A Complete Guide to Breeding Rabbits and Successfully Raising Their Young
What started as a short article turned into a mini-book, so I put a quick navigation section in below for you to easily find what you need.
Breeding Basics | Why? | Mating Your First Litter | Age Chart | Checking Your Breeding Pair Over | Taking the Doe to the Buck | Fertility & Gestation Cycle | Raising The Rate of Conception | Checking Pregnancy | Gestation Period | The Nesting Box | The New Litter Arrives | Extra Care for the Doe | Taking Care of a Litter | Weaning and Housing a Litter | Conclusion |
Breeding rabbits is a wonderful experience filled with joys and tears. While we recommend that most rabbit owners get their pets spayed, there are those that want to keep their rabbit intact for one of many reasons. Whatever that reason may be, from competing to personal ethics, breeding is one thing that can happen between bunnies, whether intentional or not. “Breed like Rabbits” is a saying with a lot of truth to it, in fact rabbits have litters of up to 14 babies with only a 28-34 day gestation period. For comparison, people have 9 months and African Elephants and 22 months! Needless to say, rabbit breeding and pregnancies should not be taken lightly. The first question to ask yourself is:
Why do you want to breed your rabbit?
There are many reasons to breed your rabbit, you may have pedigree stock and want to refine the lineage for showmanship, you could be starting a a meat herd, perhaps you wan to tap into you local pet market or even breed Angora Rabbits to start spinning angora wool. Whatever the reason, you need to make sure it’s the right choice for you. You could potentially be responsible for up to 14 brand new lives. after all. Raising babies will require a lot of attention and potentially some heartache too, so you have to be prepared for that.
Mating your first litter
Mating your first pair can be an intimidating process, but with proper care and advice(which you’ll find on this page) you should be able to find some success and not stress you bunnies out. Rabbits, like all mammals must reach sexual maturity before their ready to breed. The Chart Below details what age each type of breed is ready to breed at.
Below is a chart to identify the sexual maturity age, if you’re unsure of your rabbits type, you can check our Rabbit Breed Directory.
|Breed Type||Minimum Breeding Age|
Checking your Breeding Pair Over:
After ensuring you breeding pair is of the correct age, you’ll need to check both the Male(henceforth called the ‘Buck’) and the Female(henceforth called the Doe). If you’re unsure of how to determine a rabbits gender, we created an article you can read here. Later in this page we will cover specifically choosing attributes in your breeding stock, but for now we’ll cover what signs you need to check for prior to breeding your rabbits.
First let’s take a look at the doe. She should be at an ideal weight for her breed(which you can check here). She should be energetic, not lethargic or tired. Check her coat of fur over, it should have a nice sheen, not be patchy or excessively shedding. Next, you’ll need to check her vulva, to do this it should be purple-red in color, not pale and pink. This indicates that she is in heat, the correct part of her breeding cycle. These things considered she’s is probably in good health and alright to breed.
Next, the buck will need to be examined. Again, the buck should be energetic and not lethargic. His coat should be full and have a great sheen, his weight should be ideal, too fat or thin he may not be fertile or energetic enough to breed. His eyes should be bright and full of energy too. Next You’ll need to check his testicles, they should be descended completely down into the scrotum and they are full and large. If this is the case, he is a good buck to use. If you’re unsure about your bucks testicles, you can read more in our Common Problems Section below.
Taking the Doe to the Buck:
Once both of the prospective parents have been inspected and passed(ie are healthy and are capable of rearing babies), they are ready for a sexual encounter. Always take the doe to the buck, rabbits are very territorial and the doe may act defensively should a foreign rabbit be introduced to her territory. First of all, NEVER leave the mating pair unattended, there is no telling what they might do or how they might behave in unfamiliar territory.
Put the doe in with the buck and observe the mating. Mating happens in the blink of an eye. The doe will raise her hind quarters, the male will go at it then sort of, roll off the doe backward or onto his side, and that’s it – you can take the doe out and put her back into her own pen.
The Doe’s Fertility cycle & Gestation Period
Some mammals only have one or two fertile periods each year, others have a few day window every 28 day cycle. For Rabbits, this isn’t really the case, they are fertile basically constantly. There are some that say there is 4 days every 12 that she won’t conceive, but either way, a doe is fertile most of the time.
In fact, her eggs dropping is stimulated by sexual interaction. This means about 8-10 hours after a sexual encounter, her eggs will drop, this gives a prime window for a high chance of conception.
Revisiting and Raising the Chance of Conception
As Rabbits Eggs dropping are triggered by sexual stimulation, it is ideal to take the doe back to the buck 8-10 hours after the first mating, this will give an extremely high chance of conception. Also if she has urinated in between mating, there is a chance the males semen will have washed away. A second mating can act as insurance against this too.
You may be asking yourself, “Is my rabbit pregnant?”. Just because the above steps have been followed, doesn’t mean there has necessarily been a conception. They are rabbits, but they still don’t have a 100% conception rate. There are several ways to check pregnancy, some are less invasive than others, but by using a combination of these, you’ll be able to determine if she’s carrying or not.
Weigh your doe after the second mating and take note, over the next two weeks, weigh her every few days. If she is gaining weight despite not having any changes in her diet, she may be pregnant(eg if she has gained 1lb in 2 weeks). this isn’t a guaranteed method, but it is a good indicator.
About 10 days after the mating, put the doe back in with the buck and watch her reaction. If shes noisy, making growls and whines and generally resisting him, this is an indicator of pregnancy.
Pregnant does will build nests. They do this using a combination of their own fur and available straw. 26 days after the mating, if you get some straw and leave it in her hutch, she may see it as an opportunity to build a nest. If she picks it up and carries it around with her, there’s a good chance she is pregnant.
This method involves actually feeling for the young. 10-14 days after the mating/ Place the doe belly-side-down on a flat surface and hold her down by the scruff of her neck with one hand, placing your free hand under her belly from the tail end. Gently feel around the side of her belly, if she is pregnant you should feel marble like bulbs in her belly, this is where the young are growing inside of her, so be very gentle. If you are heavy handed this is not recommended as you can kill the babies inside her the other methods can be sufficient for determining pregnancy.
Gestation, and checking up
Rabbits have a total gestation period of 28-34 days. All things going well, your doe should have gained weight, been pulling hair from her crop for a nest and been acting different to the way she normally would. Three weeks in and you should know with certainty that she is pregnant, it’s now that being prepared pays off.
Time for the nesting Box
The Nesting Box is a crucial element for raising a litter successfully. It provides a safe environment for a nest to be built in order for your doe to give birth. Correctly designed it should allow the does to enter and exit without harming her babies, while protecting them from the elements. It will also allow the babies to make their first foray into the world, but still jump back into the safety and warmth of their siblings. In the last few days leading up to your bunny giving birth, she will need a nesting box in order to successfully and safely raise her litter. The Best day to add the nesting box is the 27th day after mating. She will combine hair she pulls from her crop (her ‘chin’) with Straw, which you’ll need to provide. Open Top Nesting boxes work the best, make sure it is sized appropriately for your rabbit’s breed.
Warm Weather Boxes
If it’s expected for temperatures to be above 50°F(10°C), you’ll need to set up your nesting box to ensure the mother and her babies don’t over heat. In the bottom of the box, put a layer of wood shavings about an inch (2.5 cm) thick. Make sure to use wood shavings, not sawdust. On Top of the Shavings, fill the box with a few handfuls of straw – it should be fluffy and soft, not stemmy and hard. Coarse hay will probably be eaten and will not mix well with the doe’s pulled fur. If the weather is really hot(like hot to us as people) then limit the amount of straw, this will give better air flow through the pulled fur.
Cold Weather Boxes
If temperatures are expected to fall below 50°F(10°C), the nesting box will need to be optimized for maximum dryness and warmth. Start by adding a layer, 3-4 inches (7.5-10 cm) thick of wood shavings, make sure these are shavings, not sawdust. After laying down this base layer, pack in as much soft and fluffy straw as you can, without making it impenetrable the Does should still be able to burrow into it. An easy way to do this is to pack the box to the brim, then burrow into the box yourself using your hands, to make a ‘hand burrow. then fluff the straw lightly.
Where do I get all this?
For your convenience, we’ve left links to a “BestRabbitHutch” approved Nesting Box, shavings and Alfalfa Hay below.
Don’t leave getting a nesting box to the last minute as if it’s delivery gets delayed for whatever reason, you’ll wind up heart broken if the mother con’t raise a little without one.
The New Litter Arrives
The doe will need some serenity prior to giving birth and for some time afterwards. This means that Small Children should be supervised and animals that would normally be ok around your rabbits(dogs, cats etc) should be kept away from the doe as much as possible. WHile it sounds brutal to us as people, disturbing the rabbit routine can result in the doe killing her young or abandon them we cannot stress how vital it is to keep a serene and tranquil environment.
It’s natural to be curious to see and check on the litter. If you place the box in a spot that you can view the open edge from, but doesn’t expose the litter to the elements, then you’ll be abel to see in. There are very few circumstances where the litter should be touched at all. We really recommend to just let nature run it’s course with the litter with minimal human intervention.
After the doe has given birth, give the new mother a treat such as a slice of apple, tiny bit of carrot or lettuce leaf. Its a nice gesture the new mother will appreciate after such a taxing experience. She will still be in and out of the nesting box, so don’t worry if she hops out to take a break from time to time.
Extra Feed for the Doe
As any mammalian mother will tell you, giving birth is just the beginning of the child rearing experience. Over the next few weeks (and she should count herself lucky it’s only this long) she will need to nurse and nurture her young, preparing then for life outside the nesting box. As usual she should have unlimited access to pellets and coarse hay, but giving her extra treats like apple slices, leafy greens and other nutritious supplementary feeds is recommended, this will give her shorter recovery and allow her to feed her young more effectively. If giving high sugar snacks, be sure not to over do it!
Caring for the Litter
After about 10 days of weaning, the new baby bunnies will open their eyes for the first time, after about 16 days, they will spring out of the box, ready for the new world.. Before this, make sure to check on them daily for any complications. Ensure the litter is kept together in one place in the nest, if any have dies(this happens, its normal, be ready for it), you’ll need to remove them if the Doe does not. Make sure to stop giving any greens or treats once the young leave the nest, these sorts of things can make them very ill.
Weaning and housing the litter
The ‘normal and best’ practice is to wean the litter at 8 weeks. Nowadays, with the advent of the highly nutritious rabbit pellet, the young can be weaned at around 6 or 7 weeks, with the does rebred at around 4 weeks after birth(more about this below). While we still recommend weanign at 8 weeks, if you’re doing a meat farm or a more intensive operation, 6-7 weeks are excusable.
Don’t remove the entire lot of young at once. Take the largest of them out one or two at a time, this will give the little ones time to get more milk, which they were competing with the larger ones for. If you do this over the course of about a week, it will be a much easier transition for both the mother and young.
It is important to have grow out pens(at he very very least two) for your new litter. They can all be kept in one hutch for up to 3 months, at which point you’ll have to separate the genders and give each male buck his own hutch. It really helps here if you can pre-sell them (if that’s your angle) to save on having a whole bunch of hutches that remain empty a lot fo the year. If you’re raising as a fancier, you may want to have a whole bunch of hutches to maintain a larger herd. If you’re raising for meat, this is the point where you begin to cull the young for the freezer and keep the best of the stock (if any stand out) the help breed more strength and quality into the herd.
If you follow the above advice, you will have no problems in breeding a successful litter. Keep in mind it is a large undertaking and should nto be taken lightly, if you’re not going to consider the health and well being of the parents
However, it doesn’t stop there, to breed a herd for particular qualities, or with specific goal in mind you’ll need to arm yourself with the knowledge to do so, we’ve added more below for you to go really in depth with rabbit breeding, including resources you can print out to use. Further on we’ve created a common problems section, that will help you tackle any complications you may have along the way. If you feel like we’ve missed anything, or you have any question. please get in touch with me and we’ll do our best to help.
Succession & Creating a Stronger, Healthier Herd
If you’re going to take this seriously(and you should!) and breed a proper and strong herd, you’ll need more knowledge that just what we’ve mentioned above. You’ll need to understand how to select the best rabbits to breed, which rabbits to cross and when, what qualities to look for depending on what you want from your herd and how to keep records. It is a challenging hobby, but it is incredibly rewarding, fascinating and highly educational and great if you have kids too. By planning your herd and correct stock selection, you can breed strong and healthy rabbits that make the cuddliest pets, the most stalwart competitors or the most efficient livestock. We have friends that have the descendants of the rabbits their grandfather raised on during the great war as a child – incredible!
Crossbred rabbits basically have no value as breeding stock, it’s difficult to predict the outcome of breeding them. Whilst crossbreeding may make great pets, or great meat or wool producers, the actual rabbit for breeding stock is basically worthless(unless you’re trying to create a new breed).
It is optimal to pick pedigree stock to begin with, any pedigree should have papers that come with it. These act as a seal of authenticity to guarantee their breeding history and that they adhere to the standards of the breed. Pedigreed does not mean registered. A registered rabbit is not only Pedigreed, Mature and Purebred, it is also examined by an American Rabbit Breeders Association(ARBA) Registrar, who needs t inspect it for any defects. The Inspector will sign an affidavit to prove the animal authentic, proving it meets at least the MINIMUM requirements of the breed. These papers are not saying they are the best in show however, remember this.
When choosing your foundation stock it it important to understand what it is you’re looking for as well as the standard the breed must adhere to. While papers help and understanding of what to look for pays dividends.
What to look for in Breeders
The selection of your breeding stock is one of the most important decisions you can make. Before you can even begin to analyze which rabbits you intend to breed, you need to ask yourself what it is you hope to achieve out of breeding rabbits. Below we’ve made a table of some of the preferable attributes to consider depending on which avenue you intend to go down:
Breeding for the Pet Market
Above all else, the most important thing to select in your rabbits, is what people actually want to buy. If your local market likes small, fluffy Fuzzy Lops, but you have a herd of Satins. It can help to do a bit of market research first, and go around your local pet stores see what they have in stock and talk to the staff to see how long the current bunnies have been there and how often they get bought or run out of stock. You can also ask if they would consider getting a different breed in and if so, what would it be? Do they have any requests? All of these and more can be asked to determine what the best course of action is. If all your pet stores ask for different breeds, you could either set about breeding each one(this is going big time though) or find a breed that fits all the things enjoyed about the other breeds(this isn’t always possible though!). You could also consider crossing two breeds then selecting which of the litter is suitable for each market. This is a little bit of a gamble though.
We have been breeding our herd for pets with success, it isn’t terribly lucrative, but does pay for the feed with a bit of change to reinvest into better equipment and caring for the other animals.
Whilst the principles of Fanciers can be applied across all of the reasons for breeding, Fanciers tend to take particular care in adhering to the standard of a breed. Each breed has a particular standard mandated by the American Rabbit Breed Association (or ARBA, for short). Each of the standard for the breed can be found on the specifics breeds Club website. We have created a Rabbit Breed Directory where you can find each breed, its ARBA shortcode, and a link to the Breed Clubs website.
There are several determining factors when it comes to choosing for meat selection wiht rabbits, and while it would be great to perfect all of them, someitmes theres a small tradeoff, over tiem you can really refine down, but it take many generations. Some of the factors include.
Feed to Weight Gain Ratio: This is where the amount fo feed is proportional to a particular amount of muscle weight gained by the rabbit. This si typically correclated with grwoth rate.
Growth Rate: This si how long the rabbits take to grow to their optimal slaughter weight, obviously, the faster the better.
Taste: Nobody wants to eat anything unpalatable, while rabbit is considered a delicacy in some places, different breeds and even individuals have different tastes. This is due to their feed, living conditions, muscle density, weight, fat and other factors. Obviously it’s hard to tell how a rabbit will taste when it’s alive, but the best determining factor is how the litter of a pair differed in compared to a different litter. If the tatse is worse, continue succession of the nicer tasting breed.
Honestly, we can’t really speak for this, we have never kept angora rabbits and don’t have a great desire to. While they can be very lucrative, have a great nature and their wool is among the best in the world, they have never been on particular interest to us. This si what information we ahve gathered from friends and family:
Wool Fineness: The wool needs to be an optimal thickness to spin, some wools blend better with different materials when spinning, so take this into consideration when selecting the breeding stock.
Color: Obviously the best wool is all natural and un-dyed, if you’re selling wool or yarn that is 100% natural, then it has a higher value, also they may be more valuable to others when reselling them.
Wool Growth Rate: The more wool you can get off your stock, the better. This means that Bunnies with faster replenishing coats are ideal for wool production. On the contrary, maybe slower coats will be better for pets as they don’t require as much maintenance.
Quantity of Wool: If possible, select for the most wool production, thicker is usually better
Quality of Wool: The Higher the quality of the wool, the better.
Selection is the art of choosing the attributes (as outlined above) in each rabbit that you pick to breed with, as well as selecting rabbit health, in the youngsters. These young need to be set aside rather than sold or culled and cannot be neutered. How well you pick will determine if you’re an actual rabbit breeder or just a rabbit raiser.
True breeders do more than just follow some steps to breed any two rabbits together, they are experts, master in selecting the best of the best, keeping their rabbits in top health and shape. True Breeders are knowledgeable in raising young and everything about the standard of their breed, feed their rabbits correctly and provide them with everything they need to be happy and healthy.
They do all of this, and they maintain and even improve the quality of the entire breed. Each generation improves on the last, bringing it to new excellence and heights, new standards and qualities that have never before been seen in history.
Methods of Breeding
There are many different breeding systems. There’s Crossbreeding, Inbreeding, Line Breeding and Outcrossing. Which is the best one and what should you use…and when? Let’s define which each of these means so we’re clear on terminology.
Crossbreeding: This is the breeding of two different breeds. Occasionally synergies ca be found when crossbreeding two particular rabbits that highlights particular attributes. often times these can’t be replicated by re-breeding the crossbred litter, so this technique is very beneficial in that regard. Generally speaking this is best left ot the experts, though if you want a really efficient herd, you can try your hand at crossing two purebreds to see what result you get. There are some well known crosses that have great results.
Inbreeding: This involves breeding close relatives such and mother and son, cousins or brother and sister. While in people this can have some…awkward consequences, in Rabbits it can be quite the opposite.
Line Breeding: This is another form of inbreeding that follows a line of descent, so basically skipping a generation or relative, examples of this are aunt and nephew or grandfather and granddaughter.
Outcrossing: This is a form of breeding that involves bringing in an outside/unrelated animal into the breeding line. This can mean bringing in a new rabbit to your herd, or borrowing one from somebody else’s. This can bring in new attributes that you’re having difficulty breeding in, our just new blood to help dilute the genetics a little. Most professional breeders use outcrossing at some point, no matter how much they don’t want to.
Breeding the Doe Again
In days of old, 8 weeks were traditionally given prior to weaning the litter. This is said to give the doe time to finish one litter, recover and start the next. If you’re breeding as a pet breeder or a fancier, this is definitely still the way to go. However if you’re breeding of efficiency, ie Meat, you can actually re-breed at the 4 weeks after birth mark, which actually puts less strain on the mothers body if this is going to be her ‘full time gig’. This is because the mammary glands stay in good production and her body doesn’t have to go through rapid weight fluctuations. If following this practice, be sure to wean the litter at 6 to 7 weeks, just so the mother doe can get a bit of rest in between litters. Doing this, you’ll also find the rate of conception in much higher for the Doe too.
Never stop learning, we’ll continue to add more articles to the site and content to this page. But it pays to familiarize yourself with your breed and the standards, what to look for, why and what you want to breed. It takes years and generations to become a true rabbit breeder, but the rewards are great and the communities surrounds rabbits are always filled with some of the best people you can possibly meet.
Below are some common problems you may face when breeding rabbits. This is by no means exhaustive. We’ll continue to add to this as we can.
Some times a buck can have issues with their genitalia. If looking at your Bucks genitals if he has any of the following, he may be sterile:
- He has only one testicle
- One or both testicles are drawn into his groin
- One or both testicles have a withered look
Nothing Happens When Mating
Sometimes when attempting to mate, the female will not take to the male or he will simply not take to her. Maybe he just sit in the corner and pays her no mind, or she just ignores or challenges his advances. Anything like this can prove to be a problem when breeding.
If the buck is apprehensive, you could try a second if you have a suitable one. It is unheard of to find two apprehensive bucks in a row. If you have only one Buck you can try placing him on the does back, he’ll probably get the idea. If this doesn’t work, try this, leave the doe in the bucks pen, and take the buck tot he does pen (provided there isn’t still a litter in there) and leave them swapped overnight. The buck should pick up on the doe’s scent during the night. Take the doe to the buck in her pen again and he should now take to her. If all of this doesn’t work to put it plainly, the buck is probably too fat and/or lazy. You should probably slim him down by reducing his feed intake. You can check optimal food intake in out feeding guide.
It’s different story is the Doe isn’t taking to the buck however. it is 100 times more likely to be the doe in a situation like this. She may cower in the corner or flatten right down, perhaps attempt to climb a wall. If she is bouncing around avoid his advances, watch her tail, if it twitches, she may just be teasing him first but is still interested. It is best to take her out and try later or try swapping pens overnight. There are forced breeding methods, but we don’t really condone these.
Babies Outside The Nesting Box
Occasionally a baby will die in the nesting box. This is a normal thing, perhaps it had a birth defect, perhaps it was too weak to survive. Sometime it is preventable, check for the following preventable causes(and their solutions).
|The nesting material is too thin, causing babies to freeze to death||add mreo ensitng hay, make sure babies are grouped together, add any stray pulled fur.|
|Temperatures are high, causing the babies to overheat.||Remove some of the nesting materials, run a small fan on low near the hutch to increase airflow|
|Dead babies are smaller than rest of the litter||They may well have had a birth defect or were simply too small or weak to get sufficient nutrition|
|No Apparent Reason||The babies could have been sick and the mother removed them to prevent illness spreading to the rest of her litter.|
It is possible to swap babies form one little to another if two does have been bred at hte same time. If one litter is much larger than the other, you can even them out by swapping the babies. Keeping handling to a minimum, this should only be done once. Add the babies to the nest box when the mum isn’t there so they have a little bit fo time to pick up the scent, and that it, most mums will willingly accept foster babies. Just make sure they’re withing a few days of age as their foster family, our they will either be too dominant or struggle in the fight for milk.
Weather and Temperature Issues
Let’s face it, there are factors outside of our control. Thankfully, there are plenty of options for us to resort to to avoid letting these decide the fate of our baby bunnies.
Ceramic Bulbs: These act as passive heaters that create an ambient temperature that gets projected onto everything the infrared light touches
Electric Heat Pads: These are nifty little devices that put a gentle heat out constantly, these are great for both outside of nesting boxes and to put under them
Small Fan: These are great to increase air circulation in hot hutches or environments. If you live anywhere the temperature gets above 70°F(21°C) and you plan on breeding around this time, you should have one on hand.
For your convenience we’ve put links to some BestRabbitHutch approved items below.
Tags: Baby Rabbits, Pregnant Doe, Pregnant rabbit, Raising Kits
Categorised in: Advice