Freelance writer

Breeding rabbits

There’s a reason for the saying, “breeding like rabbits,” when referring to couples with many children. In the world of Flopsy and Mopsy, one plus one equals 200 over one.

This isn’t new math. It’s the calculation of the 198 additions to the Cottontail family that can appear in one year. Assuming that Flopsy is male and Mopsy is female, or vice versa, and they give birth to male and female offspring, who give birth to more, and so on, and so forth, ad infinitum. Here’s the point: if you think you might want to breed rabbits – don’t. You must be absolutely sure. And then you must be very careful.

Keep careful records of the bloodlines of each breeding buck (male) and doe (female). Records of spaying and neutering must be perfect. Know which rabbits are intact and which ones are altered. Carefully study diagrams of rabbit anatomy. Know the difference between a buck and doe. If you’re not careful about which sex rabbits you’re putting together in a hutch, or you haven’t kept careful records of spays and neuters … see paragraph one.

Young rabbits are hard to sex because the external genitalia aren’t fully developed. Pretend that rabbits walk upright like humans and you can see their bellies. You’d see that the female has two openings, one on top of the other with a ‘v’, or elliptical, shape on top and a circle on the bottom, while the male has two round shapes.

Applying light pressure with two fingers on either side of the buck’s top circle will sometimes reveal the penis. In the words of a famous Dr. Seuss book, rabbits don’t “have stars on thars,” but females have an exclamation point and males have colons – “on thars.”

There are some moral/ethical sticking points to think about when joining does and bucks in bunny mate-trimony. Older, large-breed does (females) are capable of producing 11 or more babies (kittens), while small, young does may give birth to only three or four kittens. Who will take care of them when they’re weaned at about eight weeks of age? It’s important to either find good, safe homes for the kittens before they’re born, or be prepared to take care of them yourself for the long haul.

Have a set number of pairings in mind and do not exceed that number. It will serve as a control for how many litters are born under your care. According to The Sanctuary, forty animals are killed every minute of every day. If you end up needing homes for some of the kittens do not, under any circumstances, give them away free. To many people, “free” means: dinner – for my family or my (insert predator here), extra money when they’re sold to labs for testing, a cool ‘practice animal’ for my hunting/attack dog, an arts-n-crafts patchwork fur coat, and target practice, among many other horrible ends. Charge at least $50-$60 per rabbit, or try a reputable, no-kill rescue like the House Rabbit Society, which is also a great source of information.

To avoid confusion and to perfect your breeding program, choose one variety of one breed when starting out and learn everything possible. If you plan to exhibit, North American shows judge a rabbit using the official breed standard, an “ideal” based on a list of characteristics previously laid down for that breed. In other words, rabbits are not judged against one another, so know your breed standard.

Although there is no universally agreed upon standard, the American Rabbit Breeders’ Association currently recognizes breeds for show purposes in North America. ARBA is an excellent source of information on all things rabbit, including breeding.

Precision record-keeping is critical, and a breeding program plan is imperative. Meticulous record-keeping helps guarantee consistency in standards regarding bloodlines and parentage. Although exhibition breeders carry more does, bucks play a bigger role in establishing a standard of excellence and the level by which a program becomes known because each buck may impregnate up to five does in one week.

Most studs are based on at least two separate bloodlines, which can themselves be bred. Without good records, bloodlines and parentages of different rabbits are impossible to trace, making  the planning of a breeding program impossible. Whether exhibitor or hobbyist, you want to be able to trace the ancestry of the rabbits you breed for help in deciding on the most appropriate future pairings.

Before attempting a pairing there are a few things to keep in mind.  Put the doe in the buck’s cage since does are more territorial. Don’t be alarmed if the buck appears to lose consciousness and fall off during mating, this is normal and a sign of success, as are vocalizations by one or both rabbits. Finally, not all pairs will accept each other, they’ll fight. Since that’s not your desired result, move on to another pair.

Sexual maturity is largely dependent on breed size, with smaller breeds able to pair earlier than giant breeds, and all does’ breeding cycles largely triggered by light exposure. When spring is sprung from her chilly prison, added daylight gives kittens a higher chance of survival, so more litters are born in these months. Generally though, most rabbits are sexually mature at roughly five to six months old.

Does ovulate in response to mating. Basically, she’s ready when you are. The doe’s eggs are released about six to 13 hours after successful mating. This method almost guarantees a pregnancy unless no pairing takes place. If the buck got cold feet, can’t perform (he’ll swear this never happened to him before), or they hate each other on sight, the doe will then not be willing to mate for whole days. Who can blame her?

However, her willingness to try again will be evident when her vulva becomes reddish and swollen, sometime in the next three days.  When mating does occur, it is over quickly. To be sure, leave the doe with the buck for about half an hour, allowing the cycle to repeat.  Always keep your eye on the breeding pair in case they fight. Fights can end with serious injuries.

Confirm pregnancy about two weeks after mating by standing the doe on a firm surface and gently using your fingers and thumb to feel either side of the abdomen just in front of her pelvis under her body.  If you feel marble-like swellings, bigger than fecal pellets, you’re in business. This is the time to transfer the doe to her own hutch with a proper nest box. It’s important the doe be alone in the hutch and handled only when necessary. Males attack their young, and over-handling may cause loss of the pregnancy.

A nest box provides security and seclusion to nervous mothers, an important consideration to help keep the doe from abandoning or attacking her newborns. You can buy one, or make one, but it needs to be in the hutch on day 28 of the pregnancy. It should be just a little bigger than the mother, and since it is inside the hutch, doesn’t have to have a top. If a top is provided, cut a door hole a couple of inches off the floor of the box just wide enough for the mother to get through, and provide a hinge to open the top.

On lidless boxes, make sure the sides are high enough to prevent baby escape, but low enough for mama-bun to jump out safely.  More detailed instructions for building a proper nesting box can be found in a pet shop, or on the Internet.

A pregnant doe will give birth in 29-31 days. If 34 days pass, the litter is likely to be stillborn. As birth nears, the doe pulls fur from her belly and puts it in the nest box to create a soft lining on the hay.  Most births happen in the early morning within the space of an hour.  Keep watch, but don’t touch if all is going well or she may abandon or attack her babies. If you must check, use the eraser end of a pencil that has been wiped in the nest litter and the mother’s fur to carefully probe the nest.

Kittens are born completely helpless – blind, deaf, and hairless. They are completely dependent on the mother, who is dependent on you.  But with the wealth of information available nowadays, being well-prepared is easy. Responsible breeding requires dedication and continuous education.

But have you ever seen anything cuter than a baby bunny?

Vicky

I am a freelance writer who makes words beautiful, exciting, persuasive, concise and alive, if a little loopy sometimes. I was born in S. Korea on an army base, and traveled the world from the age of 10 months into the present day, so I know a lot about many different topics. I've spent the last 22 years (and counting) raising three children into responsible young adults, and that is no mean feat. I've been writing for as long as I can remember: fiction, non-fiction, creative writing, poetry, creative non-fiction and all that falls in between. I'm a great researcher. I am also easy to work with. If you've got a topic that needs to be written about, I can write it. I've been married for 26 years to the same man, and that's a whole topic unto itself! If you need a freelance blogger or writer, hire me. I won't let you down. Contact: vicky@vickypoutas.com, Twitter.com/@vickypoutas, Instagram: @vickypoutas, LinkedIn.com/in/vickypoutas, Facebook: www.Facebook.com/vicky.batson.poutas