One of the best parts of raising meat rabbits is having baby bunnies to play with! In this post, I’ll share a few things I’ve learned about how to breed rabbits that have really helped us on our meat rabbit journey. If you need a good laugh, you can read about our first experience breeding rabbits. Hopefully yours will go better than ours did!
HOW TO BREED RABBITS
1. Make a Plan
The first thing you should do is make a plan for your breedings. You don’t want to have kits when it’s too hot or too cold, so plan on breeding your rabbits during a temperate time of year wherever you live. I like to make sure our grow outs will have plenty of grass to eat when they’re in the growout tractor. I’m in Western Washington, so my favorite months to breed are February/March and May/June. We get a lot of rain here in the winter months, so if I breed in the winter, I make sure I have enough cages to hold the litter as they grow out.
Those babies are very cute, but make sure you restrain yourself. Don’t breed so much that you end up with more rabbits than you can house, or more than you are willing to butcher.
2. Take the Doe to the Buck
When breeding rabbits, you always want to take the doe to the buck. Does can get very territorial of their cages, and you don’t want her to attack your buck.
Keep the rabbits together for 10-15 minutes, or until the buck gets 2-3 successful “fall-offs” (watch the video below to see what that looks like). Most breeders I’ve talked to like to get three, but I’ve found that two is usually enough. If the doe seems like she’s had enough and she’s starting to get cranky, remove her and try again later.
Some people hold down their doe to help the buck get successful fall-offs, but I prefer not to force it. If we have a doe who isn’t willing to breed, we try again with a different buck. If she’s still not willing, she leaves the herd and we get ourselves a new doe.
Once you’ve got the rabbits together, they’ll usually do a little dance where the doe will run in circles for a little bit before she lets the buck do his thing. Tiffany from Teal Stone Homestead has a great video of the process on her YouTube channel:
3. Provide a Nest Box
Most breeders recommend providing a nest box around day 28 of gestation, but I prefer to give it about a week before kindling (giving birth; usually happens right around day 30). I feel like it comforts the doe to have plenty of time to build her nest. That’s just my personal preference. If you give the nest box early and the doe starts using it as a litter box, remove it and give it back a little closer to kindling time.
I usually use these nest boxes, but you could also make your own pretty easily. Some nest boxes have a wire bottom, and some come with a removable piece of wood. For the wire bottom kind, I like to line the bottom with cardboard to provide a little extra insulation. Then I usually stuff the nest box with a thick layer of pine shavings on the bottom, and a bunch of hay on top. The doe will then begin her adorable “hay-staching” ritual and build a nice little burrow. You’ll know when she’s close to kindling because she’ll start pulling fur from her dew lap and underbelly and adding it to the nest.
4. Kindling Day!
The gestation period for most rabbits is 30 days, but the healthy range can be anywhere from 28-32. Some can go even longer, but it’s not typical. Rabbit’s usually give birth in the early hours of the morning, but not always. I was fortunate enough one afternoon to watch one of my old New Zealand does give birth. It was such a cool experience!
Once the kits are born, I check on them and make sure they are all alive and well. It is ok to touch them. The doe will still take care of them. Some people take them out of the box and inspect them thoroughly, but I just take a quick peek to make sure everyone is wiggling around. If there are any dead kits, I remove them. Other than that, I like to let everyone rest for a bit after birth.
In the next day or so, I usually clean out the nest box. Sometimes there can be extra blood or other birthing stuffs left over. The moms usually clean things up pretty well, but I still like to do it in case there are any dead kits that I missed. For cleaning, I just move the kits to a separate container with a warm blanket, then replace the dirty hay in the nest box with fresh hay.
I try to make the new nest as close to the old one as possible, which means I make a little burrow in the fresh hay, and salvage as much of mom’s fur as I can. Once I’ve made them a soft, clean burrow, I put them back in the nest and cover them with the rest of mom’s clean fur. Then I give the clean nest back to mom.
Once you know the kits are alive and well, there’s really not much you need to do. Just check on the nest every day to make sure all the kits are alive and have nice round bellies. If you have any babies that aren’t thriving, you need to decide if you want to intervene, or let nature take it’s course. I’ve done both.
Just know if you take on the challenge, you’ll need a lot of patience. The kits will need to eat KMR very slowly from a dropper or small syringe several times daily. It won’t be easy, and the kit may still die. But if they do live, it can be a very rewarding experience. If youre going to give it a try, make sure to thoroughly research the process. Farmhouse Guide has a good article on bottle feeding baby rabbits.
HOW TO WEAN RABBIT KITS
Once kits reach 6-8 weeks old, you can begin weaning. If I’m working with a large breed, like silver fox, or I have a particularly large litter, I’ll opt to wean sooner because the cage gets very crowded. With a smaller litter or breed, I wait until 8 weeks.
Around 3 weeks, the kits will start venturing out of the nest box. At this point I’ll sometimes tip the nest box on it’s side so mom has a place to get away from her babies if she wants to. The kits will also start sampling more hay and pellets as they discover that mom doesn’t want to feed them 24/7.
By 6-8 weeks the kits will already be eating hay and pellets regularly, and should be fine moving into their own cage with that diet. If you’re moving them into a lawn tractor for grazing, begin introducing fresh grass to them slowly about a week before moving them to help ensure they don’t get diarrhea.
I like to leave one or two of the smaller kits with mom for an extra day or two to help her milk dry up. Then I’ll put them in the tractor with the rest of the litter. Mom is usually happy to have the cage to herself again, but I do have one doe who is very nurturing and seems lonely without her kits. In her case, I leave one of her daughters with her for a while so she has some company. Then I separate them once it gets close to breeding time again.
Raising meat rabbits has been such a rewarding experience for me. I never thought I’d be able to butcher a rabbit (or any animal for that matter), or enjoy cooking and eating meat that I raised myself. I’ve come a long way! I hope that sharing my experiences will help you on your own meat rabbit journey. If you have any questions, let me know in the comments!