So I have been keeping rabbits for over 3 years now. Seems a lot longer than that, but I have learned so much in that time. Not only from experience but from connecting with other rabbit addicts and from selling rabbits.
Looking back I have a few things that I would change.
Location, location, location- We did of course move the rabbits to a better spot with more shade and better weather protection. Knowing what I know now I would have started there, but putting them in the garden with the ease of moving poop around less made more sense at the time. We bought a great yard cart so that eased the transport situation. So lesson here is to start it right.
Replacements- There are a few rabbits that I wish I would have kept. I had some great Silver fox does out of Hoshi and Galaxy. At the time I was trying to wean my numbers down. It is tricky on its own to try and manage space/rotation for rabbits and kits. But then adding in space for replacement stock is even more so. Some went into the freezer that I should have kept. So now when I run across one that is good I hold it back. If I find that I have done that too often then I can always sell it. I did that with Yahtzee and her brother. I kept her and sold him (I always too many bucks).
Mark the date and learn to palpate- A sad thing happen in March. I had put Panda in with Wasabi during the breeding for 3 other does. As far I I saw she hadn't lifted and I hadn't seen any falloffs. I am also not good at palpating so I thought she wasn't pregnant. When I put nest boxes in I often give a little treat hay (I know I don't do a lot, but they all start making such a noise that I do for those few days). She never made any sign of hay staching nor digging in her corner. I awoke on the morning that the other does were due and found 10 good sized kits but there wasn't a nest box so she had them on the wire and only 2 made it. I fostered some of Yahtzees big litter over to Panda to even out the numbers. But is was a sad loss, especially when I have lame does like Umi or Indigio that get nest boxes but then dud out and only use them as litter boxes. So if they had the opportunity to breed then count that as a take. And I really need to try and keep attempting to palpate.
Listen and Learn- Pay attention and listen to the cues your rabbits give. If they are not eating then they may not have water or be able to drink. If a good doe abandons her litter look around to see if there is an unseen predator or situation that is causing stress. If a rabbit is sneezing then check for snot, wet paws, etc and quarantine as needed. Most of the time if you catch issues early they can be fixed or at least the rest of your herd can be protected. Your animals cannot speak but they can still tell you stuff.
Three strikes or less- It takes time and money to get a rabbit to breeding age. So if they don't take the first try, have low number of kits, or loose the litter (even when due to neglect) give them at least a second try. The general rule for rabbits is 3 strikes and you cull. For me it depends on the whole picture. Some I only give 2 chances and some I am more forgiving. I have two examples. The first one I had a rabbit that was smaller than I wanted (well technically that is one strike here). She may still have had some filling out to do but was not even 9 lbs yet. She took on her first breeding but then only had 5 kits. She did raise them with no incident but I only could justify keeping her if she had larger litters or her kits were super growers (this being an example, the did not grow incredibly fast). So I culled her. The next example is Indigo. She hasn't had the best breeding takes (she was molting at least one of the times) and she does have around 5 kits per litter. But she is 12 lbs (not fat but big) and I can foster to her anytime. Now that I have been breeding her to bucks that are not silver fox she seems to take better as well. Not sure what that is about...? But she gets to stay.
Be prepared- Last major thing it to be prepared. Keep clean fur from molting rabbit or good pullers for does that don't pull any or enough. Be mentally prepared to cull a kit at any age when needed. It is hard but it is worse to let them suffer or compromise other rabbits. And the rule of kits not being dead until they are warm and dead is very true. Always try to warm a cold or frozen kit, unless it is smashed or squashy looking.
All in all the best lesson is that mistake will happen and the outcome is sometimes excellent and sometimes sad. But try to plan ahead and then move forward with your past mistakes as lessons.
What happens when you take a great line of hefty rabbits and breed them with an excellent milker that has large litters? You get a Yahtzee, which is exactly what I named her.
I have been waiting for my meat hybrid project to yield such results and had the name in the back of my mind for such a rabbit. Yahtzee, our black doe born out of Tribble by Reishi, was from a litter of 12. She was 5 lbs 3 oz at 8 weeks and her brother (Fanter as we called him) was 5lbs exactly. We sold him to some people who needed a good herd sire and I think he will be just that. Before we sold him we did get a litter out of him with Ophelia. While it was only 6 kits they are reaching their marks on weight with great success. Most of them were 2 lbs 3oz at 3 weeks. The other litters born at the same time are running a 1lb 14 oz or so. Only time will tell but Yahtzees litter had 11 kits and those are the ones that are around 1lb 14 oz. They are holding their own.
Plus this winning rabbit is so sweet and always insists on getting pet when I reach to check her kits. What a love and an all around success story for our little farm. It really is the small stuff that can make your day.
This is Reishi in early spring of 2014, about 4 1/2 as well.
This is his buck with Ophelia. He is only 4 1/2 months in this picture.
Reishi was 3/4 Am Chin and 1/4 Cali, out of Moonshine and Obi. He was a huge buck and one of my best breeders. Always quick to duty with 3-4 fall offs within minutes. If I had a doe being difficult to breed I would always put them with Reishi. He lost him this fall, I think to wool block or some kind of digestive issue. Luckily we kept a couple of his bucks and we are keeping the one above. He is filling out nice and looks very similar to his sire. We hope he proves himself to be as good of a producer as his papa.
This is the last photo we have of Reishi. He was 11 lbs. We lost him in the fall of 2014. He is missed.
We have had some interest in the history of our rabbits and their parents. So we have listed some of our late and great rabbits with stock that we have kept kits from. This is the beginning of our Hybrid Project of crossing American Chinchillas with Californias. We have a new Cali name buttercup and are going to cross her with Wasabi our current Am Chin buck.
Obi- pure Am Chin, 10 1/4 lbs. He sired litters with an average of 8 kits. We had to put him down due to an intestinal issue at 3 years of age.
Pocket- pure Californian, 10 1/2 lbs. She had litters ranging from 8-13 kits, with an average of 9.5 kits.
Moonshine- 1/2 Am Chin (sire Obi) and 1/2 Cali (dame Pocket), 11 1/2 lb. While she had an average litter size of 7.6 kits she was my best mother and her kits would reach 5 lbs between 8-9 weeks.
Reishi- 3/4 Am Chin (sire Obi) and 1/4 Cali (dame Moonshine), a solid 11 1/2 lbs and my best breeding buck. He passed away from a respiratory issue in fall of 2014. He sired litter with an average of 10-12 kits. We have kept a buck from him with Ophelia as the dame.
Here are the past Silver Fox we have had. We have kept a few Silver fox but are mostly focusing on our Am chin and crosses of that. We have sold off most of our SF stock. Sebastian to Flying blue dog nursery. And Calypso, Hoshi and Galaxy as part of a trio to a rabbitry south of us.
This is Calypso. He was 10lbs and we also had his sire Sebastian, a black silver fox that was 10 1/2 lbs. We sold Sebastian after keeping his daughter, Luna bella, whose dame was Hoshi. She has produced good size litters and is a solid rabbit weighting 10 1/2 lbs. So this would be her half brother.
Hoshi was one of my best fur pullers and milkers. We kept a doe from her, Luna Bella. Hoshi was 10 1/2 lbs. She had an average litter size of 9 kits.
Jupiter was one of our blue silver fox. He was over 10lbs and a good breeder. We have kept a buck from him and Galaxy. We had to put him down due to a severe tooth infection. He usually sired 9 kits as an average.
This is Galaxy. She had an average litter size of 9 kits and was 10 3/4 lbs.
It is best to start with quality stock. That doesn't necessarily mean pedigreed stock, but if you are looking at showing then it should. If only for meat production then not necessary. Show stock usually has different goals than meat breeders, although you can sometimes find breeders with similar goals. So asking the right questions will get you there.
Now that isn't to say that records are not necessary. Good breeders should have records for weight, breeding history, and growth rate. You should feel free to ask a breeder questions to help figure out if their stock is right for your needs and goals. Here we will keep it to meat breeding focus so these are the questions I like to ask and the answers I am hoping for.
- Adult weight- my breeders should be between 9-12 lbs. I like to see 10 lbs and up but if a buck has good qualities I will allow 9 lbs as a minimum. (fyi bucks usually weight less than does)
- Growth rate- Typical weight to butcher is 4.5-5 lbs (live weight). Some breeders reach this as early as 8 weeks, which is my goal. But with non-commercial lines (ie heritage breeds) they tend to grow just a touch slower, 9 weeks is more common. 9-10 weeks it what I like to see, but I wouldn't recommend buying anything that doesn't reach 5lb by 12 weeks. My heritage currently reach 4.5-5 lbs around 9 weeks.
- Litter size- I like to have between 8-10 kits on average per litter. On occasion a doe or buck will cause a litter to be smaller, but that should be a rarity. I also like does that can handle around 5-6 litters per year. I breed year round as my weather is fairly even (50-70) with occasional extremes. Some breeders due to extreme hot or cold weather will limit their breeding schedule, and of course that would be an exception.
- Number of kits to weaning- This tells not only the overall healthy of the rabbits but how good of mothering skills a doe has, and how good her milk production is. Although, it is not uncommon to loose a kit or 2 now and again, especially in large litters over 10. It is usually the runts and they are usually gone by day 3, with what is called "failure to thrive".
- Cleanliness- It is important to rabbit health to have good hygiene and a clean environment. Some breeders have a closed rabbitry, but even in pictures you can get an idea of how they care for and clean their rabbitry. Now do realize that if you are not used to rabbits, they pee and poop a lot. But you don't want to see rabbits having contact with either nor do you want to have your eye burning from ammonia fumes. But to have the smell of rabbit pee/poop around is pretty much a given. Kind of like a horse barn.
If a breeder won't answer your questions or provide pictures of their stock, then I would be suspicious. It is sad to say but there are many people who either don't know any better or are straight out scammers. You don't want to buy someone elses bunk stock. Invest wisely and from reputable breeders.
My personal goals are for my herd: overall health, growth rate/size, quality mothering skills with consistent larger litter size (no less than 7 kits) and good demeanor. We strive to increase our size of rabbits while maintaining these other qualities. I enjoy the mellow temperament of the Silver fox and the curious and friendly nature of our American Chinchilla. I am happy to be raising heritage breeds and infusing these excellent qualities into my hybrid project. My favorite hybrid cross so far is Californian and American Chinchilla. But this project is still in the early stages so that might change.
First place to start is with assess your goals.
How much money and time do you have to put into your rabbits. 5 rabbits with litters take a lot less time than 10 rabbits with litters. Plus they go through twice as much feed. Rabbits don't take up too much time but more than my chickens. You have to feed them, make sure they have water 24/7, once bred they need the nest box put in and changed weekly after kindling. Also the detail of detailing with crap, I mean literally how are you handling the poop. It adds up quicker than you think.
How many rabbit fryers are you wanting and on what schedule? Are you raising for my own person consumption or friend and family that might purchase some now and again. Are you wanting to sell breeders to other people? Are you planning on raw feeding for your dogs or cats? Do I want fur/pelts as well, or just meat?
This will get you thinking and help narrow down the number of rabbits for your need and what breed you might want to start.
What to Start with:
I recommend people start with 2 breeding pair and get rabbits that are between 8-12 weeks old, not adult proven breeders. I know that it is harder to have patience waiting for your stock to get of breeding age but there are a number of reasons why I recommend the above age. It gives you time to get to know your stock and handle them with confidence. When getting adult stock you are usually (but not always) are getting someones cull. That can mean they don't produce as well or have the desired qualities for that person but it also can mean that they are sick or have breeding issues.
Why 2 pair and not just a trio. Trios are fine but 2 pair gives you a backup plan and more diversity in your breeding program. If anything happens to your one buck, whether it be illness, a predator kills him, his goods don't work or sometimes a doe just doesn't like a certain buck. A second buck gives you a backup plan.
Here is some rabbit math to give you an idea of production.
Rabbit math: 1 doe - breeder her, about 1 month later kindling (8 kits on average), then about 2 or so months til butchering (depending on your growth rate and size preference). Fryers are typically 5 lbs and under 3 months and Roasters are over 12 weeks and closer to 8 lbs.
You can rebreed a rabbit right after they kindle but more typically, and depending on your weaning schedule, 2-6 weeks is more common. But for home production rebreeding at 4-5 weeks post kindle would yield a rotation of every 2 months for processing. If you put in a rotation of a second doe then you get a litter to process about every month.
I really like to have the option to foster, so I always try to breed 2 does at the same time, but that means twice as many fryers when it come butchering time, or you can stagger it out in 2 weeks, taking the biggest half first and a week later processing the remaining half. Just food for thought.
Rabbits do much better in cold temperature than in the heat, as they are wearing a fur coat 24/7. Once temperatures get over 80 you rabbit can start getting heat distress/exhaustion. Temperature of 85-90 can kill a rabbit.
Preventions is the best method but knowing the symptoms and what to do is also key.
Just as a note, rabbits with thinner coats and longer ears fair better in the heat.
- Hot ears, lots of blood is flowing try to cool off their body.
- Panting and flared nostrils
- Wet nose (not snot, just moisture) and sometimes sneezing
- Head tilted up and/or back
Treatment:Cool your rabbit slowly. If they are in the first stages, take them to a cooler area and wipe with ears and feet with rubbing alcohol or cool water. Try to do the preventative measure to continue to bring down their temperature. If in the progressive stages immerse them up to their neck in tepid water or lay a cool wet towel over their body and rub to soak the water to their skin. Do not take them into an air conditioned area as that is too extreme of a change and can put them into shock. Also don't use cold or icy water, for the same reason.
- Rapid shallow breathing, difficulty breathing or gasping for air
- No direct sunlight, shaded areas are great
- Frozen tiles for them to lay on (marble is great as it stays cool no matter what)
- Frozen soda bottles in their cage (they will lay on or next to it to cool off)
- Wet towel hung over the side of their cage (just don't have it dripping on the rabbit)
- Fans and misters near them but not directly on them (helps cool down their environment)
- Insulation boards over their hutch can help keep temps down
- Brush your rabbits to remove excess hair
Here is another link with more information: http://www.azrabbits.com/useful-information/dealing-with-heat.html
Great reference for herbal remedies for rabbits.
This is what we started with for our rabbits. Some designs were based off a setup were we had picked up from "free" cages and a couple of rabbits. The cages were all wood frame with chicken wire on the sides and hardware cloth on the bottom. Wow, I now know how wrong that was. Newborn kits can fit through the chicken wire. Hardware cloth is bad more a number of reasons: hard on the rabbits feet and poop doesn't fit through well at all. The wood is hard to clean and when it gets soaked with urine and feces, is can harbor disease. We dodged the bullet on all this. No sore hocks, no diseases, and we stayed on top of the poop piling up and cleaning the cages. But we did have 2 occasions where new kits got through the wire and 1 occasion where a corner got wiggled bigger and 4 week old kits were free in the garden. The gutters were a great start but built up quicker than we liked and would overflow if we moved too much out at one time. 2 tiers seemed like a great use of space but there were problems with that. Last probelm was location. On the outer edge of our garden seemed convenient, but with it being right by our driveway we got dust (rabbits have sensitive respiratory systems, so not the best idea). It is also we found the hottest location in the summer and coldest location in the winter. Rabbits like to be around 50 degrees. They do much better in the cold, and can suffer and possibly die in anything above 85-90, without doing things to keep them cooler.
Close up of our gutter and poop system. The angle/grade is not enough and the gutter is too small for the number of rabbits we had. Not a bad first go but as you will see it is way better.
I have become the rabbitries main cage builder and all of our rabbits are in hanging wire cages. We have increased our cages to 30 x 24 and 36 x 24. We will have an outside area (still in the works), that will be mainly for grow outs. We will have a few 24 x 24 for the ones that can't seem to get along well with others and a 48 x 24. Seems like you can never have enough cages, right. Jess has re-purposed old metal plumbing pipes to hang the cages from. It works great so far.
As you can see we have opted for the single tier system. Our grade below the cages is much steeper helping the poop go down to a much larger gutter. This also helps keep the fumes further away from the rabbits, which in turn keeps their lungs healthier. So if in theory we take a vacation, we can be gone for at least 1 week and not worry about rabbits sitting in poop. Yeah.