Start-up Cost Considerations
Prices last checked in 2000 and are in $US
There are an infinite number of ways to set up and maintain a rabbitry, limited only by cost, available resources, and imagination. Also, what works for one rabbitry might not work for another. The example given here is only one way it can be done.
A good quality pellet rabbit feed costs between $8.75 and $13.00 (as of 9/13/04) per 50 lb. bag depending on location. Feed with treats formulated for pet rabbits is not recommended and is much more pricey.
Each breeding buck and doe should have its own cage. Additionally, if more than five litters per doe per year is desired, each doe's litter will need a separate "growing" or "fryer" cage. Cages can be made from "scratch" from galvanized wire, as a kit, or preassembled. A typical doe cage kit without tray could cost $19 each. A buck cage may cost $17. Cages outside mounted in a wooden hutch frame do not need collection trays. Inside cages require either trays or some other waste collection system such as a ramp and trough-type leading outdoors. Galvanized metal collection trays for a doe cage could cost $15 each, while a buck's would cost about $11. Plastic trays may be used instead, but are considerably more expensive. Inside cages can be stacked to save space. A stacking kit for three cages might add $11 to the cost of the cages.
of Some Start-up Costs
for a three doe, one buck rabbit operation
|1||12 oz. J feeder w/ screen bottom and lid (buck)||$5||$5|
|6||20 oz. J feeder w/ screen bottom and lid (does & fryers)||$5||$30|
|5||nest boxes (allows for changing nest boxes while litter is growing)||$10||$50|
|1||tattoo kit w/ extra numbers & letters (for record keeping)||$40||$40|
|7||all-weather water bottles (32 oz.)||$5||$35|
|3||galvanized metal collection trays for fryers (other cages outside in hutch "frames")||$15||$45|
|1||cage stacker kit||$11||$11|
|4||bags of pelleted feed||$8||$32|
|1||bag crimped oats||$8||$8|
|1||fly control mist system (indoor use)||$30||$30|
|5||fly mist refills||$6||$30|
|1||Acid-Pak 4-Way (electrolytes & probiotic supplement for water)||$4||$4|
|1||6.4 oz pkg. Terramycin powder (antibiotic)*||$7||$7|
|1||4 oz pkg. Corid (coccidiosis prevention/treatment)*||$7||$7|
|4||junior meat breeder quality rabbits w/ pedigrees||$25||$100|
* Many rabbit breeders regularly use antibiotics, coccidiostats, and wormers (not mentioned above). After many years RRR has found that this practice is not necessary for its rabbits. The use of injectable ivermectin may be helpful to treat or prevent mites.
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Feeds, Feeding, and Watering
Feeds and Feeding
Different feeds are available in different areas. What may be used in one region may not be obtainable in another.
RRR has used Buckeye Rabbit Developer, MannaPro Gro, and Pen Pals Professional 18, and other pelleted feeds. It can be mixed with oats or sweet feed to about an 85% feed to 15% oats/sweet feed ratio. Bread is sometimes used as a treat, about one slice per rabbit, but more can be given to does with litters older than about 10 days (Note: Stale bread is fine. Moldy bread is NOT as mold can kill rabbits.). It has been found that rabbits love bread and will greet the caretaker when it hears the crinkling sound of the plastic bread bag. Elm and apple branches, complete with leaves, and comfrey leaves may be fed one to three times a week. "Organic rabbit breeders" believe that feeding elm, comfrey, and dandelion helps keep rabbits healthy. Other "treats" such as corn on the cob and orange or banana peels may also be fed occasionally. Care must be taken when feeding corn to rabbits as it is difficult to digest. Breeders using 18% protein pellets, the standard for rabbits in high production and growth, may want to try feeding some grass hay, or even straw, every once in a while. Rabbits in high production need the energy provided by the 18% protein feed. Unfortunately a feed with such a high protein level can lack sufficient fiber. This lack of fiber can contribute to fur chewing and/or digestive problems.
Rabbits devouring the vegetable garden is a common lagomorph stereotype.While rabbits do like lettuce, radish tops, and the such, these should NOT make up a large portion of their diet. Rabbits may be fed "garden food" on rare occasion. Lettuce and the like have a high moisture content and can give rabbits diarrhea. Gas-producing food should not be fed to rabbits.
Feeding should be done at the same time each day. Since rabbits are nocturnal it is probably best to feed rabbits in the evening. The policy of RRR is to feed between 7:00 and 7:30 PM. Only does with litters and fryers should be free-fed (all they will eat). Still, very little feed should be left just before feeding in the evening (the feed can go bad if left uneaten for very long). Pregnant does should get about a cup of feed per day. Non-pregnant does and bucks should receive one scant cup of feed per day. (In the winter pregnant does and bucks that are housed outside can safely be fed a full cup.) For feeding purposes, bred does should be considered open until positively identified as pregnant at 12-14 days gestation through palpation. The feeding amounts mentioned here are only guidelines. The feed bag should be checked for the manufacturer's recommendations.
Feeding time gives the caretaker an excellent opportunity to visually inspect the individual members of the herd. Behavior and/or health problems can be observed.
NOTE: Do not overfeed rabbits. Overweight rabbits have more health problems than those at the proper weight. Fat does often fail to conceive, have problems kindling, etc. Fat bucks become lazy and can stop servicing does. Target weights of meat breeds range from eight to 12 pounds depending on breed and sex. (The ARBA breed standard can be consulted for recommended weights of a particular breed.) On the other hand, rabbits kept outside during cold weather will need extra feed in order to properly maintain body temperature. A proper balance is needed in this situation.
RRR has used a mixture of 1/4 tsp. Acid-Pak 4-Way per gallon to water its rabbits. Acid-Pak 4-Way acidifies the urine and provides beneficial bacteria to the digestive tract. Alternatively, one teaspoon of apple cider vinegar per gallon of water may be used to help acidify the urine and provide a few trace nutrients. It has been reported that either practice decreases odor problems. Rarely a vitamin and electrolyte solution is used. Vitamins should not be used on a regular basis if feeding commercial pellets as this practice can lead to Vitamin A toxicity.
All rabbits should have clean liquid water at all times. Special attention is needed in cooler climes to ensure liquid water availability. Generally watering is done at the same time as feeding as well as each morning. The water supply of does with older litters should be checked at least one extra time during the day since a doe and her litter can go through a gallon of water in a day.
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Cages need to be thoroughly cleaned on a regular basis. A first step is "torching." Propane torches may be purchased at any hardware store. Torching does not kill enough germs itself unless applied long enough to destroy the galvanizing. However, it does burn off excess fur where organisms can grow and multiply. Cages and nest boxes may be cleaned with a sanitizer. The floor, walls, and urine guards of cages should be wiped with a sponge or brush. There should be no droppings stuck to the floor. A wire brush may be used to dislodge droppings from the floor. The cage should be rinsed with clean water. Nest boxes need to be rinsed twice. Additionally, when disease is suspected, or when cleaning nest boxes, bleach and/or a disinfectant spray should be used. Sunlight can also help as UV also destroys harmful organisms.
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Age and Breeding Methods
No rabbit younger than six months of age should be used for breeding. Two methods of breeding have been used. Both produce litters of about the same size. In both cases the doe is taken to the buck's cage (never vice versa). The buck and doe should be monitored during breeding so that they can be quickly separated if a fight begins.
From 1994-1997 RRR left the doe with the buck for 20-30 minutes. Six to eight hours later she was re-bred to the same buck. The idea was that since the doe ovulates upon stimulation the six to eight hour separation between breedings produces two ovulation events.
The Ranch then tried a newer method of breeding. The doe is left with the buck for 15 minutes and re-bred to the same buck an hour later. It has been shown that the luteinizing hormone will remain at a high level longer, producing more eggs in one ovulation event. This is the preferred method for larger litters.
An easier method commonly used with known pairs is to leave the
doe with the buck overnight or for an entire day.
Twelve to fourteen days after breeding the doe can be palpated to determine if she conceived. Palpation is a learned skill that will not be discussed here at this time. Does that "miss" should be re-bred immediately after discovery. Care should be taken not to re-breed a pregnant doe as she can conceive again. The second litter will probably be lost when the first one is delivered due to the hormonal environment during delivery.
Seasonal Breeding Problems
Heat can effect the fertility of bucks, especially those over one year in age. Thus, production can be expected to decrease during summer and early fall months if the rabbits are kept in an uncontrolled environment.
Since food is scarce for wild rabbits in the winter, it is not unusual for domestic rabbits (descendants of the European wild rabbit) to experience breeding depression during those months. A possible way to help combat this is to add light to make 16 hours per day. This notion originates in poultry-raising practices. The efficacy of this method for rabbits is debatable.
Care of the Doe and Litter
A Day by Day Schedule
Unlike many other mammals, young rabbits only need to be fed once or twice a day for about five or ten minutes each. It is perfectly normal for the doe to ignore the litter most of the time.
Note: The use of Calf-Manna (Anamax is a similar product) is discussed here. RRR ceased using this product on a regular basis from 1996 to 2004 (when the rabbitry doubled in size) because a 50 lb. bag could not be consumed in a timely manner by a small rabbitry. Calf-Manna is highly recommended, but it might be best for small rabbitries to combine with others in using a 50 lb. bag or purchase a smaller size if available.
Three days before doe is due: Start feeding doe 1 Tbsp. Calf-Manna each day. Thoroughly clean the doe's cage. Prepare a clean nest box with cardboard liner or layers of newspaper and clean straw. See Sanitization for cleaning information. The amount of straw needed depends on the weather. If it is cold, fill the nest box 2/3 full. If the weather is milder only fill nest box 1/2 full. Feed should be decreased slightly each day until due date when only a handful or none should be given. Often does will go off-feed on their own prior to kindling.
Until the doe kindles: Be particularly observant when feeding and watering doe. Look for problems as well as evidence that she has kindled (fresh blood on or around cage or her rear legs, placental residue on the floor of the cage, movement of fur and/or straw in the nest box, etc.). When the doe begins to pull fur, she will probably deliver within 12 hours, but could be longer. Each doe is different and the caretaker needs to learn each doe's pattern. There is no need to worry if the doe decreases her food intake or stops eating altogether.
Day 1: On the day that the doe kindles do nothing but
check on her and see that she is acting normally, drinking water,
etc. Unless a real problem, such as hemorrhage, is suspected it is
not necessary to check the kits right away. If the doe kindles on
the wire and at least some kits are discovered alive (possible
depending on elapsed time since kindling and temperature), place
live kits in the nest box and cover them with fur. If necessary,
warm kits against your body, on a heating pad, or in warm water
first and thoroughly dry. Make sure the doe nurses the litter. If
she does not nurse the litter the kits must be fostered out or
hand-raised. More detailed
information on hand-raising kits, including formula recipes, can
be found here. Anytime dead kits are discovered they
must be disposed. A small amount of feed or hay may be given.
Day 2: About 24 hours after kindling bring the nest box inside and do a "full count" of the kits. ("Bribe" the doe with a little alfalfa hay or other treat before removing nest box.) Carefully and gently remove kits from nest box one at a time and count them. Check each kit's condition --- see that it has been fed (it should have a large belly, if it is mostly shriveled or sickly looking chances are that the kit has not been nursed and will probably die soon). Look for stray kits away from main nest. Sometimes a doe will make two nests. If this is found, consolidate them. Record the number of live and dead kits discovered. The doe may be fed a half cup of feed.
Days 3 through 7: Daily inspect the nest and search for dead kits. (If needed, "bribe" doe before starting this.) Note the condition of live ones. If one or more looks poorly, make it a point to look for that one(s) the next day as it/they may be dead. Gradually increase the amount of feed until she is free-fed by Day 4.
Days 8 through 13: If the weather is not too hot or cold (temps never go beyond the 40° F to 75° F range) inspect the nest every other day. Otherwise daily inspections may be needed. For litter sizes of more than seven kits the nest box should be replaced between Days 8 and 10. Reuse as much fur as possible from the original nest for use in the new nest box.
Cut back Calf-Manna to 2 tsps. each day.
Up through this time no kit should be discovered outside the nest box. If one is found and is still alive, promptly put the kit back in the nest box. (Most likely, the kit "escaped" by hanging onto a nipple when the doe terminated nursing.)
Day 14: Thoroughly clean the doe's cage.
Do another full count of the kits. Check the kits' eyes. They should all be open by now. If not, use warm water on a Q-Tip and eye ointment if desired. This should be done twice a day until all eyes are open. Be sure to thoroughly inspect old nest box for anything unusual. If everything looks fine inspections may only need to be performed every three or four days.
Cut back Calf-Manna to one tsp. each day with feed.
Days 15-27 (Fall, Winter, Spring), Days 15-20 (Summer): Since the kits will start coming out of the nest box more and more, inspections can be done just by observation when feeding or watering the doe and litter.
Day 21 (Summer): Remove nest box and clean.
Day 21 (all year): Eliminate feeding Calf-Manna.
Day 28 (Fall, Winter, Spring): Remove nest box and clean.
A Word About Nest Boxes
When RRR first started out there were three types of nest boxes
available on the market; wood, metal, and plastic. Each type has
problems and RRR has chose to use plastic. Unlike wood, plastic
dries quickly after cleaning and is easily sanitized. Unlike
metal, plastic does not conduct heat or cold. The dimensions are
9.5" x 19.5" x 10" (WLH). Several holes were drilled in the bottom
to allow for drainage. Each nest box is cleaned completely and
sanitized prior to use. They are also
lined with cardboard or layers of newspaper. Pop or beer flats are
well suited for this task. Unfortunately, when RRR wanted to
purchase more plastic nestboxes in 2004 it was discovered that the
manufacturer Nestier had discontinued the product.
Though RRR has never made nest boxes, the page author found plans to make a wood-and-wire nest box. For
meat breeds the length should be changed to about nine inches.
Work Around Hutch
Whenever performing nest box management, feeding or watering, talk calmly and cheerfully to the animal. Pet the animal if it wants (does with litters probably will NOT like this). These practices help keep the animals from becoming skittish or fearful. Calm rabbits are less likely to inadvertently injure themselves by recklessly running around the cage or trample kits in a nest box to death.
Litters can be weighed at ages three, six, and eight weeks as well as just before slaughter. This information may be recorded. If the herd is large and the caretaker does not wish to weigh as often, weights should be taken at weaning and slaughter. The weight of a litter at three weeks of age helps the caretaker evaluate how well the doe is milking. Any doe whose kits do not consistently weigh at least one pound at three weeks of age should be culled.
If a doe is in good condition and comes from a line accustomed to frequent ("production") breeding, she may be re-bred when litter is four weeks old. This schedule leads to about six litters per year. Most "backyard" meat rabbits should probably be re-bred when the litter is about five weeks old. Mark a "palpate" date on the calendar for 12 days after breeding.
Once a breeding schedule is established it should be carefully followed. If breeding frequency is decreased or is ceased for a time, it can be very difficult to return to the previous level.
RRR weans kits over a span of up to four days starting at six
weeks of age. Since gradual weaning is not practiced by much of
the rabbit raising community, Mary-Frances Bartels devised this
schedule and it has been used very successfully. Most breeders
wean the entire litter at once and cut back on feed to help the
doe dry up. Gradual weaning does not involve any decrease in feed
until all weaning is complete. Bartels believes that gradual
weaning places less stress on the doe. Wean the larger kits first,
thus giving any smaller ones time to "catch up."
|Number of Kits Weaned|
|Litter sizes greater than nine kits may be weaned over five or six days if desired.|
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Where to Buy Supplies
Sometimes RRR is asked about where to buy rabbit-related supplies. An easy place to start looking is in the telephone book under "Feed Stores." In the US recommendations for local sources may be found through the local state extension office. Ask any known breeders. The internet can also be a good source. The following list is not complete and is only of companies with which RRR has personally dealt. No monetary compensation has been offered for inclusion in the listl
Comments, corrections, or suggestions may be directed to the page author, Mary-Frances Bartels
Page last modified January 12, 2012.