For homesteaders, livestock is usually an important part of their plan. For self-sufficiency purposes or for income purposes, conversations on the topic going on around the clock.
Each species of livestock, from the mundane to the exotic, has its own advantages to offer owners and disadvantages that must be overcome.
It has been said that there is a shoe for every foot, and so there is a type of livestock that is suitable for any property, any climate, and any goal.
One small species that is increasingly talked about these days are rabbits.
Inexpensive to buy, taking up very little space, and being very easy to handle are some of their major advantages, not to mention their exponential breeding rate.
But when the rubber meets the road we need to know one thing: are rabbits profitable to raise?
Yes, rabbits can be profitable to raise but margins are usually very narrow. Yields of meat are small and markets even smaller, while raising them for the pet industry is highly seasonal and region-specific.
The idea that you can get a couple of breeding pairs of rabbits and then start a veritable factory line of meat production or highly attractive, but such success stories rarely give you a full overview of costs to manage expectations.
And this article will tell you all about the profit potential of raising rabbits, the good and the bad.
Rabbits Seem to Have Lots of Advantages as Livestock
At first glance, rabbits do have a lot of advantages as livestock, and many of these perceived advantages are very real.
Compared to pretty much every other common domestic animal, rabbits take up very little space, are very easy to handle, generally healthy, and have low nutritional requirements.
You can raise a lot of rabbits in hutches in your backyard alone, whereas you would need acres for a similar number of cows, goats, or pigs.
Even chickens, long now the darling of small property homesteaders and backyard keepers, require more specialized care and room than rabbits do.
Also, perhaps most importantly for a commercial endeavor, is it rabbits multiply very quickly.
A single breeding pair of rabbits with good genetics can turn out dozens and dozens of bunnies every year, each of them able to grow to adequate weight for slaughter in just a couple of months.
For this reason, the logistical advantages alone that rabbits have is enough to make them appealing to many homesteaders.
However, your success will be predicated on your business model and will always be subject to market factors both prior to and subsequent to slaughter or sale. More on that in a minute.
What are You Raising Your Rabbits For?
The first factor when it comes to determining the potential profit of your rabbit-raising operation is what you are raising them for.
Although many costs stay the same when it comes to raising rabbits prior to the point of sale, market factors and the processing costs might change depending on the intended use of the rabbit.
There are three major purposes that rabbits are raised for: meat, pets, and fur. Only two of them, raising them for meat and as pets, remain common in North America.
The fur trade is highly regulated and contentious for some reason, so we’ll be looking at the first two in the rest of this article.
Scaling is Critical
As most readers already know, the margins on many kinds of farming are already quite small, and livestock is no different. But considering rabbits in particular, margins can be shockingly small.
Though the math in plain black and white might make the prospect of raising rabbits attractive, this is where most articles touting the viability of raising rabbits as a living fall short because they fail to take into account all expenses and all costs, along with other relevant factors.
I want to get this out of the way right up front: unless you are raising rabbits on a massive scale it simply is not a viable source of income for your average homestead or household.
It might make for an enjoyable and even reasonably profitable side hustle and it can make for an excellent component in your personal readiness and self-sufficiency plan, but as a business there is only a tiny percentage of people raising rabbits that will make a good living doing it.
This is not to dissuade you from taking up the craft or the pastime, but it is the truth.
Raising them for Meat
It is possible to make a good estimate on the potential profit of any animal being raised for meat, rabbits included.
This is because the science of doing so has long since been worked out by generations of farmers that have come before us.
Basically, all we need to know is how much it will cost us to raise any given animal to an age and weight that is suitable for slaughter, figure out how much it will cost to process the carcass if we’re doing it ourselves, and then know how much we can reliably sell a quantity of meat for.
The sale of the meat minus all expenses is your profit. Simple as!
One of the most important factors that are attendant with raising livestock for meat is the conversion ratio.
Stated very simply, this is how much food you’ll need to feed them, typically in pounds, to produce one pound of weight gain.
So long as it is a generally healthy weight, more weight is better when it comes time to slaughter because that will produce a greater yield of meat and thus more profit, all things being equal.
A typical conversion ratio for typical “fryer” breed rabbits is 3:1. That means you’ll need to feed them 3 pounds of food for every pound of weight that they gain.
With this one figure, we may begin determining our primary expense, which is food. Remember this figure, we’ll need it soon.
The next thing we need to know is how much that feed costs. Feed prices vary depending on region, economic factors, manufacturer, type of feed, and quantity.
If you are forced to buy your rabbit feed from a Big Box pet retailer you are going to be the one getting slaughtered: prices can easily fetch more than $1.25 per pound, and that is going to crush your profits.
A better bet is to seek out livestock supply stores or farm supply stores that can sell you big 50 pound bags.
At that size, you can usually get basic rabbit food for anywhere from $.32 to $.46 a pound depending on type and brand- much better!
Costs Associated with Raising Rabbits for Meat, Step by Step
Alright, time for the tale of the tape. What should you expect to spend on raising your rabbits for their meat? We’ll need to assume a few figures, which can vary.
Your typical fryer breed rabbit will be slaughtered when it weighs anywhere from 5 to 7 pounds, so for our figures we will split the difference and say our target weight is 6 pounds.
Now, recall the conversion ratio mentioned in the previous section: 3 pounds of feed for every 1 pound of weight gained. So, let’s review:
Conversion Ratio- 3:1
Target Weight for Slaughter- 6 pounds
Cost of Feed/Lb- $0.32 to $1.25 (varies)
Now we can figure out how much food it will take, in pounds, and the cost of that food, to raise our rabbits.
All you need to do is multiply the first figure in the conversion ratio by the target weight, and then multiply that product again by your cost of feed per pound.
The low-end cost would look like this:
3 (conversion ratio) x 6 (target weight) = 18 (pounds of feed needed)
18 (pounds of feed) needed x 0.32 (cheaper feed price) = $5.76 (Total feed cost)
Easy enough, yeah? Let’s look at the high side price:
3(conversion ratio) x 6 (target weight) = 18 (pounds of feed needed)
18 (pounds of feed) needed x $1.25 (higher feed price) = $22.5 (Total feed cost)
Yikes! Quite a difference. Now, we need to know what rabbit meat will actually sell for. Let’s assume that you are in a market where you can sell your meat to processors and also directly to discerning buyers.
The price that your rabbit meat commands will depend on whether or not it is live (“on the hoof”) or processed.
The best returns will come from clean, properly processed meat, which will sell anywhere from $5 to $8 a pound wholesale. Of course, this takes more time, requires more expertise, and potentially more cost to you.
Another option is to sell live rabbits ready for butchering to processors. Generally, rabbit meat will get between $1 and $3 a pound if sold live.
This can save you the chore of having to dispatch the rabbit and process the meat yourself, but the returns are lower.
Whatever you do, don’t think that you can look up rabbit meat on a specialty retailer, see those massive $30 to $50 price tags for a carcass, and then assume you’re going to be fetching that for your rabbits and swimming in cash.
This generally will not happen, and you will rarely find even a private buyer and your neck of the woods willing to pay half that for fresh, organic rabbit straight from your operation.
So now all we need to do is estimate what our return will be based on the net amount of weight we get from a carcass.
One easy and reliable figure is to calculate 60% of the live weight of the rabbit as net meat. This is the figure that you will actually get paid for.
Recalling our 6 pound target weight, that means we get 3.6 pounds of meat. Let us say 3.5 pounds to make it a little easier to figure with, and because yields vary a little. Simply multiply the net weight of meat by the sale price, low and high end:
3.5 (weight of meat) x $1 (processor) = $3.50 (revenue from one rabbit)
3.5 (weight of meat) x $8 (wholesale) = $28 (revenue from one rabbit)
And so on… You can simply plug in any metrics you like based on what you are actually dealing with.
You also need to know how many rabbits you’re breeding can produce each year. Again, you’re going to make this a profitable business you’ve got to go big.
You’ll be making pennies at best for your time if you just plan on slaughtering about a dozen rabbits.
Putting it all together, take the revenue from the sale of the meat and subtract your feed expenses to find your nominal profit (remember, there are other costs!). Here are a few examples of profit and loss, per head.
Figure 1: $3.50 (low price, sold live) – $5.76 (lower cost of feed) = -$2.26
Figure 2: $10.50 (high price, sold live) – $5.76 (lower cost of feed) = $4.74
Figure 3: $17.50 (low price, sold processed) – $5.76 (lower cost of feed) = $11.74
Figure 4: $17.50 (low price, sold processed) – $22.50 (higher cost of feed) = -$5.00
Figure 5: $28.00 (high price, sold processed) – $5.76 (lower cost of feed) = $22.24
Figure 6: $28.00 (high price, sold processed) – $22.50 (higher cost of feed) = $5.50
Notice that some of these examples are a net loss already. Then, all that is left to do is multiply the above results by the number of rabbits (or pounds of meat) we are raising to slaughter. A few more examples:
Figure 1, x 12 rabbits: –$27.12
Figure 2, x 12 rabbits: $56.88
Figure 1, x 80 rabbits: -$180.80
Figure 2, x 80 rabbits: $379.20
Figure 4, x 12 rabbits: -$60.00
Figure 5, x 12 rabbits: $266.88
Figure 4, x 80 rabbits: -$400.00
Figure 5, x 80 rabbits: $1,779.25
As you can see, it is all about keeping costs low and selling price high, the same as any business. And, yes, it is possible to turn an okay profit.
But remember: it is going to take at least 8 weeks to realize the gains!
The above figures are just examples, but consider that your sales will likely fall somewhere between both extremes.
Research Carefully the Market for Rabbit Meat
One critical factor that so many perspective keepers overlook is the market itself. Said another way, is there anyone buying what you are selling, and if there is how often do they buy and in what quantity?
Since we are talking about rabbits as meat, let us consider its two chief competitors in North America, specifically beef and chicken.
Here’s a question for you: when was the last time that you saw a rabbit on the menu at a restaurant you ate at? When is the last time you saw rabbit for sale in a supermarket? Who do you know that eats rabbit meat? How often?
By now, you should have a sinking feeling in your stomach and if it’s not from the thought of actually eating rabbit it is probably from the realization that the market for rabbit made in North America is exceedingly small.
Rabbits are, typically, considered charismatic wildlife at worst or pets at best. Depending on who you ask, people will either frown at the notion of eating a cute, cuddly rabbit or consider it akin to eating a dog or cat- purely taboo.
This means that your potential buyers are going to be limited in all likelihood. Chances are there are not going to be many people in your neck of the woods that will buy meat directly from you, and precious few processors.
If you spend heavily on raising many rabbits to slaughtering weight and don’t have any buyers for them, you’re going to have a major problem on your hands to say nothing of a significant financial loss.
Raising Rabbits for the Pet Market
But let’s leave meat behind for now. Many people have the notion of raising rabbits for the pet trade, either sold directly to new owners and what is commonly called backyard breeding, or sold to pet stores and other outlets that will, then go on to resell them.
Either option is viable, and rabbits are certainly popular in some sectors. Much like cats and dogs, they are intelligent, and loving, have personalities and engage in enjoyable antics around the house. All the makings of a good pet.
But once again, as popular as rabbits might be as pets the market for them is much, much smaller than their nearest competitors.
They are a niche pet among mammals, and even if they technically are not they are near enough that prospective buyer pools will be quite small.
The good news is that depending on if you are selling bunnies or adults, your costs might be even smaller than raising them for meat.
You could sell a super cute baby bunny for $10 to $20 having spent only a few dollars on its care. Adult rabbits might go anywhere from $20 to $30, perhaps more if you have specialty rabbits.
In both cases, typically the rabbit will be sold on a pickup or possession basis, meaning there’s nothing else to do except collect the money and wave goodbye to the rabbit.
Of course, doing the job right and properly, including selecting for good genetics, raising for health, vaccines, screening and other such behavior characteristics of ethical breeders will cost more money and that means you must drive up the selling price unless you want to take a loss on profit.
Then again, most people are not willing to spend a fortune on a rabbit, even a very good one, so this as always is a balancing act.
The Pet Market for Rabbits is Highly Seasonal
Beyond this, you should also consider that rabbits are highly seasonal when it comes to pets.
You probably already know where this is going: when Easter rolls around, rabbits are all the rage.
2 months later, nobody wants one and many that were acquired for the purpose of bringing momentary joy to a child’s or spouse’s face or forgotten when people realize just how much work and care a rabbit demands.
Accordingly, rabbits are surrendered to shelters by the thousands, or even worse turned loose into the countryside.
In either case, many domestic rabbits purchased for this purpose are either put to death due to overcrowding or die painfully due to a lack of skills and genetics that will allow them to be successful in the wilderness. These are not wild rabbits you are raising!
You Must Factor in All Costs
One must also not forget to factor in all the other small nickel and dime costs that nonetheless add up when raising any animal.
As mentioned above, any shots and medical care that are required must be considered. An outbreak of disease that could cost you your entire herd may entail tremendous medical costs if you choose not to cull.
Bedding and water, though cheap, will nonetheless cost money as will any items for enrichment like toys and necessary materials for the construction and repair of their enclosures or hutches.
When you have margins that are as tight as they are with raising rabbits, you must keep an eye on all of your nickels and dimes throughout the process.
Failing to account for them might leave you dangerously close to breaking even, or even in the red when the time comes to cash out.
How Much is Your Time Worth?
Lastly, the number one thing you must keep in mind when embarking on any endeavor around your homestead, particularly one that is intended to support yourself or your family is the expense of your time.
Time is one of those x-factors that are commonly overlooked. Only you can decide what your time is worth, but no matter what your valuation you can’t get more of it and you can’t be in more than one place at once.
This means that whatever is the focus of your attention and energy for a given span of time must be worthwhile.
This, more than anything else, is what I see to be the major letdown for prospective rabbit raisers. They are tiny, they are easy to handle, and they are cute, but they still require a ton of time to take care of.
At the end of the season when they’re ready to be sold or slaughtered most people look back on the amount of work that they put in and feel sorely disappointed in the returns.
Ask yourself, and be honest: is raising rabbits really the best use of your time if you want to turn a tidy profit?
Tom has lived and worked on farms and homesteads from the Carolinas to Kentucky and beyond. He is passionate about helping people prepare for tough times by embracing lifestyles of self-sufficiency.