Raising Rabbits by Harlan D. Attfield
drawings by Catharine Roache (part 1)
& George Clark (hutch)John Goodell - cover, other art
Raising rabbits is very popular in Europe and North
America. In England over one million families have
rabbits. In America, people eat 30 million pounds of
rabbit meat each year.
There are a number of reasons why raising rabbits is
becoming a more and more important activity throughout the
* Rabbits can produce large amounts of delicious
meat. Although rabbit meat is firmer, it tastes
very much like chicken. Rabbit meat contains a
lot of protein and is low in calories and fat.
So rabbit meat is both good to eat and is a very
* Rabbits multiply quickly. A rabbit raiser can
start with two females and one male and produce
fifty, or more, rabbits in one year. Even a small
backyard project in which two to three females
and one male are raised can furnish meat to
strengthen the family diet. On the other hand,
50 to 150 females can mean a business which provides
part-time employment and perhaps extra
* Rabbits are easy to raise at home -- whether home
is in the city or the country: Rabbit hutches do
not take up a lot of space, and rabbits are clean,
quiet and easy to care for.
* Rabbit skins are also valuable; they can be made
into hats, fur-trimmed collars, slippers, pillows,
small rugs, etc.
In addition to these reasons, gardeners and farmers often
use rabbit manure as a fertilizer. The manure of wellfed
rabbits contains nitrogen and phosphorus. This manure
can be mixed directly into the soil to help the growth of
farmers' crops. Other manures, such as chicken manure,
cannot be used this way. This is especially important to
farmers and gardeners who cannot afford or find other
fertilizers -- and to those who wish to make the best
possible use of all the natural resources of their farms.
There are only a few simple rules to follow in order to
raise rabbits successfully:
* Build a good hutch.
* Begin with healthy animals.
* Give rabbits good care.
Why not try raising rabbits? Good luck and good farming!
Harlan H. D. Attfield
2 Preparing to Raise Rabbits
Most people who decide to raise rabbits want to produce
meat. And they want to produce this meat as quickly, and
cheaply, as possible. Therefore, before beginning any part
of the project, it is very important to decide:
* how much room there is for raising rabbits. If
there is only room for a few hutches, there is a
limit on the number of rabbits which can be raised.
* what kinds of breeds of rabbit are available.
Some breeds of rabbits grow more quickly; some
are better for eating. In other words, it is
necessary to check the sources of rabbits to see
if a good breed is available. And the breed will
determine the size of the hutch.
* what foods are available for feeding the rabbits.
Rabbits will eat a variety of foods, but some are
more important for rabbits than others. Some will
lead to faster growth; some are more expensive; etc.
It is always best to begin any project by studying and
understanding all parts of it. Therefore, it is a good
idea for a prospective rabbit raiser to read through all
the information in this handbook before taking any steps.
Successful rabbit raising depends upon setting up the
effort so that few problems are likely to occur, and upon
managing the project so that any problems which do come up
can be handled quickly and easily.
Choosing the Breed of Rabbit
There are over sixty breeds and varieties of rabbits in the
world. These breeds, or different kinds of rabbits, can be
put into three main groups, according to size:
Small breeds The Polish rabbit, for example,
weighs a little more than 1 kg as an adult.
Medium breeds The New Zealand, California and
Palomino breeds have an average adult weight of
4 1/2 kg.
Heavy breeds The Flemish Giant can weigh over
6 1/2 kg as an adult.
This handbook focuses on raising rabbits to produce meat
for the table, or even for profit. For this purpose,
medium-breed rabbits which grow rapidly are the best
choice -- they will yield more meat from the amount of
food fed them.
The hutch which is detailed in this manual (Part B,
"Hutch Construction") is ideal for medium-breed rabbits.
It was designed and used successfully by the author.
The following discussion presents some of the major factors
to keep in mind while building a hutch; for example,
protection from wind, rain and sun.
Hutches can and do look very different from one area to the
next. There are no critical measurements which say that
a hutch must be just so high or so long or it will not work.
There are size ranges which are better for certain types of
rabbits. And there are design differences. For example,
a hutch in a cold climate may have completely closed sides;
a hot humid climate may suggest more open sides and greater
overhang on the roof to increase ventilation. All hutches,
no matter how they are different or similar, should
* plenty of air
* sunlight to the inside of thi cages
* protection from rain and winds
* a quiet home (undisturbed by dogs)
* a self-cleaning floor
* a good roof that does not leak
* a cage for each medium-breed rabbit
* a water container for each rabbit
* a manger(s) for grass
Most people prefer to build a hutch for one male and two
females, but some two-rabbit hutches (one male and one
female) are also built.
It costs only a little more to build a hutch for three
rabbits than to build a hutch for two. Two females will
produce more young (and therefore increased meat yield),
and the male will not become lazy.
Each adult rabbit must have its own cage. This is very
important. Each compartment (cage) for a medium-breed
rabbit should measure about 75cm (2 1/2 ft) wide, 1m
(3 ft) deep, and 60cm (2 ft) high.
Many different kinds of materials can be used to build a
hutch. The hutch pictured on the next page was made
* packing cases
* four eucalyptus poles
* 14 strips of pine
* 1 cm (1/2 in) square wire netting
* one flat sheet of galvanized iron
* binding wire
Hutches can be made of many other woods and materials,
including bamboo (see Part B).
Protection from weather
The weather conditions that most affect rabbits are rain,
sun and heat. Rabbits often enjoy sitting in the sun, but
they must always be able to get out of the direct rays of
the sun. Too much sun can kill rabbits. Rabbits tolerate
cold in their "fur coats" better than extreme heat.
Also, protect rabbits from rain and wind. If the sides,
front or back of the hutch are covered only with wire
netting, hang sheets of plastic or gunny sacks over these
spaces during rains to protect the rabbits. Always place
the enclosed back of the hutch to the wind. Rabbits
suffer when exposed to drafts. In severe winter it is
best to bring the hutch under the shelter of a roof
(a corner of the barn) or under the eaves of the house.
The floor of the hutch should be no higher than the waist
and be self-cleaning. A self-cleaning floor is made by
stretching 1 cm (1/2 in) square wire netting in a frame.
Wire floors help prevent rabbits from becoming sick and
dying because manure and urine pass through the holes of
the wire and drop to the ground. The inside of the hutch
then stays clean, dry and sanitary.
The manure under the hutches should be gathered every few
months and used on vegetable gardens. Rabbit manure is
better than the manure of pigs, chickens or cows for
Preparations for Feeding
Rabbits eat lots of grass and leaves. But grass should
never be scattered on the floor of the hutch. Grass on
the floor of the hutch gets dirty with manure and urine,
and this dirty grass can make rabbits sick. It is easy
to prevent this problem by building a simple manger, or
feeding place, of wire netting or planks. This can be
fastened to the outside of the hutch. The rabbits then
pull the grass through the wire mesh and feed themselves
as they are hunqry. The manger should be large enough
to hold plenty of grass and leaves.
Sometimes baby rabbits crawl out of the cage into the
manger. To prevent them from falling to the ground, make
a cover for the manger.
A manger can be placed between two compartments in a hutch.
It is not necessary to build a manger, but it is necessary
to make the food available so that it is not lying on the
hutch floor to get dirty. One way to do this is to tie
grass and leaves in bundles with string or wire and hang it
on the inside of the hutch near the front. This method
will prevent the grass and leaves from becoming dirty or
Rabbits need water. They get some water from eating grass
and leaves, but they need more water than this. Make sure
rabbits can get water whenever they wish to drink.
To do this, make an automatic water container:
* Turn a large bottle over and fasten it to the
inside of the hutch so the lip of the bottle
is inside a small tin can. Make sure there are
no sharp edges on the tin can.
* The lip of the bottle is about lcm below the
top rim of the can.
* Remove the bottle and fill the can and bottle
* Replace the bottle. As the rabbit drinks water
from the can, more water will fall from the
bottle, thus providing rabbits with plenty of
clean, fresh water.
Fill the bottle as often as necessary to keep the
water supply clean and fresh -- probably at least
once a day.
Automatic watering systems using pipe and nipples are a
good investment for the rabbit raiser who is raising many
If possible select a heavy earthenware crock with about
8cm (3 in)-high sides. Heavy dishes cannot be tipped over
by the rabbits.
A coffee or butter tin can be used. Nail the can to a
small board. Be sure there are no sharp edges on the can.
A section of bamboo with an opening cut into the side can
be used. Fasten it to a small board to keep it from
Whatever kind of container you use, young rabbits will
climb into them. Usually rabbits will not urinate on their
food but could contaminate it with their droppings. This
will have to be watched.
If feed pellets are used, a feed hopper can be built like
the one below. This has the advantage of always keeping
the feed clean.
3 Caring for Rabbits
When the hutch is ready, the rabbit raiser can get started.
This section presents guidelines for selecting, handling
and caring for rabbits.
Check New Stock Carefully
The source of supply depends upon the area. In some
places rabbits are available in the market, from another
rabbit breeder or perhaps from government sources.
Wherever the rabbits come from, they must be checked
very carefully before they are taken home. Remember that
it is not possible to breed and raise healthy rabbits
unless the rabbits you begin with are good rabbits.
You must be able to answer YES to all six of the following
questions before you take the rabbit home:
* Is the animal active and alert?
* Are its eyes bright and clear?
* Is its nose clean, not runny?
* Are its ears clean and dry inside?
* Is its fur smooth and clean?
* Are its feet dry and free of sores?
If the rabbit fits these guidelines, ask about the litter
from which the rabbit came. Choose rabbits that have come
from large litters and from females that have had good,
large litters. Do not select brother and sisters for
breeding; they will not produce healthy young.
Just a short word here on the proper ways to handle
rabbits. Rabbits are generally gentle and will not bite,
but they do become frightened and can hurt themselves or
the handler if they jump suddenly. It is always better to
handle rabbits properly.
Never lift rabbits by their ears or legs: they can be
hurt if lifted this way.
Adult rabbits There is plenty of loose skin at the back of
the neck over the shoulders. Hold the rabbit by this loose
skin with one hand and support its weight by placing your
other hand under its rump (tail). Be sure to hold the
rabbit's feet away from you to avoid scratches from the
Small rabbits Lift and carry small rabbits by holding them
between the hips and the ribs. The heel of the hand should
face the rabbit's tail; the rabbit's head should be
pointing toward the ground.
Heavy rabbits Grasp a fold of skin
over the shoulder and lift. Hold
the rabbit against your body with
its head under your arm. Your forearm
should extend along the side of
the animal, and your hand should be
under the rabbit's rump to support
the weight of the rabbit.
Rabbits are not hard to feed because they can live on
plants and other foods which are easy to find. Rabbits
get the vitamins, minerals and fiber they need by eating
the leaves of plants. Corn, peanuts and other seeds can
be eaten by rabbits and are a good source of protein.
It is important to feed rabbits well. Well-chosen food
can help keep the rabbits free from disease while producing
good growth at low cost. Breeding females, called does,
must be especially well-fed to produce healthy young
rabbits and the milk to feed them.
Elements in foods
protein. Protein is a substance which helps rabbits grow
and stay healthy. Protein is contained in rabbit meat and
is one reason why rabbit meat is so healthy. Rabbits must
be fed protein to produce protein.
Proteins from plants are best for rabbits. Rabbits can
eat peanuts (groundnuts), soyabeans, sesame, linseed,
hempseed and cottonseed. These seeds are usually ground
and added to rabbit mashes and pellets. Whole soyabeans
have about 36 percent protein but are not enjoyed by
rabbits unless the beans are ground into a meal or
Oil cake from soyabean, peanut, sesame, flax and cottonseed
is a good source of protein.
salt. There is a noticeable difference in the amount of
salt each rabbit consumes daily. For this reason it is a
good idea to place a block or spool of salt in each cage.
Each rabbit will take what it needs by licking the salt.
Salt should not come in contact with metal cage parts, such
as screening. Salt can be added directly to the food in a
quantity of 1/2 percent.
vitamins. Very little is known about a rabbit's requirement
for any of the vitamins, but rabbits do need vitamins A and
D. Freshly cut green plants, some root crops and high
quality hay are excellent sources of vitamin A. The best
source of vitamin D is found in cured roughages, especially
field-cured luzerne. Fresh cut greens will also provide
vitamin B and vitamin E. When labor and expense permit,
rabbits should be given good quality green plants as part
of their diet.
minerals. All dry and fresh green plants will contain some
or all of the minerals needed by rabbits. If the rabbit's
feed is properly balanced, there will be plenty of minerals
for the rabbit.
cereal grains. Rabbits will eat oats, wheat, barley and
grain sorghums (milo, kafir, feterito, hegari, darso and
sagrain). These grains may be fed whole as soon as the
young rabbits come out of the nest box at three weeks of
age. Grains fed to rabbits should be plump and not spoiled
or moldy. Soft varieties of maize (corn) can be eaten by
rabbits, but the tougher, flintier types must be crushed
or ground. Rabbits enjoy sunflower seeds but these seeds
are usually valued more for other purposes.
When rabbits are allowed to choose from several types of
grain, their first choice will be oats, followed by soft
varieties of wheat, grain sorghums and barley.
Usually, it is a good idea to prepare a feed mixture which
contains a number of grains. Here is one suggestion for a
grain mix (the quantities are for a small number of
1kg whole oats
1/2kg crushed corn (soft varieties)
1kg soyabean meal in pellet form
Nursing does should be full-fed (food continuously available)
the grain mix. Dry does and herd bucks should be
given as much as they will consume in 20-30 minutes.
Grains which are ground and made into a mash should be
dampened with water before serving. Otherwise, dust will
get into the rabbit's nose and cause irritation. When
possible, feed should be pelleted: there is less waste
when pellets are used.
green feeds and roots. Rabbits enjoy green plants; tender
cane tops have also been used with success. Rabbits also
like sweet potatoes, carrots, sugar beets, turnips, and
Green plants and root crops contain protein, minerals, and
vitamins; they are almost 90 percent water. These contents
make them very important food for rabbits.
However, if rabbits eat too many greens then they will
not eat enough of concentrated feeds (like grain mixes).
And these concentrated foods produce faster weight gain.
NEVER ALLOW GREEN FEED TO STAND IN PILES AND BECOME HEATED
BEFORE FEEDING TO RABBITS. Green feed which has been
standing too long can cause serious digestive problems in
the herd. Also, NEVER PLACE GREEN$ ON THE FLOOR OF THE
CAGE where they will become dirty. Disease is spread when
greens are not hung up or placed in a manger.
dried plants (hays). Luzerne; clover, peanut, lespedeza,
vetch and kudzu hays are excellent for rabbits. Hay must
be of good quality: it should be leafy, small stemmed,
green in color, free of dust and mold, with a nice smell.
Tender elephant grass and Sudan grass can be fed to rabbits
but contain less protein than the plants listed first.
Often weather conditions do not allow for the making or
storing of hay. When hay is available, it can be placed
before the rabbits at all times. They will eat about
55 - 85 gm (2 - 3 oz), daily.
commercial feeds. Many rabbit raisers prefer to buy a
COMPLETE feed for their rabbits. The packages should
indicate the amount of protein, fat, etc. that they
contain. The following chart shows how much of each of the
listed substances rabbits require. If the concentrate
contains these ingredients in about the same percentage
amounts, it is a complete feed.
Suggested Rabbit Feed Concentrate Analysis
protein 15 - 20 %
fat 3 - 5.5 %
fiber 14 - 20 %
nitrogen-free 44 - 50 %
ash or mineral 4.5 - 6.5 %
coccidiostats. These are preventive medicines for coccidiosis
(See Section 6). If available, it is wise to add
some medicine to the feed to protect rabbits from this
disease. A ration containing 0.025 percent of sulfaquinoxaline
is effective for reducing the infestation of
intestinal and liver types of coccidiosis in the herd.
The use of medication should not take the place of good
management. It is more economical to prevent than to cure.
Young rabbits are born free of this disease but may quickly
become infected by licking their soiled feet, fur, or
hutch equipment, or by eating feed or drinking water that
is contaminated with the "eggs" (oocysts) of the disease
When rabbits are raised in areas where there is considerable
humidity or long periods of rain or fog, the coccidia infestation
may build up until it causes heavy losses.
Manure pellets do not cause danger while they are whole,
but once they begin to break down or get mashed the disease
organism is released. Hutches with self-cleaning floors,
mangers and proper food, and good management practices all
help reduce the possibilities of infection. Authorities
on rabbit raising feel that it is impossible to get rid of
the disease entirely, but they feel that good practices
such as those mentioned here can reduce the problem considerably.
other foods. Kitchen scraps, except greasy and spoiled
food, are enjoyed by rabbits. By weight, dry or stale
bread has about the same feeding value as the cereal grains.
Bread can help reduce the cost of feeding rabbits. The
fruits and rinds of oranges and qrapefruits and trimmings
from vegetables can be fed to rabbits. Cow's or goat's
milk is good for rabbits. Although poultry mash (formulated
for growers and layers) is generally more expensive
than rabbit feed, it is nutritionally adequate for
A note on feed storage
Keep feed dry and protect it against insects and rodents.
Keep feed away from dogs and cats; they can be a source of
Proper amounts and combinations of foods
Rabbits can be given a combination of foods as long as the
total food intake is about the same. In general, herd
bucks (males) and dry does (females not breeding) need
only 1/2 cup of mash each day; pregnant or nursing females
require 3/4 - 1 cup per day.
bucks. Rabbits can be full-fed by leaving food in the
hutch at all times. Rabbits fed by this method eat small
amounts of food more often and gain weight more quickly.
Herd bucks, however, should be hand fed. This means
supplying them only with as much food as they can eat in
20 - 30 minutes. If herd bucks are allowed to eat all the
time, they become fat and lazy. Two possible daily
feeding plans for bucks are:
125 - 185gm (4 1/2 - 6 1/2 oz) concentrate
(depending upon weight), plus 15-minute
feeding of greens.
85gm (3oz) of grain mixture and all the
good quality hay or greens they will eat.
Please note: All weight conversions, here and
following, are given in approximate figures.
does. A doe at six months of age will eat at the rate of
3.8 percent of her live weight, daily. For example, a
4.5kg (about 10 lb) doe will eat .038 x 4.5 = .17kg = 170gm
(or .038 x 10 = .38 lb = about 6oz), daily. If hay and
grains are fed, she will consume 70gm (2 1/2 oz) of a grain
mixture and about 100gm (3 1/2 oz) of hay, to make 170gm
The following chart is a good guide when feeding a combination
of concentrate and greens:
Concentrate-Greens Feeding Chart
Weight of Doe Daily Ration
45gm (1.6oz) or more greens,
PLUS concentrate ration of:
2 1/4 kg (about 5 lb) 70-85gm (2 1/2 - 3oz)
4 1/2 kg (about 10 lb) 125-140gm (4 1/2 - 5oz)
6 3/4 kg (about 15 lb) 185-200gm (6 1/2 - 7oz)
Note: The amounts of concentrates can be reduced
by increasing the amounts of greens fed.
To feed a doe correctly the rabbit raiser must know when
she is pregnant. An experienced rabbit raiser can feel
for the babies inside the mother at 14 days after mating
(see Section 4, "Breeding Rabbits"). A doe must be given
all the concentrates she will eat without waste while
pregnant. After the young rabbits are born, continue to
feed the doe and the young rabbits all the concentrates
they will eat without waste. The doe's diet should be
reduced only when the young rabbits are removed and until
pregnancy is noted again.
Producing a 1.8kg (4 lb) fryer Generally, it takes 7kg
(15.4 lb) of complete concentrate (pellets are best) to
produce a 1.8kg (4 lb) fryer in 8 weeks. The following
chart shows four different feeding plans. This should
help the rabbit raiser decide which plan is best for his
Concentrates Luzerne Hay Green Feed Time
PLAN A 7kg (15.4 lb) ---- ---- 8 weeks
PLAN B 4kg (8.8 lb) 1.5kg (3.2 lb) ---- 8 weeks
PLAN C 4.5 - 5kg (10-11 lb) ---- .5-lkg (1-2 lb) 8 weeks
PLAN D 3.6 - 4kg (8-9 lb) ---- 1.4-1.8kg (3-4 lb) 10-11
Note: Amount of food to produce 1.8kg (4 lb) fryer
also includes a portion required for doe from
breeding through weaning.
4 Breeding Rabbits
When buying rabbits find out how old they are. The
minimum age for breeding depends upon type: heavy types
take 9-12 months before they are old enough to breed;
New Zealand Whites are ready to breed at 6-9 months of
Do not breed females until they are old enough to handle
the strain of nursing. One male, or buck, can service as
many as ten females but he should not be used more than
two or three times a week. A maximum use for short
periods would be five times weekly.
How to Mate Rabbits
The female, or doe, will probably object to having the
buck placed in her cage and might attack or injure him.
Therefore always place the doe in the buck's cage for
mating. Do not disturb the animals and make sure people
and dogs are not around. People and dogs can frighten the
rabbits and they will not mate.
When the doe is placed in the buck's cage, he will probably
mount her quickly. If after a few seconds the buck
falls over on his side or suddenly falls backwards, mating
has taken place. Often when the buck falls he will look
as if his whole body has suddenly tightened. Allow only
one or two falls. Then remove the doe and place her back
in her own cage.
DO NOT LET THE DOE STAY WITH THE BUCK ALL DAY LONG. If
mating has not occurred within the first few minutes,
remove the doe and try again after a few hours.
As soon as the doe has been mated and returned to her cage,
WRITE DOWN THE DATE OF MATING on a small card attached
high in the inside of the hutch. If you fail to write
down the date you will not know when to feel for the young
within the doe at 14 days or put a nest box in her cage
before she gives birth.
Holding the Doe for Mating
Sometimes a doe will hide in the corner of the buck's
cage, and he will not be able to mount her. If this
happens, help the buck by holding the doe for mating.
This is very easy to do.
Use either hand to hold the ears and a fold of skin over
the doe's shoulders. Place your other hand under her body
and between her hind legs. Place one of your fingers on
each side of the tail and push gently backwards. This
action will throw the doe's tail. up over her back, so that
the buck can quickly mount and mate her. If the doe's
tail is down, the buck will not be able to mate her.
Feeling for Young Rabbits
It is possible to feel the small, round babies inside the
doe two weeks after breeding has taken place. Keep the doe
in her cage. Hold her ears and a fold of skin over the
shoulders as though holding the doe for mating. Slide
the other hand under her stomach with your thumb on one
side of the stomach and your fingers on the other. Gently
press in on the stomach wall with your thumb and fingers
and slide your hand backward and forward. If the doe is
pregnant, you will be able to feel small, hard, marbleshaped
lumps as you slide your fingers back and forth with
the stomach gently squeezed between them. This "test" is
a good one, but must be practiced often to be successful.
Kindling is the act of giving birth. The doe will kindle
31-32 days after mating. A doe will probably eat less
food two or three days before kindling. Five to seven
days before the kindling date, put a small box, called a
nest box, inside the doe's cage. She will give birth in
this box. It is usually possible to find boxes which
work very well, but if you must build a box it should be
lightweight and measure about 30cm deep x 35cm wide x
20-30cm high (12" x 14" x 8-12").
Place nothing in the nest box or the hutch if the weather
is warm. The doe will pull fur from her stomach to make
the box comfortable. If the weather is cold, place dry
grass or straw in the hutch three days before kindling,
and the doe will prepare her own nest.
Does usually kindle at night. As each baby is born, the
doe will lick it and give it milk. Does usually give
birth to 4 or 6 babies the first time. After that a doe
usually produces 6-8 babies at each kindling.
One or two days after the rabbits are born, carefully look
inside the box for any dead babies. Move the fur to one
side with a small stick or pencil. Remove any that you
When the doe is with her babies, it is important to keep
children and dogs from bothering her. If the doe becomes
frightened she might injure her young by jumping into the
box quickly and crushing them. Or, frightened does eat
their babies. Does also will eat their young if they do
not have enough protein food. If a doe continues to do
this after a second or third time, however, she should be
Following are some examples of nest boxes you can make.
This closed-top winter nest box will hold the body warmth
of the baby rabbits. These nest boxes can be made of 1cm
(1/2") or even 2 1/2cm (1") lumber. One 4 x 8' (about
1.2 x 2.4m) sheet of plywood will make four of these boxes,
with just a little left over. Use wood for these boxes.
If metal is used the box will "sweat" and create a health
problem for the young rabbits.
The doe will use the top of the box to sit on. This allows
her to get away from her babies and keeps her feet warm.
When the young are a few weeks old they will start following
the doe up to the top. Do not leave the nest box in
the cage too long. The rabbits will quickly soil the wood
surfaces and problems with coccidiosis (see page 40)
A nest box can be made from a nail keg turned on its side
and steadied with a piece of wood nailed across the front.
Weaning means removing the babies from their mother.
Young rabbits open their eyes 10-11 days after birth.
They will come out of the nest box at about three weeks
of age, and at this time they start eating food other than
their mother's milk. They should be separated from their
mother at eiqht weeks (no sooner) and placed in another
cage for fattening. If the young are separated before
they are eight weeks old they will stop gaining weight for
a few days, and might even lose weight.
After weaning, breed the doe again. Wean and breed the
doe on the same day. If the doe becomes pregnant each
time she is bred, she can produce four litters in 12
months. But do not expect to reach this goal at first;
it is sometimes difficult even for experienced rabbit
Especially strong does, however, can be bred at 7 weeks or
even 6 weeks after kindling. When this is done, the young
should continue to stay with their mother for the full 8
weeks before weaning. If the does are properly fed so
they can stand the strain, this is a very good system of
breeding. The doe is alone in her cage for only a short
time before the next litter is kindled, and the hutch
equipment is used to the best advantage.
This can be done at weaning time (8 weeks) or earlier,
after you gain experience. Hold the young rabbit as
shown here or place it on its back on a table. There are
two openings near the tail. The opening nearest the tail
is where the droppings (manure) come out. Above this is
the outside opening of the sex organs. Place your thumb
below this opening and your finger above it. Press down
gently. You will see the red, moist flesh inside. As
you press down you will see a slit or a circle with a
small hole in the middle. If you see a slit, the rabbit
is a female. If you see a circle, the rabbit is a male.
Sometimes a doe dies at kindling or shortly afterward.
Many rabbit breeders will not take time to raise orphan
young, but young rabbits left without a doe can be fed
whole cow or goat milk from a bottle until able to eat
grains and grass at two weeks of age. When raising orphan
litters care must be taken to keep all feeding equipment
Balancing Litter Size
Some breeders mate several does at one time so they will
all kindle within a day or two of each other. If a doe
has an exceptionally large litter (10-16) and another doe
has a small litter (2-4), some of the rabbits from the
large litter can be transferred to the smaller one. A
litter of eight is an ideal size.
Handle young rabbits as little as possible, but do not
worry about destroying the scent of the human hand. As
soon as the rabbits are placed in the nest box any odor
clinging to them is quickly destroyed.
Failures to Conceive
The doe can be sterile, not able to produce young, if the
food ration is unbalanced or the weather is too hot or too
cold. Commercial breeding has shortened the barren
tendency so that it is possible to achieve four or more
litters in a year. However, a balanced diet is very
important if does and bucks are to realize this high rate
Bucks and does that are too old can account for conception
misses. With excellent care and feeding a rabbit will
remain profitable to breed for 3-4 years. After this time
does tend to give birth to small litters of 2 or 3 young.
Animals which have been known to produce well for several
years are of special interest to the rabbit raiser. Keep
records of good does and select rabbits from the litters
of these outstanding does to keep aside for replacement
Sore hocks or other injuries can cause a loss of vitality
in both does and bucks. Rabbits must receive excellent
care combined with good management to achieve profitable
5 Keeping Records
If you are only raising rabbits in your backyard, you
probably do not need to keep extensive records. The
following forms should prove sufficient. However, once
you get into a rabbit raising business where keeping a
production schedule becomes extremely important, more
detailed records may be necessary.
These sample records (on the page before, and below)
contain information essential to the careful rabbit raiser.
Good records save time and allow planning of yearly production.
Records are the key to successful breeding and
handling of the litter. Make an individual record for
each breeding animal and tack it somewhere in the cage
where it will remain dry and will not be chewed on by the
Complete Record Keeping
Mrs. Anne Faunce, a commercial rabbit raiser in the United
States wrote in Countryside and Small Stock Journal, (*) January
1974, that good records lead to increased pleasure,
(*) Now known simply as Countryside, published monthly at
312 Portland Road, Highway 19 East, Waterloo, Wisconsin
satisfaction, and net income in a rabbit raising operation.
The remainder of this section is drawn freely from her
Well-organized, simple record keeping systems do not take long to
keep up-to-date and should be kept daily. The time is well-spent.
Good records help to reduce mortality (death rate) and to increase
regular breeding and conception rates. They help the rabbit raiser
to keep litters uniform in number and size of the young. All of
these factors can lead to increased profits.
Our record system developed as we learned what we wanted and needed
to know, and how to record it simply. Every bit is essential for
proper evaluation of does and bucks. The buck performance records
have increased our net profits steadily.
The point of keeping records is to use them, so we keep permanent
individual performance records in our house and on each hutch door.
We were able to test such things as control-feeding and breeding
schedules with the aid of our individual buck and doe records, plus
the herd performance records. Here are some of the things we found:
* For our herd, control-feeding produced the same or better
weights at the same day-age as free-feeding, a lower
mortality rate, as well as the reduced feed cost.
* A 38-39 day rebreed schedule was the most practical and
profitable in supplying our processor with a minimum
fryer weight of 4.5 lb (2kg). We get 5 1/4 litters per
year. We also get 5-6 year old does producing profitable
* Our herd actually made us more money if we limited litter
size to 7 or 8 young, depending on the doe.
We use the same headings for doe and buck performance records and
the does' hutch cards; this simplifies recording and understanding.
We have found that all we need to know about the bucks while working
in the rabbitry is the date bred and the doe's number.
We make entries in every column on the does' hutch cards. When
working with nest box litters, the information is right at hand to
decide how many young to leave with her, or how successful a foster
mother she is.
We designed our own hutch cards -- according to our own needs. On
the following pages are sample cards and explanations of how we
set them up:
PLEASE NOTE: In the "weight" columns on the
hutch cards, figures are given in pounds.
One kilogram = 2.2 pounds.
Column 1: Buck Identification of the buck used in any mating is
needed to compare litters out of different mates, or different litters
out of the same mates. You can plan for future matings and stock
Column 2: Date bred This date shows you when the doe should
kindle, and when to put in the nest box. An "L" (late) in this
column would show that the doe did not rebreed on schedule. It's
very important to know this: if she's always a late breeder, cull
her (separate her out). We learned to save stock only out of does
which bred and conceived regularly, year around (in addition to other
desirable traits). This includes bucks as well.
Using the information in this column pays off in increased conception
rates -- and overall production: in 1965 our annual conception rate
was 82 percent, and our Fall (August through December) breedings
conception rate was 70 percent. By 1971 annual conception rate was
95 percent and the Fall rate was 93 percent. The does bred on
schedule, and conceived.
Column 3: Date kindled This gives you a reference point for
recording exact age in days of the young later on. Shows if the
doe is always late, early or on time. Not needed on buck records.
Column 4: Number of young
kindled Shows the total number of young born. If some were born
dead, or died soon after birth, we indicated this as a two part
figure: 14/10 -- 14 the total number born, and 10 the number alive
and well. This column is useful in doe and buck evaluation.
number of young at 1 week We found it frequently takes 4-7
days to get all litters settled down to the exact number we expect
the doe to raise; so we decided that one week was a practical date.
This figure is used as the reference for checking any mortality later
on. If it's a good, bad even or uneven (in quality -- not number)
litter, the appropriate letter is added.
Column 5: Young at 3 weeks A summary of the litter's nest box
history. Useful in early estimate of number for future sales, and
in evaluation of sire and dam.
number Shows survival and mortality. To rate the litter, add the
age in days Accuracy in days is necessary for proper appraisal of
the rate of weight gain in the nest box.
weight of litter Shows the doe's nursing ability, and also the sire's
capability to give his young the ability to make the most of the doe's
milk. You can compare with other litters on the sire's and dam's
records. When breeding for herd bucks, the doe's milking ability is
of great importance, because she passes this on through her son to
Column 6: Weaned This and the next column really sum it up
for the commercial rabbit raiser.
number Shows survival and mortality in the litter. This is
important for sales, and as part of the doe's and buck's performance
age in days Since a whole litter can gain close to a pound a day at
the age of 8-9 weeks, exactness is essential for factual judgement.
weight of litter We weigh the whole litter at once -- it's a lot
quicker and easier, and more accurate than one by one and adding it
up. Since we look closely at the total number of pounds produced,
it is logical.
Column 7: Number Marketable on Time (MOT) This is the
real key to profit and loss on a litter, and reflects the performance
-- and profitability -- of a doe or buck. Included in this figure
are any young saved for breeding stock: even though they are to be
separated out, they would of course be marketable. Holdover fryers
to be used as breeders eat up the profit of those sold, and take up
valuable hutch space -- so use your records well and take care in
selecting breeding stock.
Column 8: Notes Limited space means limiting notes to important
things, and abbreviating legibly, such as WNB for "wet nest box,"
O.F. for "off feed," S4D for "saved 4 does" (for breed stock), etc.
After we started keeping the same records on the bucks' performance
sheets, we found that it made a helpful difference in judging the
doe's performance. We could now be sure if some things were the
doe's fault or not. A high mortality-rate among fryers or an
irregular growth rate would be reason to check the records of the
bucks she has been mated with. If those bucks show up well, then
she can be culled without wasting time, feed and hutch space on
"another chance;" if the bucks do not show up well, then the doe's
service is continued and we check the bucks. Having both doe and
buck records makes it a lot easier to find the poor performers
faster and without losing any more money. After the records have
been in use for a year or so, these problems are likely to disappear.
Keeping the buck records and using them has really made our herd
more profitable. We were able to work on facts instead of impressions.
Once I had to put our favorite buck on the "stew list." In
spite of the buck's being beautifully built, a terrific worker with
even the reluctant does, throwing good, uniform, easily identifiable
litters, his offspring just didn't grow out well. His MOT equalled
only 46 percent! Other things that showed up were: low number of
young kindled, high kindling mortality, high fryer mortality, uneven
litters. All good culling reasons, not easily found out without
About three times a year we evaluate every buck's performance record
and give him a herd rating. This is in addition to normal checking
and any special watching needed in between. Young bucks are first
rated after their tenth breeding litter goes to market. Foster
litters, or any litter where more than two have been added, are not
included. By taking the total numbers of young at one week, at
weaning and MOT we can calculate the percentage rates for mortality
The herd bucks then are listed according to percentage raised and
MOT of the litters. Those at the bottom are culled. The first time
we used this rating, 7 out of 28 bucks were culled for less than a
65 percent MOT rating. Exactly one year later, 6 out of 28 with less
than an 80 percent MOT rating were culled. Four months later, we
culled two bucks; all the rest had 85-95 percent MOT. And along with
the increase in MOT came a very nice increase in profits! If something
undesirable showed up in a buck between herd ratings, we did
not wait to cull him.
I cannot stress enough how much difference it can make financially
to keep and use performance records on both does and bucks. They
give the information necessary to make good management decisions on
breeding, selection and culling.
6 Rabbit Diseases and Their Control
It is best to prevent disease; treating disease is often
difficult. Following these simple rules can do much toward
keeping rabbits free from disease:
* Keep hutch, nest boxes, water cans and mangers
CLEAN. Clean wire floors with soap and water
after each litter.
* Give rabbits fresh green food to eat. Remove
stale food from mangers.
* Protect rabbits from intense sun, rain and drafts.
* Keep unfriendly dogs away.
* Use wire netting for hutch floors. Hutch floors
should be "cornerless."
* Take sick rabbits away from the other rabbits
* Watch for signs of the following diseases.
Signs: Diarrhea, a swollen belly. Rabbit sits in a
hunched position and will not eat. Often the
rabbit staggers around and is not able to keep
its balance. This disease attacks rabbits between
the ages of 2 and 10 weeks. Coccidiosis
can cause death.
Cause: A one-celled animal parasite living in the
lining of the rabbit's intestines.
Treatment: Mecryl Powder, Sulphamezathine, Amprol, Sulfaquinoxaline
or Eimryl Urgence are used to
prevent and treat this disease. Follow the
directions for each medication carefully.
This disease is spread through the droppings of
infected rabbits. Keep the hutch clean at all
times: one dirty corner in the hutch could
lead to this disease.
Hutch floors should be of wire netting. If
the netting is stretched tight, there will be
little need for additional supports. If you
must use wood supports build them as shown
here. You can also use rod iron.
Signs: Dirty ears. Crusts on inner surface of ear.
Often the rabbit shakes its head or scratches
Cause: Mites. These insects are so small you can
only see them with a magnifying glass. They
dig under the skin on the inside of the
rabbit's ears and cause pain.
Treatment: Remove the crusts with your fingernail. Go
to a pharmacy and ask for a solution of 0.25
percent Lindane in vegetable oil, or a mixture
of 2 parts iodoform, 10 parts ether and 25
parts vegetable oil. Swab either one of these
solutions inside the ear with a piece of cloth
or cotton. Apply again after one week. Check
all other rabbits' ears for this problem.
Remarks: This disease can destroy the centers of balance
in the rabbit's inner ear. If a rabbit is not
treated for this disease it will result in a
condition known as wry neck: the rabbit will
hold its head to one side or fall over. Once
this happens to a rabbit, it cannot be treated.
The best thing to do is prevent it by treating
the ear mange promptly.
Signs: Sneezing and rubbing the nose with the front
feet. Fluid will show around the nose. This
fluid may be thin and clear, or it may be
thick and yellow.
Cause: Several types of bacteria and virus.
Treatment: Reduce the amount of concentrates you are
giving your rabbit for a few days. Give the
rabbit all the green grass and leaves it wants.
Remarks: This disease attacks animals in over-crowded,
damp, dirty hutches. Protect rabbits from
rain. Always provide lots of fresh greens to
Signs: Rocking forward on front feet; hind feet show
sores on the bottom. Rabbit may lose the fur
pad on the sole of the foot, with scales and
irritation in this area. If allowed to get
worse, the foot bleeds or becomes spongy with
pus draining from it.
Cause: Wet or rough floors which rabbits bang their
feet upon. Floors that are sharp, that sag
too much, or that are filthy, may contribute
Treatment: Soak the affected parts in warm, soapy water
until the crusts come off. Rinse and dry
thoroughly. Rub in ointment but do not use so
much that the foot becomes sticky and picks up
dirt (use zinc ointment, petroleum jelly,
Remarks: Keep rabbits undisturbed so they do not bang
their feet. Select replacement stock from
Signs: Rubbing eyes with feet. Fluid from eye either
thin and clear, or thick and yellow.
Cause: Irritation from flies or injury from jagged
Treatment: Clean eyes with boric acid water, or just clean
water. Apply ophthalmic ointment (antibiotic,
silver oxide, yellow oxide of mercury, Argyrol).
Remarks: This can often be contagious. Isolate sick
Signs: The rabbit shows an intense itching, the skin
becomes reddened and irritated, the hair comes
out, and yellow crusts may be present.
Cause: Mites (similar to ear mange).
Treatment: Wash the affected area with warm soapy water,
rinse and dry (important: rabbits can get
pneumonia if not dried quickly). Clip the
hair away from the edges of the sore area.
Rub dry flowers of sulphur into the skin
thoroughly. Repeat treatment in four to six
Remarks: Contagious. Isolate infected animals. Clean
and disinfect hutches which have been used by
Mucoid Enteritis (Scours or Bloat)
Signs: Drinking but no eating. Rabbits sit hunched
up with squinting eyes, grind their teeth,
have dull, rough coats, and swollen bellies.
They may have diarrhea.
Cause: The cause is not known, but it is not thought
to be contagious.
Treatment: No specific treatment known. Take away all
food and water for 48 hours; then give small
quantities of green food for a few days. Let
them have small amounts of water during this
Remarks: Usually affects rabbits at about six weeks of
age. Do not confuse this with coccidiosis,
which can be treated.
Signs: Heavy breathing. Rabbit often tilts its head
back so that the nose is in the air. Rabbit
moves very little and will not eat. Body
temperature, as shown by a thermometer placed
in the rectum, is high (39.5 - 41 [degrees] C -- or 103
- 106 [degrees] F). As the animal gets worse the eyes
and ears may show a bluish color because of
lack of oxygen.
Cause: Bacteria. Usually comes with other diseases,
or if animal is pregnant, nursing young, or
chilled and wet. Also attacks very young
Treatment: Injections of antibiotics given before the
disease progresses too far. The Veterinarian
will usually give 200,000 units plus 0.25gm
dihydroatreptomycin intra-muscularly (into a
muscle) in the hind leg. Keep animal warm and
dry, reduce concentrates and give plenty of
green feed and and clean water.
Remarks: The critical time for the doe is two weeks
before and two weeks after kindling. Watch
the doe closely during these times. Pneumonia
also can follow right after many of the other
diseases. Watch for it. Treat and isolate
infected animals promptly.
Caked Breast (Caked Udder)
Signs: In early cases, the breasts (one or more) are
firm, pink and feel hot to the touch. Later
on, little knots can be felt in the breasts.
Following this, the breasts may darken and
become dry and cracked.
Cause: Milk not being taken from the breasts fast
enough. Doe may have too few young, or not be
letting them nurse.
Treatment: Reduce concentrates and provide plenty of green
feed and clean water. Rub Lanolin (or oil or
some kind of skin-softening agent) well into
the breasts and try to get milk to flow by
massaging and encouraging young to nurse. If
breasts crack, soften crusts and allow to drain,
but do not lance with a knife.
Remarks: Do not wean all the young rabbits from heavily
milking does at the same time; take a few
caked breast (continued)
at a time from her. Breed heavy milkers a
few days before weaning the young. If a heavy
milker loses a litter, breed her again at
once. Breeding helps to reduce the milk in
Avoid disturbances, particularly at night.
If breasts start getting blue, the doe should
have antibiotic injections (Penicillin) at
once. Isolate the doe and wash your hands
thoroughly before taking care of other does.
7 Killing, Skinning,
and Tanning Rabbits
Animals are killed when they reach the desired market
weight. In many cases, getting the meat is more important
than worrying about the skin. When possible, rabbits are
kept longer, gaining weight at a slower rate, so that they
can be kept until the combined value of the meat (carcass)
and pelt (skin) will bring the highest return.
In the United States, 80 percent of the rabbits marketed
are classed as "fryers." This means they are tender and
suitable for quicker cooking methods. To become classified
as fryers, medium and heavy breeds of rabbits are
weaned and marketed at two months of age, when their weight
averages 1.7 - 2 kg (3 3/4 - 4 1/2 lb). The meat that you
actually are able to "dress" out of the animal -- or fryer
yield of the carcass -- will average from 50 to 60 percent
of the live weight.
At the time of slaughter there should be some fat over the
ribs, along the backbone, in the flanks, and around the
tailhead and the kidneys, increasing the dressing percent
over that of the thin rabbit. To do this, rabbits must be
properly fed. Small bones and thin skin show quality in
an animal. Because of this, medium breeds with small bones
and thin skin will give higher dressing percent than ones
with large bones and thick skins.
The amount of food in the stomach and intestines has an
effect on dressing percent. If the rabbit is without
food and water for a few hours before killing, the dressing
percent will be lower.
The profit you get from a fryer will depend on how much
feed and labor cost you have to subtract from the fryer's
In the following two sections are step-by-step instructions
on killing and skinning, and tanning the hides of rabbits.
Killing and Skinning a Rabbit
Rabbits are easier to kill and clean than any other farm
animals. With experience, the whole job can be done in
two or three minutes! Follow these steps:
Kill the rabbit quickly and painlessly.
Hold it by the hind legs,
head pointing down. In a few
seconds he will stop struggling and
hang quietly. With the edge of the
palm of your free hand (or with a
pipe or stick), give a quick
"chopping" blow to the back of its
neck. This blow will kill the
rabbit quickly without pain.
Some people prefer dislocating
the neck to kill a rabbit. The
operation is faster than the
blow to the neck and well suited
to the commercial rabbit raiser.
Hold the rabbit by the hind legs
with one hand. The thumb of the
other hand is placed on the neck
just behind the ears, with the
fingers grasping the neck.
Pressing down on the thumb while
quickly pulling the rabbit
upwards dislocates the neck.
Next, hang the rabbit by
one of the hind legs using
a piece of rope or twine,
or by putting a large nail
through the hind leg.
After this, cut
off the head,
front feet, and
the one hind foot
not attached by
rope or nail.
Now, cut the skin on the inside of the
leg of the foot attached by the rope or
nail. Continue this cut to the tail
and up the other leg.
Peel the skin off both hind legs
and cut the tail off. Start
pulling the skin down.
Continue pulling the skin down
and completely off the body.
Now, with your knife, slit the
body of the rabbit up the middle
of the belly, but do not cut
To finish, remove everything
inside except the kidneys, liver
and heart, which are good to eat.
Cut up the carcass or cook whole.
Tanning a Rabbit Skin
In the introduction to this manual it was said that many
beautiful items could be made with rabbit skins. Rabbit
skins must be tanned (treated so they will be soft and
durable) before they can be used to make hats, rugs, and
other articles. This is not very difficult to do and one
method is given below:
* Take the skin and slit it up the middle. Tack
it on a board or the side of the house with the
fur side down and the skin side up.
* The following day examine the skin to see if it
is drying flat. Remove any patches of fat or meat.
Let the skin dry completely.
* After the skin is dry, soak it in clean, cool water.
Change the water several times. When the skin is
soft, lay it over a pole or board and work over
the skin side with a coarse file or dull knife to
remove any tissue, flesh or fat. This will also
remove any grease or oil. All the fat and oil
must be out of the skin before continuing.
* Now put the skin in warm water with 30gm (about
1oz) of soda or borax to the gallon. Get soda or
borax at the pharmacy. Add a little soap to help
remove the grease and clean the skin. Wash the
skin in this mixture and then remove the skin.
Squeeze the water out of the skin slowly and
* Wash the skin in a little gasoline which will
remove the last bits of dirt and grease.
* Now the skin is ready to be preserved with chemicals
(tanned). You will need about .45kg (1 lb)
of ammonia alum (ammonium aluminum sulfate) or
potash alum (potassium aluminum sulfate) to
dissolve in one gallon of water. After this,
add about 110gm (4oz) washing soda and about
225gm (8oz) of salt in 1/2 gallon of water.
Pour the soda-salt-water mixture slowly into the
alum-water mixture while stirring well.
* Take about a cup of this mixture and add baking
flour until you make a thin paste. Tack out
the skin smoothly with the fur side down. Put
the paste on the skin side about 1/2cm (1/4 in)
thick. Lay a piece of paper or cloth over it.
* The next day scrape off most of the paste and
put some more on again. Repeat this for two
more days (Repeat for only one more day if the
skin is from a young rabbit).
Now put another layer of paste on and leave it
for four days.
Finally, scrape off the paste and wash the skin in
a gallon of water with about 30gm (1oz) of soda
or borax. Rinse the skin in cool water. Squeeze
out all the water and stretch the skin in all
directions. Pull the skin side back and forth
over the edge of a board. Much of the success
in making a soft skin depends upon this repeated
work. After you have worked the skin for a
long time it will become soft and dry. It is
now ready to be made into beautiful rugs, hats,
handbags or collars for dresses.
Detailed step-by-step instructions for building a wood
hutch with a sheet metal roof are presented first.
Following are a few sketches and notes on a variation on
this basic hutch design, made with a wood frame and bamboo
sides and roof. Both hutches provide good living and
breeding space for rabbits.
Wood Hutch with Metal Roof
VITA Volunteer George R. Clark has prepared these construction
steps from plans provided by Harlan Attfield.
Some construction tips: Be sure all edges on floor are
flush, so all rabbit droppings fall to the ground.
Where wire netting is fastened to posts, turn wire edges
down to avoid injury to the rabbits.
Wood and Bamboo Hutch
Assemble a teak frame. Attach a wire mesh
floor (1 x 1cm / 1/2 x 1/2" squares).
* Nail full-length strips of bamboo along the back
* Nail double walls of bamboo strips to form each
divider between cages, and single walls of bamboo
strips at each end of the hutch.
* In this hutch, nest boxes made from wood crates
have been built right into the outside wall of
each of the end cages.
* To make a roof, split bamboo lengths into halves, chip
out the "nodes" with a hammer, paint the inside surfaces
with a waterproofing substance like creosote or
solignum, and nail down onto the top of the hutch frame
in an interlocking pattern (shown above). Make the
bamboo lengths long enough to overlap the front and
back of the hutch.
* After nailing down the bottom bamboo pieces of the
roof, you can either nail each top piece to the bottom
ones, or lay all. the top pieces into place without
nailing, and hold them permanently in place by nailing
every half meter or so through two or three half-sections
of bamboo laid along the length of the hutch over the
Frame a door to cover the entire front of each cage,
and cover with bamboo strips nailed into each frame.
Attach the doors to the hutch with two 4" hinges each
and a latch for each.
Turn your rabbit manure accumulation into a home for one
of the farmer's greatest friends -- the earthworm.
Growing worms is easy and the advantages are many. Rabbit
manure and waste feed falling through the wire make good
food for earthworms.
Dig pits or place shallow bins below the hutch floors, and
stock them with worms. The worms will consume and compost
the pellets, creating finely ground fertilizer of the very
Bins or shallow pits can be formed from cement, cinder
blocks, or lumber (2 x 12") and are sunk a few inches into
the ground. Since worms breed best at temperatures above
4.5 [degrees] C (40 [degrees]), pits should be sunk low enough to insure
against soil temperatures colder than this during the fall.
During winter the worms will slow down or become dormant.
The colony will quickly re-activate during the spring when
the soil temperature rises.
Bins or pits should be a few centimeters or inches larger
than the actual size of the hutch so they will catch every
"Pit-run" worms are economical to start with and are
obtainable from earthworm growers and many rabbit raisers.
To start a "worm farm" lay down a starter mix of 50 percent
rabbit manure and 50 percent peat moss or fine compost. If
moles are a problem, lcm (1/2") square wire mesh can be
used to line the bottom and sides of the pit. A few inches
of crushed limestone can be placed at the bottom of the pit
to correct manure acidity and provide a porous base for
Keep the pits moist by sprinkling with a little water.
Some rabbit and worm growers make a habit of emptying the
water crocks directly into the worm bins when freshening
the rabbits' water supply. The only other work involved
is levelling the pits as the compost "grows" and forking
over the bin contents every 2 or 3 weeks to keep it loose.
When the bins get too full of worms some of them should be
forked out (a shovel will cut the worms), and deposited in
the garden, flower beds, or greenhouse, or they can be sold.
I have compiled a short and brief guide for breeding and rearing rabbits for meat. I will do my best here to help those who have never bred table rabbits before and I'll write from experience but you will learn with time and experience. For those who have never kept or bred rabbits before it is advisable to start only with one doe and one buck and if you feel that you can manage then you can always keep a doe from a litter as rabbits can multiply as an alarming rate if not responsibly monitored. Im not going to paint everything as being perfect and Im going to tell you the good and also the bad points.
FACT!! NEW ZEALANDS & CALIFORNIANS CAN HAVE UP TO TEN IN A LITTER !! OUR AVERAGE IS BETWEEN 7 - 10.
Have you space to rear the young? Have you space when you need separate the young doe's from the bucks? Have you space to separate the bucks so they wont fight?? You may have ten young kits - and that is only from one doe.
Genetics & Breeding rules.
Rabbits are prolific breeders, They produce eggs according the matings, If you breed her on a wednesday - TAKE HER TO THE BUCK - NEVER PUT HIM IN HER TERRITORY AS SHE WILL ATTACK HIM - Leave them for an hour, And then on the Thurs morning take her back to the buck and she may concieve one or two more kits. She will raise her back end up and lift her tail for the buck to mate her if you watch from a distance.
Meat rabbits can be bred from five months onwards. Once a doe reaches maturity she can become narky and may bite, a mating usually will calm her nature as she wants to breed and this is why she is acting like this, Never punish them for this as she is only following her instinct and this is to breed, to produce and to rear. In my experience once a doe has kits she will always want to have kits, She can actually get depressed and stressed if she does not have kits to care for and raise so once you have a litter you will need to continue. The best way to do this is once she has her first litter - you wait until your kits are four weeks old and then take her back to the buck and mate her again, When you are weaning your litter you can remove the kits and leave one kit with her, that way she still has a kit to care for. You can remove the kit ten days before she is due to kindle - They are usually always 30 - 31 days pregnancy. Some doe's will build a nest a week before she is due to kindle and others will literally do it an hour before, For example the New Zealand doe I have at the moment has built her nest and she is not due for another five days. They will build up a layer of hay / straw / paper shredding into the place where she has chosen, She will also pull out her fur so do not be alarmed if you see her pulling out her fur, She will not usually do this until the day she is due. It is advisable to have a nest box/sleeping area that is built into the hutch you are using but alternatively suggested that you supply a box two days before she kindles and she may use the box if she wants to.
Once the kits are born - this will usually happen at night and you will be lucky if you ever witness it, It is not advisable to sit and watch if it is an inexperienced mother as you may put her off. They will be covered in a layer of her fur and in the nest, You must make sure that they dont fall out of the nest and into the main area as they will get cold and die quite quickly. Do not crowd the mother and her kits in the first few days and don't handle them, Unless one falls out and you need to place it back in the nest. You can check up on them and make sure they all have little full bellies. They are born blind, deaf and bald, If the doe only has one or two kits they may die as they need the heat of the other babies to keep them all warm and the right temperature, So dont feel bad! This is nature. Some first time mothers may also ignore their first litter but with these particular breeds its not that common - they are excellent mother. They do not sit on the nest like a hen, In the wild the mother will not sit with her litter either, She will be near by but not in the nest. She carries a scent but her kits dont and if she was in the wild a predator will be able to smell her and may attract predators to her litter, Again this is nature so dont be alarmed.
The rules are quite simple in raising for meat. You will be starting with one doe and one buck - Who are unrelated. You can mate mother to son and daughter to father BUT NEVER BROTHER TO SISTER. So if your doe has kits, You can keep a young doe and mate it back to its sire. You must keep breeding records to know exactly who is who and also to make sure you wont have an accidental mating between siblings - THIS IS ONE OF MY CONDITIONS OF SALE. Too severe inbreeding weakens their health and also decreases the size of the rabbits so your meat rabbits will not grow as big and vigorous as they should be.
I feed my rabbits pellets, You can order yours at most agricultural stores - They look like thin calf nuts. These are the bast and most inexpensive.
Young kits should not be fed any greens or veg as this will cause scour and make them sick, Hay can be provided. And for your adults you can give occassional treats of grass and thistles.
If you have any more questions or if I have missed anything please email me and Il try and answer any questions you may have.
There are conditions of sale, This is to protect the health of the breed - such as breeding before five months of age, Keeping breeding records and if selling or swapping a rabbit you must pass on a full pedigree of the particular rabbits, This is to protect against inbreeding, You will be asked to sign a document. I offer full back up and support to all the rabbits I have bred.