Breeding Rabbits & Kits
Breeding rabbits can be a daunting, but rewarding experience. We always love having baby bunnies around. They are so cute.
OK. So how do you breed rabbits and what happens through the process of pregnancy and birth?
First, and most obviously, you will need a buck and a doe. In case you aren't familiar with those terms, a buck is a male rabbit and a doe is a female. Both rabbits should be healthy and free of parasites. Do not breed unhealthy rabbits. We are breeding to better our breed or for some use, like raising meat and fur, so use the best stock (rabbits) that you can.
Rabbits reach breeding age at 3 months of age. So it is important that you don't keep young rabbits of different genders in the same cage space. It is best to wait until the rabbit has reached adult age before breeding them so that you don't have birthing problems.
For dwarf, small and medium sized rabbits breeding age would be around 5-6 months of age. For larger breeds, 8 months is recommended.
When you have chosen the buck and doe you want to breed do one of several things:
- Take the doe to the buck's pen. Never take the buck to the doe's pen. She may hurt him because she is territorial. Also the buck may take too much time smelling out the doe's pen to be interested in mating.
- Take both rabbits to a neutral pen.
- Take both rabbits to a table like a grooming table or other.
If you do this you will need to make sure the rabbits don't jump off the table. I would suggest that if you are new to rabbits or breeding rabbits you either do one of the two suggestions above or have a second person to help watch the rabbits.
When you have chosen the place you are going to breed the rabbits, put them together in the pen or on the table. Watch them to make sure the doe won't fight or bite the buck. The buck will probably sniff the doe and once he has her scent he will try to mount her. If the buck has never been used in breeding before you may have to help him find the right end of the doe. Don't laugh, it happens. As the buck finds the right spot to impregnate the doe he will mate with her. If the buck has definitely bred with her he will fall off the side of the doe with a grunt / squeal noise. It doesn't take long to do this at all.
If the buck is trying to mate with the doe and the doe does not seem receptive you may have to leave them together for a little while, but you need to watch to make sure the doe won't attack the buck. We had a buck that was so laid back his first time, it took over an hour to get him to do what he was supposed to do. Now he does it without a problem. Sometimes you may need to hold the doe in position so the buck can mate with her.
After the buck has mated with the doe, put them both back in their pens. After an hour to 8 hours later re-breed the same two rabbits. I have heard different things on this part, such as- you should put them together again at least one more time up to 8 hours later, even 12 hours. We usually do two to three breedings in one day, and I prefer rebreeding 5-8 hours later for the second or third. The more times the rabbit is bred, the more chances your doe will concieve and maybe get a larger litter. Some people even put the rabbits back together a week later to see if the doe has taken. The doe is supposed to refuse to mate with the buck. Doing this can be risky, because the doe may already be pregnant while letting the buck mount her resulting in younger kits at the time of birth, almost like a second litter. Doing this could result in a very bad delivery or 2 litters, 2 weeks apart. If you choose to use this method and your doe does deliver 2 weeks later, get a second nestbox for those babies.
About 14 days after you have bred your doe, you can palpate her to see if there are any babies. Before doing this, you should probably find someone who has successfully done this before to show you what you are looking for. To palpate a doe, put her on a table. Feel her stomach area using your thumb and forefinger to feel for any small, hard, marble shaped bumps. These are the developing babies. You should not palpate after 14 days for fear of hurting the developing babies. Otherwise you can just wait until her due date to see if she is going to have babies.
If your rabbit didn't get pregnant the first time, then re-breed her again right away.
Rabbits need to be pregnant and have babies several times a year to make sure that she will have good pregnancies and deliveries. Three to four times a year is good.
The gestation period for a rabbit is 28 to 32 days.
Kindling (the birth process):
28 days after you bred your doe, put a nest box into her pen if there is not one already there. If your nest box has a wire bottom, you will want to put a piece of cardboard or two (two layers) in the bottom. Make sure it covers all the bottom of the nest box. Then put down a layer of soft pine shavings if you want, adding straw after. You can just use straw too if you'd like.
Check your rabbit each day after the 28th day to see if she has started pulling fur. Some does will pull their fur up to a week before, some the minute before they deliver. If you put cardboard in the nest box, check to make sure the doe hasn't torn it up making her nest. If she has, you will need to replace it. That is why you should put in two layers.
Usually at about 30-32 days after she has been bred, the doe will have her babies. This process is called kindling. If the doe hasn't already done so, she will start pulling her fur to line her nest. When the time comes for her to deliver she will go into the nest box and give birth. It is best to leave the doe alone at this time as she should be able to do this without help. Only if a baby is stuck will she need help. You will know that something like this has happened if the doe comes out of her nest box and still looks like she is trying to push.
Sometimes, especially with first time moms, she may start to have her babies outside her nest. That is why I like to be present when my does give birth. If this happens, put the baby inside the nest box ASAP before it gets a chance to get cold. If the baby is already getting cold, putting it between your hands and blowing hot air on it and rubbing it may help.
Hopefully, though, nothing will happen and the mom can take care of the babies.
After the doe is done giving birth she will leave the nest box and get a drink or something to eat. This is a good time to check the kits. Pet the mother rabbit with both hands to get her scent on you. Then either bring the nest box to the door of the cage or open the back depending on the type of nest box you use. Be careful no babies are near the opening if you have a stationary nest box with a door. You should see small wriggley baby rabbits inside. They are born naked and with their eyes shut. All the babies should be warm and moving. Carefully lift each one and check to see if all the body parts are there. Sometimes a mother rabbit goes overboard with cleaning it up and parts could be missing. It happens. The babies might have big round bellies if they fed from the mother. If not, don't worry. She will probably feed them after a while. If there are any dead babies or afterbirths left, clean these out as well as blood stained straw. We take all the babies out, put them in an ice cream bucket lined with straw and fur taken from the nest box and clean the entire nest box out, including stained cardboard. Make sure to keep as much fur as you can so the babies will remain warm. As soon as you clean the nest box put clean cardboard down if it is needed and new straw & shavings (if used). Then hollow out an area in the back, put the fur down first, then the babies. I put the rest of the straw in as well. Put the nest box back in place and leave them alone until later that day. I usually check the babies before I go to bed if the doe had them in the morning to see how they are doing. I don't bother them more than twice as it makes the doe nervous. While I am checking the babies I give the doe a treat she likes, such as hay, cheerios, or fruit to keep them busy. Beware though, some does might attack and bite, so watch and see how your doe will react.
Sometimes the doe will not deliver all her babies at once. Occasionally a baby or two will be born later, outside the nest box. This is because the mother knows it is dead. We have had this happen with new moms. You just have to expect it and clean up any messes. Don't feel bad, this might have been a rabbit with problems anyway or it was too large and got stuck until the mother got it out.
The Next Day:
On the morning of the first day after they were born I check the nest again to make sure they are being fed. The babies should be warm, wiggley, and fat. If not, you will need to keep an eye on them. A mother rabbit feeds her babies once a day, usually in the morning. So if you check them again at night, they may be a little thinner, but not emaciated (shrunken looking). If the mother doesn't seem to be feeding them, try holding her in the next box for about five minutes. Rabbits nurse very quickly. If that doesn't work and the doe seems to be out of milk or not interested in feeding them after a day or two you will need to either foster them to another doe or hand feed them which can be very difficult and doesn't always work. Also check to see if one or more babies are being underfed because of a large litter or they are smaller than the rest. We had this happen with an older kit. Her brothers were keeping her from being fed and we had to hand feed her. She was about 2 weeks old at this point and took to being had fed nicely. It also made her a better handled rabbit.
Another thing to watch for is babies that get drug out of their nest box when they are feeding. Does do not pick up and move their rabbits like dogs or cats. So if the baby comes out, especially if it is less than two weeks, it could die of being cold.
That is why we put smaller wire or urine guards around the bottoms or our pens about 2-4 inches high. One time a baby must have been dragged out as it was feeding on its mother. The morning we came into the barn we found it on the ground, alive and unhurt believe it or not, the next morning. (At that time our rabbits were in a shed that had a dirt floor.) Since then we always make sure there is something to keep the babies inside the pen.
This is Snowflake, a New Zealand & Californian mix watching over her babies. She was very protective the first two weeks. I know I got a "spanking" at least once. (I was bitten) After that she didn't seem to care if we messed with her babies.
From Birth to Weaning:
Now that the babies are born and you have checked on them to make sure all is well, they will just keep getting bigger and cuter. They change a little each day.
From day 1 to day 7 the babies will get their baby fuzz. They will wiggle around their nest box, but mostly sleep.
From day 7 to day 14 the babies will begin to open their eyes and be exploring their nest box. Their eyes usually open around days 10 - 12. As the babies open their eyes you will want to watch and see that their eyes actually open. We had one or two that needed a little help, because by day 14 they should all be open. All we did was to take a warm moist towel, rub each eye gently with it and gently pull the eyelids apart. Don't do it too hard or you may damage the eye.
Days 14 to 21 (week 3):
The babies will definitely be exploring their nest box, and may even be ready to explore outside their nest box. If you put hay in the nest box, they will probably begin eating it.
Week 4 (21-27 days):
The babies are probably already exploring out side the nest box and if you want, you can take the nest box out. They should start eating hay and pellets by now. You will probably want to put in a larger feeder and a 32 oz. water bottle or bowl if your doe has a smaller one. They are really cute by this stage and are very curious. Hopefully by now you have been handling them. If not, start handling them so they will be used to people.
Weeks 5 & 6:
The babies are out of the nest box for sure, eating and drinking. Now is a good time to get them used to being held, groomed, and checked over for problems if you have just started handling them. They are being weened at this point although they may still be nursing occasionally.
Week 7, 8 & after:
By week 8 the babies should be weaned. Take all but one baby away from its mother, preferably a doe. Leave this bunny with its mom for a couple of days to help the mother's milk dry up gradually. You may want to keep the babies together for a week or two after. At 10 weeks of age make sure the does and bucks are seperated. Rabbits reach breeding age at 3 months old. It is best to not keep same gendered rabbits in the same cage after 10 weeks for this reason. Some may even be showing dominance towards the others. Between weeks 8 to 10 is a good time to sell them to a new home. I don't advocate selling them any sooner than 8 weeks so that they have time to be weaned and taken from their mom to alieviate stress on the bunny. If you have Hollands or lionheads, I would keep them until 12 weeks to see how they look for show or breeding.
There are some things to consider though before you decide to breed your rabbit(s).
- What will you do with your babies? Baby bunnies are cute, but they can multiply fast. Will you be able to keep and properly care for all the babies a doe can have? Does can have between 2 and 12 babies (depending on the breed) in one litter. Your best bet before you breed is to find a market for your rabbits or raise rabbits that will fit markets in your area.
- Do you have the facilities and equipment needed for your does to have babies? Breeding does need a larger cage, a nest box to have the babies in, a 32 oz. water bottle or equivalent (does drink more water while they are nursing) and eventually a larger feeder to feed all the babies. When the babies are weened they will need cages, water and feed equipment, etc. even if it is only for a couple of weeks. You will also need to seperate the bucks and does at 10 weeks of age to keep them from breeding.
- Are you prepared to handle the problems that does can have during and after breeding? Sometimes does will not take (get pregnant). When they do, they could miscarry. During birth, especially with first time moms, babies can be born dead, stuck in the birth canal, get stomped or die if the mom lays or sits on them giving birth. Sometimes a mom will get overly anxious and stomp the whole litter or kill them. If they do make it, one or two may still die due to unknown reasons. You also need to be prepared to find a foster mom or hand feed (which I hear is really hard to do with newborn kits) if the mother dies or does not develop milk.
If you have done your research, considered the ups and downs of breeding and still want to pursue it, rabbit breeding can be a fun and somewhat financial help in keeping up your rabbits, although we are usually blessed if we can just keep our hobby going.
Here is a link to a webpage that you should read BEFORE you decide to breed and raise rabbits. As the article states - breeding rabbits is not like breeding dogs and cats. There are dangers to it.