One of the best parts of keeping rabbits is breeding them. Each of your does can have up to six or seven litters a year, which will keep you well supplied with meat. While rabbits don’t have a reputation for being quick breeders for nothing, they’ll still need a little help from you to make the process go as smoothly as possible.
The breeding process requires one female (a doe) and one male (a buck). If you really want a steady supply of meat you can keep up to ten does for one buck, but it’s best to start out small. To prevent fighting, keep your grown rabbits in separate cages once they hit three months. Depending on the size of your breed does will be ready to mate at five to eight months old and bucks will be ready at six to nine.
When you’re ready to begin the process, bring your doe to your buck’s cage. If you take your buck to your doe he’ll just get curious about her living quarters and won’t be all that interested in breeding. When your buck realizes there’s a doe in his cage, well, you can just let him take it from there! You can leave the doe in the buck’s cage for the night if you’d like, or you can bring her back to her own cage after they’re done.
Ten to fourteen days after breeding you can test your doe for pregnancy. Gently press her lower abdomen. If she’s pregnant you’ll be able to feel marble-sized bumps. If you do, great! Make sure to feed her extra food and get a nesting box ready.
A nesting box is a small box, preferably wooden, filled with fine hay. The box doesn’t need to be big, about the size of a shoebox with a way for her to get in and out will be fine. When your doe hits the 29th day of her pregnancy she’ll begin looking for this box, so be sure to have it ready by then. You’ll notice her pulling out fur from her underside and using it to line the nest box. This is normal and actually helpful to her because it exposes her teats for nursing.
She will give birth around the 31st day of her pregnancy. She can take care of this process herself. The baby rabbits (called kits) are completely helpless when they’re born. They’ll spend about two weeks with their mother in the nesting box, nursing and getting stronger. It’s important to keep feeding your doe well during this period as she needs all the fuel she can get. After two or two and a half weeks you’ll see the kits starting to leave the nest, and by about three weeks they’ll be eating normal food.
Something to keep in mind when breeding rabbits is they’ll tend to breed more in summer and less in winter. The shorter days of winter slow their mating drive, so don’t be surprised if in October or so they start slowing down. You can try to fake longer days by keeping a light on in the hutch, but consider giving your does a break for the winter months. Well rested does will make bigger and healthier litters during the summer season.
Breeding rabbits is a rewarding part of keeping rabbits. Don’t worry about getting overly involved in the process. Just let nature take its course and before you know it you’ll have a bunch of baby rabbits on the way.
Pic by normanack.