Raising meat rabbits is a good choice for the homesteader. Though rabbit doesn't really "taste like chicken" it is easily substituted for chicken in many recipes. Rabbit is leaner with the back providing the tasty meaty portion as opposed to the chicken's breast.
It follows that the larger breeds supply the most meat so these are the best choice for home food production. The large breeds weigh 9-11 lbs at maturity, with the does (females) often heavier than the bucks (males). This puts a 4 lb fryer on the table at 8 weeks of age.
Another variable when choosing the rabbit breed is the fur. If there is interest in using this part of the animal then the different pelt characteristics should be taken into consideration.
Here are five rabbit breeds appropriate for the task of at-home food production:
1. The New Zealand
This is the most utilized breed in the U.S. for meat production. It is known for its white fur and pink eyes, though it also comes in black, red, blue and broken (black and white). The New Zealand is a large, gentle, hardy rabbit developed in the U.S. in 1912. The white variety was developed by crossing the American White, Flemish and Angora.
The does are larger than the bucks, reaching 12 lbs, and can be distinguished by their dewlap present below the chin, used for pulling fur to line the nest before birthing. This fur is part of what they were originally bred for and is a lovely plush. They are eaten at 8 weeks as fryers and older animals as roasters.
2. The Californian
This breed was developed in 1923 by crossing the Himalayan and Standard Chinchilla together then with the New Zealand White. It is known for its coloring and valued for its fur. It is a pure snow white with very dark or black pointing on the ears, tail, nose and feet (like the coloring of a Siamese cat).
The Californian was produced specifically as a commercial meat breed. Like the New Zealand it is large, relatively free of health issues and has a docile personality making it easy to work with and a great pet for children.
3. Champagne D'Argent
This beautiful breed has been raised in the Champagne region of France for hundreds of years. It is one of the oldest known breeds of rabbit. It starts off all black when born, then turns to its signature silver appearance as it ages (argent is French for silver). It actually has a bluish-white body with black hairs that gives it the silver appearance. Their coat is short and easy to care for. The Champagne D'Argent has a medium-large body at maturity, 9-ll lbs, with a calm demeanor.
4. The Palomino
This breed was developed in Washington to be a commercial meat breed. Their coats come in Lynx and Golden making them very attractive. They mature more slowly but end up with a meatier carcass than the others due to a relatively small bone structure.
5. The Florida White
This breed, officially recognized in 1967, was created for the specific purpose of providing a smaller rabbit for laboratory use and a smaller fryer for modern families. It was created by crossing a white Polish, New Zealand White and an albino American Dutch. The Florida White matures at 4-6 lbs with a compact body. Like all the other rabbits on this list it is short-haired and docile.
Another aspect of home food production is the rabbit pellets. This manure is high in phosphorus which is great for flower and fruit formation. It is not considered a "hot" manure so it can be added directly to some plants and certainly put in the compost pile aiding the production of vegetable foods for the home.
The rabbit is an under-utilized protein source, especially in the U.S. where we have our love affair with beef and chicken. Large breeds are available, easy to raise and inexpensive to maintain making them an ideal candidate for home food production. On a cold winter's eve nothing tastes better than a bowl of hearty hasenpfeffer stew!