but there are legitimate reasons for choosing them. They can fit in smaller spaces, can be classified as and more easily sold as pets for the homesteader trying to produce their own food in an apartment or restrictive neighborhood. Their conversion of feed to meat is the same as a full sized rabbit, they are just very small and that makes processing more time consuming. Mini rabbits often carry the dwarfing gene which is required for showing, but is bad for production. One copy creates a smaller rabbit, but any rabbit with two copies is a “peanut” and is born with fatal defects. This can reduce litter sizes, and can be avoided by getting a “false dwarf”, which is a mini without the dwarf gene as your herd sire or brood doe. Aside from this particular complication, mini Rex are exactly like standard Rex in a smaller package and are great pet animals too.

Palomino
Pals are a beautiful golden or dusty sand colored rabbit with a commercial body. They are known historically for an excellent meat to bone ratio, thriftiness, and very friendly personalities. Unfortunately this rabbit has become rare and most quality breeders no longer breed for production, but for show. There are still a few production rabbits around, however, and they can be a great meat breed. They are smaller than Rex, being around 8lbs.

Silver Fox
Another rare breed rabbit, these big rabbits are known for excellent growth, good mothering, fine temperaments and their beautiful fur that looks nearly identical to the actual animal the breed takes its name from. When purchased from a reliable source these are rabbits of extreme quality, but for many the pricetag may make them flinch as a young breeding trio may run $200 without batting an eye and can get much higher. Compared to a New Zealand, which can provide quality broodstock to most for $25 each, that is quite a chunk of change. Lower quality stock from this breed varies widely because the breed is not as well established with quality as New Zealands or Californians.

Flemish Giant
These huge rabbits are becoming more and more popular in the US, mostly for the pet market. At 15-25lbs, these rabbits are one of the biggest in the world and that leads many people to the knee jerk reaction that they must be the best for food. Contrary to that, these rabbits tend to grow their bones first and their meat later, producing less actual food for the same amount of feed. Their large size also means special care with reinforced floors, and extra large cages. However, many people simply prefer the huge size of the FG and still more find great success crossing a thrifty, light-boned meat breed like a Californian with them to produce an exceptional meat rabbit. FG rabbits tend to sport very natural coat colors with mottled tones, and are friendly animals.

Champagne D’argente
This beautiful breed of rabbit, with its beautiful light greyish coat, is another rare breed rabbit with high thriftiness and light bones. Similar to the Palomino in overall use, the rabbits sport a slightly thicker body, and a very differently colored coat, but share the smaller size and the reduced use in production.

Florida White
Originally created for laboratories, this small rabbit is similar in their use to Mini Rex. These rabbits are always white and are extremely consistent in their growth and quality due to their use in labs. These rabbits have not been bred for the pet market, and so temperament is closer to that of a farm rabbit. These rabbits grow fast, are thrifty, and can be kept in small cages.

American
This breed of rabbit does not have the classic commercial body, but is known for its great meat production despite that. Invented and popularized as a meat breed, this long, low and beautiful rabbit has retained its high production characteristics. Similar in size and growth rate to a Rex, this rare breed is a great production rabbit with a unique shape and extreme thriftiness. Its mandolin like shape leads to people passing up this breed despite its proven use for meat.

Giant Chinchilla
These rabbits suffer frequently from the same flaws that other Giant breeds do, but tend to be better overall for production. A smaller size than the extra large Flemish allows these rabbits a better meat to bone ratio and as a result are more thrifty. Reaching 5-6lbs at 8 weeks makes these rabbits extremely fast growers, very friendly, and their chinchilla colored fur is very popular. But specialized care and a still below average meat to bone ratios makes these a less popular rabbit for meat. They are also a rare breed.

French Angora
This is the only breed of angora (or wooling rabbits) suggested for meat production, although the Giant Angora shares all the characteristics of the other Giant breeds in regards to meat, with the added work of the angora coat. Angoras are, of course, a wool breed with a coat that must be brushed and maintained regularly. The French variety has a good size and a tight, commercial meat-type body. The added benefit of extremely high quality wool can be very appealing to a homesteader that does not have the space for something like sheep.

Other Breeds
Most breeds of rabbits that are not dwarf can be used for meat and the above are just “the best” or really, the most popular. Many people who raise rabbits of almost any breed frequently put their culls in the stewpot. Some people swear by these less popular breeds for meat, but time and experience have shown that to be the exception, not the rule. The nice thing about rabbits though is they are almost all thrifty animals that breed like, well, rabbits. Within a short time examining rabbit breeds you will find yourself capable of telling a rabbit that is just not worth the time to bother raising and butchering. In general, rabbits that are skinny, small or thick boned are bad choices. It is quite obvious that Holland Lops  have too much bone, Himalayans are TOO long and low, and Petite Britannicas are just too skinny and small. There are many other breeds out there that are all average to poor production rabbits but have become a favorite for individuals for various reasons. If you choose a breed not on the list for a preference of those traits, don’t feel like you made a bad choice. It is hard to go wrong with rabbits!

Mixed Breeds and Hybrids
Mutt rabbits are an excellent choice for production. Some mixes such as the Altex have grown in extreme popularity, are used commercially, and are favorable for their extraordinary hybrid vigor. Mixes can be very healthy, high production and beautiful rabbits that can shock you with their usefulness. Sometimes they can carry on bad traits as well. I find my Rex X NZW mixes to be very healthy, extremely fast growing rabbits that are all around quality production animals… But their dressage ratio suffers from the thick skin and coat that the Rex genes provide. That, however, can be a boon for tanning the hides. Many people mix Giant breeds into their lines for increased size, often crossing with a light boned commercial breed to reduce the impact of the heavy Giant bones. Cross bred rabbits often exhibit hybrid vigor and grow faster, healthier, which is why crossing NZW and Californian rabbit is extremely popular. Mixing rabbit breeds can be great for the back yard meat farmer that is not concerned with show. Mixed breed rabbit cannot be shown of course.

In Conclusion…
If there is one thing to take away from this, it is that rabbit breeds are diverse and flexible, offering a huge variety of choices and that everyone has their favorites! There are few right or wrong choices for the breed you select, although there are some that are generally better and some that are distinctly worse. It is important to choose the rabbit that suits your conditions as well as your fancy! Rabbits are an extremely enjoyable and sustainable hobby, and I encourage you to look into this extremely healthy food source for your own homestead!

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4 thoughts on “Selecting a Rabbit Breed

  1. Very nice post. I just stumbled upon your weblog aand wanted
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  2. We currently raise American Chinchilla, Mini Rex, Silver Fox, Flemish Giant, a variety of mixed breeds and one Californian. We used to have NZ white, but we didn’t find them to be as hardy as some of the other breeds. We know other people who’ve had great luck with them.

  3. Greetings,

    I’ve been running an experiment to determine the feed:weight ratios for rabbits raised in a cage vs ones raised in a colony. The rabbits were just slaughtered (at 21 weeks old), and I’m working on analyzing the results. I measured the carcass weights, but since we intend to eat these rabbits as well, they have gone into the freezer, and won’t be cooked for a while. Thus I can’t measure the actual meat:bone ratio of the carcass.

    I was able to measure the meat:bone ratio of a rabbit carcass (not from the experiment) slaughtered at the same age, but it was a New Zealand/Californian mix. Its carcass weighed 4lb 15oz, and the bones weighed 5oz, for a meat:bone ratio of approximately 15:1. But I’d rather not base all my analysis on this one sample.

    I’ve searched online, and haven’t found any numbers for the meat:bone ratio of New Zealand whites. Do you know what that ratio is (or at least within what range it usually is), or of a place where I could find reliable numbers on it?

    Thanks!

    • Oh! What a great experiment. Unfortunately I don’t have access to the research papers that may tell you that information (real science is hard to get your hands on as a pleb like we yonder farmers).

      However, on homesteadingtoday.com there is a forum dedicated to the raising of rabbits. It’s an active forum with people of all experience levels. There’s a bunch of people there who may be willing to help you expand this sample size (myself included) to help you determine approximate meat to bone ratios in various breeds. I, myself, would only be able to submit standard rex and NZW to that list but there are many others who have other breeds on the homesteadingtoday forums and you may be able to get a larger sample size from across the world simply by making, updating and maintaining a topic on the subject.

      Good luck!

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