Beginning a Rabbitry

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.

A litter from a Palomino doe and white New Zealand buck

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.

Only keep the best out of each litter!

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.

Nobody can resist the fluff!

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!

This little doe does not have to correct markings on her nose to be shown, so I gave her extra snuggles to get her used to being handled to ensure she would find a good home as a pet bunny.

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!

Breeding Rabbits

Breeding RabbitsSo you want to breed rabbits? It doesn’t take a mastermind to get results, but there are a few things I learned the hard way that I wish I knew when I started.

Know what your end goal is. If you’re breeding just to get meat rabbits, then purebred lineage and registering offspring is not critical. If you’re in love with a particular breed, aim to breed the best examples of that breed with the best socialization. One of my personal goals was to create good stock of a certain color variety of my breed.

Pay for good breeding stock, or pay later when you have weird issues from the “cheap” rabbits. When I began breeding Jersey Woolies in high school, I got a great deal on a trio of rabbits. And they turned out to be some of the worst animals in my whole barn. They had poor conformation, poor fertility, poor socialization, and the works. Only one of them contributed anything worthwhile to my breeding program, namely that she happened to carry a very elusive recessive allele that I was after. Other traits that were introduced were not as desirable- long ears, poor dispositions, etc.

The best rabbit I had I first saw when I was at a show. She was being held upside down by a three year old and had zero reaction to it. When she was righted and set back down, she calmly began eating hay. She was a great show rabbit, a wonderful pet, and threw a few nice babies. I spent more on her than all three of the “great deal” rabbits, and she was worth it.

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When your doe is due, check often that no babies are out of the box. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve found baby rabbits on the floor- nearly chilled to death. When mom jumps out of the nest box, sometimes the babies don’t let go and get pulled out. Outside of their warm fur-lined nest, the naked little babies chill very quickly and will die if you don’t find them fast enough. Some cages are equipped with closer wires or a plate around the bottom edge to prevent babies from falling out of the cage. Keep a very close eye on litters less than a few weeks old, check several times a day to make sure the babies are all in the box, alive, and fat.

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Know that people who breed rabbits are generally super friendly and want to help out newbies like yourself. If you find another person who breeds the breed you want to, talk to them! Go to rabbit shows. Yes, rabbit shows, they’re a real thing. The American Rabbit Breeders Association (ARBA) is the AKC of rabbits. They register breeds and put on shows where you can go view live examples of nearly every breed there is!

Actually breeding the rabbits is very easy. Take the doe to the buck’s cage, or put them together in a neutral pen (does can be territorial). Let them do their business. No seasonality, no special requirements. They shouldn’t need help.

There is something to be said about cross breeding for meat breeds. The babies are often faster growing and more healthy than their parents due to a phenomenon called hybrid vigor. I commonly crossed my Palomino doe to a New Zealand buck and their offspring did very well in the market classes of several county fairs.

If you are planning on selling your meat breed baby rabbits, try to plan litters to be born in advance of your local fair. There are always 4-Her’s looking for good market rabbits, at least in this neck of the woods. The two main age categories for market rabbits at the fair are less than 10 weeks old, fryers, or 10 weeks to 6 months old, roasters.

Big, beautiful, very pregnant, Palomino doe
A very pregnant Palomino doe
Big, fat, cross bred babies
Big, fat, cross bred babies

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
Provide her with a nest box and plenty of hay around day 25-26 after she’s been bred. Nest boxes can be metal or wooden. Mine were always wood because we happened to have the materials on hand. KW Cages has a great page here that goes over more nest box information and sizing.

She’ll have her babies in about 28-31 days after breeding. Babies are born blind and with their ears closed. They get cuter exponentially each day! Check the box every day after the doe pulls her fur, when you reach in and feel babies, do a count and make sure they are all still moving. If you feel any babies that aren’t moving, pull them out. If they’re dead, dispose of them. Also dispose of any placentas that the doe did not eat, they’re about the size of a big blueberry, you’ll know it when you see it. Another thing to check for is that the babies are all intact and not injured. Sometimes overzealous mothers can chew off ears or appendages trying to clean up the babies, or even eat them if they are new mothers.

Opening their eyes around day 10, they’ll start venturing out of the box well before 3 weeks old. Change the hay lining of the next box when it is soiled, I try to keep the fur in as long as possible.

Once the babies are coming out of the box, be sure to handle them every day. This will make them tolerate being handled for grooming, showing, and most importantly cuddles.

Good luck!

Rabbits

Any questions I didn’t answer? Ask them in the comments below!