Ethical breeding isn’t often a thought if you’re accustomed to raising livestock. But, being aware of how we treat our livestock and answering to the public’s questions is increasingly important. We strive to provide the best for our animals and that means taking every aspect of their care into extra consideration. In this article, you will find many ways to ensure your rabbit breeding is ethical. We asked our Everbreed users how they involve ethics in their rabbitries and what ideas they have for others to do the same. This article is a cumulation of the responses we received.
How Can We Ensure Ethical Breeding In Our Rabbitry?
It is paramount to keep ethical standards for your rabbitry while breeding. The treatment of your rabbits ties directly to the sufficiency and success of your operation, no matter how big or small.
Whether it is nail trimming or moving rabbits to new cages, you will find yourself handling rabbits on a weekly, if not daily, basis. Some breeders choose to handle their rabbits as little as possible to reduce stress, while others handle them often to ensure they are accustomed to human interaction.
Making sure your rabbits are used to being handled by humans makes dispatch day more simple and less stressful (if you raise meat rabbits). It also allows you to do health inspections without stressing the animals too much.
Keeping Rabbits Calm
Making slow, intentional movements while handling rabbits helps to keep them calm, as well as keeping noise low. Holding the rabbits securely makes them feel safer and lessens the chances of them squirming from your arms. Keeping rabbits calm while handling them is an important part of ethical breeding.
Loud noises can easily stress rabbits that are not adapted to them. If your rabbitry is located in an area where loud noises occur frequently, you will want to make sure your rabbits are used to them. Sudden loud noises can spook the rabbits and cause injury.
Rabbits are inquisitive animals and providing mental enrichment is beneficial for them. This doesn’t have to be difficult and many times items can be found in your yard.
Some people choose to purchase cat toys or baby toys for their rabbits to play with. But, you should be aware of what they are made of in case you have super-chewer rabbits.
Other things, like pinecones, small branches, and wood blocks work well for rabbit toys too. Just be sure anything you add to their cage is safe for rabbits.
Here are some creative ideas for safe rabbit toys:
- Wood types (branches or blocks) – Willow, Apple, Pear, Birch, Poplar, Rose Bushes, Maple, Cottonwood, Raspberry Bushes, and Blackberry Bushes.
- Paper towel and toilet paper tubes – You can stuff them with hay for extra enrichment.
- Cardboard boxes – Cut holes in them to make houses or tunnels.
- Cotton or fleece material – This can be braided or tied in knots.
Providing mental enrichment isn’t required but it does give the rabbits a better quality of life, which helps when we are focusing on ethical breeding. Switching and trading toys (between healthy rabbits) keeps them constantly busy with something new.
Proper Caging for Ethical Breeding
Rabbits spend the majority of their time in their enclosure. So, it should be our highest priority to make sure this space is safe, healthy, and comfortable for them.
Cage sizing varies greatly on rabbit size and type. A doe with a litter is going to need more space than a buck, The ARBA recommended sizes are a great starting point, and if you are going to alter them it should be to make them larger. We also discuss proper caging in our Rabbit breeding Basics article.
Including resting mats in your cages (if they are wire) is needed to give the rabbits feet a break from the wire, Although wire is the most sanitary option, some breeds are more prone to sore hocks if the correct gauge and size of wire is not used.
As mentioned before, wire caging is the most sanitary. Wire allows droppings to fall through and good ventilation, depending on the cage environment. It is also the easiest to sanitize to prevent disease and infection.
Ventilation and Climate Control
Ventilation is crucial with any animal. Stagnant air greatly increases the chances of respiratory problems in your rabbitry. A simple fan and access for air to flow in and out of a building (if your rabbits are inside of one) will enhance the air quality.
Different breeds of rabbits are more adaptable to extreme climates (hot or cold). Smaller rabbits will have a more difficult time staying warm in cold weather, no matter the breed. Climate control does not have to be a heater and air conditioner, although it can be. Simple things like adding shade and a fan in the heat, and enclosing part of the cages in the cold, will make a drastic difference to the rabbits.
Wind, especially wet wind, will quickly chill a rabbit. Stopping this wind while temperatures are cold is important if your rabbits are housed outdoors. Some breeders achieve this by adding a tarp, board, or sheet metal on 2-3 sides of the cages. Using something like sheet metal or boards cut to size will allow you to use them year after year. You can also put a box structure in each cage so the rabbits can get out of the wind.
Ethical breeding means keeping our rabbits as comfortable as possible. Rabbits that don’t spend a lot of energy on controlling their body temperature will have more time to eat and gain weight.
Regular health inspections are a crucial part of ethical breeding. Rabbits are proficient at hiding pain so oftentimes it is difficult to determine if anything is wrong at a glance.
Life moves quickly and it is easy to forget about giving regular inspections. Setting your inspections to a schedule is a great way to not forget about them. With Everbreed you can set tasks and get notifications. Everbreed also has a Health Tracker where you can keep every detail about each rabbit’s health and sicknesses/ treatment if need be.
Health inspections should include looking at the rabbit’s teeth, vent, genitals, conditioning, and droppings. Performing inspections often will set a baseline “normal” for each rabbit.
Some breeders choose to do a quick inspection daily and a more thorough inspection every week or two weeks. This schedule will vary depending on the scale of your rabbitry and your preferences. Pregnant and lactating does should be inspected more often, as well as young kits.
Biosecurity for Ethical Breeding of Rabbits
Keeping your rabbits healthy is a key part of ethical breeding. Their health lies completely in our hands and we need to do everything to prevent sickness and disease and treat it if it does occur.
Keeping bacteria to a minimum will increase the overall health of your rabbitry. Sanitizing cages should also be put on a schedule so that it is not forgotten or overlooked.
There are many ways to sanitize cages, and as mentioned before, wire is the easiest to sanitize. Wood is nearly impossible to sanitize and should be used with caution.
Removing droppings and feeding materials that are stuck in the cage should be done daily. They are a breeding ground for bacteria and disease, especially when wet. If trays are used they should be emptied frequently and washed to prevent calcium buildup.
The entire cage should periodically be sanitized. White vinegar works well for sanitizing as well as bleach diluted with water (1 part bleach and 5 parts water). Coops and Cages recommends spraying the vinegar or bleach mixture onto the cage and letting it stand for 10 minutes before rinsing. Then it should be dried in sunlight to remove any residue left after rinsing before the rabbits are put back in the cages.
Cage accessories such as water dishes or bottles and feeders should also be sanitized when cages are.
Any new rabbits brought in should be quarantined from the general population for 30 days. Rabbits may not show signs of sickness right away and to prevent any spread to your existing rabbits they should be caged at a distance to monitor health signs.
This way, if sickness or disease presents itself you can effectively treat the rabbit or rabbits without worrying if it has spread to your others.
Monitoring Inputs and Outputs
Disease can remain on any objects rabbits or rabbit droppings have touched. To ensure effective biosecurity in your rabbitry you should highly monitor anything leaving or coming into your rabbitry that could have contact with your rabbits.
Things like transport cages and even gloves should be sanitized if you are around or handling other rabbits.
Breaks Between Breeding
Part of ethical breeding is giving animals proper breaks between breeding. This can usually be determined by the conditioning of the doe. Some does are more efficient at keeping their conditioning while pregnant and nursing and others struggle, needing a longer recovery time.
You should become proficient in evaluating rabbit conditioning so that you can effectively determine when a doe is ready to be bred again.
Even if you don’t raise meat rabbits, there will likely be a time you have to dispatch a rabbit due to injury or extreme sickness or disease. You must be able to do this process while minimizing stress on the animal.
Part of ethical breeding is making sure we can take the best care of our animals from beginning to end and make sure they are treated with compassion and respect throughout.
There are many ways to dispatch rabbits and you should research them thoroughly to find the way that works best for you. Dispatching should be quick and painless.
Addressing the Public’s View on Ethical Breeding of Rabbits
Sometimes it is easiest to ignore the comments against our practices. But, we are often met with disgust when others find out we’re breeding rabbits, especially if it is for meat.
Being thoroughly educated on the topic and having answers to their questions will foster a better relationship with the person and may help them understand where their meat comes from, and why the source is noteworthy. You can also describe the importance of well-bred animals compared to breeders who put no thought into pairings.
Why Do You Keep Rabbits in Small Wire Cages? That’s Cruel!
Knowing the ARBA recommended cage sizes and correct wire gauge will help get your point across to someone who has little rabbit knowledge. Not only are wire cages more than adequate to raise rabbits, but they are preferred. This is because they keep rabbits cleaner and healthier.
Wire cages are the easiest to effectively sanitize and consequently keep the rabbits in better condition. Many breeders make separate cages where rabbits can have access to grass, but this can also come with consequences.
Grass, or the ground, can harbor contagious and deadly diseases that are difficult to control. Rabbits are the safest and healthiest in wire cages, making them a big part of ethical breeding.
They’re so cute! How Can You Kill Them? Why Don’t You Just Buy Meat From The Store?
Our society has a huge disconnect from where their food comes from, especially meat. Most don’t want to know what the animal looked like or its quality of life before it was wrapped in clear cellophane and placed on a shelf with a price tag.
It takes a very deep level of respect for animals to care for them from the beginning stages of life to the end. Yes, they can be cute and cuddly, like almost any animal. But, by taking control of our own food sources we can be far less dependent on others to fill our family’s plates.
Viewing life in all stages, especially the less pleasant phases, is no longer the “norm”. So, it can be awfully difficult to help people understand why we would rather raise and process our own meat.
Some points to highlight when communicating with someone who doesn’t understand is the fact that we know everything that animal consumed during its life, how it was cared for and loved, and that it faced a quick, humane death. These are all things we can not guarantee when purchasing meat from the store.
There’s So Many Rabbits In Shelters, Why Are You Breeding More?
To people who have limited rabbit knowledge, rabbits all seem the same. They do not understand the breed or purpose differences. Breeders typically have a reason for breeding, whether that is for meat, showing, pets, etc.
They take great pride in the rabbits they are producing because of all the steps it took to get there, carefully evaluating each rabbit to make the best possible pairings.
Shelter rabbits can make great pets, but the rabbitries that are breeding for pets usually have higher goals than placing rabbits in homes, such as bettering the breed. Breed preservation, and bettering a certain breed is important for the overall success of the breed.
Breeding for show, meat, or hides very seldom contributes to rabbits in shelters. Rabbits raised for meat and hides are butchered and rabbits that don’t meet the show standard typically end up in the freezer too.
Unfortunately, it is impossible to know what the rabbits in shelters have eaten or been treated with that may not make them safe for eating. This would probably also be very looked down upon, if even possible.
How Can You Keep Rabbits Outside? They Have To Be So Cold/ Hot!
Rabbits are proficient at staying warm, but can sometimes struggle in the heat. Of course, some breeds, like the smaller ones, will have a more difficult time regulating their body temperature in extreme hot or cold.
Weather varies greatly across the world and rabbits in different situations may be better or worse at coping with the temperature conditions. Breeders know to look for signs of rabbits being too hot or cold and make adjustments to their cages with the seasons.
These changes usually look like adding windbreaks in the colder months and extra ventilation in the warmer months. Frozen water bottles and ceramic tiles can also be used in the warm months in temperatures rise above normal.
Oftentimes, indoor temperatures are dangerous for rabbits that are not acclimated to them. Being mindful of the temperatures your rabbits are accustomed to will help them, and your rabbitry, be successful.
Not only is it important to focus on ethical breeding in our own rabbitries, but we must also be able to communicate how and why. Breeding livestock can be a controversial topic among some, mostly due to the few bad apples. If we focus on ethical breeding, encourage others to do the same, and communicate effectively with the public we can change the view on breeding livestock. After all, it is one of the only ways to guarantee where our food sources come from while also preserving and improving breeds.