RABBIT BREEDING, MOMMAS AND BABIES

Does going off feed after kindling:

I have had does that did not have a good birthing session go off their feed real bad and even get to the point we thought that they may die.  It seems that mother rabbits tend to look a little bad shortly after they have a litter and then by the time the babies are 6-7 weeks old and about to wean, mom looks really good again.  We watch them real close and give them some of the above mentioned things as well as black oil sunflower seed.  We have not lost one from this yet, but we have had some look real bad before they got better.  Do not give them more than 10 or so sunflower seeds because they really like them and will not eat their regular food, waiting for more seeds.

by Benton Anderson of Anderson Alley Rabbitry, Huson MT

 

Breeding: Pedigree vs Non-pedigree - Question by Julia

Question:  Hi. My name is Julia and I currently own one blue doe and a black buck. I bred them together and they produced 7 healthy babies. I am wondering how exactly to start my rabbitry. Should I find a blue buck and sell my black one? I have been selling and breeding rabbits for about 5 years now, but I have just been selling them to the people in my neighborhood for pets. They have mostly been of unknown lines. (Rabbits I have found that have been released or runaways). Just last year I bought my Dutch Rabbits at the local auction and they did not come with pedigrees. How do I start my rabbitry on that? Any suggestions?   Thank-you,  Julia 

Answer:

Dear Julia,

I do want to recognize and make special mention of your efforts to rescue runaways and homeless rabbits that you have cared for in our rabbitry.  I have mentioned several times in the articles that I have written, the plight of domestic rabbits that are often turned loose to fend for themselves.  These rabbits lack the skills to survive on their own and so face tragic deaths from exposure, predator attack and starvation.  I am always impressed by the actions people make individually, that alone may be insignificant to the magnitude of the problem, but when combined together have the power to change a nation's attitude.  We have seen this happen with any number of wrongs.  The problem of abandoned and abused animals is an example of one problem still needing work.  I commend your efforts and I believe that most breeders will agree that education is the first step toward impressing on buyers of domestic animals, the importance of accepting responsibility and making the commitment to care and protect those animals in their possession.

On the home page of our web site there is a section called “Notes from John” where I periodically post articles I have written pertaining to various subjects that might be of interest to breeders of all ages.  Predominately I write for:

·         Those breeders that are new to the hobby,

·         Those like yourself that are interested in exploring new options.

·         Those people with a budding interest in entering the hobby.

I would also suggest that you review my recent article on “the Beginner Breeder - Things We Learned our First Year.”  This article will probably address many of your questions plus some you may not have thought of to ask.  But for now let me address specific items that will cover the questions you asked and that I think are deserving of special attention.

Should I start with pedigreed or non-pedigreed stock?

You mentioned that neither your blue nor your black Dutch rabbit is pedigreed, something that obviously is a concern if you plan to seriously show your rabbits or sell them to other breeders.

From your letter I made the assumption that your objective might be to raise rabbits that are show worthy.  If this is true, then most breeders will tell you that it is necessary to begin from a solid base of good breeding stock; rabbits that display the most excellent type and markings you can afford to buy.  This is not to say that your two non-pedigreed rabbits may not display such qualities.  If you are not sure, perhaps there is a breeder near you that will agree to examine your rabbits and give his opinion.  If not, you might try attending a rabbit show in your area.   Pay special attention to the comments made by the judges as they are looking over the animals.  Try to gain some understanding for what it is they are looking for and what it is that makes one rabbit better than another.  If you have done your reading ahead of time, you will be in a better position to understand terms like “Type and Markings”, when they are good and when they are poor.   Take some time to visit with a few of the breeders at the show.  You should be able to find a breeder that will show you, on one of his rabbits, what to look for and what to avoid.  You can then take this knowledge home and apply what you have learned to determine how your Dutch measure up against the rabbits you saw at the rabbit show.  If they don’t measure up, then you may want to consider replacing them

Another option, Julia, is to enter your rabbits into a rabbit show and just see how they do.  It is not necessary that your rabbits have a pedigree to show them, they just cannot be registered without a pedigree.  By checking on the ARBA web site, you can locate a schedule of rabbit shows in your area.  Once you locate a show, contact the secretary of the sponsoring club (an e-mail address is usually provided) for more information and to obtain a show entry form.

If it happens that both your rabbits show well, there is always the option of starting with them as the base for building your rabbitry.  It will just take you longer to reach the point when the animals in your rabbitry are all pedigreed.  This is not an impossible task at all.  There will be some challenges due to the lack of history to help you make the best selections in your breeding pairs.  Keeping accurate records will be very important in establishing what the genetic make up of your breeding pair is.  With each litter be sure to record the different colors you get and the quality of their markings.  If you show any of the offspring, be sure to record their winnings on the pedigrees you are building.  Eventually you will have collected some valuable data that can be used to judge the quality of your breeding stock.  To better control as many variables as possible, I would suggest that you only breed rabbits of the same variety.  That is, breed only blues to blues and blacks to blacks.  In your situation, this will probably require that you purchase another blue and black rabbit of the appropriate sex.  Whether you elect to purchase pedigreed or non-pedigreed stock is really not that material as long as they are well marked and of good type.

You will need to breed and raise three litters of rabbits before you will have acquired enough history to fill a three-generation pedigree for your last litter.  This will be true for both your black pair and the blue pair.  To do this will take about 2 years considering that the gestation period for a rabbit  is approximately 1 month and you should not breed your new bunnies until they are at least 6 months old.  A little arithmetic will tell you that three litters could be raised within a minimum of 21 months if all goes as planned.

A rabbit show is an excellent place to look for rabbits to buy.  Show time offers an opportunity for breeders to sell quality show and breeding stock they have in over supply.  Resist the temptation to buy the first rabbits you see.  Instead, look over as many rabbits as possible, including those being judged at the show.  You may well find exactly the rabbits you need, if you decide to look for pedigreed stock.

What is the purpose of a pedigree and why is it important?

Think of a pedigree as being similar to a report card.  If the pedigree has been properly updated and maintained by the breeder before you, it will tell you a lot about the history and status of the rabbit’s ancestors.  Did past rabbits in the family bloodline have a history of showing well?  Are the parents or grandparents listed on the pedigree registered and did they earn grand champion status?  This kind of information, or lack of, will provide an important clue as to the genetic strengths and weaknesses that the rabbit may have inherited from its bloodline.  It will also offer important insight into the characteristics that you might expect to see in its offspring.  Pedigrees do not guarantee what an outcome will be; they only indicate a tendency for a certain outcome, tendency being a measure of statistical chance.

The only real way we can ever estimate how an animal might perform on the show table or when breeding is to review the history of how well its parents and grandparents performed.  If they did well, then we have a good indication the offspring may do well also.  This is where the study of genetics comes into play.

Genes are like the blue prints carpenters uses to provide them with the instructions for building a house.  Like blue prints, genes hold the instructions, inherited from the bunny’s mother and father for building a rabbit. They determine such things as the color and length of its fur, the placement and shape of its markings, the shape and form of its body, the color of its eyes, and its sex.  Genes also contribute the thousands of other instructions that will determine personality, health, intelligence, and all the other bits and pieces of information necessary to build a living rabbit.  The pedigree is a record that provides us with the best information we have for predicting the future appearance of a bunny before it is born and matures to become an adult.  The more information we have about the history of something, the better we are at predicting what its future will look like.  This is the purpose of the pedigree and this is why it is so important to the breeder.

Tell me more about pedigreed, registered stock?

When you buy an American Rabbit Breeders Association (ARBA) registered rabbit, you are buying an animal that has met the requirements stated in the ARBA Standards of Perfection for its breed and variety.  ARBA is very serious in maintaining the highest standards in their registration process.  After careful inspection from licensed ARBA registrars, only those individual rabbits that measure up to the Standards of Perfection are registered.

Keep in mind that the process of registering a rabbit is much different than, for example, registering a pure bred dog.  If you breed a male and female dog that are both registered by the American Kennel Club, their offspring will automatically be registered by the AKC.  All that is necessary is to send the puppy's AKC  pre registration papers along with a fee and the AKC will return to the owner a proof of registration.  The process of registering a rabbit is much more involved. Even if both parents are registered, the process requires taking the rabbit before a licensed ARBA registrar whom must examine the rabbit and its pedigree to determine that both comply in every detail with the ARBA Standards.  Only then, if the owner is a member of ARBA and after having paid a fee of $4.00, will the rabbit be registered.  The registrar will then send the paper work into ARBA where the pedigree information will be further verified.  If approved, the owner will receive a certificate of registration in the mail within a few weeks. 

If your goal is to raise winning show rabbits, there is just no substitute for beginning your rabbitry with the best quality animals you can afford.  Anything less will only serve to sabotage your efforts and create disappointment.   Buying a rabbit that has been registered is just an additional assurance that it measures up to the standards for its breed.  There are no guarantees where living things are concerned, there are just too many variables beyond any breeder’s control.  All we can try to do is remove as many variables as we can and then hope for the best.  It is within these final sets of uncertain variables that the challenge lies in raising rabbits.

What Varieties of Dutch should I start with?

Each variety of Dutch has its own fan club and one variety is no better than the other.  Whether you sell or keep your current Dutch is something only you can decide.  Without seeing your rabbits, I would not want to make any suggestion one way or the other.  All I can do is present you with some ideas to think about.  It really depends on the direction you choose to go with your rabbitry.  There is nothing wrong with raising two different varieties of Dutch.  There are some breeders who raise all the varieties recognized by ARBA and even a few that are not.  I personally raise black, blue, gray, and chocolate and find that is about right for my situation.  Everyone is different.

I would suggest that you start with at least two unrelated does and one buck unrelated to either doe.  This would make a good base.  You are lucky in that blue and black are compatible colors that breed well together.  I personally like to breed within the same color variety and concentrate on producing the best markings and type within that color as I can with my stock.  That would not, however, discourage me from introducing, say a black, if there was a reason for believing that doing so would aid in improving my blue bloodline.  It all centers on genetics and what fits well together.

Why do I suggest that you start with animals that are unrelated?  It is to avoid any incidence of inbreeding in your herd; the breeding of father to daughter, mother to son, or brother to sister.  Inbreeding increases the potential risk of exposing genetic defects that might otherwise have been suppressed by breeding unrelated animals.  An example of this is the tendency for malocclusion, a dental disease where the upper and lower teeth are not properly aligned.  Also, there is a genetic connection made to cannibalism where the mother rabbits have a tendency to eat their young kits soon after they are born.  Lastly, there are some cancers that are shown to have a genetic cause.    This is not to say that inbreeding is the cause of these problems, but inbreeding can increase the risk or tendency of their occurrence.  By adding an additional buck you further reduce the chances for inbreeding within your herd.

One final thought, I suggest that you consider halting further breeding of rabbits solely as pets.  As you begin your new Dutch rabbitry, culling will become a constant necessity.  Finding a market for those young bunnies with poor markings or poor type will produce all the pet rabbits you can handle. The rabbits you cull will be those that you sell as pets in your neighborhood.  Hopefully you live in a big neighborhood.

Julia, I hope this information will be of some help to you as you begin the start of your new rabbitry.  Your previous experience in raising rabbits will be of value to you in getting started.  I do suggest that you look over the suggestions offered on our web page and the pages of other breeders around the country.  There are also many good reference books on the subject that you might want to look at.  I do wish you luck with your new efforts.

 

By John W. Jones of Verlannahill Rabbitry