Rabbit Breeding

It is generally pretty easy to breed bunnies.  In Arizona the biggest challenge is the fact that rabbits don’t like the heat, and males can become sterile if it is too hot.  It is also very, very hard on the does to be pregnant and lactating when the temperature is over 100F.  In our barn breeding season is from September through May and we take the summer off.  There are enough chores keeping the rabbits cool enough that we don’t also need babies.

Both the buck and the doe should be in good condition without any sign of sneezing or diarrhea.  When  you are ready to breed put the doe in the buck’s cage.  If you do it the other way around she may attack him for invading her territory.  Now, you watch.  She may cooperate and lift her hind end, or she may not.  It’s easier if she cooperates, but not essential to a successful breeding.  He may mount her front end instead of her back end – even proven bucks do this – and if he does reach in and take him off of her.  Eventually, he’ll figure out where he’s supposed to be.  When he mounts properly, it takes about a nano-second for a breeding to occur.  He’ll convulse a couple of times and then fall off to the side.  He may thump, he may not.  Lots of bucks do.  Let the doe stay for a minute or so.  You don’t want her to pee right away, and she’s less likely to in his cage than she is in hers.  When you’re sure that the breeding took place (or she looks like she’s had enough) put her back in her cage.

Some breeders like to return the doe to the buck’s cage a second time.  It is true that a second breeding results in a bigger litter.  This is because does ovulate once they’ve been bred, so there aren’t any eggs already present when the first breeding occurs.  By the time the second breeding occurs she’s ovulated and the eggs are there, ready to be fertilized.  Using this technique we’ve had litters of as many as 12 kittens.  Without using that technique we usually have litters of between 6 and 8.  Sometimes we get 10 babies without a second breeding.  I find that I prefer the smaller litters.  In a very large litter there is almost always someone who doesn’t get enough to eat.  In a litter with six kits, they are always big and fat and healthy.  I’d rather have fewer healthy rabbits, than more marginal rabbits.  If the doe has more babies than she can handle, I often foster the largest rabbit with another mother.  I mark the fostered baby’s ear with a sharpie to ensure that I know which is the fostered animal.

Once the breeding has taken place it is time to wait.  Does are only pregnant for 31 days.  In our barn that really means 28 to 32 days.  On day 25 we put a nest box filled with straw into the cage.  The doe may or may not hop in and start making a nest.  Hopefully, though, she will make the nest before she gives birth.  If she gives birth on the wire, and the babies get cold, warm the babies up by laying them on a gallon size ziploc bag filled with body temperature water.  You don’t want the water to be too hot – the goal is not to cook the baby rabbits!  Once the babies are warm put them in the nest box.

I check my baby rabbits daily to make sure that they have nice, round, full tummies.  If one doesn’t I keep an eye on it for a day.  If the next day it still doesn’t, I put the skinny baby at the top of the bunny pile and put the mommy rabbit into the nest box and hold her there for a couple of minutes to make sure that all the babies are getting a chance to eat.  Sometimes the smallest baby doesn’t have a chance to make it to a nipple before dinner time is over.  Does only feed once a day, and they only feed for about three to five minutes.  You may never see your doe feed the babies, but if you check tummies and they look full, you know the babies are getting a chance to eat.  It is really important that the doe have unlimited access to hay, food, and water.  Making milk is hard work and if she’s not getting enough food, she is not making enough milk.

I leave the nest box in the cage as a nest box until the baby rabbits hop out on their own.  The first time one is out, they all come out and the nest box is turned on its side.  In that way it can be used as a perch by the mommy rabbit and gives her a way to escape the babies for a little while.  It won’t be long until they hop up there too – and then it becomes a fun place to play.

The babies stay with the doe for at least 8 weeks, usually 10, sometimes 12.  We move the mom out and leave the babies behind.  By 12 weeks the rabbits are ready to be butchered, but if it is a large litter and they are a little small, we wait until 14 weeks to butcher.

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