Rabbits are kept by small-scale producers in virtually every country of the world. When well managed, they are very productive, reproducing rapidly and producing good quality meat and fur. They are useful animals for individual farmers, village groups and schools.
Several useful books are available to provide helpful advice for anyone keeping rabbits. This article looks at some of the points that often cause problems for small-scale producers.
Follow these points to ensure successful breeding:
- Learn to sex young rabbits at the age of 8-10 weeks. It is normal to separate the sexes at this time and put them in different cages.
- Do not breed from the rabbits until they are fully grown - normally around 8 months old. Choose only healthy, large rabbits which have come from large litters for breeding. You only need one buck (adult male rabbit) for about ten females. Bucks should be changed every year to prevent inbreeding.
- Males will fight if they are kept together.
- When the females are ready for breeding, take them to the buck’s cage in the early morning or evening. If the female is ready, mating should take place immediately. Remove her after mating, as they will fight if left together. Three weeks later, move the female into a separate cage with a nest box. She will give birth a month after mating. Do not disturb her for several days! If you need to check the young rabbits, rub your hands over the female before you handle them. She will not go near them if they smell of your hands.
- Young rabbits should leave the mother at 6-8 weeks of age. Leave the mother for another month before re-mating.
Rough handling causing stress, will reduce production, make the animals more susceptible to disease and can result in the loss of young rabbits - before or after birth. A very common mistake is to lift rabbits by their ears. This is very painful for them and can damage the backbone. Rabbits should be lifted by the skin behind the ears - the scruff. Support the rabbit by placing the other hand under the hindquarters.