Question: I want to farm with rabbits. Can you please help with information on breeding them?
The demand for rabbit meat is not as big as for beef or chicken, but the meat is considered to be healthy because it’s lean and not very marbled (not much intramuscular fat). It’s light in colour and looks like chicken with the kidneys being the fattiest parts.
- Farmers should only buy rabbits from a reputable supplier.
- A quick glance at the animal can tell a lot about its condition – the eyes should be bright, the noses dry and the ears and feet clean. The rabbit’s fur should be smooth and clean.
- It’s advisable not to buy a too-mature female that could be near the end of her productive life. A good indication of age is the toenails – longer ones mean the rabbit is older.
- Farmers should select rabbits from parents that have a good breeding record.
- A female that doesn’t perform well will produce poor offspring.
- Buy breeding stock at about 6 months old and replace stock every 3 years.
- Rabbits breed quickly and farmers will soon see a return on their investment.
- It’s important to stagger reproduction as pregnancy lasts about a month. Once rabbits start breeding and the young reach sexual maturity, you’ll have young every week.
- Female rabbits are ready to breed at 4 to 6 months.
- Males are ready at 5 to 6 months.
- Keep the male rabbit in a separate cage and always put the female into the male’s cage.
- Take note of the animal’s behaviour – if mating is successful the male will roll over, and if the female isn’t ready for mating she‘ll run away.
- If mating doesn’t take place, the female can be put into the male’s cage for 5 to 6 days.
- Try to schedule breeding in spring, summer and early autumn, when the female is more productive.
- Epol’s rabbit feeding guide indicates that summer breeding should be monitored closely, because fertility can decline if temperatures rise above 30°C.
- Epol advises that the breeding facility should be shaded and cooled in summer.
- This can be achieved by placing blocks of ice or a bottle of frozen water in cages for rabbits to sit on, or by cooling the air with an evaporative cooler.
BIRTH AND WEANING
- Place soft, dry grass in a nesting box about 25 days after mating (it’s not unusual for the female to add her own fur).
- Stay away from the cage until the babies have been born.
- Don’t touch the babies unnecessarily as the female may reject them.
- If you do have to handle the babies, first rub a strong-smelling non-toxic substance, such as Vicks Vapo Rub on the female’s nose.
- Make sure the babies are well nourished.
- Remember, if the female can’t feed all her babies, you can give some to another female who has fewer babies of the same age.
- Cow’s or goat’s milk is a good substitute if the mother cannot rear her offspring.
- Baby rabbits can be weaned at 30 to 35 days and can be removed from the mother, but always keep young females and males in separate cages.
- Depending on the feeding and management level of the production system, females can be mated again from 2 to 3 days up to 1 month after giving birth.
- Young rabbits are usually big enough to be sold at three to four months.
- If a farmer keeps the rabbit longer, profits will decline as they will eat much more.
- This article was written by Wilma den Hartigh and first appeared in Farming SA.