Breeding & genetics

Why Breed Rabbits?

There are a multitude of reasons for breeding rabbits-from the use of personal meat on the homestead, to wool, fancy, and showing. The most important thing to understand when breeding rabbits (or any animal) is how to be responsible and ethical. The lives and health of the animals you produce are in your hands. 

 

(The following article is aimed towards breeders of all domestic animals. A few detailed points are directly focused upon dog breeders (such as obedience training and specific diseases). However, please keep in mind that many of the same principals apply across the board for responsible breeders.)

 

THE RESPONSIBLE AND ETHICAL BREEDER: What are the notes that define them?

-Keep all of their animals in a sanitary, safe, and appropriate environment. All animals receive abundant attention/interactions, have fresh air at all times, are fed a high quality diet, have fresh clean water, shelter from the elements, and ample space to exercise.

-Breed to *Improve*.

-Have a goal and purpose with each breeding. These can include working on bettering temperaments, correcting structure, and increasing working ability. Producing "great" pets, or "big and impressive" or "rare colors" are not goals, but are instead purely marketing schemes.

- Absolutely do not breed for mutts/designer "breeds". Do not promote "hybrid vigor" (The claim that the offspring resulting from crossing two different breeds only inherits the "good traits" from both parents.) Anyone who uses this term has zero understanding of how genetics actually work. Offspring can and will inherit the "bad traits" from their parents and backgrounds. As example and without going into extensive detail, picture an animal gaining a double dose of hip dysplasia or a propensity for anxious or aggressive behavior. Since crossbreeds (mutts) do not have a breed standard, there is no predictability as to what their temperaments or health will result in.

-Health test and certify ALL of their animals for physical genetic defects and behavior. They will not keep, breed, or sell animals that have known health or temperament issues. Health tests are performed by a licensed vet and/or medical organization such as OFA. These health tests include existing and/or inherited genetic predispositions for hip dysplasia, cataracts, lens luxation/subluxation, glaucoma, retinal detachment, retinal dysplasia, Optic nerve coloboma, Optic nerve hypoplasia, Progressive Retinal Atrophy, Keratoconjunctivitis sicca, Persistent hyperplastic primary vitreous, elbow dysplasia, patellar luxation, thyroid imbalances, respiratory diseases, and congenital diseases of the heart.

-Are often professionals in other fields of animal husbandry, such as licensed veterinarians, groomers, handlers, show judges, or trainers.

-Ensure all of their animals receive appropriate and abundant veterinary care, including annual vaccinations, de-worming, physical exams, and full blood panels.

-Researches the history and traits of the breed.

-Understands the importance of correct conformation. (Conformation is the skeletal and muscular structures of an animal. It covers all of the important areas of an animal's physical form, from the legs, the spine (or top-line) and the hind quarters to the neck and head. When these structures of the body are not proportionate (called faults), they can cause medical problems, discomfort, or a prevention of full movement and functionality . For example, poor/thin fur quality, which can result in the animal being unable to properly regulate its body temperature and set it up for frequent skin ailments. Or, long shoulders which may cause spinal issues because there is too much strain on the vertebrae. Or, poor chest angulation; when the chest is being more or less than a 45-degree angle, it will prevent the animal from being able to exercise or move its front end in complete correspondence with the back end. Or, a convex (roached) spine, which can place strain on the vertebrae and joints, ultimately causing disk displacement and/or arthritis. Or, narror hips, which can mean pregnant animals may require expensive Cesarean sections or still births. The list can go on. Remember, form follows function. Incorrect or poor structural faults can be and are often genetic. Breeding animals with poor structure is doing nothing to benefit the breed or the individual animal. A good breeder knows how to recognize good conformation and knows how to pick out which breeding animals to pair together based on their unique faults and strengths in order to create offspring with superior form. They know their own animal's pros and cons. They are willing to acknowledge those faults and adjust their breeding programs accordingly.

-Will usually utilize the unbiased judging system of conformation shows to understand and compare their animals against others and the breed standard. This provides the breeder an opportunity to learn and see what areas of their animals need improvement.

-Will usually be a member of a reputable national breed club. Reputable clubs will only accept animals with a proven background (pedigree) and file studs, points, and titles in a national registration. If a club does not do this, they are not reputable, often holding an inaccurate and flawed database of poorly bred animals.

-Become familiar with the individuals within the pedigree of their animals in order to know what traits may show up in a breeding.

-Spend time to properly socialize and train their animals. They ensure their animals are well behaved, friendly, comfortable in a variety of situations and stimuli, being held and touched all over their body, and hold basic obedience understanding. They will not breed or sell animals that are skiddish, aggressive, have anxiety, or are reactive.

-Participates in obedience classes.

-Holds titles on their *own* animals.

-Provides a warranty (usually at least three years) for the guaranteed health of any animals sold.

-Do not breed their animals back to back to back. They provide their animals adequate time to recoup and restrengthen between each breeding. This can easily be *years* between breedings.

-Often hold young animals back to watch how they develop in order to determine if they are meeting goals. They don't make "picks" at birth or a week old BEFORE a young animal can even show you anything about itself other than it's sex and color.

- Do not base their prices on the colors or genders of their animals. Rather, prices are reflected to be on based on structure, health, and temperament.

-Prove their own animal's worth. They do not "ride the coat tails" of other breeders to talk up their own animals. They do not express phrases when selling animals such as "champion bloodlines!" or names of famous studs in the pedigree. Instead they create and hold their own genetic lines.

-Have an outstanding and positive reputation among other breeders and organizations.

-Will always make sure potential buyers are fully prepared and educated before bringing a pet home. They provide educational resources, vet references, trainer references, and lectures covering the unique behaviors and needs of their breed.

-Will easily deny a sale if they feel the new owner is not prepared, educated, dedicated, or able to provide an appropriate environment to properly and fully care for a new pet. They will not just sell an animal to anyone with the cash or to someone who knows nothing about the breed.

- Will never ever sell an animal to a pet store, mill, or trader.

-Require buyers to sign a contract, holding them accountable for appropriate care of an animal.

-Will often require buyers to spay/neuter their animals.

-Will require buyers to return the animal back to them, at any point in the animal's life, if they are no longer able or willing to continue caring for it.

-Will never dump, abandon, or surrender an animal to a shelter or pet store. They hold responsibility for *every* life they bring into this world. They provide an open door home for the entirety of that animal's life.

-Will keep in contact and provide buyers with advise on care and training for the life of the animal.

-Often spend more money on the care, training, and health certifications of their animals, than they do on sales. Many don't break even. They care more about their animals and bettering the breed than they do on becoming rich.

- Support and assist with breed rescues.

- - Value honesty and integrity. They do not claim to “know it all”. They are also open to discuss the faults in their own animals. They never claim their animals are “perfect”.

Anyone who is breeding animals and who does not adhere to ALL of the above criteria is termed a backyard breeder, to some degree or another. Whether it's someone who breeds full time just to make money off baby animals with no thought to preservation or structural improvement, or a pet owner wanting their female pet "To experience motherhood at least once". Backyard breeding practices are extremely irresponsible and unfair to the future welfare of the animals.

Pet stores also fall into this category of irresponsibility. Their animals are only ever obtained from backyard breeders, traders, or mills. When someone purchases a pet from a backyard breeder or pet store, they are often left with an animal that is over priced, riddled with genetic and structural defects, diseases, and displays un-socialized or neurotic behavior. This will ultimately cost the new owner a great deal in heart ache, vet bills, and countless training sessions. Giving money to these establishments only encourages them to continue pumping out sickly animals.

Shelters and breed specific rescues can be wonderful places to help a new pet in need. However, many shelter animals do no always come without great risk. They are not always a good choice for people seeking a specific animal to fit their lifestyle or needs. The majority of animals that end up in shelters or breed specific rescues come from either backyard breeders or irresponsible/ill-prepared pet owners. A great deal of these animals come with the baggage of abuse and neglect. And though some of them may be purebred, they are not *well* bred, meaning poor structure, genetic defects, and behavioral issues.

Furthermore, many of the people employed at both pet stores and shelters are not always properly educated or trained in animal husbandry. This means that though their hearts may be in the right place, they often provide new owners with inaccurate and incomplete information on the animal's unique needs and medical care. Shelters don't always do a good job at matching pets with appropriate households. And many households that are appropriate, are often rejected to adopt for random arbitrary definitions. It is also common for shelter staff to not properly or thoroughly screen intake animals for aggression and anxiety. This later leads to disastrous and dangerous situations for the households that adopts these animals . Many shelters also practice outdated or incomplete medical procedures (spaying/neutering too early, failing to diagnose common ailments, not utilizing the full scope of veterinary procedures in order to save on funds, etc). This results in sick animals being adopting out, leaving the new owners stuck with mounting vet bills.

All of this ultimately sets both the owners and animals up for failure. And this results in the animal being either returned, dumped, or euthanized.

Not all shelters or shelter animals fall into these scenarios. However, these scenarios are also unfortunately a common reality. And that is a reality not every new pet owner is willing to gamble on.

To sum up all of the above, breeding and pet ownership all come down to responsibility and education. The comfort, care, health, and quality of life of an animal should be of the utmost importance.

When a new pet owner says, "But I don't need to buy a show animal", it's like saying "I don't need to buy a house that is structurally sound or up to code".
Think about that.

The phrase that is commonly used in the United States, "Adopt don't shop" is purely propaganda stemmed from animal rights fanatics basing their opinions on anthropomorphic views. They pull people into their agendas by targeting their emotions, rather than their brains and logic. When adopting, money is still being exchanged, making it no different than buying. When this slogan is used, it is basically saying that the only dog worth having is a mixed breed. It is stating that pure breds do not deserve to be loved. Responsible breeders are not the reason shelters are full. Negligent owners are the reason shelters are full. Humans who have a pet but cannot afford to get it fixed/choose to irresponsibility breed it, which leads to unwanted animals are the problem. Humans who get a pet and find it to not fit into their lives anymore and choose to get rid of it are the problem. Humans who don't bother to educate themselves before buying, or buy from places that don't provide them with education are the problem. Attempting to put an end to responsible breeders is not going to decrease the number of animals in shelters. It would only allow more room for the backyard breeders to expand and create future generations of unhealthy and unwanted animals. It would put an end to continued education and promotion of responsible ownership. It would put an end to purpose bred animals.

Remember, most domestic animal breeds are not products of natural selection, but rather the result of selective breeding performed by people choosing certain characteristics. This means that since nature did not create these animals, they are not self regulating or adapting. Characteristics such as curly hair, dropped ears, short legs, energy levels, single coats, intelligent levels, sociability, etc are all direct causes by humans. And since humans created these animals, they are solely responsible for maintaining and regulating these unnatural 'defects' to keep the animals comfortable and healthy. Certain breeds may require more maintenance than others, and not everyone has the time or energy for the upkeep of specific traits. For example; Does this animal require daily or monthly brushing? Does this animal require a feed bill that's going to cost $20 or $300 a month? Does this animal require extensive obedience training or is it naturally sociable? Does this animal get along with other animals or does it have a high prey drive? Does this animal require daily exercise/a job or can it be fine being a couch potato without becoming a neurotic and destructive mess from lack of stimulus? Does this animal tolerate children or is it reactive to loud noises or excessive grabbing? What kind of genetic defects are associated with the breed? What does the lifespan look like? How much room does this animal require? All of these questions are the reason it is crucial for new owners to be properly and fully educated on the unique needs of certain breeds before they make a decision to bring it home to their family.

Smart adopting and fostering are an important service. Smart breeding and rescues are an important service. Backyard breeding, pet mills, and pet stores are the disservice that need to be shut down.

Are you Prepared?

Before going into all of the details about rabbit reproduction, it's important to be sure you know exactly what you are getting into. There are a lot of hard and grim facts about rabbit breeding, and if you can't handle certain things, then you should reconsider your decision. If this is your first time breeding, please read through the following questions and answer honestly with yourself on whether or not you can handle all of the responsibilities.

  • You shouldn't expect to make a profitable business raising show rabbits. Only a small number of people who raise rabbits are capable of making a living out of it if they do it right. Rather, you should consider it as an enjoyable hobby that can help pay for itself. Keep in mind, however, that over 60% of all first-time rabbit breeders will neglect their hobby after the first 3 yrs simply because they didn't do their research on the responsibility and commitment it takes to care for rabbits and soon realized they were in over their head.  

  • 95% of all first-time mother rabbits, will not care for their young, and in most cases, will devour them. Are you prepared to lose the first litter and handle seeing the mother eat her live young?

  • At least 2 times out of every 10 breedings, you're going to experience severe complications; death of the mother rabbit, death of the kits, stuck kits, fetal giants, max factor kits, peanuts, mother rabbit abandoning her kits, and the list goes on. Will you be prepared if something comes up? Will you have the time and money to take the doe and/or kits to the vet in an emergency?

  • Do you have responsible and reliable homes lined up for all of the offspring before breeding your rabbits?

  • Do you have all of the extra cage space, equipment, and feed to support all of the offspring once they need to be separate at sexual maturity?

  • Are you prepared to watch half (if not all) of the litter potentially pass away at weaning age due to fetal kit syndrome?

  • What will you do with the offspring that you can't find homes for?

  • If you are breeding for meat, are you educationally and mentally prepared to safely and humanely butcher a rabbit?

  • If you are breeding for show, do you know exactly what you are breeding for in your breed?

  • Are you prepared to care for a large number of rabbits? Will you have the time, space, and money for them as they multiply? It takes a lot out of your day to do all of the feedings and cleaning up so you'll have to make your rabbits a part of your daily schedule.

  • Are you prepared to handle ridicule from animal rights activists? This is a very serious topic and something EVERY animal breeder has to deal with. This is an issue of animal rights versus animal welfare. No matter how clean your facility or how well cared for your animals are (but of course the cleaner and healthier the better), there will always be someone out there who will protest against the act of you breeding your animals and how you care for them. In most cases, these protestors are fanatics that are uneducated and hungry for attention. They can and will try anything (even if it's illegal) to take your animals away. You have to be cautious, vigilant, mature, and wise about handling such people when unwanted situations come up. You don't want your rabbits ending up in the hands of these people. If they do, your animals will most likely wind up in a shelter where they'll be housed in poor conditions, fed an improper diet, get spayed/neutered without your consent, or even euthanized. You'll have to pay for the extensive quarantine fees and deal with an improperly handled and unfair trial. Is that something you can prepare yourself for?

Reproduction in Rabbits

Rabbits are polyestrous animals, meaning they do not have a regular breeding or oestrus (heat) cycle, instead, they are induced ovulators. Ovulation typically occurs after 10-12 hours after the stimuli of coitus. This induced ovulation cycle will last for 12 days, of which, 4 of these days the doe will be infertile. A rabbit may normally start breeding at the age of 6 months for the small breeds and about 8-9 months for the giant breeds. Or generally, once the rabbit has reached 75%-80% of its ideal adult weight.

 

  The gestation period is typically around 31 days, though some does have been known to kindle as early as the 28th day or as late as the 32nd. After the doe has kindled, you can re-breed her as early as 6 weeks later and wean the current litter at 7 to 8 weeks. This cycle continues until she is about 4 years old or until her production starts to decline.

 

You should review the herd records every quarter to determine which rabbits are not producing up to par and you may want to eliminate them. In October through December, some rabbits go into what is called molting and may go through a "winter depression". At this period, they may not conceive. If you have lights on all the time in your rabbitry, this will help as this will confuse the rabbits into thinking the seasons have not changed. This is called photoperiod. To improve breeding results with a young doe, keep her on a period of 8 hours light/ 16 hours dark for a few months before breeding. Afterward, switch her to 16 hours light/ 8 hours dark. This switches her mind into thinking it's now time to breed.

Also, if it gets too hot in the summer, bucks will produce less viable sperm and the conception rate goes down. Some people keep their bucks air-conditioned to keep the conception rate high. Once the temperature hits 92 degrees, the buck will become temporarily sterile and it will take up to 4 weeks for the buck to recover. The same idea will apply for does, except in colder weather. Their bodies will be more concerned about keeping warm, them preparing for a litter.

 

Embryonic diapause? There has been some skepticism among breeders regarding whether or not female rabbits can retain sperm. The idea works like this; a pair of rabbits are bred, however, instead of the doe producing kits after a normal gestation period, she instead "stores" the sperm and uses it to impregnate herself at a later date when she feels the environment is opportune to raise a litter in.   Unfortunately, there is little proof for this (Other than the rare instance in which a breeder may claim witnessing this supposed phenomenon, most of these claims come down to poor record keeping/memory. However, some of these cases simply cannot be explained away). The only scientific data that was conducted was minute and placed in extreme conditions. In 2011, an article was published stating, "Researchers led by Grazyna Ptak, an embryologist at the University of Teramo in Italy, used as their baseline mice, one of the few mammals in which diapause is known to occur. In a mouse that has had its ovaries removed, the uterus is unreceptive and a mouse blastocyst will enter diapause, says Ptak. In this hostile environment, the team introduced blastocysts from sheep, which are not known to enter diapause, and saw the early embryos behave in exactly the same way as their mouse counterparts. In as-yet-unpublished work, the researchers have found that the same goes for rabbits and cows. “This strongly suggests that embryonic diapause has an ancient evolutionary origin,” says Ptak. “As the physiology of the very early embryo is similar in all mammals, it’s extremely likely that all mammalian species can do this. The phenomenon is not more widely observed in mammals because it is no longer needed, she suggests. "If the female is living under controlled conditions with food, nice temperature, and no overcrowding, she will never go through diapause because it’s not necessary," Ptak says.

 

Biological components of prolificacy: The description of biological traits in local populations and breeds provides useful pointers for better utilization strategies. The procedure is to count the numbers of corpus luteum to estimate the rate of ovulation. The number of implantation sites and the number of living and dead embryos are then counted to determine embryo viability. Litter size at birth completes the estimation of fetal viability. Observing the female tracts after embryo implantation (seven days after kindling and before the 15th day of pregnancy), both the rate of ovulation and embryo viability can be estimated. The simplest method is laparotomy, to observe the ovaries and uterus. As this usually requires the slaughter of the doe, the technique of choice today is the laparoscopy. The effect on the doe is considerably reduced by the use of an endoscope which allows a normal productive life after the operation and several observations on the same female.  The way the strains are classified varies between ovulation and birth, i.e. strain 2066 is penalized by poor pre-implantation viability.

Weight gain and anatomical composition: The growth rates of young rabbits are strongly correlated with adult size and weight where there has been no marked dietary deficiency. Table 35 gives average weights of young rabbits at successive ages, from 28 to 78 days, as well as carcass weights at 78 days, for the Small Himalayan and New Zealand White. Moreover, at 78 days the New Zealand White is more mature than the Small Himalayan when its live weight is 63 percent of adult weight against 59 percent for the Small Himalayan. The variation coefficients, the ratio of the standard phenotype deviation from the mean, are typical of the interbreed variability of these characters for a given feeding system. Variability is greater in young New Zealand White rabbits than in Small Himalayan. Medium breeds slaughtered at the same age also vary in growth performance and carcass composition.

Pairing

There are multiple methods to choosing pairs of rabbits that will complement each other and improve offspring.

 

Firstly, it's largely discouraged to breed brothers to sisters together. Such close pairing can lead to severe congenital abnormalities such as spay leg and stillborns in the offspring of later generations. Only very experienced breeders should take these risks and furthermore have a strong stomach for mercy culls as the number of unfavorable/unhealthy offspring will eventually outnumber those with desirable/healthy traits. Some experienced breeders have a very strict rule when it comes to breeding sibling; only breed the first generation then outcross with completely new lines from there on out.

 

Other combinations are fine: father-to-daughter, mother-to-son, cousins, etc. Until you gain some knowledge as to how genetics works with inbreeding, it is recommended that you're not breeding closely related pairs. Always mate the same breeds together unless you are trying to get meat rabbits with certain characteristics or you are doing genetic experiments. You cannot sell the offspring as pedigree if their ancestry is not of the same breed going back through all of its generations. You may mate rabbits of the same breed having different colors. Keep in mind, though, that there are many combinations of possibilities when mixing colors. Some of the offspring may have colors that are not recognized by ARBA. It is usually best to mate rabbits having the same color to start off with until you know more about how the colors interact. It is best to join the national specialty group for the breed you are interested in raising. They usually have literature on how to develop the best color, size, and shape of your rabbit. Avoid breeding rabbits that have genetic defects such as tooth malocclusion. You must determine whether the sire and/or dam is responsible for passing the genetic defect and eliminate it for breeding purposes. Most importantly, make sure the rabbits you are planning to breed, do not have STDs. Rabbit Syphilis is the most common disease and can have devastating effects to a breeding operation. It's best not to use stud bucks from other rabbitries, unless you know the breeder very well and have a vet certificate stating that the buck is negative for all diseases.

 

Breeding Methods:

  • In-Breeding: This is the mating of very close relatives, such as father to daughter, 1/2 brother to 1/2 sister, mother to son, etc. This intensifies the faults, as well as the strong points, so considerable discretion, must be used in the choice of your rabbits. The faults may be to such an extent, that sometimes the entire litters have to be destroyed in cases where obvious anomalies occur. This type of breeding is not recommended to novice breeders. This is essential, however, when producing a new breed, variety, or nearly extinct breed to keep certain traits. However, breeding very close relatives such as brother/sister will eventually result in bad genetic traits sooner if not later in the gene pool. It can also increase the chances of unwanted genes, such as ones normally immune to diseases. Only very experienced breeders will occasionally breed brother/sister to acquire certain traits in a line. If done right, you can inbreed down to eight generations before any kind of problems may arise.

  • Line-Breeding: This is the mating of rabbits that have many common ancestors or mating to a slightly removed relative. The benefit of this type of breeding is the production of more consistent litters. In order to have a chance to reinforce desired traits and eliminate health problems, one has to have a thorough knowledge of both pedigrees of both the sire and dam for at least five generations. With careful line-breeding, you can assure the uniformity of quality without risking the inherent dangers of inbreeding. However, the thing about inbreeding and line-breeding is that they intensify both desirable and undesirable characteristics. Know what genes your rabbits carry and what should or shouldn't go together. For example, let's take a gene and call it (P). So your new buck is Pp. He carries one normal allele and one "broken" allele. Statistically, 50% of the kits he sires also carry the recessive p mutation. However, you may never see that mutation because the Dams are all PP so no detrimental effects appear. However, when you start keeping does from this buck and breeding them back to him (or breeding to a sibling carrier) you end up with offspring that are pp. These kits may be viable and healthy by all outward appearance, but the mutation affects the rabbit's hormonal levels so that a high percentage of their kits are stillborn.

  • Out-Crossing: This is the mating of two rabbits that are the products of line breeding but of two distinctly separate lines. Unless the two rabbits involved in an outcross are strongly line bred with a possibility of a certain measure of prepotency, uniformity to the first generation is generally doubtful. This is generally employed as a long-term proposition to bring certain traits into a line that is otherwise deficient. The traits will then need to be intensified by proper line breeding or inbreeding

  • Out-Breeding: This is the mating of two rabbits who are not only products of two distinctly separate lines, but are not the products of line breeding. Out breeding is seldom employed since in most breeding programs, rabbits that would qualify for out breeding simply do not exist

  • Cross-Breeding: This is the breeding of two rabbits who are of two distinctly separate breeds, or even mix bred themselves. The offspring is essentially a 'mutt' in the rabbit world and would be disqualified from showing and breeding programs since it is not pure. The offspring of crossbred rabbits are only good for pet sales.

  • Herd Breeding: This method is usually used among breeders who produce meat stock. This is the breeding of multiple does and their female offspring to one single buck. Some breeders simply house the does and buck in a single cage and allow them to breed at will. This is not a method that is common among breeders of show stock as the main goal in breeding rabbits is to improve the breed, not to simply multiply its numbers.

 

If you are a new breeder, ALWAYS breed for health, type, temperament, and color- in that order. Make sure you have done your research on the particular breed that you have chosen and learn what needs to be improved in your herd. When breeding, make sure you aren't just breeding to increase the numbers of that particular breed. As a breeder, you are breeding to IMPROVE the breed. Don't just randomly pick pairs to breed. Know about your genetics and what should be bred to what, to create something better. You want your rabbits to not only match up to their standard but to be healthier and more immune to diseases. You want them to have correct structure so they have the full benefit of movement and balance. You want them to be friendly and have good temperaments so they’ll be good mothers.

 

Focus on improving/correcting one trait at a time with your rabbits. If your rabbits lack in good shoulder structure and wide heads focus on the shoulders first, then the heads. Don't allow yourself to take on too many projects at once.

Make sure you have already bought quality stock from a reputable breeder. Your best choice as a beginning breeder is to invest in only a couple of high-quality animals and build upon that. Try to stick to only a couple of top lines. The fewer lines you stick to, the easier it will be for you to predict the genetics of your rabbit's offspring. Adding in more than three separate lines to your herd can quickly make things unstable and complicated. Even in the best show quality lines, there will be offspring that pop up with highly undesirable traits. By keeping a tight line, you can avoid that.

 

There's are saying in the rabbit world; "Breed the best, eat the rest." This means keep only the very best in your lines and cull heavily. Only keep the number of rabbits you can handle. Things can quickly become out of control as your rabbits repopulate and you don’t want to get overwhelmed. If you allow things to get out of control, your rabbits will not receive the proper care they need and before you know it, you’re hoarding them in feces-filled cages, the feed is getting moldy and stale, and rabbits are getting sick left and right. So if you feel that only 20 or so rabbits are what you can handle, then set that as your goal and don’t allow yourself to go over it. Some people feel they can handle a large herd, and if they actually can, best of luck to them.  Set your goals straight, your standards high, and stick to it so that you can allow yourself enough time and money to keep your rabbitry clean, safe, and friendly at all times.

 

Basic breeding can be compared to the principals of math. Breed a big doe to a big buck, and you'll end up with huge babies. Breed a doe with small ears with a buck with big ears and you'll get babies with medium sized ears and vice versa. Breed a small doe to a large buck and you'll have medium sized babies or half large and half small (but no peanuts). This logic applies to all body types. The math isn't exactly this precise and simple and in fact, can be very complicated. As you work with your herd, you'll quickly learn which individual animals throw wich traits and how to eliminate unwanted characteristics in your herd. 

 

 Now, unless your herd has a strain for huge individuals that tip the scales over the breed standard, it's usually not a good idea to have a tiny buck and a tiny doe. The resulting litter will most likely consist of peanuts (abnormally small young that are usually deformed and will die within a few days after birth). This is because of the dwarf gene, and it should be avoided as much as possible.

 

Another reason for this particular unwanted pairing is that small does will usually give birth to smaller litters while larger brood does can give birth to a number of young double that. In the breeding world, bigger brood does just seem to be better. They are termed as "Big Ugly Does", simply because they are not of show quality, but they tend to throw out exceptionally amazing young. Brood does tend to grow larger as they age and as they give birth to more litters.

 

A healthy doe can have 3-6 litters per year and it's a good idea to stick to those numbers when breeding her. Wait too long between each breeding, for example only breed her once a year, and she will most likely develop fat around her uterus which will cause severe problems for the next breeding. When you do choose your doe, make sure she is not too old nor too young. The older she is, the more problems you will have such as the pelvic stiffness fat build up, and uterine tumors. The younger she is, the less experience she'll have in raising her young and almost always, first-time mothers will abandon or eat their babies. The ideal best time to start your doe on a breeding program is when she is between about 6 months to a year in age. Try not to have her first breeding after the 12-month mark, are she may experience problems down the road. You should also make sure she has the right personality. Aggressive does are usually the best mothers because they are very protective and assertive of their young. However, you don’t want too aggressive as she’ll pass that temperament down to her young or may even miss treat them. One of your goals should be to produce friendly affectionate rabbits that you can handle.  A timid doe could go either way. And lazy does are the most likely to abandon their young.

 

Characters and criteria for selection: A major objective of selection is to improve annual fecundity per doe. Factors such as the doe's age, environment, genetics, feed, and the breeder themselves all play a role in productivity levels. The breeder establishes the theoretical reproduction rate of their does. For the average meat breeder, let's assume that the average weaning takes place around 42 days, re-breeding the doe  24 days after kindling, and the average conception rate is 70 percent. This gives an average of six litters per doe per year.

 

A culled doe is immediately replaced by a younger, superior doe ready for mating. If the stock renewal rate is 100 percent per year, the annual numbers of litters per doe will be roughly 5.5. If an average six young per litter are weaned and 5.5 reach slaughter or reproduction age, the objective is then 30 rabbits per doe annually.

 

So, let's throw in some variables and math. If you wish, the weaning age can be extended by delaying re-breeding after day 24. The theoretical reproduction rate can be pushed up if the goal is too easily achieved or too low in terms of the potential of the environment and stock potential. The doe could be brought for servicing at day 17 after kindling with weaning at 35 or 42 days. This would be one extra litter per doe, raising the annual goal to 35 rabbits per doe. A more intensive breeding goal could produce 40 to 50. Whatever reproduction rate is adopted, it's imperative to have consistently fertile and healthy does. These does must displays characteristics such as acceptance of the buck, gestation, fertility, viability of young, milk production and longevity. These characters and performances can be summed up by the selection criterion: average number of weaned per litter from the first three litters obtained within a predetermined period. There is a close correlation between performance during the first three litters and the doe's total output. 

 

When choosing your buck, make sure he compliments or improves the faults of your doe, or vice versa. With both bucks and does, as a general rule of thumb, if they don't successfully produce a litter of offspring or unhealthy young three times in a row, then chances are they will continue to give you problems and you will have to consider culling them from your herd. If you are breeding to improve size, never use a buck that is bigger than the doe. Always use a smaller one. If the doe is smaller than the buck then she will have a very high chance of not being able to carry and produce the young. The young will be too big for her to carry and pass.

 

Never breed rabbits that are sick or have a tendency to get sick. In other words, you don’t want your rabbits passing on genes that come with a low immune system. You want strong healthy animals. Breeding to improve? Set one of your goals to create disease immune rabbits. You don’t want rabbits that are reliant on antibiotics. If you have an individual rabbit that shows signs of illness, cull it. There’s no need to keep it in your breeding program. Only minor illnesses such as nest box eye or injuries should be treated in your rabbitry. By ensuring that your rabbits are healthy and continue to improve their immunities, you’ll save lots of time and money.

 

The use of Studs:

Most rabbitries will have one to three high quality bucks retained strictly for breeding-called studs. Sometimes these bucks will be "leased" out (for a fee) to other rabbitries to use in their breeding programs to either perfect their strains or add genetic variety. The exchange of stud rabbits in the U.S. is still a small practice, while in the U.K. it is on a larger scale. Studs must meet certain criteria and have very high show standings. If you plan on having bucks standing at stud, you must be vigilant in keeping them in prime health and condition; this means they cannot have or carry any form of disease or illness; and any does they come in contact with must go through a screening process to prove their health as well. Offering bucks as studs can offer further income to a rabbitry, however, a breeder is taking a large risk to the health of their bucks and other rabbits. Most stud fees must include a guarantee of the successful impregnation of the doe and live birth of a healthy litter. These guarantees in themselves can be problem enough without the stress of STD transfers-as reputations, friendships, and even legalities can turn sour if things do not turn out the way originally thought. There is a lot to factor in, such as the doe miscarrying or producing faulty kits, or the buck injuring the doe or vise versa. You would need to consider such outcomes and how to properly and respectfully handle them. A full agreement in writing and preferably a vet document stating the current health of each rabbit as well as the full fee should all be obtaining in full before any services are performed.  Some breeders (usually close friends, family, or neighbors) may exercise the use of a joint herd buck and share in the profits, under strict guidelines and feelings of trust).  Other times, breeders will exchange stud services for the pick of the litter rather than financial benefits. This can be a good way to collaborate with other champion breeders to produce and share certain lines. Another option to stud services is artificial insemination. Artificial insemination remains as a small field as the collection, preservation, sale, and transfer of rabbit sperm is a scarce and often times difficult practice.

Intro to Chromosomes and Genes

To first understand genetics, you need to know that chromosomes are quite simply individual strands of DNA. These chromosomes are made up of individual loci, called genes. Each and every individual gene determines the appearance or function of a particular body part of an animal. The gene may work individually or work with others. Chromosome strings are linked together with other chromosome strings that have the same genes. So, in other words, chromosomes and the genes that they carry will occur in pairs. This goes for most of the cells of the body. Each species of animal has a different number of chromosome pairs that make up its body. For example, rabbits only have 22 chromosomes in each cell. Each of those chromosomes can contain anywhere between 500 and 1,000 genes that determine appearance, which means there can be 11,000 to 22,000 genes total. The only cells that do not harbor chromosomes are sex cells and red blood cells (it is the X and Y chromosomes that determine sexual characteristics). The number of paired chromosomes determines whether or not certain animals can reproduce with one another. If the number is not the same, then it’s physically impossible for those two animals to reproduce. This is why it’s only possible for related species or subspecies to crossbreed. Now, with each chromosome pair, there is a certain function that it is in charge of. In a particular gene location, it may only allow for one type of gene to make itself present, and on another location, it may allow different types of genes to be present. The reason why only one type can be present in certain locations is that it may cause a deletion or other disastrous effects such as deforming certain body parts to the point where they could not function properly. However, at the same time, certain genes, such as ones that determine color, may be allowed to stay in the same location. This will still cause a different expression of the same or similar characteristics but without the disastrous consequences. When the two genes that reside in this same position, they can either be different colors, called heterozygous pairing, or they can be the same, called homozygous or hybrids.

 

The phenotype is the outcome of the impact of genotype and environment on a character.

 

The genotype is the outcome of the effects of genes at several loci.

 

Heritability and genetic correlations: The amount of genetic progress depends primarily on how much of the variance is of additive genetic origin. This coefficient is called heritability and it is calculated as the ratio of additive genetic variance to total variance. Heritability, therefore, varies from zero to one. Heritability is also the regression coefficient of an individual's additive genetic value over his/her own performance. Heritability varies with the character and the environment. It particularly varies with gene frequencies and thus changes in a selected breeding group.

 

Genetic variability among breeds: Local breeds or populations could be compared with improved breeds in other countries and under different production systems. Breed differences are primarily exploited through cross-breeding. Interbreed comparisons in rabbitries are therefore very useful. Local breeds and populations can be compared with improved breeds in other countries and breeds produced in different conditions. Interbreed differences are basically exploited through crosses. Not all crosses are advantageous, however; they must be tested. The main advantages of cross-breeding are heterosis and interbreed nicking ability.

 

Heterosis may be defined as better breeding performances of crossed animals than that obtainable with the average of the two pure parent breeds. Heterosis may apply to the young rabbit (for example viability), the crossed doe (fertility, milk production) or the crossed buck (vigor, sexual urge, fertility). Characters subject to dominance, such as reproduction characters, are those most likely to benefit from heterosis.

The crossed animals are always more heterotic than the animals of the two parent populations and this implies greater adaptability to variable or challenging environmental conditions. Crossing can be useful in improving rabbit breeding in developing countries or areas of hardship.  Cross-breeding makes possible the optimum use of the nicking ability of the breeds.  Nicking ability concerns the two groups of characters from the mother and her young which contribute to the quantity of rabbit meat produced by the doe. In cross-breeding, this ability is aimed at bringing together either the overall characters relative to the mother and the offspring or a favorable combination of additive effects on the components of an overall character. The effects of heterosis and nicking ability are not systematic. Crossing programs are needed to bring out these effects clearly. For example, let's take breeding group A and breeding group B.  Two pure-bred (A × A) and (B × B) be compared with two reciprocal crosses (A × B) and (B × A), to highlight the effects of the maternal and grandmaternal generations.  Assume that breed group A has an adult weight of 6 lbs and breed B an adult weight of 3 lbs. We cross an A male with a B female and a B male with an A female, and compare the weight of the kits at weaning. The young AB rabbits have the same genetic heritage on average as the young BA rabbits, as they share 50% of the paternal and 50% of the maternal genes. The kits have a different maternal environment, however: A females have a larger uterus and produce more milk so the young weigh more at weaning. So, even with the same genetic heritage, BA rabbits are heavier at weaning than AB rabbits due to maternal effect. Another test example would be to the first generation of crosses (A × A), (B × B), (A × B) and (B × A); the second consists of mating pure AA and BB females and half-breed AB and BA females with, for example, males of a third C strain. At this point, the number of genotypes to compare at the second generation increases with the square of the number of groups.

Dominant and Recessive Genes

The best way to look at this is to know that rabbits are made up of two colors, no matter what. Picture it as one color being visible and the other as invisible. In other words, the coat color is what expresses the dominant gene, while the rabbit’s DNA is what carries the recessive genes from it lineage and it will use this to modify generations after it. The dominant gene is most often, well dominant. When it is more dominant than the recessive gene, this is what produces solid coat colors. However, when in the rare case that a recessive gene overthrows or modifies the dominant gene, this is termed as incomplete dominance. When looking at genotypes, the dominant gene will always be in the form of a capital letter, while the recessive gene will be in the form of a lower case letter. The determination on how rabbits obtain their genotypes occurs in conception. Once the sperm and the egg unite, they divide, putting one chromosome of each type into each other. The result of the offspring greatly depends on how its parent's genes relate to one another due to their own backgrounds and how expressive the dominant gene will be.

 

Determining genetics can be extremely difficult to map out because they can be overly complicated. And even if you do manage to figure it all out, the law of probability will still overrule. However, by being knowledgeable about the general layout of how genetics work, you can become more aware of how to plan specific breedings and what to expect. First of all, when figuring out the mathematic equations, remember that dominant gene are represented as capital letters and that recessive genes are represented by lower case letters. The following example will be used with a black/brown color location as it can be considered the most simple. The black gene which is completely dominant is represented as “B”. Now the only other possible and known recessive gene that can also occupy this location on the chromosome is brown which is represented as “b”. Knowing that a location on the chromosome as two genes, 4 possibilities can quickly be configured by this. These possibilities are as follows: BB, bb, Bb, and bB. As stated, black is dominant, so if a rabbit has at least one B at this location, there will be some form of black coloration in the rabbit’s fur, in other words, if there is BB, Bb, or bB, then you’ll find black. If it’s bb, then the rabbit will be brown, as this will usually require both genes to be recessive. However, remember that if the dominant gene is not completely dominant, then the recessive gene will modify the dominant gene. Now for the fun part of figuring out the equation. Take two black rabbits and mate them. Obviously both black rabbits will have at least one B gene. If the other gene is unknown whether it be B or b, it can be represented by a figure such as “_” which means unknown on the genotype. So for now, you can represent both of these rabbits as B_. Usually, when it comes down to determining dominant genes, you can’t always know for certain what the other gene of the pairs is, meaning that it could also be dominant. So back to the example. You have one black rabbit with a black/brown gene location that is represented as B_. And just assume that the other black rabbit is also a B_. When you breed the rabbits, B_xB_, combine the left gene of first rabbit with the right gen of second rabbit. This gives BB-which is as stated above, a black rabbit. Next, combine the the right gene of the first rabbit with the right gene of the second rabbit, giving you B_-another black rabbit. Then combine the right gene of the first rabbit with the left gene of the second rabbit which gives _B-yet again, another black rabbit. Finally, combine the right gene of the first rabbit with the right gene of the second rabbit, giving __-meaning unknown. Now you must figure out how to fill in the blank. If one of the two black rabbits you just now bred had both black genes, BB, then all of the litter would most certainly come out black, regardless if the rabbit even had one brown gene. Only if one of the rabbits you bred had one brown gene, bb, then you’d have a chance of a brown offspring and even then, it may take a few generations of different pairings to have a brown rabbit show up as the probability is only 25%. If you want to test this out, mate your black rabbit to a brown rabbit. In probability, you should get about 50% brown rabbits. By filling in the blanks, if you assume that the unknown gene could be B, all of the litter will be black. If you fill it in with a b, about 50% should be brown. However, because of probability, the resulting litter could potentially still end up all black or all brown. To determine which rabbits hold the dominant and recessive genes here, you may have to conduct several breedings, and even after so many breedings, you still may not get any brown rabbits. However, this doesn’t mean that the rabbit does not have the recessive gene. It just means that the probability of it having that gene is very low. Rabbits can carry genes for certain colors for many generations. Once the gene is introduced, it doesn't matter if it's three hundred generations or just three generations, a color can pop up at nearly any time as long as it's apart of the rabbit's background.

Gene Expressions

Colors in rabbits are arranged in different pattern groups. In each group are individual colors. Keep in mind, that patterns can be combined with each other, and the number of different combinations can seem endless. The basic pattern groups are as follows:

  • Agouti: The agouti coloring means that there are three or more rings (called bands) of color on each guard hair shaft. The head, feet, and ears of an agouti colored rabbit are ticked (meaning the very tip of the hair is darker), while the circles around the eyes, belly, back of the neck, and under the jaws tend to be lighter. Examples of agouti colorations are castor, chestnut, chinchilla, opal, and lynx

  • Brindle: The brindle coloring is the intermingling of two solid guard hair colors, a dark and a light. The brindle pattern will appear consistently throughout the body. Brindling comes in the form of harlequins; japanese and magpies (magpie is when a single color is mingled with white). Brindle patterns are sometimes referred to as Mosaic. Color combinations can come in either black/orange, chocolate/orange, black/red, chocolate/blue, lilac/fawn, black/white, chocolate/white, blue/white, and lilac/white. The pattern appears as very jagged or spotted, unless in the Harlequin breed, where it is meant to look like a giant checkerboard. Mosaic is a very rare form of harlequin-it is the combination of black, blue, and white. It is not entirely known how this mutation occurs but it is basically when the modifier covers up any yellow pigmentation.

  • Broken: There are two different subdivisions of broken: bicolor and tricolor. The bicolor broken pattern consists of any color appearing with white. The color can be in the form of patches or spots. The places of each spot and/or patch is very important as well as the amount of color compared to the amount of white. Also, the edge where white meets color must be very clean and precise, not intermingled or edgy, also known as a "cracked pattern". A broken with under 10% of color on the body is known as a charlie. A tricolor broken is simply a brindle pattern appearing with white. There are four types of broken paterns: Spotted, Blanket, Booted, and Charlie. 

  • Pointed White: This type of coloration is when the rabbit’s points (nose, ears, feet, and tail) are a darker color than the body color. Examples would be himalayan.

  • Self  (Non Agouti): This color refers to when the rabbit’s coat is a uniform color throughout the entire body. This means that each and every hair right down to the skin is the same exact color. Examples would be black and chocolate, chinchilla (non agouti –such as seals).

  • Solid (Wide Band): These colors refer to selfs such as orange, red, gold, and Madagascar. The color will be the same throughout the body except for the eye circles, underside of the tail, jaws, back of the neck, and belly will have a lighter coloration.

  • Shaded: The coat will show a gradual shift in color, beginning with a darker color on the rump, heads, ears, legs, and tail. The color will then turn into a lighter version of the same color when it reaches the central part of the body. The E-Gene controls this extension. The length of fur determines where one color ends and another begins. Basically, since hair on the rabbit's belly legs, rumps, ears, and tail is shorter, the darker hair base color is more prevalent because it's not long enough to show off the main body color. Examples include tortoise, sable, sable point, seal, and sallander. 

  • Ticked: The guard hairs will be either be tipped (unlike agouti where there are at least three bands of color on the shaft) or a solid color that is contrasting to the main color of the undercoat. Examples include steel (agouti), steel (non agouti), steel (chinchilla) and silver.

  • Tan Pattern: This pattern does not refer to the tan color. This is when a silvery white, cream, or mahogany pattern is found on the belly, underside of the tail, jaws, back of the neck, eye circles, nostrils, and sometimes up to the chest and collar. When the rabbit displays the silvery white pattern on a self background i.e. black, chocolate, blue, lilac, then this is known as a silver marten. It is the chinchilla gene that causes this silvery pearl coloring with a standard self body. When the body color is that of a sable with the silver white, this is known as a sable marten. When a rabbit displays a creamy pattern, this can be known as either an otter or a fox. The creamy pattern of otter will usually have an edge of contrasting color to the base self color once the two meet. When a rabbit shows a mahogany pattern, this is known as a tan. Tan is the only one that will have the pattern extend up through the chest collar. It is the 'rufus' factor that determines the extent of the color up through the body. This is a gene modifier (meaning it is a gene effect, not a separate pair by itself). It is extremely tricky and complicated to get the perfect tan pattern in mini rex as it takes the perfect combination of wideband and rufus factors to get a deep rich color that extends throughout.

  • Snowball and Frosted: 'Frosted' and 'snowball' are terms to describe an incorrectly colored kit that suffers from white discoloration.  It is most common in dilute (blue) based rabbits, closely followed by chocolate/ brown varieties and non extension rabbits. Frosting is more commonly found on the ears and noses.  A snow ball kit is slightly different; as a baby has very little depth of color having a nearly entirely white coat with exception of the very tips of the coat. This almost always moults out. Snowballing is sometimes also accompanied by frosting. 

 

 

Know that there are five main gene series, A, B, C, D, and E. Each of these five basics have separate genes called alleles that each effect a certain part of the color differently. Some of these alleles are either dominant or recessive. The dominant genes are presented in a capital letter while the recessive genes are lower case. Every rabbit carries two gene copies in a given locus series. When a rabbit has two copies of a particular gene in a series, then it is termed as homozygous. If there is only one copy of a particular gene in a series, then it is termed as heterozygous. The five main gene locations work with black and yellow to change how the pigment is expressed in rabbit fur. 

 

 

 

Genes Determining Coat Color:

  • A-Gene: Responsible for the agouti factor giving castors, chinchillas, opal, lynx, ermine, chestnut, etc.

    • at-Gene: Responsible for otters, tans, and martens.

    • a-Gene: Responsible for self colors.

  • B-Gene: Responsible for the dominant genes producing blacks and chocolates.

    • b-Gene: Responsible for the recessive genes producing blacks and chocolates.

  • C-Gene: Responsible for the full colors such as black, orange, chestnut, blue, black tortoiseshell, and lilac.

    • chd-Gene: Responsible for the chinchilla-dark factor like ermine, squirrel, chocolate chinchilla, and lilac ermine.

    • chl-Gene: Responsible for chinchilla-light factor giving the sable smoke pearl, and sable point.

    • ch-Gene: Responsible for Himalayans

    • c-Gene: Responsible for the REW (ruby eyed whites)

  • D-Gene: Responsible for determining density or diluteness in color. Examples are chocolates, blue, lilac, lynx, fawn, etc.

    • DD-Gene: Responsible for the density factor of colors

    • dd-Gene: Responsible for the dilute factor of colors

    • Dd-Gene: Responsible for the dense carrying dilute factor

  • E-Gene: Responsible for the color of the hair to extend all the way to the end of the shaft or stops and allows another color to begin. Examples are Sable, Sallander, Seal, Tort, etc.

    • Es-Gene: Responsible for the steel factor. This is the gene of wild rabbits and creates gold and silver tipped steels.

    • EsE-Gene: Responsible for the steel carrying extension factor.

    • Ese-Gene: Responsible for the steel carrying nonextension factor.

    • EE-Gene: Responsible for the true breeding full extension factor.

    • Ee-Gene: Responsible for the extension carrying nonextension factor.

    • ee-Gene: Responsible for the nonextension factor, limiting dark color.

    • En-Gene: Responsible for the broken pattern gene.

    • enen-Gene: Responsible for the solid color.

    • Enen-Gene: Responsible for brokens and spotting.

    • Ed-Gene: Dominant Black or Dark Extension s actually the most dominant E series gene

    • ej-Gene: Responsible for japanese harlequin, magpie, and tri

    • EnEn-Gene:Responsible for charlies.

Genes Determining Coat Markings and Other Colors:

  • Du-Gene: Responsible for the dutch marking factor.

  • Dud-Gene: Responsible for the dark dutch markings.

  • Duw-Gene:Responsible for the light dutch markings.

  • Si-Gene: Responsible for the silvering factor.  

  • V-Gene: Responsible for the vienna factor carrier

  • v-Gene: Responsible for blue eyed whites

  • Vv-Gene: Responsible for vienna sports

  • W-Gene: Responsible for the normal agouti wide band

  • w-Gene: Responsible for substantial agouti wide band double in width

  • P-Gene: Responsible for the pink eyed dilute

Genes Determining Coat Type:

  • F-Gene: Responsible for the normal hairless factor carrier

  • f-Gene: Responsible for hairless factor

  • L-Gene: Responsible for the long haired or wool factor carrier

  • l-Gene: Responsible for long haired or wool factor

  • R-Gene: Responsible for the rex fur factor carrier

  • r-Gene: Responsible for the rex fur factor

  • Sa-Gene: Responsible for the satin hair factor carrier

  • sa-Gene: Responsible for the satin hair factor

  • Wa-Gene: Responsible for the wavy or astrex factor carrier

  • wa-Gene: Responsible for the wavy or astrex factor

  • M-Gene: Responsible for the maned factor carrier

  • m-Gene: Responsible for the maned factor

Genes Determining Dwarfism:

  • Dw-Gene: Responsible for dwarfs

  • DW-Gene: Responsible for false dwarfs

  • dw-Gene: Responsible for double dwarfs (peanuts)

 

 

The following genotypes and phenotypes are all of the standard recognized rabbit color varieties. However, there are literally over 17,010 possible genotypes for rabbit coat colors, many of which have only ever been documented once or twice in history. Also, keep in mind that these colors can be combined with each other and with other patterns. By viewing the genotypes, you can see and understand what each combination of dominant and recessive genes do to create a certain color and/or pattern.

Conception

Conception is the fertilization of the eggs of the doe by the sperm of the buck and the subsequent attachment of these eggs to the uterine horns of the doe. The number of eggs is highly variable and can range from 1 to 14 or more depending on breed and size. The number of fertilized eggs also depends on the age and health of the doe and buck, the season, the number of eggs available for fertilization, the amount of sperm deposited and its viability, the capacity of the uterine horns, the genetic backgrounds, and other factors that may or may not be controllable. You must take all of this into consideration before breeding.

 

Even though rabbits do not have an actual estrus cycle, there are certain times of the year when they are more receptive than others. You may see a doe mounting a buck or another doe as a sign that she is in a conceptive mood (however this can also be a sign of dominance). Because of this reason, among others, it is best to keep rabbits by themselves except when you breed them. If you have one buck amongst a herd of does, you might as well consider that they will all get pregnant, and soon. Don't ever leave a buck in with a doe unsupervised, and especially don't have them together when she has her litter. A buck will most certainly kill and devour the young in mere minutes after birth. This is just a form of nature. Most male animals do this to bring the female back into heat sooner.

 

The number of eggs that can be fertilized depends on the parents' ages. The doe and buck have maximum egg and sperm production between the ages of 6 months and 3 years. At this point, the egg and sperm production decreases, as does the chances of conception and giving birth.

When a doe is ready to be bred, check her vent. It should be a bright and full flush pink to purple color when she is at her peak. If she is not at the peak of her season, it is normally a very light pink color. Any other color or discharge could be a sign of illness (or worse, an STD) and a doe should not be bred if this is the case. If she is not at the peak of her season and is not acting receptive, you can try giving her extra supplements of Vitamin A and E daily for about a week to help push her body into reproductive mode.

 

The breeder is dependent on the sexual urges of the buck and doe for the first essential step, mating. Little is known about the biological basis of rabbit sexuality. The urge drops with high temperatures (28° to 30°C). In the hot season, the doe must be presented to the buck early in the morning, from 0600 onwards, when the sexual urge is greatest.

 

Fertility is affected by ovulation, which depends on the doe and takes place ten hours after mating, and by fecundation of the egg, which depends on the buck and occurs 16 hours after mating. The genes of both the buck and the doe equally affect prenatal growth and the viability of the egg. The crossing can improve the viability of the egg, blastocyst, and embryo. The doe has more influence in the uterine environment, notably on embryo nourishment. The buck, therefore, has an influence on litter size.

 

 Your buck must also be in prime condition, with no sign of STDs and with both testicles descended out. Bucks can 'retain' either one or both of their testicles and usually, it's a sign that the outside weather is too hot or too cold, or that they are simply not at their peak of sexuality, or that they may be ill. Heat especially can be detrimental to the buck, and most breeders will often witness a "dry spell" during hot summer months. This is termed as heat sterility. Once the sperm is damaged by the heat, it can take up for 3-6 weeks to completely clear his system. 

 

The estimated total duration of spermatogenesis in the rabbit depends on the point chosen as the onset of spermatogenesis. If spermatogenesis is considered to begin with the first of the series of spermatogonial divisions leading to the production of primary spermatocytes then about four cycles of the seminiferous epithelium or 4 × 10.9 = 43.6 days are required. However, if one assumes that spermatogenesis starts with the formation of spermatogonial stem cells and that the lifespan of these stem cells is one cycle of the seminiferous epithelium then spermatogenesis extends over about 4.75 cycles or 51.8 days.

 

When breeding, always bring the doe to the buck's hutch. Never take the buck to the doe. The doe will be extremely territorial of her cage space, and will quickly injure any prize buck in mere seconds. You may increase the amount of conception by rebreeding the doe to the buck 4 to 12 hours after the initial breeding. Some breeders just leave the doe in with the buck all day. Though this may ensure the chances of a breeding, it isn't always a safe idea, as rabbits will fight over the territory in their cages, therefore, causing severe wounds to each other. So it is best to supervise the mounting and remove the doe once she has been fertilized.

 

Allow the two to mate at least three times per session. Usually (and most commonly with first time bucks) it will take up to 1-2 minutes of couplings before conception is successful. The male’s semen will be more concentration during ejaculation after this time.  You may want to breed them first to induce ovulation, then breed them again no less or more than 10 hours later to ensure fertilization.

 

In two successful servicing, the first coupling a second, which acts as preparation for the second coupling, which is less voluminous but again, more concentrated. So basically, the more he mates during one session, the volume of his ejaculations will decrease but the concentration will increase.

 

If a buck is used to service less than one day a week, his ejaculations may be concentrated enough for fertilization the first time around. Vice versa if he is used more than once a week.

 

 Typically, a good rule to go by is by the buck's age. If he's younger than 11 months of age, he is allowed 1 doe at intervals of 3-4 days. A buck older than 12 months of age can be allowed 4-6 does over 7 days.

 

Never rebreed the doe after 36 hours of the initial breeding. It may cause the estrogen/progesterone cycle to get messed up in the developing womb, causing an abortion or miscarriage. You'll see her give birth to a bunch of "blobs". When you do take the doe to the buck, the breeding should take place right away. Unless the doe is not in season, she will be receptive to the buck. Otherwise, it may not be unusual for her to back into a corner, try to fight off the buck, or just simply sit there and allow him to try and figure out what angle to go at for hours on end. At that point, he may give up for a few minutes to rest, but don't worry, he will be back at it again.

 

If in the case, the doe is not cooperating whatsoever with the buck, grab a hold of her scruff with one hand, place her bottom end first into the cage, and with the other hand go under her belly and open her vent and push her rump up. This is a forced mating, and the buck will easily mount the doe at this point.

 

Because they have two separate lobes in their uterus, does have the ability to hold two different litters from two different matings at the same time. This is called superfoetation and is more common in hares than in rabbits, so the event is rare, but it does happen. This is why it is very important to monitor and record mating dates and times.

 

When a buck mounts a doe, don't be shocked if he doesn't get it right the first couple of times-even an experienced buck. He may mount her side, head, or just not penetrate her at first. Don't worry about this. Because of his rabbit determination, he will not quit until he gets it right. When he does get it right, you will see the doe raise her tail up then you will see the buck 'lock' into the doe for a second, jump, grunt, then fall over on his back. It only takes a few seconds, so don't miss it. One of the best breeding methods any breeder should know is that it's highly recommended to breed at least 2 does at the same time. That way, if one doe decides to not take care of her litter at birth, or she dies, or simply has too many young to take care of, you at least will have another nursing doe on hand to transfer the babies. It's usually best to breed your rabbits in early spring to mid-fall, depending on the surrounding temperatures. If your rabbits are in a climate controlled environment which is ideally 60 to 75 degrees, then you can breed year around. If you leave the lights on in your rabbitry constantly and have a constant temperature, does and bucks will not know what the season is and so, therefore, be able to produce whenever possible.

 

Once conception has been successful, the doe will almost immediately have a change of heart towards to buck. Instead of being presenting or submissive, she may turn aggressive (biting and charging the buck). After mating has taken place, the buck may stomp his hind legs repeatedly for a period of time. This is his way of reminding all the other bucks in the vicinity that the doe is his. 

Gestation Care

Once you are sure that a successful conception has taken place, care of your doe is relatively simple. The biggest mistake that first time breeders make is thinking that the doe will need extra feed added to her diet. This is a very bad idea. You should keep her diet just the same as usual. If she is given too much feed, she will become fat, and the fat will build up around her uterine wall. This will cause her extreme pain and severe complications, especially in labor and may very likely cause you to lose both her and the litter. Her system would be more harmed by varying her diet than if you keep things as usual. Her body adjusts to the developing babies just fine without your intervention. Just make sure she always has plenty of fresh water to drink when she needs it.

 

It's also very important to make sure the doe is as comfortable and content as possible. Anything that could stress her out, even something as simple as a dog barking, can cause her to absorb (abort) her young. This means that she can literally become unpregnant just as fast as it took her to become pregnant. Rabbits do this as a survival technique. If the doe feels the environment is too dangerous or unsupportive to give birth and raise her young in, she will make the decision to abort. This is especially dangerous late into a pregnancy, as the advanced fetuses can cause infection or become calcified and forever remain in the doe.  Also avoid feeding the doe carrot seeds, as they can cause the prevention of implantation of the embryo shortly after conception.

 

The doe gets plumper during this time. She may also get grumpy and try to scratch or bite you.  

Keep in mind that rabbits can go through "false pregnancies". The doe may act like she's pregnant (being temperamental and making a nest) but she really isn't. First-time mothers or younger does are more likely to have this happen to them. They think they are pregnant because the attempted conception stimulated her hormones into making her believe that she is going to have kits.

 

 

The Nest Box:

A rabbits' nest box should be roughly 1&1/2 times the size of the doe. It can either be made of wood or metal for summer months and must be deep enough for the litter to not climb out of until at least ten days old. Wooden boxes are more insulated but can easily become saturated with urine and harbor bacteria, whereas metal provides hardly any insulation and can become either too hot or too cold in extreme weather, but they are far more sanitary and last much longer than a wooden one. It's up to you to choose. The roof should be just tall enough to let the doe in to nurse her young but not enough to let large amounts of heat out.

Some nest boxes can attach to the bottom or side bottom of the cage. These are great for first-time mothers as any kits not born in the box will naturally just fall right into it after climbing around on the cage floor. These boxes are also more natural for rabbits and allow for easy access of both the doe and young.

 

Do not put the nest box in until 2-3 days before the doe is to give birth. Otherwise, she will just use it as a litter box.

 

DO NOT put alfalfa hay, cedar or pine wood shavings, corn cob litter, cat litter, newspaper, or any specially scented bedding into the nest box. These materials can be dangerous to a kit's growing respiratory and digestive system because of the phenols, dyes, dust, and chemicals used to treat.  You should also not use any fabrics as bedding as the threads can become unraveled and get entangled around the kit’s legs and neck.

Instead, use straw, grass hay, timothy hay, aspen shavings, kiln-dried pine shavings/pellets, sugar cane shavings, non-scented CareFresh, or a combination of these as your nesting material.  You can add bits of dryer lint, cotton balls, or down feathers to make a softer bedding if you wish.

 

If the doe does not pluck her fur out at least before the 28th day, gently take some from her belly and dewlap to fill the nest as well. Always save extra pulled fur for future litters, in case the mother doesn't build a proper nest or the outside temperature is too cold. 

 You can put some extra grass hay into the does cage-outside of her nest box, to encourage her nesting instincts to build her nest in the box by using the hay provided.

 

Sometimes, first-time mother will use the nest box as their own personal bed. However, after kindling this can lead her to accidentally squashing/suffocating her kits if she sits/lays in the box for prolonged periods of time. If this is the case, place another nest box in her cage. This she can use as her bed and the other she can use as the actual nest for her young.

 

Gestation:

Gestation is simply the period of time from conception to birth. It usually takes 31 days but may vary as much as 2 days give or take. Put a nest box in for the doe on the 28th day, unless you see her pulling hair before that time.  When you put a nest box in, the doe will start taking up hay in her mouth to prepare her nest. Watch carefully to make sure that she is putting it in the nest box and not spreading it on the floor of the hutch. If she is spreading it on the floor, she is intending to have the litter on the floor instead of the nest box. If this is the case, reposition the nest box to that area and place the bedding inside, so hopefully, she’ll get the idea. You don’t want her to give birth on the cage floor as the young will quickly freeze to death. They may also get stuck in the wire floor, and/or fall out of the cage.

 

Usually, the doe will pull her fur from her upper abdomen and around the shoulders just before she is to give birth. However, on occasion, she will pull fur one week before the young are due. Make sure that there is enough fur pulled for the nest or the little ones may freeze no matter what the temperature.

 

Occasionally, if a doe does not intend to take care of the litter, she will pull no fur. This is a good early sign that you may have to move the litter to another doe to take care of, or at the very least, have some extra fur on hand to prepare the nest. Sometimes a doe will give birth prematurely. These babies, if they are more than 2 days early, will usually die, and there is nothing you can do about it.

 

 Sometimes if the doe is going through a false pregnancy, she will still make a nest, but obviously not give birth.

If it turns out to be a false pregnancy, you may rebreed her 4 days after she was initially due.

 

Be sure to clip the does' claws before her due date. This will prevent her from scratching and accidentally injuring the kits when they are born.

When it is time to put the nest box in with her, you may want to move her and the box to a bigger cage to allow for more room for her, the box, and the litter. Whichever kind of cage she is in, make sure it has 4-inch tall baby-saver wire/kit guards around the bottom. This is to prevent any kits born outside of the box from crawling through the wire and falling onto the ground or going into another rabbit's cage-leading to an almost certain death.

Nest Box Types:
Side-Hanging, Bottom-Hanging, and Box Style
Palpation

Palpation, aside from blood tests, is the only real way to tell if a doe is actually pregnant. Does USUALLY don't show any signs of carrying kits; they act the same, eat the same amount of food, don't appear to gain much weight, and unlike most other mammals when pregnant she'll still be willing to mate if the opportunity presents itself. Which is why placing her in with a buck two weeks after the initial mating (which was the old method to test for pregnancy) to see if she resists may not always work. Besides, doing that could just get her pregnant again which could lead to all sorts of problems.

 

Sometimes you'll get the rare doe that actually does show signs of being pregnant-she'll be grumpy and temperamental (growling, biting, etc), eat bucket loads of feed, gain enough weight to make her appear as if she ingested a bowling ball, and will attack any buck that comes near her. But again, this is usually not the case with most does. So palpation is going to be your best option.

 

The most common form of palpating can be hard to learn and take a while until you get the hang of it. You should be very extremely careful when doing it if it's your first time. You need to get into the habit of palpating so that you can eventually learn how it's done and what to look for. You should palpate your doe within 10-11 days after breeding. Any later than 14 days and it will become increasingly difficult as the young grow and their sacks become softer. To palpate, simply place the doe on a flat surface, facing you and gently run your hand down under her belly. She should feel evenly firm and there will be pea to marble sized lumps along the sides of her belly. Make sure you are not feeling the cecals in her abdomen-these will be farther up along her spine and feel more stone-like as opposed to firm grapes. To get the hang of it, palpate bred does with not bred does to try and feel for the difference. If the doe palpates negative, you can rebreed her at this point (and only a very experienced breeder can determine this). However, there may be a small risk of the doe being pregnant and getting pregnant again with a later litter.

Now another way to test for pregnancy is to simply look her belly over on day 10-12. This is when she will have a slight bulge to her abdomen and it will feel very similar to a full bladder. It is at this stage of pregnancy that the kit is still somewhat of compact mass. After day 13, the uterine horns stretch out lengthwise so the kits have space to grow, and you will lose the opportunity to check for this bulge. On day 20, there will be a bulge on her right side. This is because the litter is pushing her cecum outward. This is usually not very noticeable on first-time mothers but gets progressively so with the more litters she has. On day 25 you can probably feel the little lumps on the left side. Do not palpate or handle her on day 13 or 23 as these are placental changes and you do not want to disrupt that.

Embryonic Development

Early growth of the rabbit morula and blastocyst.

Early development data from an in vitro development study

Fertilization - penetration of most ova during the first hour after ovulation.

  1. 0-16 h - pronuclei

  2. 16-22 h - 2 cell

  3. 22-29 h - 4 cell

  4. 29-32 h - 8 cell

  5. 32-77h - morula

  6. 77-98h - blastocyst

  7. 98h + - hatching blastocyst

  8. 6 Days - gastrulation starts.

 

Gonad Development

Day post coïtum (dpc)

  • 9 - first germ cells are detected in both sexes.

  • 14 - gonad macroscopically evident, the mesonephros and gonads are still connected and interactions between tissues are probable.

  • 16 - most germ cells already entered the genital ridges (crests).

  • 16 to 25 - regression of the mesonephros.

  • 23 - gonadal and mesonephric tissues are separated by connective tissue. Thought to prevent the migration of cells and other substances.

Days post partum (dpp)

  • birth - XX gonads first signs of meiosis.

  • 50 - XY gonads first signs of meiosis.

  • 70 - blood-testis barrier is definitively complete.

 

 

 

 

 

Neural Development

  • 6 - 8 somite stage - the flat neural plate transforms into a V-shaped neural groove (beginning at rhombo-cervical level)

  • 8 and 9 somite stage - multiple closure sites occur simultaneously at three levels

  1. incipient pros-mesencephalic transition

  2. incipient mes-rhombencephalic transition

  3. level of the first pairs of somites

results in four transient neuropores

anterior neuropore

  • 9-11 somite stages - anterior and rhombencephalic neuropores close

  • mesencephalic neuropore is very briefly present

posterior neuropore

  • largest and remains open longest

  • 9-10 somite stages - tapered (cranial) portion closes fast within

  • wide (caudal) portion closes up to a narrow slit

  • further closure slows

  • 22 somite stage - full closure occurs

 

 

Immune Development

  1. Neonatal repertoire is generated by B lymphopoiesis in fetal liver and bone marrow (limited by preferential V(H) gene segment usage).

  2. Between 4 and 8 weeks after birth gut-associated lymphoid tissue (GALT) a complex primary antibody repertoire.

  3. The primary antibody repertoire is subsequently modified during antigen-dependent immune responses (the secondary repertoire).

Rabbits uniquely develop a primary antibody repertoire through somatic diversification of Ig genes (dependent on intestinal microbial flora).

The esacculus rotundus is located at the ileocaecal junction as an enlargement of the large intestine and contains lymphoid tissue.

Birth

About 3 days before the doe is due to kindle, reduce her feed a bit. Continue this reduction until about the 4th day after birth. This is something does do naturally in the wild and it prevents mastitis. 

 

The doe will give birth any time of the day, but most births will take place at night or early morning since it is quieter. It will take around ten minutes for her to deliver all of her young. Normally, she will pull her fur just before birth, but as  mentioned above, there is much variation in this. If everything goes right, she will birth them in the nest box on a bed of fur in a depression of the hay/bedding. Once she has had them all, she will cover them with more fur and get out of the nest box. As long as she has had 3 or more babies and they have adequate fur protection in the nest box, they should survive even in mildly cold weather. The core of the nest box should remain around 100 degrees at all times. When there is only one or two kits, they may not be able to keep their temperatures up and may die. If you can, it is best to let the doe have her litter in a heated or controlled environment.

 

The doe will usually (but not always, especially if she is a first time mother) eat the placental material and any babies that were born dead. This is completely natural, as rabbits in the wild do this to prevent the attraction of predators to their nest by the smell of blood or rotting flesh.

(As mentioned above, most first time mothers may consume their live young out of stress and confusion. If this is the case, you may have to quickly remove the kits and either transfer them to another nursing doe or hand raise them.)

 

This viability remains fairly constant for the number of live births in litters of three to nine. Small litters (one or two live births) do not offer a favourable environment for the survival of the young. Live young at weaning peak at 8.60 for litters of 12 or more. This suggests practical rules for fostering to increase the total production of young rabbits weaned. The fostered rabbits may come from small (one or two), or more commonly from large (over ten) litters. However, fostering implies both a sufficient number of does in the rabbitry and the breeder's familiarity with their maternal behavior. After birth and once the young rabbit has suckled, it can be separated from the mother for 24 hours, allowing for easy travel and transfer to a foster mother.

 

After the 4th day, you can switch the doe's feed to one that is of a slightly higher protein and calcium content.

 

Babies are born with their eyes closed and nearly hairless. They must be protected from exposure and must be confined together with their littermates. Sometimes a doe will give birth on the cage floor. Be vigilant and watch for this. Unless you gather up the babies in enough time and put them in the nest box, they will die from exposure. Once in the nest box, the mother will care for them. The position of the babies is very important. The mother will never move the babies anywhere. If they are on the cage floor, on the cage floor they will remain, unless you intervene. This is not because the doe is neglectful, it's simply because rabbits are incapable of moving their young. Even in the nest box, they have to be in the right place and it is up to you to make sure of this. Make sure that they are lying on fur in a good depression in the hay where they cannot climb out of the nest box. If they climb out before their eyes are open, their chances of survival are slim.

 

When you do check on them, be quiet and take as little time as possible to do this as to not stress the doe. If she is stressed or feels threatened, she will panic and she may abandon or even kill her young. Check the babies soon after birth to count them and to eliminate runts, deformed babies, and any that are dead. Be sure to wash your hands both before and after handling the kits. Kits have fragile immune systems, and contracting e-Coli from unwashed hands is a very real danger. If they get e-coli, they'll all die, without warning, and within days. (signs of e-coli related death in kits is the presence of yellow-ish diarrhea)

 

With growing rabbits, bone tissue develops first, followed by muscle and then fat. In a population of common rabbits of average adult weight (4 kg) the skeleton develops rapidly up to a live weight of 900 g. Growth then continues more slowly up to 4 kg. Muscle tissue gains very quickly in weight up to a live weight of 2.3 to 2.6 kg, when the curve falls abruptly. Adipose tissue develops at a fast rate after 2.1 kg. To allow for the differences in the speed of overall weight gain due to breed or feeding, rabbits should be slaughtered at 50 to 60 percent of the normal adult weight for their breed or population. This is the right stage for the best anatomical composition of the carcass and the most efficient utilization of feed.

 

 Any malformed or overly sick kits must be humanely dispatched. Though it is hard to kill a baby that's just been born, it is necessary. If the deformed/sick baby is allowed to get older, it will eventually die a slow and painful death from the complications of its birth defect.  The other babies could have been healthier if they did not have to share their nutrition with one that was going to die anyway.

  "Peanut" kits are easily identifiable as they are usually a third of the size of their littermates. Their eyes are usually bulging and the ears, limbs, and pelvis are abnormally small, Peanuts occur when two true dwarfs are bred together as they are the result of the double true dwarfing gene. It is a congenitally defective kit that fails to thrive. Peanuts will NEVER live to adulthood, so it's best to put them out of their misery now. The longest any peanut has lived on record was 6 months and that was an extreme case. Typically, they don't live past a few weeks, at best. Their tissue, brains, and organs are not properly formed when they are born resulting in them eventually dying. 

The Max factor gene is a recessive gene. The kit that exhibits the double dose of this gene often have fully open eye(s) or sometimes just partially open, even a slit (sometimes one can see fur stuck to the eye) Open eyes however slight/severe will lead to blindness. The limbs are deformed, twisted or splayed.  The feet appear to resemble flippers, sometimes webbed and occasionally a dewclaw may be present on the hind leg(s)  
The fur has spiked or very soft long appearance due to the lack of guard hairs Runts (slightly smaller than the rest of the young, but not deformed) may or may not live, so use your best judgment with them.

Fetal Giants or "Hippo Babies" are unusually large and deformed kits. Sometimes they'll have the appearance of being "stretched". Due to the stress of a prolonged and difficult delivery of the oversized kit, usually 2 to 3 times normal size, it will have died from asphyxiation. The following kits, if any, will either be born dead or may be delivered alive but are normally scattered by the mother due to stress.  It has been suggested that overfeeding or feeding too much protein to a pregnant doe may be the cause of this. Hormone levels may also be a cause as the increase for fetal giants is more prevalent in the fall and winter months. Unfortunately, there is no solid research to prove any of these theories and many breeders are left to assume genetics plays a role. 
 

 

 

The doe may not feed her kits for 2 days after she gives birth. This is normal as it may take as long as 48 hours after birth for her to start producing milk. Kits are born with a sterile gut. The mother's natural milk provides the flora and enzymes that produce something of a curd; congealed milk, much like a starter yogurt. The kit's gastrointestinal tract is then fluorinated with the essential elements it needs to have a healthy system. This curd is also high in pH which doesn't support the growth of microorganisms (something the rabbit's stomach and intestines are naturally devoid of). A certain antimicrobial fatty acid is produced from an enzymatic reaction with a substrate found in the mother's milk in the kit's stomach. During the next 2-3 weeks the kits lose this fatty acid and gradually develop the mature stomach pH of an adult rabbit.  

 

Check on the babies every day to make sure they are doing ok. Their bellies should be rounded. This shows they are getting adequate nutrition. Don't worry about handling babies. Just don't frighten the mother.

You may not see the mother with her young very often, as she only feeds the kits in the early morning and afternoon for just a few minutes. The rest of the time she ignores them. This too is normal due to the fact that rabbits are by nature prey animals-they want to draw as little attention around their nest as possible.

 

Does keep to a pretty tight schedule when feeding and this is largely due to the amount of available daylight. Readjusting this schedule (such as moving the doe and her litter to a dark room) may actually cause the doe to have a chemical imbalance, thus compromising any unborn litter inside of her and the nutritional value of the milk she is currently producing. Try not to disturb the young or the mother aside from quick daily checks.

 

Do not remove the mother or the kits from each other especially for prolonged periods of time as this diminishes their social interaction, scheduled feedings, and exposes them to bacteria and stress. The only exception to this is if you have to remove the kits for hand feeding and this is only in DIRE situations.

 

Don't be too alarmed if the doe urinates on her kits. This happens for one of two reasons; One, she may just be inexperienced and think the nest box is a litter box. Or, she may be doing it to mask the scent of the litter if she feels threatened by any potential predators near by. Unless she is doing this very frequently and it is causing the kits to become constantly soaked and eventually ill, you may need to interfere. Otherwise, simply leave the kits alone and nature will take care of the issue.

 

One thing to check for is eye infections, which is very common in newborns. Their eyes don't open until the 10th or 11th day, so you can't do anything before that time. If the baby is born with bad eyes, eliminate it immediately. You must treat eye infections as soon as possible or the rabbit will be blind in that eye as it gets older. Never try to pry open the eyes before the 10th day, no matter what. Before this date, their eyes are still not developed and are fused shut by delicate skin and nerves. If you try to force them open, you will cause painful and permanent damage.

When a rabbit loses its litter, you may rebreed her one week after birth. This means that if she loses her litter on the 8th day, you may immediately rebreed her. If she loses it on the 3rd day, wait four days and then rebreed her. If the doe does not take care of her litter by the 3rd day, time is of the essence. It is a very good idea to have another nursing doe on hand to transfer the litter if necessary. You can also do this if the doe has had a litter far too large for her to handle-just divide the number of young among a few nursing does to keep milk supply equal-but be sure to keep track of which kits belong to which doe when record keeping.

 

  A nursing rabbit can care for about 12-15 young, so adding a couple kits to a litter won’t hinder the fostering doe. Just remember that the bigger and stronger kits will adapt to the switch easier than runts will, so don’t be surprised if the weakest don’t make it. It is also important to note, that if you do transfer the young to a different nursing doe, that she is nursing a litter of the same exact age. The nutrients in her milk supply changes over time to help the young through different stages of growing, and if you put the new babies in her nest at a later time, she may not be able to give them the right nutrients that they need at that stage. If you do not have a nursing doe at this time, it is possible to hand raise the babies. Only nurse baby rabbits in dire situations because the formulas for baby rabbits do not have the same amount of nutrients and antibodies found in the natural milk of a mother rabbit.

Growth

Days 1-9: It's important to handle the kits starting on day one. Despite public misconceptions, the doe will not abandon her kits if they are touched. She could care less. If you don't handle and check them every day, not only are the kits missing out on essential human socialization, they could have potential health risks that need to be addressed. Check the nest each day for any dead kits and remove them. Failure to remove them is an invitation for fly strike and bacterial growth. Make sure each kit has a full, round belly and is free from any health defects (discharge, blood, broken limbs, diarrhea, etc). Make sure they are warm and have plenty of soft insulating nesting material available. If you find any kits outside of the nest box, put them back in. The doe cannot and will not move or pick up her kits to put them back. It's not uncommon for some kits to cling to a nipple and fall off the doe when she leaves the nest box. It's your responsibility to put them back and prevent them from getting stuck in the cage wire or freezing to death. As the days go by, the kits will gradually become more active. Even at just a couple of days, they exhibit behaviors such as popping around and squeaking when they get excited about their mother's milk. As the young rabbits grow from the first day of birth to 10 days old, they get more and more of their own fur and slightly more active. They are born almost hairless but develop enough fur to keep themselves warm by the 9th day.  If you can't tell the kits apart by physical appearance alone, but need to for record keeping reasons, you can use a small dap of nail polish on their nails.

 

Days 10-15: On the 10th or 11th day, their eyes are open and sometimes they will come out of the nest box. It may take a couple of days for the eyes to completely open, so don't force them. If you force their eyes open, they will become permanently damaged. If they are not open by the 15th day, you can gently apply a warm wet cloth to the eye to GENTLY encourage it to open. You can also use Neosporin droplets (not the ointment). 

 

At this time, you may tip the nest box on its side to allow the kits easy access in and out. You don't want the kits to hop out and not be able to get back inside as they may freeze to death. You may also change the bedding in the nest box to prevent bacteria build up. Just leave a small amount of the old bedding inside so the kits will be familiar with the scent.

They will start to eat solids between the 11th and 14th days. You can place a shallow crock of water in their cage. Do not use deep crocks as the kits may drown. Do not feed them anything other than hay and water and eventually pellets. Plain oats and fresh grasses are all right to give as well and in fact, are recommended before pellets. But it's extremely important that they are started on this right from the time they start leaving the nest, and they are fed very small portions.  Any other treats will cause loose stool, impacted bowels, or G.I. Stasis, which is the number one killer of baby rabbits. Also, do not give the doe any treats either, in case the babies get to those treats, and you do not want to alter her milk supply by doing this either. When they start eating pellets, keep the kits (and their mother) on a high energy alfalfa based pellet with high amounts of protein and calcium until weaning. Try to just keep the kits on as much fiber as possible (hay) and as little pellets as possible for the first week out of the nest box in order to help transition their sensitive guts to the hard form and different ingredients found in pellets.

 

It is between the period of birth and 12 days that you can transfer babies around to different mothers, if necessary. Perhaps one mother gave birth to only two and another gave birth to three. As long as their ages are within 4 days of each other, you may transfer them from one mother to another, and the other mother will take care of them as if they were her own. You will have problems if you transfer them after they are 12 days old. Their scent is different and the foster mother may attack or abandon them. Rubbing a small dab of butter on the head of the kit will help cover the smell and encourage the mother to groom them, however, it's not a guarantee.  Domestic does will foster wild baby bunnies in the same way. The things you have to watch out for, though, is the possible transmission of lice, fleas, or disease to the domestic rabbits.

When the weather is nice, above 60 degrees, you may remove the nest box on the 14th-16th day after their birth. Allow them to stand on a piece of plywood until the 18th day so they can become accustomed to wire floors. On cold days, remove the nest box on the 18th-20th day. It is necessary to remove the nest box before the 21st day because they will use it as a litter box, which makes it harbor a lot of germs that they can easily become infected with. "Nestbox eye" is a common problem found in kits if they are exposed to a dirty nestbox. An infection will enter into their newly opened eyes and can cause permanent damage, including blindness.

 

At this age, you can put the doe and her litter in a large run to play and exercise if you like.

This is also the ideal time for you to rebreed your doe for the next litter if you absolutely need to. Though, it's usually best to wait at least a week after the current litter is weaned to allow the doe's health to adjust back to normal.

 

Between the 14th day and two months, you may notice an increase in mortality of the kits. The vast majority of deaths in young rabbits are related to their intestines. For some reason, they are very susceptible to inflammation of their intestines and they may or may not get diarrhea, and simply die for no apparent reason. Read more about this cause and possible treatments under the “Problems with Kits” section further down this page.

Weaning

Weaning simply means taking the young away from their mother and their supply of milk. 

Once the young start eating solid food between the 11th and the 14th day, they continue to grow and may be weaned as early as 4 weeks after birth, though this is usually not recommended and the suggested time is at least 6-8 weeks as this increases their nutrition and growth.

Never let them continue to stay with their mother after they are 3 months old as they will start to fight and reach sexual maturity which may lead to them breeding with each other.

 

 Sometimes, it is best to take all of them away except for one. You can leave this one remaining kit with the mother for up to an extra week. This is supposed to give the mother's breasts time to acclimate from not having to nurse, causing less pain. This also keeps the mother from stressing or becoming depressed about losing her litter. If she becomes too stressed, she may become ill.

 

Remove the largest and healthiest of the litter first, leaving the runts and thin kits with the mother. The runts will benefit from the extra time with mom. They will get more time to stock up on mom's nutrient-rich milk and spend less energy in competition with their siblings. This will give them the boost they need to thrive.

 

 

 

At the time of weaning, you should sex the babies and separate the males and females into their own cages.  Do not wait any longer than 10 weeks to separate the sexes. At the same time you sex them you should check their teeth. This is very important. While the baby is on its back, spread its lips apart sideways and note how the teeth are set. The upper teeth must overlap the bottom teeth. If the upper teeth meet the lower teeth or the lower teeth overlap the top teeth, this rabbit has malocclusion or "wolf-teeth". This disqualifies it for show as well as breeding or pet purposes not to mention affecting the way the rabbit will be able to properly eat. Rabbits with these symptoms must either be euthanized or you must put a lot of money into continual dental care for them which may or may not even work.

 

You may keep the rabbits you've weaned together in "grow out" cages, separated by sex, until about 4 months, at which time they will need to be totally separated - one rabbit per cage. Both bucks and does will start to fight violently with each other if put into the same cages as they will become very territorial of their space. If you must put rabbits together due to lack of cage space, the best combinations are either sister with sister or mother with daughter. There is no other exception, unless of course your rabbits are spayed/neutered which will usually diminish the hormones which cause fighting.

Determining Gender

To determine the sex of the rabbit, use your forefinger and middle finger to press down the vent area just in front of the anus. In both the doe and buck, the area will protrude. The doe will display a slit or central line running up and down. Each side of the slit will be banded in pink. The buck, on the other hand, will display, if less than 5 weeks old, a blunt white tube without a central line. It will not have pink traversing either side of a center line. Older bucks will present a pink tube with a pointed end that resembles a bullet, as well as testicles on either side. With younger rabbits, you must look very closely to see the difference. Sometimes the bucks will hold their penis in upon examination, making them appear as a doe. Even the most experienced breeders make mistakes when determining the sex of a kit.

 

Anogenital distance (AGD, the distance between the anus and the genitalia) has been observed in research, however, for the rabbit breeder, this can still be a tricky way to define the sexes. Males typically have larger anogenital distance than females, and the amount of individual testosterone in their bodies can be the defining factor in that distance. As equally interesting, the variation has been found in the anogenital distance of individual adult female rabbits, and this morphological trait has been linked to other behavioral traits (aggressive and territorial does having more distance than timid or lazy ones for example). Other studies have shown that females with more distance seem to have smaller and less frequent litters and often produces more males than females.

Culling or Keeping

Culling simply means getting rid of the rabbits you do not need. Despite common belief, it does not always mean killing. There will be times when you just won't need a rabbit in your breeding program because it doesn't improve anything and only uses up your time, space, and money. Rabbits like these can be sold to pet homes. Other times, a rabbit may be ill or deformed, and there may not be much you can do for it other than humanely dispatch of it.

 

It is very important to always cull kits born with genetic abnormalities or severe illnesses such as peanuts, and Max Factor Kits which are basically deformed kits- as they WILL die later on. By humanely "disposing" of them, you are preventing them from a long and very painful existence followed by a slow death.

 

By two weeks of age, you can tell which kits are a recognized color, and a little about the overall quality of the kits. At 3-4 weeks of age, you can start to see color faults and disqualifications such as improper under color. You should keep in mind that some varieties, such as opals and lynx, tend to grow in under color as they mature later on.

 

It's also a good idea to start posing the kits to see which ones exhibit good type. But remember that type changes as they age. At five to six weeks of age, you should be able to get an idea as to which kits have the best head, ears, coat, type, color, etc.   Lop eared rabbits are born with erect ears and it's not untill about three to six weeks of age when their ears will start to flop down. If the ears haven't begun to flop at this time, you may want to cull them.

 

Sometimes you may want to wait longer for certain kits to mature and molt before you decided whether or not to keep them.

Keep in mind, that baby rabbits, especially rex, will have a different coat until their first molt, so don't cull them if it's based on coat alone until it has changed. In fact, with mini rex, the longer it takes for their actual coat to come in, the denser the coat is going to be, so keep that in mind. And if that baby coat is soft and kinky in texture, not cotton like, wavy, and thin, that it's almost guaranteed to be of an excellent quality. However, the best time to really start culling is around 6 months. Rabbits hit a fast growth stage between 6 and 12 weeks, so waiting after that time will help you determine on whether or not to keep anything after that stage. During that in between stage, those babies will get quite gangly and well, ugly to say the least, but once they mature into their adult figure, it can be an entirely different story.

 

Try to just keep the best show and brood quality kits. Sell the other kits as pets, and not to serious breeders. If you are looking to sell show quality stock, make sure you sell the second best to your own herd. Never sell any stock deemed as show quality that you wouldn't personally want to keep/use in your own breeding program. Selling show quality stock that is of low quality, has many faults, or a bad temperament will give you a bad reputation as a breeder and therefore, cause you to lose money in the long run. As a breeder, you want to be known for the amazing quality of the rabbits you produce, not what bad stock you have.

 

Make a note of any faults, and the good points on the kits you decide to keep.  Temptations can be great to keep at least one out of the litter, but if it's honestly not going to improve your herd, you don't need it. It will only take up cage space, time, and money that you really don't need to be wasting. It is very easy to start with only four rabbits and end up with nearly sixty by the end of the season simply because keeping those adorable babies was too irresistible.

 

Around 5-6 months most breeds are mature. At this point, you should re-evaluate all of the rabbits you kept to make sure they still fill the need in your herd.

 

 There are certainly other reasons to cull an adult rabbit. Reasons include; aggressiveness (which can develop with maturity or handling) rabbits that are in poor health, continued difficulty in conceiving and/or giving birth, and bad mothering abilities.

If any of the rabbits are not what you are looking for to fit a need in your herd, don't keep them. You don't need them. Cull them and find other homes for them if possible. Most breeders use the 3 strikes rule-If you can find at least 3 faults (whether they be physical, temperamental, or conception related) in any one of your rabbits, get rid of it. As a breeder, it is your responsibility to keep the rabbit population in check. Do not breed your rabbits if you know the litter is not going to turn out the way you want it to. Breed for only what you need and what will contribute to the breed itself, nothing more. Keeping 'junk' stock will not help you or the rabbit population in any way. They will not improve and they will only nickel and dime you to death. 

 

What you can do with Culled Kits:

  • Pets:  Some breeders sell their culls to pet owners, reputable farm/feed stores (so they may profit from selling them), or as 4-H projects to children. This can also be a good way for you to get your name out to the local farming community. If you do sell large quantities of rabbits at whole sale prices to the public, (meaning you must make over $500.00 in pet sales annually) you must own a USDA/APHIS license. This is to ensure that you meet the requirements, regulations, and inspections of the Animal Welfare Act. Check with your local ordinances to get the specifics as each state has it's own regulations. Try to stay away from selling to pet stores, as they do not always provide the proper living conditions and care for the rabbits, nor do they offer the right education to their buyers.

  • Food for Non-domestic Animals:  You can also donate culled rabbits to local raptor rescues, big cat rescues, reptile breeders and stores, wildlife rehabs, or zoos as food for carnivorous animals. Most of these places will very graciously accept any kind of cull you can offer to give away.

  • BARF Diet:  Rabbits are excellent for BARF diets (Biologically Appropriate Raw Food) for dogs and cats. The BARF diet is far healthier for pets as opposed to processed foods (kibble) which contain unknown meats, by-products, fillers, artificial flavors/colors, and preservatives. These unsafe and unnatural ingredients can cause a list of problems for your pet cat or dog such as cancer, diabetes, allergies, nutritional deficiencies, obesity, dental problems, vision problems, ear infections, bone loss, etc. A BARF diet is the true and natural form of food that the bodies of cats and dogs are adapted to benefit from.  Raw foods contain active enzymes and other nutrients that cannot be substituted in artificial foods. These enzymes maintain a healthy digestive, immune system defense, and immaculate coat and teeth condition for your pet.  Whole raw meat diets maximize health, longevity, and reduce allergies and vet bills. Rabbits make up a large part of a healthy natural diet and many dog/cat breeders feed raw diets to their show animals.

  • Human Consumption:  If you are raising your rabbits for meat on your own table, you'll want to cull your meat stock around 10-12 weeks of age. Any longer than 14 weeks and their growth rate slows down and their meat will be tougher (as well as making the butchering process harder). Rabbits harvested at this age are termed as fryers. Anything older than this yet younger than 6 months of age is termed as a roaster. Roasters are more popular in Europe and they seem to have more taste as opposed to fryers, but again, fryers will be considerably more tender.  Stewers are simply rabbits butchered over 6 months of age and they will be much tougher in texture. Capons are castrated bucks over 6 months of age. Their meat is a slightly softer than a stewer as their bodies haven't been stressed over by hormones. Rabbit meat is very high in protein and vitamin B. It also has far fewer calories and fat than chicken, pork, or beef-making it a healthier alternative to the common American diet. You can find a how-to video on humanely butchering and processing your own rabbits on the "Management" tab. You can also have a local processing facility butcher the rabbits for you if that suites your needs better. In many parts of the U.S. it is illegal to sell your own butchered meat to the public unless you own and operate a licensed facility without a USD license. Many meat breeders will own two separate meat breeders, cross them, and use only the offspring for human consumption. These "meatmutt" hybrids make exceptional animals for the dinner table.

Medical Concerns with Kits

As a rabbit breeder, you WILL encounter many occasions in which there will be a problem with the newborn kits.

 

Issues and Treatments:

 

Abandoned Kits 

Sometimes rabbit mothers abandon their kits and owners must step in to help the young. Usually, the cause of this abandonment is either from an inexperienced or stressed mother. In any case, action must be taken quickly to ensure the life of a kit.  Mother rabbits produce a nutrient and antibody rich milk, called colostrum that is *only* available within the first 24 hours after giving birth. If the kits don't get this milk, they miss out on establishing beneficial gut bacteria, which will lead to a potentially permanently poor immune and digestive system.To recognize an abandoned kit, the mother will usually give birth to them on the cage floor when a nest box has been provided, but a sure sign that she has no intentions on caring for her young is if she hasn't pulled any of her fur out. Or sometimes, the mother simply produces little if no milk. If this is the case, the young will not have full bellies and will quickly become lethargic.  Before you try hand feeding, place the doe on your lap and put the kits under her belly to try and get them to feed. Make sure you have all of the kits doing this, as they will stimulate each other to attempt feeding, as individual feeding is far more trying. You can also gently flip the doe on her back (trance) while keeping her stabilized with your legs and place the kits on her stomach.Or, you may place the kits in a box that is the EXACT same size of the doe with a wire lid on it. Place the doe inside with some food such as hay, and keep her in there for about 10 minutes. The box will prevent her from moving around and allow the kits to nurse.  If the doe did not build a nest and is kicking the kits all over the cage or attacking them, transfer them to a warm, insulated nest box away from the doe.  Only have the doe and kits together for forced feedings. If after you have tried all of these and the doe still either refuses to take care of the kits or simply can't supply milk, your next best option is to foster the kits off to another doe-one who is lactating with a litter the same age. If you don't have another nursing doe available, your last option is hand feeding. It's very important to make sure that you have no other choice, because removing kits from a nursing mother can not only cause milk build up and stress for the doe, but mother's milk is filled with far more nutrients and antibodies than formula. It's extremely important for the kits to receive colostrum within the first few hours of life. Because of a young kit's severe stomach sensitivity, they have a much higher chance of surviving on their mother's milk. If you do find yourself in the dire situation in which you MUST hand feed a kit before its eyes are open (when the stomach is most susceptible to harmful bacteria), keep in mind that the chances of it avoiding death will be slim. At that young of an age, hand fed kits have a 90% mortality rate.To hand feed, use a kitten feeding bottle. Eye droppers are not recommended as they allow too much liquid for the babies to swallow, which can cause aspiration or pneumonia as they may inhale the liquid. Since babies lose their suckling instinct within roughly 48 hours, it is important to get them on a nursing bottle quickly. Canned kitten formula from a pet supply store can be used along with other specialty formulas made for rabbits. Goat milk is also a good substitute. Lactobacillus Acidophilus can be added to the formula. It will not hurt the babies and may help some of them. Feed daily total quantities in either two larger feedings: Newborn - 5 cc KMR formula and ½ cc Acidophilus 1 week - 15 to 25 cc KMR formula and 1 cc Acidophilus 2 weeks - 25 to 27 cc KMR formula and 1 cc Acidophilus 3 to 4 weeks - 30 cc KMR and 2 ccs Acidophilus. Wash the babies’ faces and bottoms with warm water and cotton after each feeding to stimulate elimination. Babies can nibble on dry alfalfa or a few pellets as soon as they show an interest. Formula consumption levels off at about 6-8 weeks, but do not rush weaning. And remember to never allow the kit to get a chill. Young kits can’t retain their body temperature, so keep them in a well-padded box with a heated bottle or blanket at all times. They will become adaptable to temperatures as they near 4-6 weeks of age.

 

Frozen Kits

Occasionally you'll come across frozen kits. Either the mother had them on the wire outside of the nest or the nest wasn't adequately insulated, kits can freeze very quickly. When kits freeze, they may appear ice cold, very stiff, colorless, and seemingly dead. Look for blood collection in the toenails. If the nails are a deep dark red-purple color, then the kits are already dead. If you don't see the dark nails, then the kits may be revivable. Bring them inside and place them either in your shirt, under a heat lamp, on a heating pad, or in an airtight baggy submerged in a bowl of very warm water for a few minutes. Keep a constant eye on them. After about 15 minutes they should be warm to the touch and start moving around. If after two hours of attempted reviving they do not snap out of it, then it's safe to assume they are already dead. 

 

Fading Kits/Kits with Loose Stool

This is sadly a very common problem among young kits. They will be perfectly healthy and active up until about 3 weeks of age. Then, some or all of the kits will suddenly and without warning, become less active and alert, though they may continue to eat and drink. As the time goes by, they will seem to get worse, losing weight and becoming progressively lethargic, until they eventually die. This can happen within as little as a few hours to just a few days. This is known as fader kit syndrome or wasters. No one knows the exact cause of this. Some think it may be caused by parasites, dietary needs not being met, genetically weak breeding, enteritis, coccidiosis (in which case this must be proven by a fecal float by a vet and then treated with sulfadimethoxine for 15 days), mucoid enteropathy (when a diet is lower than necessary in long fiber and the kit's cecum gets blocked by fine food particles which leads to dehydration), or simply the switch from mother's milk to pellets. Some breeders believe that rationing pellets and giving an unlimited supply of grass hay and oats to the young, can potentially increase the probability of them living. Some breeders put a bit of Terramycin in the kit’s drinking water once they hit 14 days old to help prevent the mortality rate.

 

To attempt to combat loose stool, take these following steps:

 

1. To arrest diarrhea quickly (of critical importance): Imodium (loperamide) at 1 mg/kg Q 4-8 hours (depending on severity). This is available over the counter at most pharmacies.

2. Hydration: Subcutaneous Lactated Ringers Solution (10ml/kg total in 2-3 boli over 24 hours. This can be increased if the diarrhea is severe, to prevent dehydration and keep electrolytes at normal levels. Consult your veterinarian about the proper dosage.

3. Antibiotics: a. ciprofloxacin at 20 mg/kg Q 12 hours – PO (oral administration) only. Oral administration provides immediate contact with intestinal pathogens that injections will not handle as quickly or directly. 

4. Anticoccidial medication: 1. Ponazuril/toltrazuril (20mg/kg Q 24 hours) OR 2. Trimethoprim sulfa or Albon (sulfadimethoxine) (Note: We have found that ponazuril (Marquis by Bayer) is far superior to the sulfa or potentiated sulfa antibiotics for killing coccidia. My own (unpublished) data show complete parasite eradication (as determined from sequential fecal exams showing progressively more shrunken and vacuolated sporocysts) in three days of treatment.

5. Helminthicidal medication: Panacur (fenbendazole) at 20mg/kg Q 24 hours

6. Recommended analgesia (pain relief): 1. pediatric simethicone suspension (0.5 – 1.0 cc Q 6-8 hours) for gas relief 2. sulfasalazine (30 - 50 mg suspended in clean water Q 12 hours) 3. barium suspension (0.5-1.0 ml Q 12 hours) (also helps arrest diarrhea) 4. meloxicam (0.1 – 0.3 mg/kg Q 24 hours) OR 5. Banamine (flunixin meglumine) (not both! Use only one NSAID!) 6. Tramadol (2-6mg/kg Q 12 hours) (Note: If Banamine is used, famotidine (antacid) is also recommended, but should not be administered for an hour after other medications have been given.)

7. General immune support and bacteriocidal action: colostrum (contents of 2 capsules dissolved in about 10cc pasteurized goat milk). Administer small amounts over several hours, about 1-2 cc at a time, or as much as the baby will accept.

8. Absorption/adsorption of intestinal toxins: Questran (cholestyramine resin) - by prescription at most major pharmacies DO NOT ADMINISTER THIS AGENT FOR AT LEAST ONE HOUR AFTER ALL OTHER ORAL MEDICATIONS HAVE BEEN GIVEN, AS IT MAY INTERFERE WITH OR INACTIVATE THE OTHER DRUGS. Suspend about ¼ teaspoon in 10 ml of water, and allow to hydrate for approximately 10 minutes. Give 1-2 cc of this suspension every 12 hours, but DO NOT give it within an hour of other medications, as it may absorb them. DO NOT give any other medications for 4-6 hours after Questran dose, as Questran will continue to absorb/adsorb substances from the gut lumen, reducing or eliminating their efficacy.

 

Pellets may also be to blame for loose stool in kits. Commercial pellets are formulated for adult rabbits, not young kits. Kit’s stomachs and digestive make up are entirely different from an adult rabbit. Most pellets, especially brands directed towards lactating does, contain high amounts of grain, grain by-products, and soybean meal. These three ingredients alone are not healthy, even for an adult rabbit, and are certainly lethal for young ones. Unfortunately, pellet manufacturers use these ingredients because they are a cheap way to replace the lack of fiber in the feed in order to make room for energy supplements. However, this leaves a low protein feed, which is then again supplemented by soybean meal. So my personal resolution? I only allow the kits to munch on grass hay and a few dandelion greens for their first week out of the nest box. I then allow them to very slowly consume a few pellets with powdered ginger with their hay as time goes by. A soft high fiber only diet seems to be the best answer for easing their stomachs from weaning without causing any problems. I strongly believe that the combination of ingredients and the solid hard form of pellets is what causes the kit’s stomach to become imbalanced and upset.  Again, this is just my own method and understanding, and so far it has been working for me. The main thing to focus upon is hydration and feeding fiber to the kits. Leave out bowls of lightly flavored (Gatorade, tea bags, etc.) water for them. In any case, as a breeder, you WILL experience the loss of kits, whether they are runts, peanuts, max factors, or succumb to fader kit syndrome. As a breeder, you must understand and accept this, and move on.

 

Retained Kits

In some rare cases, a doe may not kindle on the day she is due. Usually, this is just a sign that she wasn't actually pregnant. But sometimes it means that she may have a problem in which all or some of the kits are stuck inside her (termed as dystocia). In order to determine this for sure, you must palpate her. When does retain their kits, they will usually show signs of stress (straining, grinding her teeth, lack of eating/drinking or caring for kits that were born early). The most common cause of retained kits is excess fat in the doe. That's why it's important to keep her on a strict diet while she's pregnant.  The second most common cause is because the kits may actually be too big or deformed to pass through the birth canal. This is why it's important to know what you're doing when you're breeding rabbits; (If the buck is bigger than the doe or if both the buck and doe carry the Dwarf gene, then these will be the issues you'll experience with your breeding programs). Other causes may be from previous litters with extrauterine or calcified kits.  Once a doe has issues with retained kits, chances are she'll continue to experience these issues with future litters. If you are absolutely sure that your doe may be retaining kits, you will have to take her to the vet immediately as she may need to have surgery or an ejection of oxytocin (if you are self-administering oxytocin, please use caution as your doe must be physically and hormonally able to take a dose. Otherwise, the uterus will rupture and your doe will die an excruciating death.) In some rare cases, the kit may be retained but the placenta may be passed through. This obviously causes death to the kit and it may either be passed through later on or absorbed. The cause of this is still unknown, but it has been suggested as Abruptio Placenta. The doe may or may not be affected by this as it may or may not cause severe blood loss, so taking her to the vet is the best option. The kits will be lost, but at least her life may be spared. In minor cases, you may try some emmenagogues herbs such as blackberries, raspberry leaves, parsley, ginger, yarrow, feverfew, rosemary, and sage to aid in contractions and flush the uterus.  Herbs such as Tansy, Mugwort, Juniper berries, Chamomile contain Thujone, which is a volatile oil found in several plants known to be a uterine stimulant.  Calcium, in the form of Tums, drench, or tablets dissolved in the doe's water, may aid the contractions as well. Herbs such as Angelica, Black Cohosh, Ginger, Horseradish, Queen Anne's Lace Seeds/Root contain a great deal of estrogen, and though they will help expel uterine contents, they can be antispemotic and contain abortive properties. Lop-eared and big headed breeds such as Hollands are especially prone o retaining kits when kindling as the doe's pelvis may sometimes not be wide enough. Once the first kit is retained, the chances of all the other kits being born alive are greatly decreased, as their supply of oxygen runs out in the birth canal. If you see a kit that is stuck, you can use mineral or vegetable oil and a warm wet cloth to gently and slowly pull them out of the doe.

 

 

Wild Rabbit Kits

If you happen upon wild rabbit babies, the best thing to do is leave them alone. Most North American rabbit and hare species give birth in shallow dugout impressions on top of the ground. Cottontail kits will be mostly hairless, a dark purple-black color with or without a faint white blaze (which they will lose as they grow in their fur) and will have their eyes shut (if they are younger than eight days old). Most hare species (jackrabbits) will give birth to young that are fully furred with their eyes open. Wild rabbits in North America are a different species than domestic rabbits (which are derived from the European species, therefore they cannot breed together), so they do not develop the exactly the same way when they are growing as a domestic rabbit would, making it very difficult to rehabilitate them when young. If they are all in a nest and have full bellies, then they are being taken care of and they should not be handled. Just leave them alone and let nature take its course. If you do happen upon a sick or injured one, take it to a wild life rehab, as it is illegal in most states to be in possession of a native wild animal.

Cannibalism

Unfortunately, it's not uncommon for mother rabbits to fully or partially cannibalize their kits. There will be times when you find torsos, heads, or limbs scattered around the cage. There are a few reasons for this. Sometimes the mother is inexperienced and out of pure confusion, she consumes the kits shortly after birth in an attempt to consume the afterbirth. Some times there may be something wrong with kit's health. And the mother, sensing this, chooses to end the kit's suffering (even if the kit seems normal and healthy to you by all outward appearances, there are just some things humans cannot detect that other mammals can). Sometimes the mother rabbit gets stressed or startled by something in her environment and may intentionally or unintentionally kill her entire litter. (This can be something as simple as the smell of a dog near by or the sound of a lawn mower being started. Remember rabbits are prey animals. If a mother rabbit feels there is something in the environment that could threaten the safety or prosperity of her litter, she'll choose to quickly kill the babies as opposed to risk them growing up struggling to survive. She also won't risk her body and energy if she feels her litter won't make it. It may seem illogical to us humans, but remember we developed and understand the human world. Rabbits do not and they will react as if they are living in the wild. This is why it's crucial to keep the mother and babies in a calm and quiet environment).

 

 

Deformed Kits

 Any malformed or overly sick kits must be humanely dispatched. Though it is hard to kill a baby that's just been born, it is necessary. If the deformed/sick baby is allowed to get older, it will eventually die a slow and painful death from the complications of its birth defect.  The other babies could have been healthier if they did not have to share their nutrition with one that was going to die anyway.

  "Peanut" kits are easily identifiable as they are usually a third of the size of their littermates. Their eyes are usually bulging and the ears, limbs, and pelvis are abnormally small, Peanuts occur when two true dwarfs are bred together as they are the result of the double true dwarfing gene. It is a congenitally defective kit that fails to thrive. Peanuts will NEVER live to adulthood, so it's best to put them out of their misery now. The longest any peanut has lived on record was 6 months and that was an extreme case. Typically, they don't live past a few weeks, at best. Their tissue, brains, and organs are not properly formed when they are born resulting in them eventually dying. 

The Max factor gene is a recessive gene. The kit that exhibits the double dose of this gene often have fully open eye(s) or sometimes just partially open, even a slit (sometimes one can see fur stuck to the eye) Open eyes however slight/severe will lead to blindness. The limbs are deformed, twisted or splayed.  The feet appear to resemble flippers, sometimes webbed and occasionally a dewclaw may be present on the hind leg(s)  
The fur has spiked or very soft long appearance due to the lack of guard hairs Runts (slightly smaller than the rest of the young, but not deformed) may or may not live, so use your best judgment with them.

Fetal Giants or "Hippo Babies" are unusually large and deformed kits. Sometimes they'll have the appearance of being "stretched". Due to the stress of a prolonged and difficult delivery of the oversized kit, usually 2 to 3 times normal size, it will have died from asphyxiation. The following kits, if any, will either be born dead or may be delivered alive but are normally scattered by the mother due to stress.  It has been suggested that overfeeding or feeding too much protein to a pregnant doe may be the cause of this. Hormone levels may also be a cause as the increase for fetal giants is more prevalent in the fall and winter months. Unfortunately, there is no solid research to prove any of these theories and many breeders are left to assume genetics plays a role.

Fed vs Unfed Kits
Notice the nice round and solid belly of the fed kit on the left. The unfed kit on the right will have narrow and wrinkled look around the abdomen.
Peanut (far right)
Max Factor
Hippo
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Record Keeping

As a breeder, you must make sure that your rabbits are fully pedigreed and as soon as you have kits, you must start filling out pedigrees for them too. It is also important to keep records of your breeding progress. Keep track of dates (date of breeding, date of kindling, etc.), times, deaths, and births. Recording the ratio of amount of deaths to the amount of live kits can greatly help you to determine which does to keep and which to cull.  Also be sure to get all your kits tattooed by the time they reach sexual maturity.

The system in which you number/letter your tattoos and name your kits is entirely up to you. Some show breeders prefer to keep a suffix name for a certain line of rabbits or ones produced by a single buck. For example, all rabbits born at Obsidian Rabbitry will have suffix first name of "Obsidian's-xxxxx" on their pedigree. If they are fathered from a certain buck, let's say, named "Stone", all offspring could be named, "Gem, Diamond, Jewel, Ruby, Onyx, Granite, etc" in order to easily trace their lineage based on a theme.

 

But again, it is entirely up to you whether you want to add order to your system or not. The more rabbits you have, the more the need to keep things organized. There are a multitude of systems you can use, so be creative. However, if you're simply producing meat stock for your own table, there is of course no need for naming the offspring.

Do keep in mind that when you create pedigrees, it's important to keep all of the original names and prefixes of the rabbits in the pedigrees. Do NOT change names, especially of rabbits from other rabbitries. Not only does this cause confusion and inconsistencies, but it's extremely disrespectful of the breeder's who produced said rabbits. For example, your new rabbit's name on its pedigree is "Obsidian's Spot". You can *call* that rabbit by a different name (termed as a barn name), however that rabbit must remain the same on paper throughout. 

Weigh and keep close track of the kits as they grow, especially if you're raising your rabbits for meat.  It's best to start weighing them around 10 days old, and continue to do so every day and eventually every week to a couple of week until they reach sexual maturity. Doing so can greatly help you determine the health of the rabbit and be able to expect certain reactions to different feed/environment.

© 2018  All images and content are the property of Obsidian Rabbitry and may not be used without written consent.

Peanut (far right)