Unlike other livestock, rabbits have a high reproductive rate, becoming sexually mature within a few months of birth, said Michigan State University, one of the top research universities in the world. They also have short pregnancies and produce large litters that can be rebred right away after giving birth. A doe can have 60 weaned young a year if you have an intensive breeding program. However, this is not recommended for beginners and is seldom employed in commercial production.
The Status of Pet Rabbit Breeding In the UK (2018)
Overall, 33 responses were received from the online rabbit breeder questionnaire, with breeders having between six to 10 does and 4 to six bucks, said Emma M. Gosling, Jorge A. Vazquez-Diosdado, and Naomi D. Harvey of biomedical and life sciences journal PMC. 33% bred multiple types of rabbits, with the most common breeds being Mini-lop (63.6%), Netherland Dwarf and Lionhead (18.2%), Dutch and Mini Rex (9.1%), and French lop and Lion Lop (6.1%).
76.7% said the bucks were housed singly more often than any other type of rabbit. Only three breeders housed bucks in pairs or in groups, with two being in a bachelor colony. 36.4% of breeders said the does were not given areas to get away from their kits. Retired does were either always kept by their breeders (24.2%) or always re-homed or sold (21.2%). The does were also sometimes kept or re-homed (51.6%) whereas 3% did not say whether they were kept or rehomed.
All but one breeder handled their kits with 85% handling between birth and leaving the nest. Of the breeders who handled their kits, all except one handled kits at least daily (91%). Breeders sold kits directly to the general public (75.8%) or in pet shops (18%). They also sold them as show animals (3%) and to other breeders (15%). Only 9% of breeders reported selling their kits online.
All breeders said they gave their rabbits access to fresh grass, but when asked to provide their feeding regime, only four breeders stated fresh grass. In compliance with the RWAF guidelines (85% hay, 10% greens and 5% pellets), 45.5% of bucks, 45.5% of does without kits, 33.3% of does with kits and 36.3% of juveniles were fed appropriate amounts of hay (body sized), a small number of pellets/pellets once daily, and greens three or more times a week.
Among owners who gave mostly hay with or without pelleted food and/or greens were considered to be in moderate compliance with RWAF guidelines, representing 42.4% of bucks, 45.5% of does without kits, 57.6% of does with kits and 51.5% of juveniles. Breeders who offered a poor diet to their diets (not including hay, and/or feeding of muesli and/or bread) represented 12.1% of bucks and juveniles and 9.1% of does.
All but one breeder provided all their rabbits with environmental enrichment (97%). Balls were the most common enrichment by 58% of breeders, followed by chew toys (36.4%), cardboard tubes (30%), and boxes and hay racks (24.2%). However, only 36.4% of breeders provided hiding places in the form of boxes or tunnels for their rabbits. Meanwhile, 45.5% of breeders encouraged foraging behavior by providing treat-filled boxes/balls or hay-filled logs or tubes.
Sexual Maturity and the Reproductive Cycle of Rabbits
Diane McClure,DVM, Ph.D., DACLAM, of MSD Veterinary Manual, a trusted source of animal health information for students and practicing veterinarians, explained that breeds of medium to large size sexually mature at four to 4.5 months, while giant breeds and small breeds mature at six to nine months and 3.5 months to four months of age, respectively. Females release eggs, which is triggered by sexual intercourse, rather than by a cycle of hormones in humans. Rabbits are receptive to mating about 14 of every 16 days. A doe is most receptive when its vagina is red and moist, whereas a doe with whitish pink vaginal color with little or no moisture is not receptive.
Pregnancy usually lasts approximately 31 to 33 days. Nest boxes should be placed in the cage 28 to 29 days after breeding. If you add them too early, the boxes will be littered with urine and feces. But if you add them a day or so before giving birth, the doe may pull fur from her body to build a nest in the nest box. Does bearing a small litter (usually four or less) appear to have longer pregnancies than those that birth large litters. If a doe has not given birth by 32nd day, your veterinarian may induce labor. Possibly, a dead litter may be delivered after the 34th day. In some cases, pregnancy aborts or resorbs a rabbit’s fetuses as it may be suffering from nutritional deficiencies or disease.
To help you keep track of your breeding program, rabbit breeding schedules are usually based on seven-day intervals. It is recommended to follow a 35-day breed-back schedule, though you can reduce the time interval between kindling and breeding as you gain more experience. Before breeding your rabbits, check their condition before mating them.
The doe should be healthy to minimize their risk of problems. If possible, consider mating several does on the same day or within a few days of one another. Kindling will take place about 28 to 32 days after, making it easier to foster the young if needed. Does are expected to birth seven or eight young in a litter, but this depends on the breed of your rabbits. Adult bucks can be used daily for single matings for longer periods. This does not affect their fertility, but if you let your bucks service several does within a day or two, the males should be allowed to rest for a few before letting them mate.
Breeding Problems That You May Encounter
Bear in mind that rabbits often show a natural decline in productivity during the late summer, fall, and early winter so reception and conception may decrease during these periods. In bucks, exposing them to temperatures over 85 °F for five consecutive days cause temporary sterility. Older bucks are more susceptible to heat than younger ones and can be sterile for 60 to 90 days.
False pregnancy also occurs due to sterile mating or from physical stimulation such as letting a doe be mounted on by another rabbit, causing a physiological response in the female— which then resembles pregnancy. Pseudopregnancy lasts about 17 days and in this case, the doe will not breed. She may build a nest even if she is not expecting to bear offspring. Although it is normal and harmless, false pregnancy will delay breeding.
Novice rabbit breeders should be aware of any reproductive issues that may arise when breeding rabbits. Nest boxes should be provided 28 to 29 days after the doe has given birth so that she won’t have to pull fur from her body. Ensure that all rabbits are in good health before mating them.