Rabbit Farms

Here is how rabbit farms become profitable.

When farmers begin planning their rabbit farms, they will need to formulate a plan, which will often need to be submitted to an agricultural or planning board in your area in which you wish to set up this venture.

Each area has its own legislation, and you will need to find out which regulations you will need to submit to, to receive your licences and permits to continue with your venture business.

Rabbit meat is very high in protein and low in fat. Being low in calories per weight, it's not ideal for sustaining hard labor, but it can definitely do in a pinch. Rabbits also have one of the most efficient feed: growth ratios, keeping feeding costs way down. You could get about 70 lbs of fryer meat a year out of each doe, and one buck can service 8-10 does. In addition to meat, rabbits also provide great nitrogen-rich fertilizer, and their pelts are very soft and supple.

Most rabbit farms have 2 litter pens per doe, a cage per buck, and a few other extra cages for raising replacement breeders. Litter pens are ideally a minimum of 30x30 inches. I recommend 24x24 cages for bucks and replacement breeders. Cages can be all wire, or wooden hutches (with wire). I prefer all wire cages as they are easier to keep clean (you can even clean them with a torch), and they can be maintained individually. I like to stack cages 2 to 3 tiers to save on floor space, but doing so requires dropping pans to be mounted under the cages, which have to be dumped frequently to avoid fly problems. Single-tier cages can just let the droppings fall to the floor, or into the garden or compost. Letting the droppings fall onto well-drained soil is a great way to have a nearly odor-and-fly-free operation. When figuring out where to put the cages, keep in mind that rabbits do not handle getting wet very well.

Most rabbit farms keep the rabbits in a barn which is a great way to keep the weather off them, as well as provide shade. Sometimes it works better (especially for ventilation) to keep them outside. In that case, you will want to make sure they have a roof, and walls protecting them from the predominate weather directions with only the door side of the cage open.

For feeders on rabbit farms, I recommend externally-mounted metal J feeders. Metal feeders may have a diamond-shaped mesh or riveted hardware cloth for the bottom to sift fines. Hardware cloth isn't very hardy against abuse, though. I've never had a rabbit destroy it; instead, it was a dog that decided that the rabbit feed tasted really good. The final reason I prefer metal feeders is that they are usually mounted to the cage using a couple of bent wires, and can be maintained completely from the outside of the cage.

To provide water on rabbit farms, I recommend getting the opaque (usually white) bottles rather than clear. My favorites are 32 oz., although some people get by with 16 oz. for meat breeds, and they do make half gallon and gallon-sized bottles. They also make kits that will let you turn any pop bottle (I recommend 2-liter) into a water bottle, although you will have to replace the bottles frequently (as much as twice a year). If you live where it freezes during the winter and you're not keeping the rabbits in a heated shelter, I recommend two bottles per cage so you can swap frozen for thawed during the winter. If you choose not to double up, you will have to force thaw the bottles twice a day using a pot of hot water (or running hot water from the tap). The other option, which is an amazing time-saver if you have several rabbits, is an automatic watering system, which usually consists of a bucket kept above the cages, and a series of pipes, tubes and valves. There are products on the market for keeping the pipes and bucket from freezing.

Other equipment on rabbit farms that I recommend for each breeder are sitting boards (rabbits will get sores on their feet if they are kept on wire all the time) and chewing logs (fruit tree are ideal, followed by other hardwoods; pine/cedar are NOT recommended).

Rabbits are also susceptible to heat stroke at temperatures over 80*F. Most rabbit farms recommend two frozen 2-liters per cage, such that there is one in the cage at all times the temperature is over 80, and the other is being re-frozen.

Rabbit farms also have nestboxes for the does. Nestboxes should be just barely big enough for a doe to fit in it, and turn TIGHTLY around to get out. You don't want to encourage her to hang out in there. Nest boxes can be made of wood or metal or both. I prefer metal nest boxes with a removable wooden floor.

Most rabbit farms feed pellets. Most adult rabbits will each about 4-5 oz. of pellets a day, and you will want to keep that regulated, as obesity can cause infertility. Pregnant, nursing and growing rabbits can be given free feed. Hay can also be free fed with pellets to all ages. Anything that causes gas will cause the rabbit to bloat and die (they can't pass gas). Many plants are poisonous to rabbits, so when in doubt, don't feed it.

Rabbit farms and Rabbit breeds

There are a few choices of breeds available for good meat production. The best meat rabbits have mature weights in the 9-12 lb range, 10-11 being the most efficient producers. The next thing to look at is structure. You want a rabbit that has a "commerical" body type, which means full shoulders with a smooth, high slope over the loins and down the hips. They should have good breadth as well, not racy like a jack rabbit. The most popular meat rabbits are New Zealands, Californians, and to a slightly lesser extent, Palominos.

Some breed young rabbits as young as 6 mos., but 8-9 mos. is usually the ideal age for their first breeding. Once a doe is about 10 mos. old (except in some of the giant breeds), if she hasn't been bred before, her productivity will be lower due to fat deposits around her ovaries, so try not to let a doe go more than 10 months without breeding her.

To breed rabbits, take the doe to the buck's cage. Reasons for this is that a buck may get too preoccupied with exploring the new cage to bother with his business, and does will attack a rabbit that is invading her territory (male or female), and have been known to reject (even kill) litters born in a cage that she has shared with a buck. The other option is to take them to a neutral cage or space. Most rabbits will know what is expected of them once put together.

Occasionally, on your rabbit farms, you need to help them figure it out (the buck may mount the wrong end, or the doe may try to mount). Some does will put their rump in a corner and be defensive. In this case, you can choose to hold the doe for the buck (just grasp her ears, and with your hand under her belly, push her rear end up a little bit), or wait another day before trying again (does usually won't go more than a day or two without being receptive).

The buck will grunt/squeal and fall sideways off the doe once he has done his business. Remove the doe immediately to prevent fights. You may want to bring the doe back to the buck for a second breeding after another 1-6 hours to increase the litter size. Rabbits are induced ovulators, so the breeding itself is what causes the doe to ovulate; they don't go into heat.

Rabbit gestation is usually 28-32 days, although I have seen does give birth as early as 25 days and as late as 38 (although the kits have always been stillborn any time past 35). You will want to put a nestbox filled with straw (hay can also be used although the doe will eat a lot of it, or newspaper shreds in a pinch; do not use cedar or pine shavings as the oil can irritate the kits, and small particles can get in their noses). I usually put nestboxes in 25 days after breeding, just in case, but many breeders say to wait until day 28. The idea is that you don't want to give her the nestbox too early or she may start using it as a litter box. Check the nestbox every morning for kits (they will usually kindle at night, although it's not a bad idea to also check periodically through the day, just in case she doesn't wait for dark). I usually just glance in from outside the cage to avoid stressing the doe. If there is fur in the box, she has most likely kindled or is in labor. Does start to pull fur when they go into labor, and they use it to line their nests for their kits.

When the kits are born, it’s a good idea to rub vanilla extract on the doe's nose before you handle the kits, so she won't be able to smell you on them. Rabbits will cannibalize their kits if they feel they've been compromised. Check the box as soon as you suspect there are kits in there. If there are any kits on the wire that are still alive, you can put them into the nestbox. Remove any dead kits from the cage (on the wire or in the nest box). Most does can care for 8 kits, and some "super mamas" can raise 12. It's a good idea to have a couple of does kindle within a couple days of each other, so that they can even out their litter sizes.

Kits are born blind, deaf and hairless. They will usually start to show thin fur about day 3. Ears start to open up around a week, and eyes usually open about 8-12 days. Once the kits' eyes are open, you can remove the nest box, although you can wait a couple more days to let their fur come in a little thicker. I usually remove the nest box at about 14 days old. In winter, I might wait to 21 days. The longer you leave the kits in the nest box, the greater the risk of respiratory infection.

Litters can be weaned as early as 3 wks, although the recommended weaning age is around 6 wks, and can be left on their mother as late as 8 wks. You can choose to move the doe to a new cage, or move the kits to a new cage.

Do not keep bucks and does older than 12 weeks together. I've had an 8 wk old doe get pregnant, so it's never too early to separate them.

Fryers are butchered at 8-12 wks. At that age, they should be 3-6 lbs, and should yield about 55% including liver and heart. Rabbits can be butchered later than that, but their meat will get tougher, and are better suited for roasting at that point. Over 6 mos. old they're only good for stew. Past 10 wks of age, their feed:growth ratio drops off considerably, so it becomes less cost effective.

To maintain productivity of the doe, it is best to aim for at least 2 litters per year from each doe. If you want to maintain a good return on investment, breed the doe back 4 weeks after her kits are born, and wean the kits at 6 weeks, giving her 2 weeks to recuperate before nursing again.

Rabbit Farms and Kits

Successful rabbit farms know when the kits are being born, it’s a good idea to rub vanilla extract on the doe's nose before you handle the kits, so she won't be able to smell you on them. Rabbits will cannibalize their kits if they feel they've been compromised. Check the box as soon as you suspect there are kits in there.

If there are any kits on the wire that are still alive, you can put them into the nestbox. Remove any dead kits from the cage (on the wire or in the nest box). Most does can care for 8 kits, and some "super mamas" can raise 12. It's a good idea to have a couple of does kindle within a couple days of each other, so that they can even out their litter sizes.

Kits are born blind, deaf and hairless. They will usually start to show thin fur about day 3. Ears start to open up around a week, and eyes usually open about 8-12 days. Once the kits' eyes are open, you can remove the nest box, although you can wait a couple more days to let their fur come in a little thicker. I usually remove the nest box at about 14 days old. In winter, I might wait to 21 days. The longer you leave the kits in the nest box, the greater the risk of respiratory infection.

Litters can be weaned as early as 3 wks, although the recommended weaning age is around 6 wks, and can be left on their mother as late as 8 wks. You can choose to move the doe to a new cage, or move the kits to a new cage.

Do not keep bucks and does older than 12 weeks together. I've had an 8 wk old doe get pregnant, so it's never too early to separate them.

Fryers are butchered at 8-12 wks. At that age, they should be 3-6 lbs, and should yield about 55% including liver and heart. Rabbits can be butchered later than that, but their meat will get tougher, and are better suited for roasting at that point. Over 6 mos. old they're only good for stew. Past 10 wks of age, their feed:growth ratio drops off considerably, so it becomes less cost effective.

To maintain productivity of the doe, it is best to aim for at least 2 litters per year from each doe. If you want to maintain a good return on investment, breed the doe back 4 weeks after her kits are born, and wean the kits at 6 weeks, giving her 2 weeks to recuperate before nursing again. In Summary of Rabbit Farms:

Rabbit farms are profitable if you learn how to avoid costly mistakes.

Successful rabbit farms have a high yield and low cost.

Rabbit farms is a great hobby and also enjoyable.

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