Bunny Babies! How to Breed Rabbits(And Baby Care)

So you want to learn how to breed rabbits. There is nothing quite like the joy that comes from breeding rabbits. People have many reasons for doing so, some of us do it to bring in a bit of extra income, some love to do ARBA approved rabbit shows, some people breed meat herds, while others do it just for the joy it brings them and their family.

Whatever your reasons are, it’s important you enter this monumental task fully equipped. So I put together this all-in-one resource to be a the most complete and definitive guide on how to breed rabbits.

This page is a part of our complete series on how to raise and care for rabbits.

Quick Navigation:

|  Breeding Basics  |  Why?   |  Intentions  |

Determining Rabbit Gender  | The Physical  |  Sizing  |  Behavior  |

Breeding Hutch Configuration  |  Hutch Sizing  |  Heating Pad  |  Nesting Box  |  Feeder  |  Water Bottles  |

|  Breeding a Better Herd  | Foundation StockChoosing Future Breeders | Pets | Fanciers | MeatWool | Selective Breeding | Methods of BreedingOptimal Doe Breeding Timing | Summary |

Breeding Process  |  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 |

|  Common Problems  | Buck’s Genitals | Nothing Happens When Mating | Babies Outside Of Nesting Box | Foster Does | Weather and Temperature Issues |

Basics

Raising Baby RabbitsBreeding 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, 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?”.

Why do you want to breed your rabbits?

Prior to even considering anything related to breeding rabbits, you must think of your reasons why. Simply wanting to have some cute little buns around isn’t really a good enough reason. Breeding your rabbits is a big undertaking, and not one that should be treated lightly.

The entire gestation period is full 28-34 days where you need to be attentive and check on them regularly. While rabbits in the wild manage this all on their own, domestic rabbits a re a bit more fragile and require special attention. Correct food and nutrition must be given and you can’t leave for extended period(ie overnight) when your doe is pregnant.

Deep Thought

There are many reasons to breed rabbits, 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. You may even want 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. Often times kits will die shortly after birth and you need to be able to handle this maturely and responsibly. This si not a task for small children to handle alone.

Intentions Afterwards

Pet Rabbit Social SituationsYou also need to consider what you’re going to do with the litter after breeding. Are you going to give them away? Sell them? Build a herd? Raise for show? There are a tonne of things you can do with your new family members – but remember that they’re your responsibility. You can’t go releasing them into the wild and you need to have a solid plan.

We pre-sell our litters to ethical pet stores and privately to the community after we screen and train the new potential owners. Typicalyl when they ask us how to breed rabbits, we tell them “Don’t.” hah.

We will always oversell the expecting number, but still accept responsibility if we are left with kits longer than we intend, so we keep spare hutches and equipment on hand to make sure we can separate them from their mother, and begin training them to be lovable pets in the hopes of selling them into the future.

You will need to be prepared to do the same. As cute at they are, having up to 15 rabbits(kits + parents) is a big, big task and can be overwhelming for a lot of people. I do this as a part of our income and have a lot of time to focus on our mini homestead. You need to make sure you can do the same – t doesn’t mean you have to quit your job, but maybe have to defer Netflix for a little bit to take care of your young buns.

Male Rabbit (Buck) or Female Rabbit (Doe) – Determining Rabbit Gender

So you’re still asking how to breed rabbits? Not intimidated? Good, let’s continue. Obviously you’re going to need a male and female rabbits. It can be hard to tell the difference between genders without closer examination.

Determining your rabbit gender needn’t be a complicated task. In order to take complete and proper care of your furry friend it’s important to know if they’re a boy or a girl. Use our short little guide to help you determine the sex of your bunny.

The Sayings Are True

There have been many jokes and tales in popular culture about the breeding habits of rabbits. These jokes have been so prevalent that there is a certain phrase that mentions ‘acting like rabbits’ (or ‘at it like rabbits‘). However, what is not often known is the differences in gender among rabbits and how one can immediately spot those differences. There is also not a wealth of information about what these differences in gender in terms of behavior, temperament and mating patterns. So I thought I’d do a bit of a write up here to explain the best way to determine your rabbits gender..

So how do you tell?

How to Breed Rabbits GenderAlthough gender distinction may seem blatantly obvious, rabbit genitalia has a couple of slight nuances that makes the task a bit more…difficult than it can be for other fellow mammalia. Simply examining a rabbit’s private region will not be a sufficient to determine the differences in gender between the two for a few reasons. One reason is because sometimes, in immature male rabbits, their testicles haven’t dropped because they are not at sexual maturity at that point.

Another reason that makes it difficult to decipher the gender of rabbits is because, when not engaged in sexual activity, the male’s penile sheath does not exude itself below the skin of the rabbit. Therefore, it is almost impossible to tell the difference without prompting the rabbit in some way. The most common way of doing so would be to apply light pressure to the animal in order to garner a response that will get it to register that it is being prompted for sexual activity. However, doing so requires a high level of expertise by the handler in order to ensure that the rabbit does not become injured in the process.

Physical Rabbit Gender Examination:
Rabbit Gender Male and Female Bunny side by side

Please note that the pictures above refer to rabbits at full maturity that are being examined for the purposes of determining rabbit gender.

As pictured above, it is immediately obvious how it may be difficult to tell the difference between the two genders based on a face-value inspection. Fortunately, there is one method that you can use to tell the difference between the two genders.

As noted, there is an art to performing this correctly. If you do not push in the correct location and do so in a way that prompts the rabbit in a subtle, yet natural manner, then you will either injure the creature or not see what you need to determine rabbit gender. Thus, it is imperative to use the utmost level of delicacy when determining rabbit gender and examining their genitals.

The above method is the only accurate way to determine rabbit gender. Without doing this, it may be impossible to tell whether or not the rabbit is indeed a male or female. There are a couple fo other things you could try however..

Size Difference:

How to Breed Rabbits SizeWhilst not a firm indicator, male rabbits tend to be smaller than their female counterparts. This is only true for rabbits of the same breed and is by no means a recommended way to determine gender. Size differences can also be due to genetics, nutrition received when growing up, injury in life or countless other factors. Males also have a more rigid, square head. I don’t recommend relying on this method.

Behavioral Differences:

Un-neutered Males get very territorial. Part of this behavior is spraying their hutch, playpen and anything else they consider their territory. Un-spayed female rabbits may exhibit this behavior to as it helps them find a mate, so again, not the best method of telling rabbit gender. Neither gender tends to exhibit these behaviors when they are the only bunny in the family.

Female rabbits exhibit digging behavior. Female rabbits tend to build dens/warrens as a nesting instinct. They’ll protect these nests vigorously and rather aggressively if they feel any threat. They may lunge or grunt at as a warning to you or other female rabbits, showing you’re a bit too close for comfort.

Setting up a Breeding Hutch

Setting up a hutch for breeding purposes is a key step. There are factors like size, material, flooring and layout to consider. More than this, having the right equipment is also a key factor. You’ll need things like more water bottles, a wide feeder, a couple of hay mangers and most importantly a nesting box. If you’re keeping  your rabbits outside in the cold, a heat source is a MUST. We’ll go into this topic in more detail below.

Hutch Selection

Hutch Recommendation (clickable)Confidence Rabbit HutchConfidence 62″ Pet Rabbit Hutch

Female rabbits live with their kits for the first 6 or 7 weeks of their life. As you can imagine, having up to 13 kids in a tiny house can make things a little crowded! Therefore it’s super-duper important to pick the right kind of hutch.

Your mother rabbits’ hutch(like all hutches) should have at least 24 inches in height so you bunny and her young can hop around. But unlike most hutches of 1-2 rabbits, you’ll need to consider up to 13 more little versions of her hopping around. This is only a temporary arrangement, and they won’t be reaching full size so you don’t need a hutch 14 times the size(that would be a whole shed!). Instead you’ll need about one and a half times the size of hutch to house them for this temporary arrangement. If you’re really in a pinch, then the standard size hutch can be tolerated, but ideally you want an XL hutch.

The ideal hutch size for any rabbit is 5 square feet for every 8 pounds of rabbits(weight/8*5), with a minimum size of 5 square feet. So add half again for the ideal mother rabbit hutch size(weight/8*5*1.5).

In saying that, you’ll need an extra hutch to house the young after they split up with their mother, and then individual hutches or cages(depending on your preference) if you plan of keeping any or all of the litter to maturity. This can add up fast, and if you don’t separate the boys and the girls…well, 13 more per female bunny…is…oh you get the idea!.

The Nesting Box

Nesting Box Recommendation (clickable)WARE Rabbit Nesting Box for Rabbit BreedingWARE Wooden Nesting Box

In the wild, rabbits dig burrows into the ground to create a relatively safe haven for their young to develop and grow up. Pet rabbits have the luxury of our care, not to mention they’re a bit more fragile than their wild counterparts.

Like their wild counterparts, they’ll need a way to keep their young safe, warm and secure. For this purpose, as responsible rabbit breeders, we use nesting boxes. You should never let your rabbit just have her babies on straw or in her sleeping box alone. THe kits will get cold and die, or roll out of the little mini-burrow their mother makes, and then get cold and die. Sorry to be so blunt but you need to realize how important this is.

We use the nesting boxes from Ware. They’re a solid design, and a perfect fit for all but the largest bunnies. You’ll want to put a layer of wood shavings on the bottom of the box. Please don’t use sawdust, this is…well..dust, and it will clog baby rabbits noses, causing them to suffocate. Once this is done, mama-rabbit will get the idea. Leave a pile of straws in the hutch nearby as rabbits like to make their own nest, don’t do this for them or else they won’t use the nesting box. As she gets closer to the birth date, she’ll start pulling fur from her crop(the puffy patch below her chin) to really pad out the nesting box. This will make a well insulated, soft environment for her to have her young.

If you’re reading this and don’t have a nesting box yet – don’t fret! You don’t need to add the nesting box until she is 27 days pregnant. If you’re unsure as to when she became pregnant, then put it in early, she’ll do her thing when she’s ready.

Heating Pad

Heating Pad Recommendation (clickable)K&H Manufacturing Small Animal Outdoor Heated Pet PadK&H Manufacturing Small Animal Outdoor Heated Pet Pad

If the climate is really cold where you are keeping your rabbits, its pretty necessary you have a heating pad. While mother rabbit do their best to keep their young warm. They occasionally need to jump of of the nesting box to eat, drink and…poop. Adult rabbits aren’t as sensitive to the cold as their kits, the babies are born with little-to-no fur after all, and thus they may not realize that their young may freeze to death.

I can’t stress the importance of these enough for anybody living in a cold climate that has a pregnant bunny. It’s really irresponsible not to use one.To avoid these unnecessary casualties, it’s recommended a heating pad is used. These are small little devices that gently warm the bottom of the nesting box, meaning that they’re keeping warm whether mom’s around or not.

We personally use the outdoor heating pad by K&H. We don’t always have our mother rabbits outside, but when we do, this robust heating pad keeps our rabbits and their young nice and warm. They’re of solid design, with a thick cable that feeds a hard plastic heating pad containing a 25W element. We use a solar panel and inverter to power ours bank of heaters in the winter, but running on the grid would only cost 7c a day to run all day. The thick cable is strong and ‘chew resistant’, but we still cover ours with a wooden board- just in case.

Appropriate Feeders

Rearing Feeder Recommendation (clickable)Pet Lodge Galvanized FeederK&H Little Giant 7″ Galvanized Rabbit Feeder

At some point, the babies are going to wean off their mothers milk and are going to get hungry for alfalfa pellets. In order to make sure they all have fair and equal access when trying to eat, you’ll need a wide feeder. Feeding bowls get jumped in, spilled, pees and pooped in and are over all quite unhealthy for rabbits. It pays to have something sturdy and durable, that wont get chewed on.

That’s why we use wide, top filling, galvanized, through-hutch feeders. The 7″ wide Galvanized Feeder from Little Giant ticked all the aforementioned boxes. It mounts through a cutout on your hutch, so you can easily fill them form the outside – not disturbing the new mother. It’s suitable for a few of the young to eat out of at a time meaning everybody gets an equal share.

It also has a screen bottom that filters out any feed dust which can lead to choking or blocked nostrils. as well as a sturdy lit that prevents pests and rodents from opening it and getting inside the hutch.

We manage to get away with just one per rearing hutch.

 

Water Bottles

Water Bottle Recommendation (clickable)All Weather Rabbit Water BottleK&H Little Giant 7″ Galvanized Rabbit Feeder

Young rabbits need ample access to water. If you have a particularly large litter it pays to have either a large capacity water bottle, or two separate ones. Personally I prefer the latter as its more hygienic(as much as it can be anyway) and fairer for bunnies that both want to drink. Make like Feeders, bowls are not a great way to hold water, they get jumped in, tipped, peed and pooped in. Yuck.

Instead, hutch mounted water bottles are my recommendation. We use the 64oz all-weather water bottle from Lixit, most of the year. It has a massive capacity so we don’t have to worry about the young rabbits running out of water. It just clips onto the outside of the cage with its water stem sticking through the hutch wall.

The water stem is all metal, so you don’t have to worry about a dozen bunnies chewing on it and destroying git in short order.

 

 

 

Breed Rabbits with Proper Decisions

If you’re going to take this seriously (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!

Foundation Stock

Small Cute RabbitCrossbred 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 to 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 Breeding Stock

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:

PurposeIdeal AttributesRecommended Starting Breeds
PetTemperament, Appearance**More below
CompetitionAccuracy to breed standards.
MeatFeed to weight effciency, growth speed, taste, uniformityFlemish Giant, New Zealand White, Tan, Florida White, Dutch, Mini Rex, Champagne D'Argent
WoolWool Growth Rate, Quality of Wool, Quantity of Wool, Spin-abilityEnglish Angora, German Angora
New BreedThis is up to youOnly for the true Rabbit Fanciers. It's been done before and will be again!

Breeding for the Pet Market

Rabbit Neutering Best Rabbit HutchAbove 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, you may have a hard time selling your young rabbits. 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. We mostly do private sales where we can which makes more money, but I also take the time to train the owners in how to take care of their new family member properly.(I point them to my website too :))

Fanciers

Harlequin RabbitWhilst 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.

Meat

Florida white - Dual Purpose Rabbit BreedsThere are several determining factors when it comes to choosing for meat selection with rabbits, and while it would be great to perfect all of them, sometimes there’s a small tradeoff, over time 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 of feed is proportional to a particular amount of muscle weight gained by the rabbit. This si typically correlated with growth 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 taste is worse, continue succession of the nicer tasting breed.

Wool

Honestly, we can’t really speak for this, we have never kept angora rabbits and don’t have a great desire to. Rabbit wool is used for all kinds of things. 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 is what information we have 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.

Rabbit Yarn(yep! it’s a thing) (clickable)Angora Rabbit YarnPure Rabbit Fur Yarn

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.

Selective Breeding

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

Rabbits in WindowThere 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.

 

Breeding Process

Rabbit Neutering Best Rabbit HutchNow that you have your why, have identified your rabbits genders and your hutch is all set up,  you’re ready to move on to planning out breeding rabbits.

Yes, planning is required when breeding rabbits. Aside from planning out your hutch and being fully equipped, you’ll need to make sure you have a plan for as many as 13 baby bunnies. They grow up, and fast, reaching maturity at around 1 year. You need to make sure they have somewhere to go, whether you are selling them as pets, keeping them for yourself or doing anythign else with them, you need to make sure you plan what you’re doing before the actual pregnancy. We always pre-sell to pet-shops and other eager locals on craigslist. That was we have a sure thing planned for when the young rabbits are ready to move out of home.

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.

Age Chart:

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 TypeMinimum Breeding Age
Dwarf5 Months
Small5 Months
Medium6 Months
Giant8 Months

Checking your Breeding Pair Over:

After ensuring your breeding pair is of the correct age(and gender), you’ll need to check both the Male(henceforth called the ‘Buck’) and the Female(henceforth called the Doe). If you flicked through to here’re unsure of how to determine a rabbits gender, we created an a 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:

Doe to the Buck Rabbit BreedingOnce 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.

Checking Pregnancy

Satin rabbit by FIve Furlongs on Flicker USed under Creative Commons LisceneYou 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.

Weighing:

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.

Reaction:

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.

Hay Method:

Nesting Hay Recommendation (clickable)Living World Timothy HayLiving World Timothy Hay

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. When she begins to exhibit this behavior, it’s time to add the nesting box.

Palpation:

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

Nesting Box Recommendation (clickable)WARE Rabbit Nesting Box for Rabbit BreedingWARE Wooden 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. She will pack this in to make a cosy blanket to welcome her baby into the world. Open Top Nesting boxes work the best, make sure it is sized appropriately for your rabbit’s breed. I recommend the WARE Wooden Nesting boxes.

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.

Litter Arrival

Litter ArrivesThe 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

Alfalfa Pellet Recommendation (clickable)Ox Bow Bunny Basic Youg Rabbit FoodOx Bow Bunny Essentials Young Rabbit Food

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 at the beginning of the pregnancy, she should stay on alfalfa pellets while nursing. 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. This feed will also be suitable for her litter as shes weaning as well.

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

Grow-Out Pen Recommendation (clickable)Pawhut 2 Story Stacked Wooden Outdoor Bunny Rabbit Hutch Grow Out PenPawhut 2 Story Stacked Hutch

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 weaning 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 the 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 of the time(unless you’re in the business). 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.

Conclusion

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 not be taken lightly. If you’re not going to consider the health and well being of the parents then don’t even attempt breeding.

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.

 

Common Problems:

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.

Buck’s Genitals

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:

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 ‘suggestion’ 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).

ProblemAnswer
The nesting material is too thin, causing babies to freeze to deathadd 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 litterThey may well have had a birth defect or were simply too small or weak to get sufficient nutrition
No Apparent ReasonThe babies could have been sick and the mother removed them to prevent illness spreading to the rest of her litter.

Foster Does

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

Heating Pad Recommendation (clickable)K&H Manufacturing Small Animal Outdoor Heated Pet PadK&H Manufacturing Small Animal Outdoor Heated Pet Pad

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.


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