11 Apr ’12
This is a fairly lengthy post about the lessons that I have learned raising meat rabbits. The purpose is twofold: help others know what rabbit husbandry takes, and secondly see if there are fllow rabbit breeders that have any advise or tips to bring to the table. Feel free to ask any questions that you may have.
I've studied on rabbit husbandry for a long while before I decided to purchase some rabbits for breeding. Rabbit are supposed to make more meat pounds per dollar input than any other meat production animal. I went to a friends house who has 5 does and 1 buck and watch a harvest and asked a ton a questions, after my initial research, and used this experience as a "go ahead" it confirmed to me that I could hand the dad-to-day tasks and be I would be able to harvest the 8 week old kits.
I planned on 3 does and 1 buck. 3 does made simple math for my family: 2 adults and 2 children. The gestation period is 30-31 days, nurse for 30 days, and rest for 30 days. So with 3 does there would be 1 in each stage of this cycle at all times. My wife was unsure that she wanted so many rabbits in the freezer so we went with 2 does and would just modify the schedule as needed.
I built a setup to hold 4 x 30" x 36" cages with dropping pans underneath. I put this on wheel s so that it would be easy to clean underneath. This setup is kept under my deck (we have a walkout basement) on concrete so it is protected from afternoon sun and from most rain. (Ill post pictures later)
When you buy rabbits to raise you usually have to buy them at 8 weeks old because not many breeder are willing to let the kits go past prime harvest time of 8 weeks to grow out more breeders. So I bought 2 x does and 1x buck from a very highly recommended breeder at $15 each. I do not remember the breed, but they are a breed from Texas A&M breed specifically to do fine in hot weather. Heat hurts rabbits and can make male rabbits go sterile. It is very important, as with an farm animal, to make sure they have access to clean water, and are fed the correct amount of food daily. Too much food and the does will get lazy and not breed.
I raised these 3 rabbits until they were 5 months old, which is the age at which it is ok to start breeding them. The kids helped during the entire raising process and were allowed to name the breeding stock rabbits, but understood that the babies were farm animals and would not receive names and that they would be eaten when the time came. My son, 5.5 years old, seemed understand that fine, since we have chickens the concept wasn't too foreign to him. The 2.5 year old could care less. She's my wild child, flower girl, daces to the beat of her own drummer child and would rather spin circles in the rain than care about rabbits.
Once the 1st rabbit was breed I put the nesting box in her cage so that she could pull fur and make a nest. Sometimes this nest making skill doesn't happen right away due to immaturity and can also be delayed during hot weather. Now we wait. No nest, no real increase in appetite so I rebreed her about a week later. 25 days from initial breeding and no nest but I wasn't very concerned, since the rabbits get checked on twice a day. One afternoon while I was mowing, I glance over at the cages and see blood. So I rush over to find 6 newborn kits with all of there ears and legs chewed off. My son was with my, and luckily the cage that this happened in was too high for him to really see what happened. None of the kits we born or put into the nesting box and all of them were dead. DAMN! I was very upset and couldn't wrap my head around what I had done wrong. I knew I had done everything possible from my end but it was still very disappointing nonetheless.
I asked around and it is not uncommon for first time, young mother does to not know what to do with a new litter and they can freak out and kill them all. Well thats what happened here. Now, lets breed rabbit #2. Breeding goes easy, and she was spending a lot of time in the nesting box so all looked good. 31 days after breeding she has 8 kits, and 5 are stillborn and 3 were alive and in the nesting box. Okay, that sucks but its better than the previous rabbit. 2 days later the 3 that were alive are now dead due to lack of nourishment I suppose. After much consideration I decided to give each doe 1 more chance before either eating them or abandoning the rabbit situation completely.
Breed rabbit #1 again. Goes better than expected, and she makes this wonderfully huge fur nest in the nesting box. Things are looking up! 30 days later 7 kits, all alive, and only 1 outside the nesting box. I gently placed the kit back in and watch momma rabbit take care of her young. This was starting to get exciting: first of all it was working and second of all I was soon going to be enjoying sustainable protein with a minimal footprint. 3 days in: everyone is still alive and growing. GREAT! Day 7: every single kit was dead except for 1. No clue why, they had grown significantly, looked strong, and momma looked healthy. Day 8: the remaining kit dies. ell know I upset at my failure and the nonproductive death that has occurred under my watch.
I am at a crossroads now with what to do. I really like the idea of rabbits as a meat source, but this repeated death of kits before harvest is really getting me down. I plan on eating rabbit #1 this weekend and giving #2 her second shot at raising young. If her second litter fails I don't know what I'll do.
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