Breeding Rabbits Information including Rabbit Breeds, Pens and Care

Breeding rabbits needs thought. Plan which rabbit breeds you want on your homestead or backyard, cages or pens, and what sort of rabbit breeding plan you are going to follow. Read more...

Well June is half way gone and I'm still running to catch up. Funny how all winter I had nothing to do, and now I have so much I don't know where to start.


One of my main projects lately has been my rabbits. Most homesteads benefit by the addition of rabbits however many don't keep them do to the cost. Here at the ranch that problem has been long since solved. I thought I would share with you some of my tips and tricks to keeping and breeding rabbits and some ways to make money and have fun with them other then the traditional meat and fur.


Cross bred litter of Dutch x Flemish. These will be used for agility and hopping.
When breeding rabbits there are 2 things to think about. What will you do with them, and housing. How many do you wish to have as your capped number? 

For me, I don't eat rabbit, however I do study and raise them in a way that would benefit meat growers and I work with a world wide group that studies rabbit housing for meat sources for 3rd world countries. 

What I do as an end product with my own rabbits is agility, hopping and showing on the breed table in ARBA. Don't forget all the movies and popcorn we have shared together. It doesn't matter what you do with your rabbits if they are not housed correctly and costing you an arm and a leg, they are not worth it. So lets start with housing.


rabbit pens on an Iowa farm

A row of rabbit pens. Note that the grass in the pens is left unmowed. The rabbits love the shade and a hiding place. These are 20x20 pens with high voltage hot wire on the top.
What most people don't understand when breeding rabbits is that you don't have to cage them. That's right, no cage required. Unlike a dog they won't run away. What they will do is get eaten by a fox. You don't have to house them in for keeping sake but for safety sake. Once this is understood, you can broaden your mind as to how you wish to house them. 

I have a Dutch rabbit that runs freely in the yard. She never leaves, and even comes to the door when a storm comes so she can sleep in her cage in the warm dry house. She hates to be handled, she is not a pet. She is a rabbit that knows how to get what she wants.


Most of my rabbits are not small breeds like the Dutch however. I raise and show Flemish Giants. This means more food, more room, more of everything. If you feed Flemish Giants you know what expensive rabbits are. That is if you house them in a cage.

I have a friend that goes through 150lbs of rabbit feed a week and has less then 25 rabbits. That's 20.00 dollars times 3 every week. I go through 3 bags a year.

I spend about $100.00 per rabbit pen. So the pens are not cheap, they are however permanent and once built will be there looking new for over 20yrs. That's how old my oldest pen is so I don't really know how many years they look brand new. These rabbit pens are 20x20 with shelter.


Knowing that all rabbits will dig is key to building your pens. Rock the corners and edges. Then only set your shelter in the center of the pen. That is exactly where they will dig. Have a lot of rock on hand as you will need about 3 bags of rock per year per pen. Or you can just shovel the dirt back in as they take it out. I do both and honestly at $2.00 a bag for rock, its nothing for maintenance.

You will also want to have one extra pen for what is like pasture rotation. You will need to let your pens rest and re-seed just like a pasture. You will want to burn or lime your pens when empty to clean the soil.


  rabbit cages housing a doe and her kittens 
2 does that were raised together also are hutched together (one hutch, 2 compartments) and bred the same day so that they can also baby sit each others kits when weaning day arrives. These 2 does and their young will form a family that will take up one pen. The bucks however will be removed at about 3-4 months.
This is it... it's not hard. You can house as many does as you want per pen as long as they were raised together or you put them all in there the same day. If one rabbit has been there before, you are screwed. They will fight. Does are territorial so if you want 4 does per pen, put them all in there the same day. If they have been there before and you think their smell is still there, try burning or liming first and let the pen rest before putting them in. Once you have a group of does that get along, remember them and keep them paired up for kitting time etc. Don't allow that bond to break.


Keeping bucks are another story. If they were raised together they are alright until they start wanting to breed, then you have to separate them into buck pens. That's just how it goes. Bucks are like stallions, bulls or any other male animal. They will fight, they will castrate their opponent or try and kill them. This is life. Don't try it to house them together and then complain later that it didn't work. I can't say it never works, I have had it work, however... I don't recommend it. 


a fenced rabbit pen showing a hutch with a ladder
A fresh pen before the rabbits are re-introduced. The circle to the right of the pen is a small water hole where a solar fountain goes to help keep clean circulated water at all times. The down fall of this pen is the ground shelter is to close to the fence. This shelter is where the rabbits WILL dig, it needs a center location.
Now you have your rabbit pens, your does and your bucks, now you need your kitten hutches. The reason I build and keep hutches that are not cheap, but in my opinion very well worth the money is that the kits (baby rabbits) are secure. Snakes, rats, owls, so many things can rob you of your profits. Hutches keep them safe and dry. Flooding in my area is also a kit killer. When the kits are older then as bunnies they can't slip through wire fences and you loose them to fox or other predators, they are safe in that hutch.


Permaculture methods with rabbits and chickens together 
Outside view of the rabbit hutch, note the baby chicks on the ground. They have a small door leading under the hutch where they sleep and help scratch around all that rabbit poop.
I hate rabbit hutches. I hate the confined mess. My solution to this is to raise my baby chicks under the rabbit hutch. See photos attached. The chickens keep the rabbit manure cleaned up so I don't have to and I don't have bugs worms and all that other stuff that farmers love building up giving me more work to do.

Yes, I know how good it is for my garden. I get enough from the pens I don't need more work. This is me, you can get on your belly and scrape the crap out from under the 16x16 hutches if you want to.


We do need to talk for a moment about picking out a good rabbit. As most of us have long since figured out, a bad one eats as much as a good one. At one time my steer calves were selling for no less then 4K a piece. My neighbors stalk cows were bringing about $800 US per calf and $1200 US per cow. I sold 2 cows and lived off that money for 2 years. I had a much lower feed bill as well.

4 cows eat less then 50. That's about what my neighbor would have had to raise to get the same profits. So if you buy a rabbit for 5.00 at the local sale barn you can't expect to get more then 5.00 out of the bunnies that rabbit produces. If you have 6 bunnies in a litter that's 30.00 and your bag of feed is 20.00 so you are behind 10.00 already. This is not profitable and it is stupid farming.

Even if you don't plan to show, find a pure rabbit breed you like. Others that do show will pay good money for a good rabbit. If you are only breeding for meat, get a meat rabbit you can depend on. These little things will save you heart ache and hundreds if not thousands of dollars as time goes on.


         baby Flemish Giant rabbits huddled together in their hutch 
                               Baby Flemish Giant Rabbits in their hutch
My Flemish Giants start at $100.00 US a bunny, a far cry from the $45.00 US for the cross-bred Flemish at the local sale barn. This extra $50.00 US for having a complete honest pedigree and to have taken the time to have the rabbits inspected and registered, made me $50.00 US per head. Remember, both the sale barn rabbit and my rabbits all eat the same. You make money not when you sell, but when you buy. 


                  a colony of rabbits resting in the grassed rabbit pen 
Its good to be out of the hutch. This is these bunnies first moments of freedom. As you can see their mother is just happy to be out of the hutch and back home.
Ok... now you have your rabbits, you have your rabbit pens and it;s time to breed them. First you have to know where those bunnies will go so you don't get stuck with them. Will you eat them? Will you market them? Will you show them? Plan this out before not after you breed.

Feeding extra rabbits and finding places for extra bucks is not fun and its expensive. I take my extra rabbits to the show with me and they normally sell before the show starts.

When you raise your rabbits in this manner with fresh air, sunshine, grass, clean water, and access to rabbit pellets and corn daily, don't forget the salt. You will have healthy rabbits that cost you almost nothing but the price of the pens and rabbits. You will have more time to enjoy them, less time cleaning up after them, less time feeding, watering, fixing sore hocks and the list goes on.

For those of you who have a negative impression of colony rabbits. I want to let you know that my rabbits show very well, judges are impressed with the over all condition of my rabbits and when told they are colony rabbits, of course they are shocked, they had that bad impression too.

However many of those I show with are changing their minds about giving their rabbits a bit of freedom. I hope you will consider adding rabbits to your homestead as well, and then, allow them freedom to just be rabbits so you both have a much more enjoyable experience.
Please stop by and visit my website for more information on colony raising rabbits. 

By Gypsy, our resident homestead blogger from One Sky Ranch

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