There is a new “white meat” coming to the forefront in the American food system, and it’s bad news for our cotton-tail friends. While still obscure compared to chicken or beef, rabbit meat has climbed in popularity over the past few years. Unfortunately, this has led rabbits to experience the same cruel treatment farm animals have faced for decades.

Crammed into small wire cages, stacked one on top of the other, bunnies on rabbit farms are often denied basic needs such as exercise, adequate space, and social interactions needed to maintain their well-being. In fact, the United States Department of Agriculture classifies rabbits as “poultry,” meaning they are not covered under the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act. This makes it acceptable for rabbits, like chickens raised for meat and eggs, to be killed in any manner one chooses.

Most of these farms are run by backyard butchers, which have even fewer regulations. However, a handful of commercial operations do exist and at the largest ones, up to 6,000 rabbits can be killed a week. One such slaughterhouse recently shut down its rabbit meat operation and thanks to some incredible rescuers, 24 breeding bunnies have been saved! Of this group, five very friendly cottontails – Dickens, Twiggy, Checkers, Celine and Mixy – will now spend their days free from harm at Animal Place sanctuary in California.

On the meat farm, these rabbits were crammed into small cages and constantly impregnated, only to have their babies taken so they could be slaughtered for meat. Celine even had a serial number tattooed on the inside of her ear. This is done so that the farmers can keep track of their “inventory.” These bunnies are now taking in every moment with joy. They especially love feeling hay and grass under their paws instead of metal wire.

Animal Place’s Education Director, Marji Beach told One Green Planet that in spite of the cruelty they have faced, these rabbits are “incredibly full of life.” She continued, “It’s amazing to watch them experience freedom for the first time.” One of the best parts of being free is the ability to finally be with one another. Beach said the rabbits love sniffing every bunny and human they come across and are curious to learn about everything in this brand new world. Now, they’re also getting to know the sanctuary’s chickens, who are just as smitten with their new neighbors.

The bunnies will soon by spayed and neutered and they will never be forced to breed again. These curious and lovable rabbits will finally have the happy lives they deserve. If you would like to help Animal Place care for these adorable fluff balls, visit Animal Place sanctuary here and support their efforts.