Breeding rabbits takes a plan. Anyone owning rabbits whether for pet, show or meat should pick a breed that works for them but this is even truer for anyone considering breeding rabbits.
Talk to multiple breeders if you are looking at starting with rabbits as well as starting breeding. Have a plan! This should be put in 30 point type with all caps, bold and italicized. Do not breed unless you have a plan.
First because if you don’t know why you’re breeding, including the faults and strengths of your doe, how can you possibly choose a buck to improve her? Someone breeding for meat and fur will have slightly different choices perhaps than someone breeding for show.
Due to the wide availability of pet rabbits from mis-marked and less than show quality there really is no need for breeding pet rabbits. There is not enough market for them and many wrongly attributed to breeders are in fact products of pet owners who thought they had two girls and actually had a pair or other mistakes. This is not intended as a slight on pet owners, but rather to underscore know what you are doing including care, sexing and management.
Secondly if you don’t have a plan you don’t know what will happen to the offspring you are producing. List your priorities. For example if you decide on raising Rex because they fit the room and requirements you want in a rabbit what is your number one goal? If your goal is showing then you need to select rabbits that meet the standard including for size. Then you need to have a “plan B” to include those rabbits that are not show quality.
This might be selling them prekilled and frozen for feeding to dogs, cats or as snake food. It might include using some for meat for yourself. It might include holding until they are prime coat and using for meat as well as using the pelts for crafts. Whatever your choices, have a reasonable plan for dealing with the offspring that do not meet your number one goal.
As a breeder you will wear many hats. You must be manager, nutritionist and exhibitor all in one. You should get a good grasp of the color genetics and breed only compatible colors. You should know your breed’s standard well.
Whatever breed you have never stop learning. There are breed clubs, breed forums and email lists and much more to always learn more. Join ARBA and the breed club as both will give you a great deal of rabbit information as well as about your chosen breed in particular. If the breed you choose is a rare breed you would do well to get along with other breeders, even if disagreeing, for the good of the breed as a whole.
All of these things have been listed without mention yet of the actual mating that is with good reason. Breeding is more than putting two rabbits (or other species) together! When breeding always take the doe to the buck’s cage, never the other way. Does can be very territorial and often will fight and injure a buck that intrudes into their territory. Some have foolishly put them together and left them and found the buck nearly castrated or otherwise severely injured when they came back. Always witness the breeding. Without this you don’t know whether breeding actually occurred and won’t know when to put the nest box in.
Typically when a doe is receptive she will raise her hind end up and a successful breeding happens when the buck falls over backwards or sideways. Some bucks will lay there a moment while others jump up and go after her again. If he does two or three good covers mark the day on the calendar. In roughly a month, typically 28-31 days, if all goes well you will have babies.
About two weeks later you can gently palpate and may be able to feel “marbles” in the doe’s abdomen. If you feel this you can safely plan on babies. Get an appropriate sized nest box and some straw or hay. Some breeders put a handful of shavings in the bottom but straw or hay is needed not only for warmth but because the shavings and especially sawdust can clog a bunny’s nose and mouth.
When you see the doe grabbing pieces of straw or hay and making a nest babies will come very soon. Keep the rabbitry quiet. Don’t allow strange dogs or rambunctious children in the rabbitry especially at this time.
When you see a mass of fur in the nest box chances are there are bunnies in it. Give your hard working doe a treat of dandelion leaves or a slice of carrot, apple or banana and gently but quickly pull the box out just far enough to make sure all the bunnies are moving with full bellies. Remove any dead bunnies and record how many total the doe had and how many were alive in your records. For marked breeds such as the Dutch you can tell right now based on markings how many are show quality potential and how many mismarked you have.
Some breeders will euthanize and sell these mismarked as “pinky” feeders rather than putting resources into raising a rabbit that is not useful for show or breeding while others begin at this point to push a market for those offspring. The bunnies that are found dead in the nest box may also be frozen and sold this way, often to snake owners.
Breeding is not something to take lightly. There are many decisions, many disappointments, many tears and much frustration sometimes to get that one rabbit that excels at the shows or provide that 50 pounds of meat for the freezer. Plan, select, cull and keep moving towards your goal. Being able to do this and keep compassion for the rabbits in your breeding herd sometimes seems at opposite marks.