Agricultural Issues - Raising Rabbits

A domestic breeding doe can produce 30 4-pound frying rabbits per year with just a little expense, time and effort. Providing them with the few things they really need will reward you many times over in the kitchen.

Rabbit hutches can consist of a group of individual enclosures, or all wire cages, hung outdoors or in barns, garages, or other outbuildings. Keeping them outdoors, though, keeps the flies and odors down and the rabbits stay healthier.

A hutch should be large enough to allow 1 square foot of space per pound of rabbit. A 9-pound doe, for instance, is comfortable in a hutch that is 36x36 inches with 18 inches of headroom. Build your hutches out of 2x4 framing lumber but fasten your wire on the inside: 1x2 inch mesh rabbit wire for the sides and top, 1/2x1 inch mesh for the floor. The wood outside the wire keeps the rabbits from chewing on it. Over time the wood gets covered in urine and feces and this keeps the rabbits from being exposed to the germs involved.

Showering the hutch with plain water regularly helps to keep it clean, but it needs to be disinfected between litters. You'll need to carefully scorch the wire and the wood with a propane torch to disinfect it properly. You might want to paint the lower 18 inches of the hutch legs with roofing tar to discourage dirt mites from migrating upwards to the rabbit's fur.

Outdoor hutches must also provide some kind of winter protection. An adult rabbit's fur can withstand some pretty cold temperatures but they can't tolerate cold drafts. In bitterly cold environments, move the hutches indoors for the worst months of winter. If it's not bitterly cold, at least put the hutches on the protected, sunny south side of an outbuilding. And leave warm nest boxes inside the hutch until the young rabbits reach six weeks of age.

The nest box gives domestic rabbits the opportunity to express their burrowing instinct. Put a nest box in the doe's hutch five days before she's due to deliver her young and remove it when the young start moving around on their own.

As a rule, beginning rabbit breeders should start small: one herd buck and three breeding does maximum. The best meat producer is the New Zealand white rabblt. These rabbits have been bred to produce four to six litters per year. A mature breeding doe will weigh 9-to-12 pounds at 6-to-8 months old. Her fryers, at eight weeks old, will weigh 4+ pounds and dress out at between 2 and 2.5 pounds of meat.

When buying your foundation stock, ask the breeder how many years they've raised what breeds, what and how much they feed their rabbits, and ask them if they keep production records (definite sign of a competent breeder).

Look for inquisitive, alert, vigorous and friendly rabbits. Stay away from the withdrawn, sulky, frightened or high-strung rabbits. A good rabbit has bright and clear eyes with dry fur below them. When you run your hand against the grain of the fur, it snaps right back. The droppings should be round and hard.The back feet should have dense fur on the bottom and the front feet should be dry and unmatted. Also look for strong, straight teeth with the upper two teeth slightly overlapping the bottom teeth.

Buy your does between three and five months old. That way you can see what kind of rabbit they'll be and you'll get a chance to know them (and their idiosyncracies) before they start breeding.

Rabbit feed is generally pellets with 16-18 percent protein. This can be supplemented with hay and garden and table scraps but be careful: cabbage, cauliflower, Brussel sprouts and rhododendron leaves can kill them. All greens should be clean and fresh or they can cause digestive problems. And never feed them more than they can eat in half-an-hour.

Working bucks and does (without nursing offspring) need 4-6 ounces of pellets per day. Nursing does and their young should be fed as much as they can eat. As a nursing doe and her litter can drink up to one gallon of water per day, clean, fresh water needs to be available at all times. Keep your does barefoot and pregnant: rebreed her while she is still nursing and slim. logo
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