Rural System's

The Rabbits Group

Toward a small livestock resource subsystem ...


1. Support the development of The Rabbits Group.
2. Design 2 models of an efficient rabbit hutch.
3. Seek expert help for market preference and acceptability of rabbit meat.
4. Design a series of market options.
5. Start a Rabbit Group organization.

Information and Diagnoses

Small livestock such as sheep, goats, rabbits, ducks, chickens and others have in common the characteristic that they are relatively undemanding in their feeding requirements and easy to house and manage. They provide the same products and services as large livestock, such as cattle, but are less risky, are easier to replace since they are not so costly and reproduce faster. By optimizing the management of the animals as well as the integration of the animals into the farming system, the total production of the farm can increase considerably. The raising of small animals also offers opportunities for a regular cash income throughout the year.

Raising rabbits has been done by many 4-H youth, and Easter-time stimulates some interest in them. Raising rabbits is a good example of non-profitable activity unless it is done on the proper scale and in the proper areas. There is not high demand for the now-almost-unknown meat. Chicken suffices and is popular. We believe that a packaged frozen product can be developed along with a canned stew-meat alternative. Rumors are that fur is no longer widely acceptable. In the face of these obstacles, we nevertheless propose a profitable local production industry with marketing done elsewhere.
The elements of the proposal are:

Involvement of youth and many people, even at a very small scale, in Rural System.

Computer-aided selection from among the breeds:

  • Alaska
  • American
  • Angora
  • Belgian Hare
  • Bevern
  • Blue Vienna
  • Californian
  • Champagne D'Argent
  • Checkered Giant
  • Chinchilla
  • Cinnamon
  • Creme D'Argent
  • English Spot
  • Flemish Giant
  • Florida White
  • Harlequin
  • Havana
  • Himalayan
  • Lilac
  • Lop
  • Netherland Dwarf
  • New Zealand
  • Palomino
  • Polish
  • Rex
  • Rhinelander
  • Sable
  • Satin
  • Silver
  • Silver Fox
  • Silver Marten
  • Tan

The objectives are for optimizing on size, metabolic efficiency, meat yield, fur quality, pelt quality, and local appeal.

Ideas and practices will include:

The objectives are for optimizing for profit subject to size, metabolic efficiency, meat yield, fur quality, pelt quality, and local appeal.

This may be the group from which a "climate-friendly farming" project is initiated. This includes the major GIS components that allow animals, trees, and crops to be carefully placed to receive optimum water and temperature and insolation during a growing season (See a related project at

"Alternative meat production" and "rabbit meat production" now have Internet information available.

QUESTION from Virginia: What are the inspection and chilling requirements for on-farm rabbit processing and marketing?

ANSWER: Usually rabbits are considered a non-amenable species, meaning that they are not covered under the Federal Meat Inspection Act and, therefore, do not need USDA Food Safety Inspection Service inspection to be marketed. However, many state or local health codes need to be observed. You should contact Barry Jones or Gary Milton with the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, at (434) 947-6731, for information on Virginia's requirements for rabbit processing.

Below are three on-line resources dealing with rabbits and rabbit processing. According to these publications, rabbit carcasses should not be left in cooling water for more than one-half hour. Rabbit carcasses will absorb water, and the water is considered a contaminant. It is recommended you remove the rabbits from the water and place them in a refrigerator or cooler until your customers can pick them up.

See Meat Processor strategy


Anon. 2003. Rabbit production: Slaughtering and dressing rabbits. Mississippi State University Extension Service. 5 p.

Anon. No date. Raising rabbits: Helpful suggestions for beginners. Cooperative Extension, Washington State University. 12 p.

Graham, Paul P., Mark S. Price, and Norman G. Marriott. 1998. Rabbit processing. Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia Tech. 6 p.

A sub-group is likely to be formed for the cottontail rabbit (Sylvilagus floridanus). It is a wild animal and enters the food chain only from hunters and others using rabbit traps. Extensive literature is available and related documents will be developed. This is surely not a suggestion for producing abundant wild meat for the table or other products for the farm-market. As seen below, potential returns are from cottontail-related opportunities, activities, and events.

This rabbit is very much a function of its habitat ... abandoned fields, rich grasslands, areas where there is diverse vegetation and year-around "faunal space" ... well-designed patterns of corners, edges, desirable juxtaposition, and protection of animals from predators including many wild ones but also abundant feral house cats. Like mice, cottontails are at the base of the food chain for many predators and scavengers.

Most woodlands have native rabbit populations, some quite high. Rabbits are both difficult to see or to hunt in woodlands so their recreational benefits there are relatively low. Many hunters use hounds to flush and position such game. The beagle hound is a favorite in the rabbit-hunting sport. Often rabbits are destructive to trees (eating through the outer bark at the base). Thus rabbit production in forests is rarely emphasized or actively practiced. Intensive rabbit management is justified at the edge, the strip of land where forest meets field.

It is worthwhile to study, plan, and implement cottontail management but it will not seem to produce direct significant income or profit. Such work should be considered by analogy to pastures. For populations of owls (see the Owls group), foxes (The Coyote Group), and other predators (within the Birds Group); the Bobcat Group, the Good Dog Group, and for biodiversity claims ... we need cottontail management and that within the context of the enterprise environment ... a system.

We create in select areas demonstration areas, primarily for recreationists, showing how large numbers of wild cottontails can be achieved. These are themselves tourists attractions, (1) part of our wild faunal diversity program and (2) part of our "Maxi" program, pressing Dr. Patrick Scanlon's theory of maximum faunal production as a sound base for evaluating one part of modern wild faunal management success.

Cottontail fields are variable things. Under intensive agricultural management, a hay field, highly productive of rabbits in one year, may be a corn-field the next ... with very low number. Trying to specify how to manage for rabbits is difficult for animal abundance varies with changing vegetation and farm practice. We provide diverse vegetation to assure abundant desirable vegetation is present in every year, even in years or periods when favorite forage is low.

It has become abundantly clear from field studies by wild faunal biologists that throughout the Southeastern US, cottontail populations are rarely limited by available food, either in their abundance or their ability to fill such living areas. Knowing exactly what cottontails eat in the wild has been difficult to quantify and further study of techniques for doing so may be justified. (Micro-technology is now the best; field observations of foraging can be few and misleading. Most feeding is done from early evening to late morning. They will forsake an abundant food supply for good cover (protection from enemies) if the two are not found together. One observation for which more local information is needed is that "they will rarely forage more than 30 feet away from cover" and this distance shifts as overhead vegetation becomes sparce in winter. Winter feeding, depending on snow cover and local conditions, is low in grasses and forbs (rose, plantain, wheatgrass, blue grass, panic grass, orchard grass, legumes) and increases in woody plants such as bark and twigs of apple, raspberry, wild cherry, basswood, oak, maple, and white pine.

We know that there are factors, many of which the landowner cannot change, that influence rabbit production. Few people have studied the crop or forage losses (actual or proportional to the maximum yield) to cottontails or to the required financial losses needed if work was done to maximize such populations. There is such abundant research results that they beg for several areas where all of the knowledge is applied ... known not to be "representative" but creating notable, unique areas, ecologically exciting for guests, tourists, students, pest-control company, and hunters on special occasions.

The factors about conditions and faunal space align as follows:

The landowner and manager can consider these and with relatively small changes in practices, significantly increase rabbits or be assured of a high, stable population.

Both food and cover are important, bothy are critical to have for durable rabbit management. Water is not a problem; sufficient amounts are usually gained from dew and forages. Herein we provide preliminary guidance for managing the edge of agricultural field or small openings (clearings) within forests. When you have small field with which to work, then forest cutting is recommended in blocks, when you are laying out fields near forests, or for similar situations the following computational aids will be useful for helping you decide on how much edge you will get. The more edge you can get and manage, the more rabbits you will likely have. The more narrow the field or clearing, relatively, the more edge that is produced. The edge border around the field has length and width and so area is computed. The quality and quantity of food changes at both the field and the forest edge.

<P>Since trees have both a shading and moisture-draining effect on crops or food planted for wild fauna, often a rule of thumb is used. Such a rule is: When developing within a forest a clearing, field, or forest opening, the field should have a width no less than half the height of the tallest edge tree. See Capper. If the trees were 70 feet and 2 acres were to be cleared, then 5048 feet of edge would be created See xxxxxx under development.

Following a rule of twice the height of the tallest tree in the same situation, the result would be only 1525 feet of edge, a significant difference. The width of the zone affected by forest and field can be approximated (e.g., 10 feet; multiplied by the length gives the field edge zone. The rabbits are a function of edge zone area, thus we work to get and hold the greatest acreage of beneficial edge zone for the least costs.

We develop programs to obtain a scheme for getting the most amount of edge zone per acre of developed opening or rural field for low costs. We complicate the work by adding to the objective gaining the greatest number of useful coverts.This work benefits other fauna as well but we concentrate here on cottontails and hold extras in mind. Herein, is a concept for those whose primary interest is rabbit production. While some financial returns can be experienced, the profit will probably be low because of tradition and tendencies to generalize objectives, but also because of the relatively high cultivation or "production" costs. We also seek to be practical about cultivating the land and holding steady a population, seeing, or harvesting cottontails. We work to make the measures and to provide information for such decisions.

We fit equilateral triangles of hedge rows (wild or native) into fields. For developing wild hedges, we string a wire between two posts within a field. Birds roosting on the wire produce such hedges rapidly. All rabbit oriented hedges have to be managed by plowing, harrowing, burning, or mowing the edges, etc. Plants within them, wild or planted, might include autumn olive, rose, hawthorn, and small fruiting trees (pruned). The interior of the triangles should be regularly or randomly cultivated as food plots and kept in rotations of corn, bird food mix, clover, and fallow. Openings or gates are provided for hunters, observers,dogs, and farm equipment. "Crossings" may be needed for some public guests.

The cottontails are important, an essential resource, but the financial gains we believe will come from working within a subsystem that include expanded versions of the following opportunities:

Perhaps you will share ideas with Rural System staff about some of the topics above.

Revisions: January, 2010