Beginning a rabbit breeding program is a fascinating and fun hobby. I’ve had two rabbitries, one from 2007-2010 and my current one that I started in 2016. Between the two, I’ve learned a few things that might help you out when starting your own rabbitry. At this time, I gear more toward producing show quality animals, but these tips can be applied toward meat or pet production as well.
I started my first rabbitry when I was a sophomore in high school. In search for a more manageable 4-H showmanship rabbit for my younger sister, compared to our Giant Angoras, we found the Jersey Wooly and fell in love instantly.
I did a few things wrong when I started my breeding program then and have notes that I took and applied when starting my second rabbitry in 2016.
Start small, pick one breed and only a couple varieties. Understand how the varieties interact when bred together- yes, learn some genetics and Punnett squares! Know what colors will and will not be showable for your breed. Some varieties are easy, like blacks and blues, while others can be more of a challenge such as reds or fawns.
My first rabbitry was much smaller, I was breeding mostly just to produce pets and occasionally show. I had a few sweet gentle does that consistently produced sweet gentle babies. One doe would produce show babies, the others, not so much. This was because I had one correct type dwarf doe, and the rest of my animals, (including the buck!) were non-dwarfs. Yet another example of learning your breed before buying your stock. Most rabbit people are thrilled to discuss their breeds and happy to help in the quest for knowledge.
Get quality stock, don’t get discount rabbits! This is the single biggest tip I can offer. With my first rabbitry I got a trio at a silent auction for about $40. There were several reasons these animals were so cheap. One doe was terrified of people, and as gentle as I could be she would struggle so violently when held that she eventually broke her own back. One doe threw babies with incorrect eye colors. The buck had horrible type. Issues from those rabbits never left my barn even after the original rabbits had gone. Things like bad temperaments, ears being too long, and other faults can be inherited and stick with you for a long time. Buying quality animals to begin with helps immensely when you’re trying to produce quality animals. It also helps because people who have good stock generally know a fair bit about raising rabbits in general and can help you with some good advice as well. My best doe was about $40 and when I first saw her she was being held, without struggle, upside-down by a three-year-old. She was the most docile, calm, and sweet rabbit I’ve ever known.
Know your local market. Are people looking for meat rabbits and breeding stock, or is there a big 4-H culture that might be looking for more pet-sized animals with gentle temperaments? Choose a breed (or crosses) that you will be able to sell.
Along those lines, have plans for your culls. If you’re producing show animals a lot won’t make the cut. It’s easier to cull meat breed animals in my opinion since you always have the option to butcher them. I had an awful New Zealand doe that would try to attack me every time I fed her. No matter my patience, she drew blood once and that was enough for me. As soon as I had a replacement daughter (with better type and temperament!), she went to “freezer camp” and ended up in a delicious stew.
It’s harder with smaller breeds that aren’t worth butchering. But remember, cull does not necessarily mean kill! So if your dwarf rabbits are producing larger babies that won’t do well on the show tables, make sure there’s a good pet market where you can get rid of the ones who won’t cut it for breeding stock. I had a word document where I kept a template post for my Jersey Woolies explaining the breed and why they were so great, I’d post this to Craigslist when I had babies to sell, along with some adorable pictures of the fuzzy little guys and I rarely had an issue selling them. Just be sure you handle these babies often so they do make good 4-H projects or pets.
Have a goal, whether it is gold-star temperaments or prize winners on the show tables, don’t just breed willy nilly. If you want to produce great pet rabbits, make sure you have the time to handle them daily and tame them. If you want to produce the best show animals, cull heavily and only keep the best animal out of each litter, if any. For the record, I also highly recommend handling the show animals frequently too!
Another tip is never take a pedigree on a promise. While most breeders are kind and well-meaning, some get very busy and will forget to provide you with the pedigree later on. I haven’t personally experienced someone never giving out a pedigree, but I would imagine it could happen. It’s just better practice to ensure you have the pedigree in hand when you leave with the rabbit. Less chance for mistakes with ear number or missing information that way as well!
Join ARBA and go to shows! The best way to find good stock and gain knowledge in improving your strives toward better breeding is to learn from people who do well at shows. Perhaps not as important with the meat or pet breeding, but if you are trying to sell show stock, having good comments from judges or even wins at shows will help make the rabbits you produce more valuable to other breeders. Even if your rabbit doesn’t win on the tables, if you listen to the judge they will explain why they didn’t make the cut and you can focus on those pointers as you continue your breeding. My first New Zealands were all a bit weak in the shoulders, great hindquarters though. So when I started to look for new animals, I only considered animals with strong shoulders to help balance my herd.
All in all, breeding rabbits is quite entertaining, whether for show, pet, or meat purposes. I hope some of my tips will help you on your journey of building your own rabbitry, and as always, please comment or send a message if you have any questions!