Breeding & keeping rabbits as a rural enterprise
Rabbits breed astonishingly quickly.
Thirty to thirty-one days
after a successful mating, up to ten of them arrive — minute,
absolutely naked and blind. They proceed to grow at an astonishing
rate. A hybrid, say a New Zealand White crossed with a
Californian, may well reach two and a half kilos in eight weeks.
This is killing weight. The traditional breeds such as Dutch, Giant
Flemish, and so on will take about twice as long.
There has been a great increase in battery farming rabbits in
recent times. Several large companies supply the equipment and
stock; Farmer's Weekly carries their advertisements. The appeal
has been to turn empty buildings into money-making enterprises.
It is now clear that to succeed, these intensive units must be run
with a great deal of skill and care. Highly bred rabbits tend to be
highly strung and must be treated accordingly. Raising rabbits in
wire cages requires very careful ventilation and possibly heating.
Anything other than total commitment produces low returns per
rabbit and as these ventures require a high initial capital outlay,
they may not be successful. We keep our rabbits in a more traditional
way using wooden huts. We get excellent returns and enjoy
feeding and cleaning the rabbits. It is a personal occupation rather
than an automated chore. Also, of course, as it is on a rather more
gentle scale, we find our children and their friends are very happy
to help. As well as selling Farm Gate it is worth calling on butchers
and fish merchants. A regular supply of fresh rabbit may well sell.
Freezer centres sell quantities of Chinese rabbit which has all been
fattened in batteries: often the carcasses are minute. Most outlets
like their rabbits skinned but some, notably fishmongers, like the
skins left on.
A healthy buck can serve ten rabbits quite effectively.
should be well grown before she starts breeding, around eight to
nine months. Take the doe to the buck's cage, not the other way
round, as does fight intruders. Most bucks are keen and leaving
them together for fifteen minutes should be sufficient. When the
doe is pregnant she will require peace and quiet and gradually
increasing food levels towards the end of her pregnancy. On the
twenty-sixth day after mating, put a nesting box in with her. She
will line this with hay and soft fur that she has pulled from her
chest. When the doe has littered do not be tempted to disturb
the youngsters; frightened does eat their young. If you leave them
totally to her care for the first week they will soon be hopping
about the hutch. It is better not to feed much greenstuff while the
doe is lactating as it can have a laxative effect. The best way to
provide water is in drip bottles. The water in them must be kept
fresh. While the doe is lactating she will drink a great deal. If you
usually use a bowl for water, you will need to put some mesh into
it when there are youngsters in the cage or they will leap into it.
The young start to eat their mother's feed at an early stage so
they will need some extra food if she is to keep in good condition.
The young can leave the mother at six weeks. The doe will be
ready to return to the buck in two weeks. The young stock should
be reared on to killing weight which is about two and a half kilograms
live weight. The easiest way to weigh a live rabbit is to put it
in a string bag and hang the bag on a spring balance. If you give
the rabbit anything solid to get a purchase on while it is being
weighed, you are in for a struggle. If you have the time it is worth
handling the rabbits and being friendly with them. It is then
easier to handle them when you have to. It pays to take care with
rabbits though because a scratch from them often turns septic and
for some reason they often seem to scratch the inside of your
wrists which is a tender spot.
Any stock required for future breeding should be segregated
when the fatteners are ready. Does can be kept together, up to
eight in a group if the space is big enough. Bucks must be reared
separately from now on. Bucks will literally fight to the death.
The whole cycle of mating, pregnancy, littering, fattening and
breeding is very quick in the rabbit kingdom. When we built up to
fifty breeding does, their offspring at various stages and the
attendant bucks, we began to feel overrun. By using some simple
mathematical progressions it was simple to see that if we increased
much more, we or the rabbits would have to go! Although they
are small compared to sheep and pigs, rabbits can fill freezers at an
alarming rate. When we oversupplied our local market for fresh
rabbit we started to make rabbit pies to sell to local pubs and
restaurants. As long as the meat is well seasoned, rabbit pie is very