Raising Rabbits - The Basics
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Rabbits are fun to raise except when you have to go out and take care of them at 10 below zero. Considering this is the exception rather than the rule, we'll assume that, generally speaking, they are fun to raise. You may have different reasons for raising them - enjoyment, education, business, show, laboratory, meat, fur, and the bi-products they produce, such as fertilizer and fishing worms.
Don't expect to make a profitable business raising rabbits. Only a small minority of those who raise rabbits are capable of making a living out of it. Consider it, rather, an enjoyable hobby that can help pay for itself. Raising rabbits gets in your blood. Once you've had some good rabbits, you want to keep them around. I found that when I was raising too many and didn't have enough markets, the rabbits were eating me out of house and home. And so I got rid of them -- for a while. I then took up the hobby again because I found it was in my blood to raise rabbits.
Before you get too many rabbits, it would be a good idea for you to join the American Rabbit Breeders Association (ARBA). The low membership fee includes a very good booklet on raising rabbits. It lists all of the recognized domestic breeds of rabbits along with their characteristics. Membership in ARBA includes a subscription to Domestic Rabbits magazine that supplies you with helpful articles on rabbit raising. Each year you will also get a booklet listing the more than 35,000 ARBA members and their addresses. You will easily find rabbit fanciers living close to you.
If you start showing your rabbits, you'll need to be a member of ARBA in order for your rabbits to be awarded grand championships. A rabbit wins a grand championship when it has won first place in three rabbit shows. Having a grand champion is valuable. Not only does the rabbit's monetary value go up, but also its offspring are considered valuable.
Check out ARBA's web page for helpful books and materials. ARBA's web site also lists shows throughout the United States. Find a show near you and go to it. You'll learn a great deal there. Watching the judges, you will find what they consider good qualities in each particular breed. By exchanging information with other breeders, you can learn techniques that work. Shows are great places to shop for rabbits. You can find the breed(s) you would like to raise by seeing the rabbits up close and asking the owners what experiences they have had with them.
Usually, it's not a good idea to go out and buy rabbits from someone who can't give you a good pedigree certificate. Without knowing a rabbit's ancestry, neither it nor its offspring to the fourth generation may become grand champions. You risk getting a mixed rabbit (one that is not of a specific breed), a low quality specimen of a particular breed that someone knew was poor and sold it as a pet, or a rabbit that has serious genetic defects. The principle of only buying animals with a pedigree applies anywhere. When acquiring a dog, why get a mutt, even though it might be free, when you can buy a pedigree whose offspring you can sell for more than five times the price you paid?
Even if you are purchasing a rabbit only as a pet, if you are planning on keeping the rabbit for any length of time, you need to consider its resale value. You may also later decide to raise rabbits on a larger scale. Having a pedigree certificate ensures that you are starting out right. When breeders give you a pedigree certificate, they are putting their reputation on the line. They are guaranteeing the background of the rabbit, specifying themselves as the owners, and authenticating it by their signature. Also, unless they're stupid, they're not going to knowingly sell you a defective rabbit. They wouldn't stay in business long. Those that cannot provide a pedigree certificate may not be an expert raising rabbits. They may knowingly or unknowingly sell you one that is sick or has a genetic defect. Usually they are not very helpful in getting you started right. Stick with recognized breeders of pedigree rabbits that will provide you with a certificate.
Keep in mind, however, that pedigree certificates can be falsified by the person selling you the rabbit. It is best to buy from a reputable person. Try getting a recommendation from someone who shows rabbits. They usually know the good breeders.
If you want added protection, purchase a Registered Rabbit. A registered rabbit is one which an ARBA licensed registrar has examined and certified as free from defects and disqualifications. The registrar has determined that the rabbit is healthy and a good representation of the breed. The registrar examines the rabbit's pedigree for completeness and accuracy. A copy of the rabbit's pedigree is forwarded to ARBA. Though inaccuracies can also be present with registered rabbits, the chances are better that you will get a better rabbit.
The key idea is to purchase your rabbits from a reputable person who can help you with your questions after the sale, one who is recommended by others, and one who guarantees the rabbits you purchase.
I suppose the most difficult decision in raising rabbits is selecting the breed you want to raise. As for myself, I'm not satisfied with just one breed. I want representatives from several. I have Netherland Dwarfs in shades of white, black, chinchilla, chestnut, chocolate, and sable. I have white New Zealands, Californians, Rex in shades of white, black, lilac, chestnut, and broken (spotted). I also have Champagne D'Argents, chocolate English Spots, and black Silver Martens. I am planning on buying some Satins in the colors red, copper, and Siamese. I also want to purchase some more Netherland Dwarfs in the colors Himalayan, smoke pearl, black tan, and broken.
Breeds are characterized by size, shape, ears, fur texture, sheen, and color. In some breeds, the individual fur characteristics are combined. The main fur types are:
The smallest breeds, the Dwarfs, vary in size from 1-3/4 to 3-1/2 lbs. They include:
The Netherland Dwarf is the breed in greatest demand. The Netherland Dwarf has the most ARBA-recognized colors and patterns of all the breeds. If you're into variety, you can't go wrong with Netherland Dwarfs.
The problems you will run into with any of the dwarf breeds mentioned are the following:
The next group of rabbits make up the small size breeds. They vary from about 2-1/2 to 5 pounds. These rabbits consume between 1/3 and 2/3 cup of feed per day and take up 3-1/2 sq ft of cage space. The small breeds have characteristics between the dwarfs and the medium size breeds. They usually have 1 - 3 more babies in their litters than the dwarfs and do not carry the possibly lethal dwarf gene. However, they are still more susceptible to death from coccidiosis than the larger breeds. A few pet stores will carry these small breeds and you can expect perhaps $2.00 less from the pet shops than the dwarfs will bring. They may only take them during Easter. Check with your local stores. Sales to other breeders will command similar prices to the medium size rabbits, about $20.00. The small breeds consist of:
The next group of rabbits make up the medium size breeds. This group is characterized by weights ranging from 4-1/2 to 7 pounds mature. These rabbits consume between 1/2 and 1 cup of feed per day and take up 5 sq ft of cage space. Usually, pet stores don't want these breeds except possibly around Easter. The medium breeds produce an acceptable amount of meat on small bones. Some commercial meat rabbit breeders raise these breeds. But they usually prefer the next group - the meat rabbits, because the feed-to-meat conversion ratio is apparently better. Usually, those that raise the medium size rabbits like to show them and eat the ones that don't make the grade. Some of these rabbits are raised for their fur as well. On the whole, it is harder to sell these rabbits except to other fanciers of like mind. You can expect about $20.00 with pedigree for mature rabbits.
Rabbits that make up this group of medium breeds include the following:
Meat Rabbits make up the next group. They are characterized by weights between 8 and 12 pounds. These rabbits are raised for both meat and fur. Some of these may also be considered fancy rabbits because they have unusual fur, color, or ear characteristics. Most of these rabbits are shown a great deal. Rabbits in the meat group consume about 1-1/4 cup of feed per day and take up 7-1/2 sq ft of cage space. They will command a price comparable to the medium size rabbits, about $20.00 for mature ones. The rabbits that make up the meat group include:
The next group of rabbits are the Giants. These are raised because some breeders just like giant rabbits. They can sometimes weigh up to 25 pounds. The giants require 1-3/4 - 2 cups of feed per day and 11 - 12 sq ft of cage space. The giant breeds also require stronger cages. Because few people raise these rabbits, they are more rare than the other breeds. It takes a strong person to lift these rabbits, so their demand is not great and thus harder to sell. They may command up to $50.00 for a mature rabbit and about $15.00 - $20.00 for a 2 month old one. Most of the giants are shown (their presence is always appreciated). They are mainly used for meat and fur. The feed-to-meat conversion ratio is less than the meat group. The giants include:
The above discussion of the various breeds of rabbits touched on the approximate amount of feed and cage space required by each.
You should use rabbit pellets from a reputable source that has been supplying rabbit feed for many years. Each day, a rabbit will eat approximately one fluid ounce of feed per pound of weight. There are 8 fl oz in one cup. So a four pound rabbit will eat about 4 oz or 1/2 cup of feed. An eight pound rabbit, about 1 cup. Do not feed a rabbit more than one day's supply of feed at a time unless you will be gone the weekend. If you allow your rabbit to get fat, it will not breed very well, the judge will disqualify it in shows, and the rabbit will have a much higher risk of dying.
Every now and then supplement the rabbit's diet with alfalfa hay. This will supply it with good roughage. You can also use the hay to line the nest boxes when they are ready to give birth. Make sure the rabbits have fresh water in front of them at all times. Never feed your rabbits lettuce or cole family vegetables such as cabbage, kale, kohlrabi, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, or broccoli. They can get enteritis and possibly die. Never feed them meat. The safest thing to do is to just stick to rabbit pellets and alfalfa hay.
All rabbits should be raised in hutches that have 1/2" x 1/2" or 1/2" x 1" galvanized wire mesh bottoms. This will allow their droppings to fall through. If they stay on any other type of surface that allows their feces to accumulate, it will cause disease because of the bacterial and possible parasitic build up. It is usually best to surround the rabbit with wire or metal because the rabbit will chew threw wood or plastic that they can get at. Be sure to protect the rabbit from the sun, wind, rain, and extremely hot or cold temperatures. Use an automatic feeder that can be filled without opening the cage. Also, I like to use feeder bottles with nipples pointing into the cage. This type prevents contamination and overturning that bowls experience. It's also OK to use large tin cans tied with wire to the sides of the hutch.
I find that it's better to purchase cages from a cage maker. They usually do a good job for not much more than the materials would cost you. But if you want to make your own cages, allow 0.75 square feet of space for each pound of adult weight. For instance, if a rabbit's adult weight is 10 pounds, multiply 0.75 by 10. This gives 7.5 sq ft. This can be attained by building a cage 3 ft x 2.5 ft (3 x 2.5 = 7.5). The height should be 18 inches. If the adult's weight is 3 pounds, multiply 0.75 by 3. This gives 2.25 sq ft. You can build the cage 1.5 ft x 1.5 ft (18" x 18"). Its height, because it is a small rabbit, can be 15".
Never make the hutch more than 3 ft deep or the sides more than 3 feet from your grasp. Otherwise, you'll have trouble getting the rabbit out when you need to.
Do not put rabbits together after they are 3 months of age. The ones of the same sex are territorial and will fight. The ones of opposite sex will attempt to breed. This can lead to unexpected results.
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