Rabbits are one of the easiest and cheapest animals to raise. There are several reasons that people raise rabbits including for meat, pelts, pets, or to show. Rabbits are one of the easiest animals to raise and keep. Their mild manner makes them a good pet for children and they are very adaptable to many situations.
This guide will go over the many options you have in how to raise rabbits including colonies or cages. It will cover raising rabbits to show, for meat, and for profit. You will learn about raising rabbits indoors versus outdoors.
1. Decide Why You Want To Raise Rabbits
Rabbits are cute and furry and friendly. There are hundreds or rabbit breeds and even more crossbreeds. Decide from the onset what the purpose of raising rabbits is.
It can be pretty hard to raise a few rabbits as a pet only to later decide to use them for meat and have to kill and harvest them. On the other hand, not all types of rabbits will show well.
There are four main purposes that people raise rabbits.
Raising Rabbit Meat
Rabbits’ meat was extremely popular during WWII. Europeans simply couldn’t get enough protein and there wasn’t enough food to go around. One of the best ways that people had protein was to eat rabbits. It’s probably safe to say that there are millions of people alive today because they or their parents ate rabbits during WWII.
Rabbit meat is becoming increasingly popular in the United States and across Europe and Australia.
Why raise rabbits for meat?
For many people, rabbit meat allows them a level of self-sufficiency that they can’t get through other animals. The little space and food that rabbits require make them more affordable meat sources.
Others are interested in humane meat and want to provide a happy, content life for the animals they consume. They realize that supermarket meat seldom provides the same level of living for the animals sold.
Another reason people raise rabbits for meat is as a way to prepare for more of a doomsday scenario. They want to be prepared and able to live off the grid. Rabbits are one of the few animals that can be sustained in a more catastrophic scenario.
Raising Rabbits For Pelts
Some people raise rabbits for their fur. Most rabbit farmers also use rabbit meat. Raising rabbits for the pelts only and throwing away the meat is wasteful. Specific breeds of rabbits have better fur for pelts than other breeds.
Raising Rabbits For Pets
Some rabbit raisers raise rabbits to sell as pets. This isn’t as profitable of an endeavor as it is fun for the rabbit owners. They may breed-specific traits into the kits such as a more mellow manner or specific coloring. They sell rabbits to pet stores and through local advertising.
Raising Rabbits for Show
Show rabbits generally need documented pedigree and are usually specific show breeds. These rabbits are trained and groomed to be show quality. They are kept in cleaner cages and handled more by their owners. Show rabbits are usually exhibitions at local county and state fairs.
2. Decide On The Right Breed Of Rabbit For You
If you are choosing a rabbit for a pet, the breed doesn’t matter as much as the rabbit’s temperament. But, if you are breeding rabbits for show or meat, then the breed of the rabbit makes a bigger difference.
Most rabbits are very calm and easy mannered. A pet rabbit should be handled from a young age. At 2 weeks, the baby rabbits will start venturing outside the nesting box. They can be gently handled at that time. Between 4-6 weeks, they become fully weaned and should be held and handled to increase their tameness. T
his will help them to become ideal pets. Contrary to some opinions, rabbits can recognize their owners. My daughter had a male rabbit that made a cooing sound when she came but never made it for the rest of us.
|Best Rabbit Breeds For Meat||Best Rabbit Breeds For Show and Pet||Best Rabbit Breeds For Fur|
|New Zealand||White New Zealand||French Angora|
|Champagne d’Argent||Champagne d’Argent||Satin Angora|
|Florida White||Silver Marten||Jersey Woolies|
|Beveran||American Fuzzy Lop|
|American Sable||Blanc de Hotot|
|Checkered Giant||Dwarf Hotot|
Although the Flemish Giant is the largest rabbit breed, it is not as good for a meat rabbit because it is a very slow grower. It eats a lot of food, which brings the food conversion down, and takes a long time to get to full-size. Other rabbit breeds grow faster and will produce more pounds of meat for the amount of feed.
Many rabbit breeds work for multiple purposes. Most rabbits make great pets if they are handled while young.
3. Build Rabbit Housing: Cages or Colonies?
Rabbits can be housed in colonies or cages. There are advantages and challenges with each type of system.
Rabbit cages generally house 1 or 2 rabbits at a time and provide a way to control breeding, keep rabbits from fighting or bullying and allow for a more controlled environment.
Rabbit colonies provide rabbits the socialization that they enjoy and allow them a more natural habitat. There are definite pros for each type of setup, as well as challenges.
Decide which way you want to go. Consider the following:
Rabbit Colony Advantages and Disadvantages
Rabbit colonies generally take less time to care and feed the rabbits. They all live together and are able to eat, burrow, and care for themselves. Moody rabbits don’t have to be held or handled if they don’t want to.
Colonies take more space than cages and are often created outside.
Each rabbit tends to pick a territory. Colonies allow rabbits to be more social and the bucks often interact with the kids positively.
The disadvantages of colonies include bullying and fighting. Rabbits are very territorial and this can mean castrated males, torn fur, and eyes scratched out. Bullied rabbits may hide rather than eat, which can cause malnutrition and even death. Some rabbit does will attach another rabbit’s kits.
Controlling breeding is difficult. Does can get pregnant immediately after giving birth, which taxes their body and makes it more likely for the new kits to die. It is impossible to know which duck fathered a litter of rabbits and impossible to reproduce desirable litters.
It can be difficult to care for the kits or to practice biosecurity (taking dead kits out of the litter). It can also be hard to know which doe mothered a litter or when the babies are due. This makes it harder to provide adequate nesting materials.
Advantages of Rabbit Colonies:
- Rabbits are naturally social
- Rabbits get a more natural environment
- Rabbits take less time to care for
Disadvantages of Rabbit Colonies
- Its harder to control breeding
- Does may be pregnant more frequently than is healthy for them
- More bunnies may die from frequent pregnancies
- More bullying and fighting
- ts hard to know when to provide nesting materials for new litters
- Rabbits need 10 square feet per rabbit in a colony
- Diseases can spread more easily
Colonies are usually only done by rabbit meat farmers because a colony will produce too many rabbits for someone raising them for pets. It will also produce undesirable characteristics for show rabbits.
Plus the lineage of the babies can’t be tracked and it places an extra hard strain on the mothers.
Rabbit Cage Advantages and Disadvantages
Rabbits being raised or bred for show or pets are usually housed in cages. Additionally, many meat rabbits are raised in cages. There are a lot of advantages to cages including the ability to control breeding, keep the environment protected and clean, and assess the individual needs of each rabbit.
Rabbits are very prolific. Does can get pregnant the day after they give birth, but that doesn’t mean that it’s good for their health. It strains a rabbit to nurse and have litter after litter of kits. It makes it more likely that more kits will die and that the rabbit will become overstressed.
Caging them allows you to keep them separate from the bucks and to provide some rest for the does. That will also mean a lower mortality rate (fewer babies dying).
Caged rabbits can have a more controlled environment. They can be kept indoors during the winter and protected from wind and snow.
Cages need to be cleaned and the rabbits need to be fed and watered, which takes more time than in colonies. Many caged rabbits are in hung cages, which makes cleaning easier.
Disadvantages of Cages
- Rabbits are kept individual and don’t get to socialize
- The care of the rabbits takes more time
- Set up is more expensive
Advantages of Cages
- Breeding is controlled
- Mothers can be given a couple of weeks to recuperate after having bunnies
- Lower mortality among babies
- No fighting or bullying
- All rabbits get adequate food
- Does get to recover between pregnancies
- A controlled lineage of babies
- More rabbits per space
4. Provide The Basic Needs Of Your Rabbits
Rabbits need a shelter, a chew toy, and protection from predators. Whether you provide colony living or cages, each individual rabbit needs their own place to hide and seek protection. Rabbits need a place to hide because they are often prey to other animals. They need a place to go and feel safe.
It doesn’t have to be a fancy rabbit hutch, but can also be provided with boards leaning against each other, actual rabbit burrows, containers on their side, or other means of protection. Each cage should have a place the rabbit can hide and be sheltered
Rabbits also need something to chew on. Their teeth are continually growing and they have an urge to nibble and chew all the time. Simple chew toys such as a thick stick work well. If they don’t have good chew options, they will chew plastic, their houses and other things out of desperation.
Your rabbits will also need to be protected from predators. Even in a cage, rabbits are vulnerable from predator attacks. In colonies, they are subject to hawk attacks, fox attacks, and weasel attacks.
Those are only a few predators. Many predators can get through a ½ inch gap.
Keep cages raised where predators can’t climb or access them. Or, add hardware cloth around the cage to prevent predators from gaining access.
In colonies, bury your fencing to prevent attacks from under the fence and consider adding orange netting to ward off attacks from above.
- A hutch, burrow, or individual house per rabbit
- Chew toys
- Protection from predators
5. Water and Feed Your Rabbits
What’s the best food for rabbits?
The best food for rabbits is alfalfa, but they will eat most vegetation. They love dried grains such as oats, barley, or wheat. Hay is used for food and bedding. They eat carrots, apples, and clover. Older rabbits can eat lettuce. Young rabbits shouldn’t’ eat lettuce though as it can cause stomach issues for them. They will also eat parsnips, potato peelings, sweet potatoes, beets, and turnips.
Do feed rabbits:
- Carrots, potato peels, and beets
- Sweet potatoes, parsnips and turnips
- Apples, clover, hay, alfalfa
- Barley, wheat, and oats
- Feed lettuce sparingly to only older rabbits
- Rabbit pellets found at animal supply stores
Do not feed rabbits:
- Brussel sprouts
- Foods containing salt or sugar
Rabbits need fresh water daily. You can provide them with a bowl of water, but rabbits are likely to spill it and cause a mold issue. At the very worst, they won’t have enough water to drink if they constantly spill it.
Watering bottles tend to work the best for rabbits. It provides fresh water without spills. Make sure that your rabbits have a constant supply of water. Rabbits need a lot of water to stay healthy. In the winter, make sure that water isn’t frozen.
This may mean that you need to supply multiple water bottles and change them as often as hourly.
5. Provide For Your Rabbit’s Medicinal Needs
The greatest health problem that your rabbit is likely to get is ear mites. Ear mites will cause a red, inflamed ear with lots of scabs. Rabbits often get ear mites from their bedding, unclean conditions, or other rabbits.
There are several ways to treat ear mites. You can treat them with a 50/50 mix of camphor oil and bab or olive oil. Rub it into the rabbit’s ears every 2-3 days until the ear mites go away. Change the bedding as ear mites can nest in the beddings. Avoid straw as straw can contain mites.
Another treatment involves mixing a few drops of olive oil and tea-tree oil onto your rabbits’ ears.
- Change rabbit bedding and bleach the area
- Rub a solution of camphor oil and olive oil into rabbits ears 50/50 mix
- Or rub olive oil and tea tree oil onto their ear.
6. Clean Rabbit Bedding And Cages
Rabbits will urinate and poop while they eat. They will also mess in their bedding or in unused nesting boxes. You can encourage them to pooping into liters by placing the litter box next to their food source.
Change rabbit bedding and keep their cages clean. Hay is a popular bedding for rabbits. You can also use wood chips, paper, or straw works. Well
Don’t allow bedding to get moldy or to stay wet. Their cages should be cleaned and bedding changed at least once a week.
If your rabbits live in hanging cages that allow the waste to fall to the ground beneath, then clean any dry or crusted waste sticking to the cages weekly.
Clean out the manure below and use on the garden or sell it.
7. Bring Your Does To Bucks To Breed
Does are far more territorial than bucks. When you breed your rabbits, bring your does to the buck cage. This will keep the rabbits from fighting. An angry doe can even castrate a buck when he invades her space.
Bringing her to him allows him to get down to business. It often happens within seconds. Breeding is quick. You will notice the buck mount the doe and then fall off of her. He will usually try to mount her again within minutes.
Let them breed 2-3 times before separating them again. Return the doe to her cage.
8. Maintain Accurate Records
Keep good records on your rabbits. Keep records of the dates of breeding. Rabbits will have a litter 28-31 days after breeding occurs. Keeping good records will help you to provide for the needs of the upcoming littler.
Track which does and which bucks are bred. This makes it possible for you to better replicate good healthy litters and to breed-specific traits or looks in your rabbits.
9. Provide Nesting Materials For The New Litter
On day 27 after breeding, provide a clean nesting box and hay for the new mother. She will start to pull out her fur on her underbelly and building a nest. If you provide a nesting box earlier than day 27, she will urinate and poop in it.
A rabbit can have her litter as early as 28 days after breeding. They usually take 30 days to have the litter.
The nesting box needs to allow her to hide with her babies from view. Mommy rabbits don’t like to nurse their babies in full view. They like to feed them discreetly twice a day.
10. Move Babies Into Grow Out Cages
You will start seeing kits coming out of the nesting box at about 2 weeks. They start eating rabbit food and may wean as early as 4 weeks. After about 6 weeks, your kits will be weaned. If you need to wean the babies, pull one or two away every few days.
This will allow your momma rabbit’s milk to dry up a little at a time and will ease her discomfort.
Pull bunnies into a grow out cage by 8 weeks. This is especially important if you breed your mamma rabbit every 4 weeks. Make sure that the old litter is in a grow-out cage a week before the mamma is ready to give birth again.
This will help your doe to take better care of the new littler. Does that are nursing or caring for an older litter are more likely to neglect the newest and smallest babies.
Grow out cages result in lower mortality of babies.
11. Know When To Breed Again
How often can I breed my rabbit?
Rabbits can breed on the day they give birth, but that isn’t good for them. They will tend to have smaller litters and more deaths. Additionally, does that are bred that frequently usually don’t take as good of care of their litters. Generally speaking, wait at least 4 weeks before breeding your rabbits again. Some rabbit breeders wait as long as 6 or 7 weeks between breedings.
Waiting 4 weeks allows your mamma rabbit to wean her babies at least 2 weeks before her new litter is due. Waiting 6 weeks allows her to have weaned babies before getting pregnant. Both time frames are acceptable practices and considered kinder to the momma.
12. Harvest Or Sell Rabbits
Baby rabbits can be sold as soon as they are weaned. That means that you can start selling babies for pets as early as 5 or 6 weeks. They do need to be completely eating on their own so they don’t starve.
Separate the babies from the mother rabbit at least 3 or 4 days prior to selling them to watch for any problems. Make sure all the babies are eating and are in good health. They are ready for a new home. Sex them and sell accordingly. Rabbits usually sell for and an average of $5-$7 per set of 2 does and a buck.
Harvesting rabbits for meat usually occurs when they are about three months old. This is when their meat is tender and can be used as a substitute in any type of chicken recipe. Young butchered rabbits are called fryers. They will weight between 1.5 and 3.5 pounds.
Older rabbits can also be butchered, but their meat is tougher. Rabbits butchered at 7 or 8 months old are called fryers. They can usually only be used in stews or roasted.
How Do I Raise Rabbits In Colonies?
When moving rabbits to a colony, be sure to have a burrow, hutch or house for each rabbit. Set up multiple feeding stations and multiple watering stations around the colony.
This will help to reduce fighting over the food and allow rabbits to go to different locations to eat. Introduce the males into the colony first, followed by your more mild females. Lastly, introduce the more territorial females last. Make sure you guard against predators.
If your colony is outdoors on the ground, then your rabbits can eventually dig burrows for themselves. But, if it’s in a shed or a garage, you need enough shelters for all the rabbits. Shelters can be as simple as board propped up. This is important because fewer dominate rabbits need to have a place to hide and be sheltered.
The reason you want to set up multiple feeding and watering stations is so that all your rabbits can eat as they are hungry. Setting them up in various locations around the colony allows bullied rabbits to eat away from the aggressive rabbits that pick on them.
Add males to the colony first. Males are much less territorial than females and it’s better to add them first. If you have multiple males, they will do better if they are little siblings. If not, watch them closely. Sometimes the males will establish dominance and then get along.
Add the mild females next. If you have super aggressive or territorial females, add them last.
Separate injured or ill rabbits from the colony. This can help them to get strong again and you can make sure that they are well-fed. If they are contagious, it also helps to keep the colony healthy.
- Provide multiple water and feeding stations around the colony
- Provide hutches or protection for each rabbit.
- Introduce males into the hutch first
- Introduce females last
- Watch for fighting and signs of bullying
- Separate sick or injured rabbits from the colony
How Can I Raise Rabbits Outdoors?
Rabbits are easily adapted to outdoor weather. Adult rabbits are more susceptible to heat issues than to cold issues. It is important to provide them with shelter from the sun in the warm months. In the winter months, rabbits adapt to freezing temperatures. They will need shelter from the wind and water to stay healthy. Babies are the most susceptible to cold weather and will die without additional protection.
Ensure that rabbits always have a supply of fresh unfrozen water. Many rabbit raisers bring their colony indoors during winter months.
Make sure to protect your rabbits against predators. Be aware that many predators can get through wiring as little as ½ inches wide. Other predators can dig well so make sure that outdoor fences are buried at least a foot underground. Finally, be aware of birds of prey, who often pick off young rabbits.