Do rabbits really “breed like rabbits”? The answers can drastically vary when you ask how often you should breed your rabbits. We have spoken with Tiffany Taylor of Teal Stone Homestead to discuss the factors that influence rabbit breeding frequency. Teal Stone Homestead was built on less than half an acre in Indiana. They primarily focus on their chickens, coturnix quail, garden, and of course their rabbits. Silver Fox and Creme d’Argents are their rabbit breeds of choice and they raise them mainly for meat, show, and breed preservation.
In this article, you will find how often rabbits can breed, the steps prior to breeding your rabbits, and setting a breeding schedule that works for you.
How Often Can Rabbits Breed?
As a prey species rabbits are built to reproduce often in order to maintain their population. Rabbits are induced ovulators. This means they do not have a heat cycle like the majority of mammals. Instead, they are stimulated to ovulate (release their eggs) when the buck is riding the doe.
Even though rabbits are biologically supposed to be prolific breeders, it doesn’t mean that they all are. Technically rabbits are able to have 11-12 litters per year because their gestation (pregnancy length) is roughly 30 days.
But, this extreme breeding regime is not healthy for rabbits and will shorten their quality and length of life. It takes an enormous amount of nutrients and effort to raise a litter and over-breeding can quickly burn out a doe.
Steps Prior to Breeding Rabbits
Before you breed your rabbits there are some boxes you will want to check off to ensure everything will go smoothly and you will not be risking your rabbits’ health.
Correct Age to Breed Rabbits
The doe and buck should be old enough to ensure they are reproductively mature before breeding. This age varies based on the size of the rabbit you are breeding. Below are MSU’s age recommendations sorted by size:
- Small breeds (Polish, Lionheads, etc.): 4-5 months old
- Medium breeds (New Zealands, Californians, etc.): 6-7 months old
- Giant breeds (Flemish Giants, French Lop, etc.): at least 7 months old
It is often recommended that rabbits are “senior weight” before breeding. Senior weight differs between breeds. You can find your breed’s senior weight in the ARBA’s Standard of Perfection book.
Before you breed your rabbits you need to access their overall health status. It is important that the rabbits (doe and buck) are healthy internally and externally prior to breeding to make them the most successful.
The rabbit should be checked for sore hocks and treated if they are present. Does that have recently weaned a litter should be checked for mastitis.
You should also make sure no other diseases are present. Noses, mouths, and eyes should be clear and manure should be solid (not runny). The rabbits’ vents should also be checked to ensure nothing looks out of the ordinary before you breed your rabbits.
If you are aware of any genetic defects or deformities in a rabbit that rabbit should not be bred.
Proper Conditioning to Breed Rabbits
Does lacking proper condition will not be able to efficiently grow kits throughout pregnancy and may even naturally abort the litter. Their ribs and spine should not be visible and they should have sufficient coverage when you feel them with your hand.
Tiffany mentions, “Before breeding, I always check the condition of both the buck and the doe. It’s important to me that they are both in good flesh (primarily the doe) before breeding. A well-nourished doe has more of an ability to care for kits than a doe that feels bony and out of condition.”
Some does lose conditioning drastically while pregnant and nursing and they hold their condition very well. Conditioning is a large factor when determining how soon a doe can be bred again.
Overbreeding rabbits that do not have the capacity to maintain their conditioning will quickly burn out your breeders. Choosing kits derived from prolific mothers will help to improve your breeder viability.
Even if you are not breeding for show standards, the SOP (Standard of Perfection) is based on a quality rabbit. These desired traits are rooted in the rabbit breed’s purposes. For example, a meat breed, like Silver Fox, will have an SOP with exceptional meat covering and bone structure to carry the weight correctly, along with fur and other qualifications.
Tiffany notes, “I also assess body types to assure myself that the pairing will complement each other rather than create a problem. For instance, breeding two rabbits with long shoulders won’t fix the problem of long shoulders, BUT breeding one rabbit with long shoulders to a rabbit with a quick rise and a compact body has the ability to make an improvement in the future kits. Always breed for improvement and with a goal in mind!”
Enough Cage Space to Breed Rabbits
It may seem silly, but you should ensure you have enough cage space for the potential kits before you breed your rabbits.
Kits will need to be sorted by gender after weaning in order to prevent the does from getting pregnant too young. This will double the amount of grow-out space you need per litter.
Setting a Schedule to Breed Your Rabbits
If you have numerous breeding rabbits, it is helpful to put your breeding to a schedule. This way, you can plan ahead in terms of cage space and weather changes.
Everbreed’s Schedule feature allows you to set your breeding schedule months in advance and even notifies your phone when actions need to occur such as breed dates and nest box additions.
How often you breed your rabbits will depend greatly on your purpose for breeding. For example, meat breeders typically breed more often than show breeders.
Aggressive Breeders vs. Relaxed Breeders
Michigan State University says, “Many commercial rabbit producers will breed does back 14 to 21 days after kindling. A 35-day breed-back schedule is recommended. You can shorten the interval between kindling and breeding as you gain experience. However, intensive breeding programs may increase the number of does culled (put down) annually due to “burn out”.
More aggressive breeders – 6-8 weeks after the last breed day, or 2-4 weeks after kindling. This would lead to about 7.5 litters per year per doe. In order to keep this breed schedule, you will need does that can adequately keep their conditioning. And you must keep in mind that an intense breeding schedule will wear on does much more than a relaxed schedule.
Less aggressive breeders – 10-12 weeks after the last breed day or 6-8 weeks after kindling. This breed schedule leads to roughly 4.75 litters per year per doe. With this schedule does are better able to keep their conditioning but some still may not be able to keep up.
Relaxed breeders – 14-16 weeks after the last breed date or 10-12 weeks after kindling. This would make about 3.5 litters per year per doe. Tiffany aims to breed her does 3-4 times a year, depending on the doe’s condition, the weather, and her show schedule.
Of course, you can always breed less than this. These are just examples of breeding schedules that rabbit breeders have used in the past.
Breeding Multiple Does at Once
Having a few does to breed at once can increase your kit survival rate.
Tiffany says, “I always breed more than one doe, in case a foster mom is needed should a problem arise.”
If one doe kindles a large litter (10-14 kits) and another doe has a smaller litter (4-6 kits) you can foster some of the kits from the large litter to the small litter. This will help to even out the mothering responsibility and can help your doe with the large litter keep her body condition since she will be feeding fewer kits.
Even though rabbits can breed very often, it is important to ensure rabbit health when breeding your rabbits and set a breeding schedule that works for you and your rabbits. If you are not satisfied with your current breeders there is always the option to replace them with kits that outproduce them in the aspects you want to improve. Bottom line, you should breed your rabbits as you see fit based on their condition, while also making sure you can keep up with caring for the new kits, whatever that may look like.