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.
  1.  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)
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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". 
  5. 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.



 
 
 
Picture
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. 



SYMPTOMS
Beginning stages:

  • 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
  • Listlessness
Progressive stages:

  • Head tilted up and/or back
  • Drooling or slobbering
  • Rapid shallow breathing, difficulty breathing or gasping for air
  • Confusion
  • Convulsions

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.

Prevention: 
  • 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.

http://twohunnyzrabbitry.webs.com/herbinformation.htm

http://www.dlwoolees.com/herbal-medicin.php

 
 
Picture
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. 

Picture
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.
IMPROVEMENTS: 
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.
 
 
Sausages    The following recipes can be made using other meats such as pork or turkey, you may however, want to increase the salt for pork according to your preferences. 

    Breakfast Sausage

  • 3 pounds ground rabbit meat  (or preferred meat)
  • 1 Tablespoon kosher or coarse salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dried sage
  • 3/4 teaspoon freshly ground white or black pepper
  • 3/4 teaspoon brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried marjoram
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper

    In a large bowl, combine the meat, salt, sage, pepper, sugar, thyme, marjoram, cloves, and crushed red pepper.  Mix well using your hands.  Cover and refrigerate for a couple of hours or overnight to meld the flavors.  Use within 2 to 3 days or freeze for up to three months.


    Italian Sausage

  • 4 pounds ground rabbit meat  (or preferred meat)
  • 4 teaspoons kosher or coarse salt
  • 1 Tablespoon fennel seed
  • 1 teaspoon anise seed
  • 4 teaspoons ground coriander
  • 1 Tablespoon black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper (add more for hot sausage)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground paprika
  • 1 Tablespoon dried minced onion
  • 2 Tablespoons roasted garlic mashed through garlic press
   In a large bowl, combine all above ingredients and mix well with your hands.  Cover and refrigerate for a couple of hours or overnight to meld the flavors.  Use within 2 to 3 days or freeze for up to three months.


    Cranberry Sausage

  • 2 pounds ground rabbit meat  (or preferred meat)
  • 2 teaspoons kosher or coarse salt
  • 1 teaspoon dried marjoram
  • 1 teaspoon dried sage
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 2 Tablespoons Grand Marnier or other orange flavored liquer
  • 2 Tablespoons lemonjcello
  • 1/2 dried cranberries
   In a large bowl, combine all above ingredients, mix well using your hands.  Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours to meld the flavors.  Use within 2 to3 days or freeze for up to 2 months.


    Herbes de Provence

  • 3 pounds ground rabbit meat  (or preferred meat)
  • 4 teaspoons Herbes de Provence blend
  • 1 Tablespoon kosher or coarse salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 Tablespoons small capers, drained
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
   In a large bowl, combine all above ingredients, mix well using your hands.  Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours to meld the flavors.


    Greek Lukanika Sausage

  • 5 pounds ground rabbit meat  (or preferred meat)
  • 5 teaspoons salt
  • 2 heaping Tablespoons minced garlic
  • 2 heaping Tablespoons sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon ground thyme
  • 1 Tablespoon marjoram
  • 2 Tablespoons Mediterranean Mystic
  • 1 Tablespoon ground allspice
  • 1 teaspoon crushed bay leaf
  • 1 Tablespoon oregano
  • 3 Tablespoons fresh grated orange peel
  • 1 Tablespoon dried orange peel
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 cup seasoned bread crumbs
  • 1 cup red wine, sherry, or metaxa
   In a large bowl, combine all above ingredients, mix thoroughly with hands.  Cover and refrigerate overnight to meld flavors.


Polish Kielbasa

  • 5 pounds ground rabbit meat  (or preferred meat)
  • 2 Tablespoons paprika
  • 1 Tablespoon ground black pepper
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons kosher or coarse salt
  • 2 teaspoons dried marjoram
  • 2 teaspoons dried summer
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
   In a large bowl, mix all ingredients thoroughly using your hands.  Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours to meld the flavors.


Roman Style Sausage

  • 4 pounds ground rabbit meat  (or preferred meat)
  • 2 teaspoons black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 cup finely chopped onion, sauteed and cooled to room temperature
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped green bell pepper
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Romano cheese
   Mix all ingredients thoroughly in a large bowl, cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours to meld the flavors.
Other Ground Rabbit Recipes     Rabbit Tacos
   Use ground rabbit in place of hamburer and add your favorite taco seasoning packets.

Rabbit Burgers

    Mix parsley, minced onion, salt, and pepper in with ground rabbit meat and add bread crumbs and egg(s) to help hold it together.  Make patties and pan fry or grill.


    Italian Meatballs

   Use the above Italian sausage recipe and add 1large egg and 1/2 cup bread crumbs per pound of meat.  Form small balls and fry.  Serve with your favorite marinara sauce, spaghetti, on sub sandwiches, or (our favorite) Roasted Red Pepper Pasta.


    Rabbit Gyros

  • Greek Loukanika sausage
  • Greek Flat Bread Pitas or Pocket Pitas
  • Feta cheese
  • tomatoes
  • lettuce (optional)
  • Greek cucumber sauce
  • black olives, sliced (optional)

    Make the Greek Loukanika sausage.  Pan fry small oblong patties in olive oil.  Drain on a paper towel.
   Loukanika sausage is also really good served with lemon sauce, spinach, and white rice.
Sauces     Roasted Red Pepper Sauce

  • 2 12oz jars roasted red peppers
  • 1 Tablespoon roasted garlic
  • 1 small onion, chopped and sauteed in olive oil
  • 1 Tablespoon Italian seasoning
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 Tablespoons sugar
  • 1/2 cop grated Parmesan cheese
  • 3 cups Alfredo sauce
  Blend all ingredients, except onions, in a food processor or with a hand blender in a large sauce pan to pulverize into a sauce.  Add onions and bring to a boil.  Mix with 3 cups of hot Alfredo sauce to make it creamy.  Makes enough for 2 pounds of pasta.


    Lemon Sauce

  • 1 cube butter
  • 4 large eggs, beaten
  • juice from 2-3 lemons
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 1 cup whipping cream (optional)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 teaspoon tarragon
  • 1 Tablespoon garlic
  • 2 tablespoons minced onion
   Melt butter.  Saute onion and garlic.  Lower temperature to medium low.  Stir in eggs and other remaining ingredients.  Add whipping cream for a creamier sauce.  Stir constantly until thickened.

 
 
Rabbit Emergency Kit     These are good things to have on hand, everything should be kept together in a box except for any antibiotics that may need to be refrigerated.

  • Hand Sanitizer (for you)
  • Kwik-stop, cornstarch, flour (stops bleeding)
  • Antibiotics such as penicillin
  • Parasite medicine (for worms and mites)- Ivermectin
  • Emergency milk replacer
  • Vanadine or other safe sanitizer
  • Gatorade or other source of electorates
  • Hay (hairball remedy) and for nest boxes
  • Wound disinfectant/antibiotic cream
  • Paper towels
  • Q-tips
  • Tweezers
  • Sharp razor blades
  • Toenail clippers
  • Several spare syringes and needles
Is Your Bunny Sick?     Below is a list of conditions which you may find in your rabbits.  Not all of the following are symptoms of disease, some of them are normal for certain breeds or even colors.  Use this as a guide to help you identify any diseases or conditions that may be affecting your rabbit(s), the chart below this paragraph will tell you more of the symptoms, the cause (which may help you prevent the same condition in the future), and tell you how to treat your animal(s).  Also if you have any questions you can email us at howelhoneybuns@yahoo.com, we usually check it every day so you will get a relatively quick response.

    Appetite Loss:  (1) rabbits tend to eat less on very cold or stormy days, this is normal as they are not very active in bad weather.  (2) appetite loss is a symptom of most diseases, it could be a sign that he has a hairball if he is also molting, an early sign of wry neck, poisoning, west nile virus, snuffles, malocclusion, mastitis, and most other diseases
    Bloating/Pot bellied:  a symptom of enteritis usually seen in young animals
    Bloody Nose:  usually caused by an injury, heat stress, or heat stroke
    Blue Lips/ears:  caused by a lack of oxygen and/or poor blood circulation, could be a sign of a heart condition or pneumonia
    Bulging Eye:  (1) usually caused by an abscess behind the eye, start strong antibiotics immediately as this is usually a fatal condition. (2) Can sometimes be from a stroke, if this is the case a cheek may look swollen or uneven with the other.
    Chewing on Feet, or other body parts:  usually a sign of great pain or irritation, the rabbit starts eating its own flesh and usually needs to be put down.  Like a fox in a trap will chew its leg off to get free, a rabbit will attempt to chew off part of their body to get away from the pain or cause of irritation. Do Not confuse with fur chewing
    Cloudy Eyes:  cataracts in the eye(s) causing blindness; known as wall eye/moon eye
    Damp Nose:  a sign of stress usually from heat or traveling
    Drooling:  (1) a condition known as slobbers, caused by an infected tooth or improper feeding.  (2) some rabbits get carsick and drool a little
    Fur Chewing: can be a sign of irritation, can also be from insufficient feeding, or from poor quality feed, do not confuse with pulling fur
    Gooey/runny eyes:  milky discharge from the eye and often balding under the eye are symptoms of weepy eye
    Green/Blue Fur:  generally found on (but not limited to) the dewlap, green or blue fur is a symptom of green or wet dewlap, caused by fur being constantly wet, fur in affected area will in almost all cases fall out after a few days
    Head Held Up:  A sing of pain and/or labored breathing, can be symptoms of enteritis, pneumonia, or west nile virus

    Head Tilt:  (1) most commonly caused by wry neck, there are 2 types of wry neck, to determine which type see the chart below this paragraph.  (2)  rarely, but sometimes caused by an injury, if that be the case it should heal and correct in a few days
    Jelly/Blood in droppings:  a sign of enteritis, most commonly found in young rabbits
    Labored Breathing:  could be from stress or a doe in labor, can also be a sign of pneumonia, or west nile virus
    Lopping Ear:  one lopping ear that normally doesn't lop is often an early sign of one of the 2 types of wry neck, this one is an ear infection
    Loss of balance:  (1) a sign of wry neck, check the chart below to determine which type.  (2) some loss of balance is normal on old rabbits, their legs just aren't as they used to be.  (3) can be caused by west nile virus.  Do not confuse with swaying
    Loss of Feeling in Hind Legs:  (see paralyzed hind legs)
    Lump(s):  (1) usually an abscess, there will be fur loss on affected area when ready to break.  (2) hard lump usually on the belly could be rupture.  (3)  small bumps on ears or face are usually scars from torn ears or bites.  (4) large lumps on belly that will not fester could be cancer.  (5) small to large lumps on head could be a symptom of myxomatosis/big head disease, carried by mosquitoes
    Milky Film Over eye(s):  (see white film over eyes below)
    Pulling Fur:  does pull fur prior to kindling and will continue during the first week of the kit's age to keep them warm, if your bunny isn't pregnant she is having a false pregnancy and will stop within a few days
    Paralyzed Hind Legs:  Almost always caused by a broken back but can also be from a severe case of splayed legs, not treatable conditions
    Red Urine:  a condition known simply as red urine, caused by excessive calcium
    Sneezing/coughing:  (1) some sneezing while eating or drinking is normal, often they will get a little dust or water up the nose.  (2) sneezing is a sign of borditella, and sneezing and coughing are sings snuffles and pneumonia
    Swaying:  many red eyed rabbits (whites and californian/himalayan marked) sway from side to side, this is somewhat common and not a health condition
    Tooth Grinding:  (1) loud tooth grinding usually means that the animal is in pain, can be a result of broken bones, poisoning, west nile virus, and several other conditions.  (2) loud tooth grinding can also be a sign of irritation.  (3) soft tooth grinding is how a rabbit "purrs", much like a purring cat
    White film over eye(s):  a sign of moon eye or wall eye also known as cataracts causing blindness, an untreatable condition usually found in older animals


Rabbit Diseases     Many people will tell you that when your rabbit is sick, or something just doesn't seem right, to take him to your local veterinarian.  However, part of 4-H is learning to prevent, identify, and treat diseases.   It is  a good idea to have the phone number of either an experienced rabbit breeder or knowledgeable veterinarian for advice or to lend a hand if you do need a little help, or if you have any questions please feel free to email us.  This brief list should help you get started, you can learn much more from various rabbit disease books.
    Treating your rabbit always starts with prevention.  You can easily learn to prevent diseases and other harmful conditions by reading about what causes various diseases and by keeping your rabbits environment clean, out of the sun, and by keeping the water fresh and the feed stored in a dry place where mice can't get in and contaminate it.
    Penicillin and Ivomec have been our answer to pretty much everything, penicillin will cure practically anything caused by a bacterial infection and Ivomec will kill most parasites.  Always wait at least 1 month after final doseage before slaughter.  Dosages for treatments are as follows; penicillin: 1/10cc per pound for juniors and small breeds, 1/5cc per pound for intermediates and seniors. Penicillin must be the injectable type, oral penicillins will kill your rabbit.  Shots should be given intramuscular (IM), all rabbits should be given hay or straw after receiving penicillin, and no rabbit under 12 weeks of age should be given penicillin.  Ivomec: 2/10cc for small and medium breeds, 4/10cc for large and giant breeds, note that amounts for ivomec are not per pound but total.  Shots should be given sub-Q (just under the scruff).
 

For more information on how to give your rabbit a health check see "Basic Showmanship Presentation", this is written for 4-Hers but is still a helpful guide to anyone wanting to learn how to give rabbit health checks.

Heart Conditions & Heart Attack     Something that I forgot to put on the above chart are heart conditions.  Unfortunately I thought of it when we recently lost a buck to what we assume was some sort of heart problem.  Generally such conditions are genetic and can go unnoticed for quite some time.  Rabbits affected by a heart condition usually will seem perfectly healthy until all of a sudden they are lying on their side dying and/or are rather lethargic.  Other symptoms are blue lips and/or ears caused by poor blood circulation and lack of oxygen, the rabbit is usually found dead in an hour or less after first symptoms.  There is little that one can do for such rabbits except ease their suffering when symptoms occur and make a note on records and hope that you don't see anymore cases in related animals.  To help prevent further problems you can try out crossing into another line to try to pull away from any seemingly genetic issues, this may however take several generations.
Emergency Milk Replacer
  • Goat milk
  • Baby formula
  • Whipping cream (optional)
    Mix ratio of 1 part goats milk and 1 part baby formula, you can also add some whipping cream.  Heat in the microwave until warm and feed trough a syringe.  Hold the baby upright in your hand and feed him until his belly is round and full.  Sometimes babies eat so fast they get milk in their lungs, if your baby starts choking hold him upside down until the milk drains then give him a moment to catch his breath.
    Rabbit milk is extremely rich so that it is hard to replace.  Never use puppy formula, and the above parts don't work well enough on their own, so they need to be mixed together.  Over trial and error, we have found that this is the best emergency milk replacer, other milk replacers can be ordered from various small animal supply businesses.  We have also found that some babies have an allergy to an ingredient(s) (in what we believe is the baby formula) that causes the fur to fall out, however it will grow back just keep such bunnies warm.  If you raise a litter completely on this formula you should give them hay or straw daily to help prevent loose stool (a common problem with hand fed babies), once they are old enough to eat it.

Acknowledgments: this information was freely shared via http://www.rexrabbitsusa.com/
 
 
PictureMoonshine 9-13
Hybrid vitality is where this project began.  We are working on maintains pure lines of both our heritage breeds: American Chinchilla and Silver fox.  But we also wanted to see where different crosses could take us and make a great meat mutt.  The goal for the mutts is to reach a consistent 5 lbs between 8-9 lbs throughout the litters.

We started with Obi a 10lb Am Chin buck and breed him to Pocket, our 10+lb Californian doe in the early summer of 2013. 
You might remember from our previous post on growth rate that we retained a doe, Moonshine, out of Obilesk and Pocket.  She reached 5 lbs+ at 10 weeks, at 4 months she was 8 lbs and at 9 months (and 2 litters under her belt) she is a hefty 11 1/2 lbs. 

Our next step was to bred her back to her sire (which is called line breeding).  Sad to say Obi was 3 1/2 yrs old and is no longer with us.   So this buck that we held from this litter born around Thanksgiving is our only buck out of Obi's lines.  This litter had nice and solid kits, so we picked the biggest and heaviest of them.  He reached 5 lbs + at 9 weeks, which was 1 week sooner than his dame Moonshine.  We just weighted him at 4 months and he is 9 lbs already.  We will see where we go form here.  The only drawback that we have noticed is that Moonshine has smaller litters- 6 and 7 kits, but they are our fastest growers.  We are hoping that for her next round she will reach 8 kits but as long as she has at least 7 we are satisfied with these results.  Our plans are to breed this buck named Reishi, to either his grand dame or to one of our Silver fox does, which should help to build up the shoulder area and lengthen the loins.  

Picture
Moonshine and her litter of beasty bucks
Picture
Reishi, our retained buck form Moonshine and Obi.
 
 
Age: This varies from rabbit to rabbit and size of breed as well, but here we are discussing medium/large meat breeds.  As a basic, bucks need to have their testicles dropped.  5-6 months is the average for a buck but they can sometimes breed as early as 8-12 weeks.  First time does should be have their vents checked.  It should not be pale pink, but red to purple and a bit swollen.
Picture
This is the lightest I would go for red.
Picture
This is very dark purple. Most of my does fall somewhere between.

Does should be 75% of their adult weight.  This could be as early as 4 months, but some people prefer to wait until 6-8 months, as well as some does.  If you present a doe to a buck and she resists and doesn't lift then she may not be quite ready.  It is also good to double check and make sure that the rabbits you are breeding are a buck and a doe, not the same sex.  Sometimes people mis-sex rabbits.  It has happened to everyone at least once.

When: The best times to breed are in the morning or early evening.  But anytime in the day will work.  Remember to account for your schedule when the kits will be born, count 32 days ahead and make sure it works.

How: Always take the doe to the bucks cage.  Does can be territorial and may attack a buck that is put in her cage.  If all goes well the buck should mount the doe and start gyrating.  Then when he is done he will either fall over to the side or backwards.  Sometimes it will look like the buck is actually bucked off.  This is what is called a fall off.  A good breeding has 3-4 fall offs for the round.  Sometimes people will leave a doe with a buck for an extended period of time.  We have done this in the past.  But we had a doe attack a buck and no longer do that.  Luckily our buck was fine but bucks can have their testicles ripped off.  That method also leaves the possibility of unconfirmed falloffs. 

Since Rabbits are induced ovulators; ova are released 10-13 hours following copulation, I usually return the doe for a second visit anywhere between 1 hour, up to 10 hours later for another 2-3 fall offs . Domestic rabbits have no regular estrus cycle.  They may have periods of anestrus and 1-2 day periods of non-receptivity every 4-17 days.

What can go wrong:
  • Sometimes the buck will mount the wrong end.  He should figure it out.  Sometimes the doe will mount the buck.  She is being dominant and might either be unreceptive, done, or needs a more aggressive buck.  
  • If they don't breed make sure they are in good condition and in good health.  
  • If a doe is about to molt she might not breed or might not take.  Molting a new coat takes extra nutrients and she may not have enough to do that and grow a litter.  
  • During the summer, if temperatures get up to 85 and up bucks can temporarily go sterile.  Keep them cool and that should help.  During the winter, due to waning daylight, bucks and does usually need to have artificial lighting of 12-16 hours.  A regular light will work. 
Note that does may get a bit testy after they are bred and it is not uncommon, they should be better in awhile.  Breeding can also help the "bad" attitude of an unbred doe.  Both are due to hormones fluctuating.


 
 
Nestbox
I use metal ones for medium breeds, size 18"L x 10"W x 9"H .  They are easier to sanitize between litters than wooden ones.  For warmer weather I put in a bunch of orchard grass (dry) or straw.  For winter I line the metal box with cardboard, then put the straw on top.  You can also use pine shavings, unscented dryer lint or shredded paper on the bottom for extra insulation. 

Put the nest box in at day 28.
  Your doe should start making a nest in the box and may have what is called a "haystache".  This means that she holds the hay in her mouth.  Keep adding hay if the doe eats it or it falls out of the cage.  Some does start digging in the corner a couple of weeks before they are due.  I usually put the nest box in early so they can get to it and settle down.  Does usually kindle (give birth) at 31 or 32 days, but some are early and some as late as 40 days.  Do NOT remove the nest box until day 40 if you think the breeding was a miss.  I have heard plenty of stories about people removing the nest box on day 35 and the doe kindling a day or two later, usually this means the litter dies from exposure, but sometimes it is caught and they make it.

*Note: always clean/sanitize nest boxes before using and in between litters. 



Kits
Kits (baby rabbits) are born both blind and fur-less. So your doe should pull fur off her body to line the nest with a day or so before she kindles or to cover the kits once she has them.  Some does don't pull any fur or not enough.  It is always a good idea to save extra fur (clean fur) just in case. 
After your doe kindles you need to check the nest and remove any dead kits or afterbirth.  I give my mama does a treat of milk improving herbs when I remove the nest box to check it.  Do watch out though as some does get protective of their new babies.  If they are used to you taking care of them they shouldn't mind your scent on their kits.  I check the box daily to make sure the kits are all being feed and remove any kits that didn't make it.

Rabbits have super rich milk and usually only nurse their kits 1-2 times a day and for 5-10 minutes.  Often people think their doe is a bad mother because they seem to ignore their kits, when in fact they are taking care of them.   I check the kits to see if they are being fed.  Kits will not usually last more than 3 days from birth without milk.  Fed kits should have a ping pong belly.

Picture
After w week kits should be furred and between 10 and 12 days they should be opening their eyes.  Between 2 and 3 weeks they start hoping out of the nest box.  In good weather you can remove the nest box between 2-3 weeks and in cold weather leave it in until 3-4 weeks.  Check the nest to see if it needs to have a freshening of hay.  Every 7 days maximum the nest box should be cleaned out.  Remove any soiled material and try to retain as much clean fur as possible (until they have enough of their own fur and weather depending).

Other notes
I give my does dried raspberry leaves for 1-2 weeks before they are due to kindle.  This helps tone the uterus and helps ease labor.  I have really noticed a difference.  Spotting of blood before and after kindling is normal, as long as it isn't too much and for too long.

Calcium levels drop during kindling, and can cause trouble during labor.  Some people give their does calcium supplement (tums anti-acids) to help as a precaution and others only during difficult labor.  I usually give a doe kale or some other green leaf high is calcium when they are getting close or look like they are in labor.