Rabbits are a great animal for a small homestead because they take up very little space, make no noise and won't disturb neighbors. There are many breeds of rabbits to choose from, and the choices can be overwhelming. To make it easier to choose the best rabbit breeds for the small homestead, I like to put them into three categories. We'll also discuss basic rabbit care, and some interesting rabbit facts.
Pet Rabbit Breeds
The best pet rabbits breeds include:
- Netherland Dwarfs
- Mini Lops, Rex or Satins
These rabbit breeds are best-suited as pets. They are small, cute and easy to take care of. Pet rabbits are perfect for a young child to learn some responsibility or to display at a 4H show. Their waste makes a wonderful addition to a garden or the compost pile. A breeding pair may cost around $25-30, and they require about 2 ounces of food per day.
Pet rabbits are the third most common animal to end up in shelters, behind dogs and cats, so please be certain that you really want a pet bunny before you make the commitment. House rabbits may also chew on things they shouldn't, like electrical cords, so be careful when your rabbit is out of its cage.
Meat Rabbit Breeds
The best meat rabbit breeds include:
- California Whites
- New Zealands
- Flemish Giants
- English Lops
These homestead rabbits are very large, especially compared to “pet” breeds, so they eat considerably more food and hay. The average rabbit can easily weigh 3-4 lbs once processed. These rabbits have litters of 9-12 kits at a time, so one breeding pair of meat pen rabbits can easily sustain a family with plenty of alternative protein. A good breeding pair can cost around $50 to start up. They can require about 5-6 ounces of food per day.
Fiber Rabbit Breeds
Homestead fiber rabbit breeds include:
- Angora – French, English, and Chinese
- Jersey Woolies
Chinese Angoras are very rare in America, so the best bet would be finding French or English Angoras. They are a large breed, and one full grown rabbit can easily produce a pound of fiber twice a year. If you are looking for a steady source of yarn to spin and craft, this is the breed for you. They are also a great meat rabbit, and their dual purpose makes them an ideal start for a homesteader. The only drawback is the initial cost. A good breeding pair of Angora rabbits may cost up to $300 to start. Angora rabbits will typically live for 9 to 12 years. These rabbits will usually require about 4-5 ounces of food per day.
For more detailed information on rabbit breeds, you can visit the American Rabbit Breeders Association, Inc. website.
Basic Bunny Care
Whatever rabbit breed you choose, you will need a few things to start. Rabbits need a cage, water bottle, a food crock or bowl, hay, and food. Small toys or wooden chews are also nice. The other thing that all rabbits need, especially the larger breeds, is a resting board. Rabbits need a way to get off the hard wire of the cage once in a while, otherwise they may develop sore hocks. They sell resting boards at the pet supply stores, or they are sometimes included with the cage. You can also use an old scrap of carpet or a piece of toweling.
During extreme cold temperatures, having two or more water bottles per rabbit can make chores easier as you can just swap the bottles for a non frozen one. They also have heated water bottles, but they can get very expensive quickly and I have never found one to last longer than one season. You will also want to make sure they get some extra hay and food to help keep them warm. (Rabbits naturally burn extra calories to keep warm, just like humans.)
When it's extremely hot outside, placing a frozen water bottle in the cage will allow the rabbit to “cuddle” up to it and help keep cool. We also use ceramic tiles that we freeze for the rabbits to lay on as well in the summer. A fan blowing in their rabbitry will keep the air moving for them, and help them stay cool.
- Buck = Adult male rabbit
- Doe = Adult female rabbit
- Kit or Kitten = Baby rabbit
- Rabbitry = Rabbit living area
- Colony or Fluffle = Group of wild rabbits
- Warren – Where a group of rabbits lives
- Binky – Excited bouncing of rabbit
How long do rabbits live?
Wild rabbits generally live for 1-2 years. Domestic pet rabbits can live up to 8 to 12 years.
Are Rabbits Nocturnal? When do rabbits sleep?
No, rabbits are crepuscular, which means they are most active at dawn and dusk. Rabbits will sleep during the day and at night. They can sleep with their eyes open, which is a little strange and disconcerting.
Do Rabbits Eat Their own Poop?
Yes, rabbits will eat some of their own droppings. There are two types of rabbit poop, and rabbits sometimes eat their soft night droppings. You can read more about this in the post, “Meat Rabbits – What You Need to Know About Raising Rabbits for Meat“.
Rabbits' Teeth and Nails Never Stop Growing
It's important for rabbits to have tough things to gnaw on, like small sections of tree branches, to wear down their teeth. Pet rabbits or breeding rabbits with limited space in their runs will likely need their nails trimmed as they get older, roughly every six weeks.
Are You Ready for Rabbits?
Easy to take care of, and quite useful for compost, meat, or fiber, rabbits can be a great addition to a small homestead.
What rabbit breed do you prefer? Leave a comment and share your experience below.
This is a guest post by Heather Harris of The Homesteading Hippy. Heather started her journey to self sufficiency and homesteading after watching the movies “Super Size Me” and “Food, Inc.” and hasn’t looked back. She and her family live in Northern Indiana, where they enjoy raising a garden, rabbits and assorted poultry in their backyard. You can find her blogging at The Homesteading Hippy. Also, on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.
You may also enjoy other posts in our Homesteading series, such as:
- Top 7 Tips for First time Chicken Owners
- How to Raise Chickens Cheaply – Tips for Raising Chickens on a Budget
- Getting Started Beekeeping
Originally published in 2014, updated in 2018.