Breeding meat rabbits can’t be that hard, right? I mean, they are rabbits! That was me, just a few years ago when we started our meat rabbit journey. Breeding meat rabbits isn’t hard; but there are a few general tips I can offer for success and a strong herd. Ultimately we want to strive healthy breeding stock that produces good litters that grow.
Breeding Meat Rabbits 101
Before we can even think about breeding our rabbits we must have a good foundation stock. If you’re just starting out, I’d recommend starting with a trio (2 does and 1 buck). I learned, the hard way, that breeders don’t generally sell a doe that is producing well. If you find someone selling an adult doe – go in with caution. Why would they be getting rid of her? An adult buck is more reasonable because you need fewer males to females; but a good doe is worth her weight in gold.
If you are just getting started I recommend you read my article Getting Started with Meat Rabbits.
Breeding Meat Rabbits – Choosing Stock
- First decide which breed you’re going to work with. Check out my article on The Top 10 Meat Rabbits.
- Study the breed so you know what you’re looking for in body type, etc.
- Eyes – bright and clear
- Teeth – properly aligned (Misaligned teeth will lead to overgrown teeth because the rabbit is unable to grind them down). ASK if parents have any teeth issues!
- Coats – healthy, meets standards (unless they are molting)
- Noses – no discharge, which and mean they have Pasteurella or “snuffles” – highly contagious and deadly disease. A little sneezing is ok but if you see snot or snot bubbles….run away!
- Look at the kit’s dam and sire whenever possible. You can’t tell a lot from a tiny, just weaned kit; look at the parents for further confirmation of health and vitality
- Tip…don’t buy show animals. There are breeders that will bring sick animals, that still look good, to shows. The animals are in tight quarters and YOURS could be exposed but not showing symptoms. That’s just my experience.
- Pedigrees – good to have to avoid inbreeding.
Breeding Meat Rabbits – Age
- The general rule of thumb is to wait until a doe is 6 months old. Some of the larger breeds can take longer to mature and you may need to wait until 9 months.
- You’ll hear about breeders starting early, they may even get kits. But a young doe is not usually the best mother. Give her time to grow up.
- Bucks can breed as early as 4 months – but aren’t usually ready to breed with a full grown doe. So rule of thumb, again, 6 months.
Breeding Meat Rabbits – Getting to It
- Does do not have a heat cycle. They ovulate by stimulation – basically she ovulates when mating. They can stay “in heat”, after that first mating, for several days. That is why most breeders breed 2 days in a row. This gives you a better chance at a litter.
- Always take your doe to the buck. Does are very protective our their den/cage. She could seriously wound or kill a buck that invades her space. Besides a buck will spend more time in her cage marking his territory than breeding – you won’t have to worry about in his bachelor pad.
- Monogamy is not a word that rabbits know. Your buck will comfortably breed with up to 8 does (just not in the same day). So a trio is great for producing kits. If you think you’ll want to keep some of your offspring to increase your breeding program then having more than one buck will be necessary. You don’t want in-breeding to compromise the health and vitality of your stock.
- Once the doe is in his place, the breeding usually starts pretty quickly. The buck will mount, your doe will raise her hind end, they’ll be some very quick action and the buck will literally fall off in a semi-catatonic state (you may even hear a squeal).
- We like to see 3 fall-offs before we take the doe out and return her to her den.
- You can bring her back 24 hours later to ensure that ovulation took place and she is pregnant. However, some does will fight this.
- A note on fertility. Your bucks will be shooting blanks, if they breed at all, in hot temps. Pretty much anything over 85 degrees is a waste of time and not good for your stock. Because we live in the desert, our stock gets the entire summer off.
- Never breed brother’s and sisters – it will not produce healthy kits. It is ok to breed son to mother or father to daughter.
Breeding Meat Rabbits – Did it work?
So you’ve bred your doe and now you’re not sure if it took. I’ve had does that didn’t get a big belly and still gave birth to a good sized litter. It can be hard to tell.
- She adamantly refuses to breed the 2nd time or anytime after.
- Her belly is growing.
- Changes in personality – doesn’t want you to touch her or be near that cage.
- May bit or get more defensive when you’re in her cage or cleaning her cage.
- You can palpate (feel the abdomen for babies) but I don’t recommend it. It generally upsets the doe and could hurt the kits if not done properly. I don’t do it.
Breeding Meat Rabbits – Nests
- A rabbit’s pregnancy is about 31 days, some shorter, some a bit longer.
- You can give your girl a large wooden nest or one made of metal. I’ve also seen some great DIY nests on Pinterest
- Give your girl a nest and lots of bedding on day 28
- I do like the line the bottom with newspaper but she might pull it out.
- Allow her to build the nest by leaving her straw and shredded newspaper
- She will also pull fur from her chest and abdomen to provide a soft, warm place for her babies.
- I will continue to give her a little bedding material until she kindles – only fully clean it if she really messes it up.
- You want her nest to be in a private place, where she feels safe. If not, you run the risk of her spooking and killing her entire litter. I’ve had this happen and it is a horrible thing to witness.
- Kits need to stay with the doe for 4 – 6 weeks. I prefer 8, if she’ll allow it. Be sure to provide extra food and water for a nursing mother and even more when the babies start eating pellets.
Breeding Meat Rabbits – Schedules & Records
- You can choose to breed intensively, where a doe is being breed within days of her kindle. But I don’t like it. It is hard on your does to be nursing her litter AND growing new kits. I advise against this; it is a cruel way to treat your animals.
- My recommendation is to allow your doe to have no more than 6 litters a year; 4 if you can swing it. She’ll live longer and give you healthier kits if she has time to recoup after pregnancy and nursing.
- Keep good records – label your cages with names or numbers that identify each animal. Their label should include pedigree (parents, grandparents) to help you avoid in-breeding.
- Hostile Hare has a great Breeding Calculator.
Breeding Meat Rabbits – Issues
- Doe won’t breed by raising her hind end: This will usually take care of itself in time. As the doe and/or the buck figures out what they are doing. Don’t give up the first time.
- Aggressive doe: If you have a doe that is out for blood every time you try to breed her, you may need to consider table breeding. You will need to hold the doe in place and all the buck to do his job. I personally won’t keep a doe that requires this. She’ll either be place in a home that wants a pet (if she is nice otherwise) or I send her to camp Kenmore.
- Buck doesn’t breed: You should first make sure the rabbit has testicles (no, I’m not kidding). If that isn’t the issue it may just be a young guy that needs a little help. Get him behind the doe and he’ll figure it out.
Breeding your meat rabbits isn’t difficult once you have the basics down. Treat them well and they’ll provide you a sustainable, healthy meat for years to come.