Meat Rabbit Breeding Basics
White Wing Rabbitry
How To Pick Up/Hold A Rabbit
If you have a rabbit that struggles a lot you can hold the rabbit on
it’s back, but be careful that the back feet are not close enough to
kick your face. The more you hold and handle your rabbit the less
scared it will be. Properly trimming nails can reduce scratches from scared rabbits. Wearing long sleeve shirts when first handling your rabbit is recommended.
NEVER carry or pick up your rabbit by the ears or legs!
First Couple Days With Your New Rabbit
The breeder should provide a bag of their current food. This allows you to change their diet to whatever food you choose slowly over a few days by mixing it 50/50. Rabbits digestive systems are sensitive and rapid food changes can result in diarrhea, dehydration, and possibly death. Up until about 5-6 months of age you will want to “free feed” your rabbit, after that you will want to ration their food (unless nursing) to keep them from getting fat (more on that later). Do not limit water for your rabbit. Provide as much clean water as your rabbit will drink. Check water a minimum of once daily.
Providing hay is also a good idea as it provides extra fiber to keep their digestive system moving properly. Double check your feed, most are alfalfa based. If it is alfalfa based you will want to use a grass hay like Timothy to avoid extra protein and calcium. To prevent waste you can give them hay cubes or make hay racks, there are a variety of DIY and ready-to-buy hay racks.
Rabbits are fairly intelligent animals and do appreciate things to play with. They do not have to be expensive toys. They can be toilet paper tubes, stuffing with loose hay provides even more enjoyment, pine cones, golf balls, tree branches (make sure that it is a safe plant), whiffle balls, or cardboard boxes, just to name a few ideas. The hay cubes not only reduce waste but provide the rabbits with something to chew and play with as well.
Prevailing winds need to be considered as well, so the hutch should be facing a direction that does not regularly get wind. Protection from wind requires 3 sides to be solid, with the 4th side being wire so the rabbit can get natural light and ventilation. Some people build in a “nesting box” that is a second area that is fully enclosed with a rabbit sized doorway between, if this is provided you could have more walls made of wire in the main compartment.
Low temperatures are not a problem for rabbits and they can survive in an unheated area well below zero degrees Fahrenheit as long as protection from wind and precipitation is provided. Heat is your enemy when it comes to raising rabbits. Once the temperature rises to 80 degrees Fahrenheit you need to provide relief for your rabbits. Two liter frozen water bottles will reduce the heat and give the rabbits something cool to lay on. Misting systems on the outside of the hutch can help considerably but it must be installed in a way that the rabbits still have a dry place to rest.
Nothing is worse than to have another animal get into your hutch and harm or even kill your rabbits. Strong wire, secondary fences, motion activated lights, and other methods can protect your rabbits. Protection needs to be provided for both wild animals and domestic, even including other livestock.
All wire bottom cages are the most sanitary, although it is good to give your rabbit an option to get off the wire. This can be anything from a cardboard box or cheap ceramic tiles to really nice rubber pet resting mats that are available at most pet or feed stores. Whatever you choose, make sure that it is changed or cleaned when/if it becomes soiled. Continuous contact with urine and/or feces can cause hutch burn, which is a painful inflammation of the groin and/or legs of the rabbit, resulting in redness of the skin and loss of fur. We recommend at least 14g 1”x .5” GAW wire for the floor. For sanitation and health if you use a tray system under the cages you will want to empty the trays at least twice a week.
Up to 4lb 6.4oz: 1.5 sq. ft./rabbit - 24x18 - 2 rabbits, 24x30 - 3 rabbits, 30x30 - 4 rabbits, 36x30 - 5 rabbits
Up to 8lb 12.8oz: 3 sq. ft./rabbit - 24x18 - 1 rabbit, 30x30 - 2 rabbits
Up to 11lb 14.4oz: 4 sq.ft./rabbit - 24x24 - 1 rabbit
Over 11lb 14.4oz: 5 sq.ft./rabbit - 24x30 - 1 rabbit
Does with Litters:
Doe up to 8lb 12.8oz: 5 sq.ft. - min. 24x30
Doe up to 11lb 14.4oz: 6 sq.ft - min 24x36 (30x30 also good)
Doe over 11lb 14.4oz: 7.5 sq.ft. - min 24x45 or 30x36
You can breed during the summer but if the temperature your buck resides in is above 85 degrees Fahrenheit he may experience temporary sterility. Care should also be taken for kits in extreme temperatures. Young kits are not capable of regulating their temperature as well and can pass from extreme heat or cold.
Rabbits are stimulated ovulators, which means that they release eggs when they are stimulated by mating. However there are times when the doe will be more receptive to the advances of the buck. You can breed whenever, but if you want to breed when they are most receptive you can check the color of their vent (vulva). If the vent is dark red to purple in color then the doe should need very little persuasion from the buck to lift.
When you decide to breed ALWAYS bring the doe to buck’s cage. Bringing the buck to the doe’s cage is dangerous. Does can be very territorial and may castrate or severely injure your buck if he enters her cage. Always monitor your animals while breeding. Even in the buck’s cage if the doe decides that she has had enough she may attack him.
The buck will mount the doe and usually fall off when he has ejaculated. We usually let the buck do 2-4 falls, separate them and repeat in 4-8, no more than 12 hours later. We typically do one morning breeding and one afternoon/evening breeding. Rebreeding more than 12 hours apart risks having two litters at significantly different development stages. Rabbits have 2 uteruses and can carry two litters, however they cannot expel them separately so the younger litter will be birthed at the same time as the older litter. It is not recommended to breed a significantly larger buck to a small doe. The general rule of thumb is no larger the 30% bigger. A significant size difference can result in birthing difficulties. You
always want your doe to be larger.
There are a few ways to try to tell if the breeding took. At 14 days you can attempt to palpate. There are several videos available on YouTube with instructions and demonstrations. I have never personally been able to tell by palpation, several people have said that it is an acquired skill. There may be personality changes. Hormones from pregnancy can affect the personality. You can also use weight (if the rabbit has reached their adult weight). Weighing the doe prior to breeding, and weighing the doe at 14 days will give you an idea if their is a semi-significant amount of weight that the doe is pregnant. Some people recommend “testing breeding” 24-48 hours after the initial breeding, however we do not recommend this as it is a danger to your buck, and if she does let him, but is pregnant you could end up with two
litters at different development stages as previously mentioned.
At day 28 after any male contact you will want to put the nest box in with some straw/hay/shredded paper/pine shavings, or whatever nesting material you choose to use. Even if the buck did not actually fall your doe may have conceived and not given any signs. Some does may start to nest earlier, we call these girls “preppers”. If they start nesting earlier than 14-20 days into pregnancy it may be a “false pregnancy”, but unless you are 100% certain that it didn’t take we recommend putting the nest box in and leaving it in. Most does will deliver between day 30 & 32, however it has been seen that a doe can deliver as late as day 36 to 40. If the doe has not delivered by day 40 it is safe to rebreed.
You will want to check 2-3 times a day for kits in the nest box. When you find kits in the nest box you will want to give your doe a treat and check the kits. This allows you to check for any dead/stillborn kits, any afterbirth that the doe may have missed, and any bloody/heavily soiled nesting material. If the doe kindles outside of the nest box you will want to move the kits to the box. At this time you want to start increasing the does’ feed. You want to increase a nursing doe’s food to 3x over the first week. When the kits start eating the does’ food as well you will want to start increasing it again.
The kits eyes will begin to open around 10-12 days. You will want to clean the nest box and put fresh nesting material in, keeping as much clean fur as possible. Cleaning the nest box will help prevent “nest box eye”, an infection of the eye. Very shortly thereafter the kits will start to climb out of the nest box to explore. At this time you may choose to put the nest box on it’s side so that the kits can get back in. When the kits stop spending time in the nest box you may remove it, usually around 3 weeks.
You can rebreed immediately if you wish to have a vigorous breeding schedule, this is the breeding schedule most commercial breeders use. They then wean the kits at 4 weeks when they put the nest box back in for the new litter. A common non-commercial breed-back/weaning schedule is rebreeding around 4-6 weeks and weaning at 6-8 weeks giving the doe about 2 weeks off between litters. You will want to examine your needs (how many kits you need), your grow out space available, and how many breeders you want to set up your schedule.
We recommend weaning slowly, over a period of about a week, to help prevent your doe from getting mastitis, infection in the teets. You start by removing the kits just over night, then back for a day, removing the kits for a full day, then back for a day, removing the kits for 2 days, then back for a day, then removing them altogether. Weaning slower won’t hurt. Find a weaning schedule that fits with your breeding schedule. Just make sure that you watch your does for any signs of infection, redness and swelling in the tissue surround the nipple.
Minor Health Issues
Nestbox Eye – Crusty/Goopy eyes on young kits (usually right around the time that they open their eyes). Can be treated with Terramycin (Oxytetracycline), Colloidal Silver, Chamomile Tea rinse, Neosporin (WITHOUT the pain killer)...
Bloat – Rabbit stops eating, has a large round stomach, and will grind their teeth. Remove all pellets and provide hay and water. Can be treated with baby gas drops and probiotics. Use fennel, comfrey, blackberry, thyme, and/or lemon balm to entice them to eat and restart their digestive system.
Pasteurella/Snuffles – White snot, sneezing, abscesses (body and on lungs). TERMINAL CULL
If you have a medical condition that you do not know how to treat, or your treatment does not work, contact a veterinarian.
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