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