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Breeding Your Rabbit

By: Betty Chu

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People like to say, "They multiply like rabbits," to describe a fertile couple. Are rabbits really that fertile? Yes and no. In some cases, without your planning, they multiply so fast that things can get out of control. In other cases, rabbits don't multiply even when the breeder tries very hard to get them to produce babies.

The chance of things getting out of control when you breed rabbits is very real. To be a successful and ethical breeder, you should first learn how not to let things get out of hand. Remember, rabbits can have up to nine babies every SINGLE month, and the female can get pregnant within 24 hours of giving birth.

Here are Some Suggestions:

  • Do not house a buck and a doe in the same living quarters, unless the buck is neutered. The unneutered buck will want to mount an unspayed female all the time. If the doe is cooperative, you will be swamped with bunnies, bunnies and more bunnies. If the doe is uncooperative, there is a good chance of fighting, which may cause the death of one or both rabbits. Even if you are lucky enough not to see any injury, the living environment is stressful for both rabbits.

  • Do not breed rabbits just to have bunnies "for sale." The money from selling bunnies is so minimal that it probably won't even cover the feed cost. Rabbits should be bred for a purpose, such as for show, for wool or for replacement of stock. If there are some bunnies left after all the purposes are satisfied, then selling them is justified. Humane societies are overflowing with unwanted rabbits who are put to sleep daily because there are not enough homes. By breeding just for fun, you are not helping the bunnies at all, but contributing to a very serious national problem of unwanted animals.

  • Do not overcrowd your rabbits, and do not over-extend yourself. There are only 24 hours in a day; we all have plenty to do in our lives. Only keep/breed the number of rabbits that you can comfortably care for and pay attention to. When there are more than you can handle, rabbits suffer and you suffer. It will be a chore instead of being fun.

    With this in mind, if you are still interested in breeding rabbits, here is the proper way to do it:

  • Check your calendar. Rabbits' gestation period is around 31 days, give or take 3 days. Check 31 days from the time that you plan to breed and see whether you'll be home for the rabbit's delivery. It is preferable to have the kindling date be earlier in the week. In case the doe is overdue and there are complications, it is easier to find a veterinarian during the weekdays than weekends.

  • Take the doe to the buck. It is recommended to house does and bucks separately. When breeding rabbits, one rabbit needs to be taken to the home of the other rabbit. Does tend to be possessive of their living space. They may attack a visiting buck. A buck, on the other hand, is so happy to see a doe visiting that he won't remember anything about his living space. The buck and doe may circle each other or even mount each other for a while; if the doe is cooperative, the buck will fall off the doe's back when the act is done. The buck will then thump his feet. Take the doe out of the buck's cage, and hold her for a few minutes to prevent her from urinating, which could flush out the sperm. Put the doe back in her cage. An hour later, repeat the process.

  • Nestbox. About 5 days before the kindling date, put in a nestbox. You can buy a metal nestbox from rabbit equipment suppliers or build a wooden one yourself. Line the box bottom with clean, soft rags and/or hay. If the doe is pregnant, she will start carrying things in her mouth and pull fur to make a soft nest in the box for her babies.

  • Kindling date. Around the 3lst or 32nd day, the doe will be pulling fur and jumping in and out of the box. If things work out perfectly, she will give birth in the box. After she cleans up her babies, you should take out the box and examine the babies. If there are any dead ones, remove them. If they are chilled due to cold weather, put the chilled babies in an open plastic bag and float the bottom of the bag in a bowl of warm (not hot) water. When the babies start moving again, put them back with the rest of the litter.

  • Raising the young. Put the nestbox in a smaller wire cage separate from the mother. If your rabbits live outdoors, take the nextbox inside. Take the nestbox to mama rabbit for nursing once in the morning and once at night. This will prevent the mama rabbit from accidentally stepping on the babies and hurting them. The babies are born naked with their eyes shut; the hair starts to grow day by day, and their eyes open around 10 to 13 days.

  • Babies out of nestbox. Around 2-1/2 to 3 weeks old, the bunnies will try to hop out of the nestbox. Line the cage bottom with old towels. The babies' feet are too small and they may get stuck in the wire and be injured. Babies are still taken to mama rabbit for nursing once a day. Babies should be able to start on solid food when their eyes open. Provide rabbit pellets, oat cereal, and hay (such as timothy, oat and wheat hay unlimited) for them.

  • Weaning. Around 7 weeks, reduce the nursing by alternating the babies every other day. Around 8 weeks, babies can be weaned. They should stay in a separate cage from the mom's cage.

  • Separating the bunnies. Around 11 to 12 weeks old, bunnies should each have a separate cage.

    Bunnies raised inside the house with people are used to human noise and scent; they will be extra calm and tame this way. The secret to having healthy rabbits is keeping the rabbit cages and area very clean and well ventilated. Their food should be changed daily, and they should have unlimited access to fresh hay. Resting boards/areas should be provided to help prevent sore hocks.

  • Be kind to your rabbits. If you have selected bunnies to keep, give them plenty of love and attention. You brought them into this world, and you are responsible for their well being. The other bunnies can be sold.

  • Provide after-sale service. If you wish to sell some of your bunnies, ask questions before you sell. Make sure the homes are good ones. After you sell, prepare to answer questions when the new owner needs help. Study rabbit care, genetics and prevention of disease to be a responsible breeder. If the new owner has a problem in keeping the bunnies you sold, prepare to accept them back into your home. Anyone can allow rabbits to breed. It is the use of a common-sense approach, mixed with caring and ethics, that make one a "good" breeder who stands apart from contributing to the problems of unwanted animals.

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