What Breeds for Meat?

Discussion in 'Rabbits' started by Jennifer L., Jun 11, 2004.

  1. Jennifer L.

    Jennifer L. Well-Known Member Supporter

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    I was given a rabbit the other night, a one month old blue gray crossbred doe. I don't know the breeds involved, but the parents looked medium sized. One was a pink eyed white Angora type and the other is more normal furred with black spots. I've been thinking for a long time about getting some rabbits for meat, but this one just landed in my lap and now I've been dumped into rabbits head first without any warning.

    Can any rabbit be used for meat, within reason? Not dwarfs, I imagine, but anything else? Some one I spoke to the other day said he wouldn't raise any rabbits for meat unless they were Flemish Giants, which he raised as a teenager and sold dressed. He liked them because they dressed out at 4# at 8 weeks.

    I guess my question is, should I figure on using the doe when she is old enough to breed, or should I get a more "official" meat type rabbit? It looks like most people are using the NZ or California type rabbits. Does anyone use and like the Flemish Giants for the reason my friend stated? The size aspect does appeal to me. Also, I live in a cold area of the country, should that affect what breed I get? Oh, and these would be for personal use, for now, at least.

    Thanks!
     
  2. Pat Lamar

    Pat Lamar Well-Known Member Supporter

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    Jennifer....

    First, let's explain some common misconceptions. It's true that any breed of rabbit may be *eaten,* but not all breeds are preferred for the professional meat industry (the small Netherland Dwarf would be an appetizer, eh?). The New Zealand breed was chosen as the #1 meat breed due to its practicality in all areas.... growth rates, feed conversion ratios, hardiness, mothering and milking abilities, *and* meat qualities (meat to bone ratios), among other things. To understand this, one needs to realize that growers are concerned with the aspects of what affects them and their pocket books directly (the economics of raising = growth rates, etc.) while processors are not and are more concerned with meat qualities. Trying to combine the two goals in one breed is not always easy to do. Since the Californian breed is a slightly smaller breed, it generally requires an extra week or two of feeding ($$$$) to reach marketable weights and is often lacking in mothering skills, so it comes in as a close second place to the New Zealand breed.

    The Flemish Giant is *not* a "meat" breed, although it used to be in the early 1900's. As the industry became more perfected through the years, processors and consumers have demanded better meat quality. Now, the Flemish Giant has a totally different body structure (Semi-Arch) which does not lend itself well to the "ideal" meat carcass (e.g., a "compact" hunk of meat), as the carcass tends to be long, lanky and bony. In addition, being a giant breed, it has larger and heavier bones resulting in a low meat-to-bone ratio during the fryer stages. True, they tend to grow faster, but that growth is concentrated on the bones and not the meat. Which would you rather pay for? Meat... or bones? The majority of rabbit processors will not accept Flemish Giant rabbits, and many also will not accept first generation (F1) crosses using Flemish Giants. Therefore, your friend is correct in stating that they "grow fast," but is definitely mistaken in claiming them to be a meat breed.

    You can read more on what breeds are accepted as "meat breeds" on the "Commercial Rabbit Industries" web site at: http://www.3-cities.com/~fuzyfarm
    Just keep in mind... the processor has the last say as to what breeds he/she wants for their business, as some require only certain breeds and many pay less for colored rabbits, even within those accepted breeds.

    You stated that one of your rabbits is a pink-eyed white Angora type. Although technically, some of the Angora breeds do have the preferred "commercial" body type used for meat, the commercial value in the Angora breeds is in the wool and not the meat. What this means is that breeders have placed their breeding priorities into improving the wool qualities, so they are often lacking in meat qualities, and all that wool makes for a difficult time in skinning the rabbit(s). Processors will *not* accept any of the Angora breeds.

    Again, back to the "any rabbit may be eaten"... if the meat is for your own table and not for selling to a processor, and you're not concerned with the hardcore economics of raising the rabbits, then, you can use *any* breed and size of rabbits as whatever pleases you.

    Pat Lamar
    President
    Professional Rabbit Meat Association
    http://www.prma.org/
     

  3. Jennifer L.

    Jennifer L. Well-Known Member Supporter

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    Thanks, Pat. Yes, I did wonder about feeding efficiency with a bigger rabbit. What you say makes sense to me.

    I didn't mean to say that the rabbit I have is a pink eyed white angora type, it was the daughter of a rabbit like that. This one probably has longer hair than some but it's hard to tell at this age.

    Would you suggest that I not use this rabbit at all and go straight to a NZ type pair or trio, or would it be good enough to get a NZ type buck to use on this doe when she is older and just breed towards NZ body type and white fur?

    Would your advice be different if I were working towards developing a herd for commercial sales (meat)? I'd kind of like to keep my options open. I do know of someone in the county who sells rabbits to a processor, so it might be easier for me to sell them than I think. I'm a dairy farmer (small herd) and while milk prices are currently up, it's been a really tough last three or four years and I'm trying to think of ways to diversify that fit in on the farm.
     
  4. Pat Lamar

    Pat Lamar Well-Known Member Supporter

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    I forgot to address your last question regarding the best meat breed for your climate.

    Rabbits tend to do exceptionally well in the colder climates. It's the heat of summer that they have trouble with. Remember.... they have built in fur coats and can handle the cold extremely well. The main concern during freezing temperatures is to keep liquid, drinkable water coming at all times, since rabbits are such that if they cannot drink, they will not eat. And, if they don't eat, they surely can't generate the energy needed to produce body heat for keeping themselves warm!

    I raised outside rabbits in upstate New York... only 3 miles from the Canadian border. During the winter, I made sure that each hutch had a nest box stuffed with straw (even for the bucks - straw generates heat), and covered the open front and sides of each hutch with burlap bags (leave the bottom of the cage open, of course). I never lost a rabbit to the cold, with the exception of popsicle kits born on the wire overnight.

    To ensure a minimum of trouble with your climate, I would definitely recommend obtaining your rabbits locally, since they are already acclimated to your climate.

    Pat Lamar
    President
    Professional Rabbit Meat Association
    http://www.prma.org/
     
  5. Pat Lamar

    Pat Lamar Well-Known Member Supporter

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    Only time will tell on this question, as you need to see just how long that hair is going to get! And, don't forget.... Angora-like rabbits *will* continually pop up in your litters for a *very* long time! "Throwbacks" are common! One of the scourges of the NZW meat breeder are the "woolies" that pop up every now and then as a result of someone having used an Angora with the NZW and selling the offsprings to others. And, as fryers, they tend to carry the lack of meat qualities noted in the Angora breeds. If you keep this rabbit, I would definitely recommend using the offspring for your *own* table, ONLY... and never, ever sell them to other meat growers! I would make a point of obtaining *only* the desired breed(s) for your meat "business."

    Best advice.... locate the processor and ask them what breed(s) they prefer or need for thier business and go from there. They also know *who* is providing the preferred type of rabbit they want! Not all NZW's have good meat qualities, ya know.

    Pat Lamar
    President
    Professional Rabbit Meat Association
    http://www.prma.org/
     
  6. Jennifer L.

    Jennifer L. Well-Known Member Supporter

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    OK, nix on this doe I've got here and get "real" meat rabbits. Works for me. :)

    Funny, I'm sitting right on the Canadian border, too!

    The person I know of who is selling them for meat now complained to me that the one big problem he had last winter was trying to keep the water in front of them. He is resizing his barn for this winter so that it's large enough only for the rabbits he has so they keep the water from freezing with their own body heat.

    Thanks for all of the advice. You answered a whole range of questions for me, some I hadn't even thought to ask. :)

    Jennifer
     
  7. Pat Lamar

    Pat Lamar Well-Known Member Supporter

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    I lived in Mooers Forks, a dinky little burg about 25 miles northwest of Plattsburgh. Not there, anymore, of course. Now in eastern WA state... all high desert country! What a change, eh? :D

    Pat Lamar
    President
    Professional Rabbit Meat Association
    http://www.prma.org/
     
  8. Jennifer L.

    Jennifer L. Well-Known Member Supporter

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    Something in the air today, I found out someone I've emailed a few times had a son at Fort Drum near Watertown for 12 years. I'm on Lake Ontario just to the west of Watertown. Canada is just next door. :) The world is a small place!

    Coincidentally, the man I know currently raising meat rabbits stopped by for a chat today. He's up to 34 does and climbing, thinking about adding on to his barn this year. I'll be able to get a few rabbits from him later on this summer. He has NZ with some coloured rabbits thrown in. Apparently his buyer will take anything as far as colour goes. The buyer is somehow connected to someone who currently has 3000 does and usually needs more to supply his market. How many large outfits are in the US now that are raising rabbits on this scale? Is it at all common or are most operations quite small? What's the average size commercial rabbit farm? I'm just curious about this. :)

    Jennifer