Have a seat and grab some popcorn, because I’m about to tell you about our first experience with breeding rabbits! Books and YouTube videos are no substitute for good old fashioned experience, but they did give us a good starting point. There were things we didn’t expect, and things that seemed to go as planned… Alright, I’ll just start the story already!
Getting Set Up for Success
Before we got our rabbits, we did a ton of research on how to keep them. We looked up wire bottom cages vs other types of hutches, rabbit colonies, natural diets, and so on. We ended up going with wire bottom cages and a diet of rabbit pellets and hay (with some greens and herbs for treats).
The first couple of days we had the rabbits, our wire bottom cages hadn’t arrived yet so they were just in crates with pine chips on the bottom. Some people think wire bottom cages are cruel, but we learned quickly that letting bunnies hop around in their own pee and poo is not sanitary or healthy. Poor Chip had sore hocks, but thankfully they healed up quickly with the help of coconut oil.
They were much happier when we got them set up in their wire bottom cages. They each have a couple of ceramic tiles that they can sit on to get a break from the wire. Those seem to help keep them cooler on hot days too.
The main rule for breeding rabbits is that you bring the doe to the buck. I guess the buck can get distracted and not do his duty if there are too many new smells… So we first brought Rosie to Chip. When Ryan reached in and grabbed her, she did her rabbit screech of terror. I think she only did it for a few seconds, but it felt like an eternity. Imagine a very small child screaming bloody murder, and that’s what it sounds like.
We gave her a quick nail trim and put her in with Chip. She tried to bunny punch him at first, but then they did the little rabbit dance and everything seemed to go normally. Although after that screech, we felt like we had tortured the poor thing…
Daisy was a different story. She didn’t scream when being picked up, but she did seem terrified of Chip. She ran away from him screaming, so that made us feel bad. We gave them a couple minutes, but Chip wasn’t successful so we separated them and gave them lavender to help calm them down. We tried again a few times over the next week, but ultimately Daisy was not willing to breed. We gave her a nesting box in case we missed something, but she never gave birth. We plan on trying one more time, but if she’s still unwilling she will probably be one of the first we process (gulp).
Herbs for Breeding Rabbits
After the experience with the horrible rabbit screaming, I did a lot of research on herbs that can help calm nervous rabbits. Lavender is a good one, but it isn’t a good option for pregnant rabbits because it can trigger labor. A lot of folks say it should be used sparingly. It worked well to help calm the stress of newly breeding rabbits, but I wanted something that I could give them regularly, even throughout pregnancy.
Chamomile has made such a huge difference for our does! Rosie (our new momma) used to be our most timid by far, and now she’s my best friend. I’m not sure how much of that is from her daily Chamomile, and how much is just the joy of motherhood, but either way I’ll take it! Daisy is more friendly too, but she’s not as buddy-buddy with us as Rosie and Chip are.
Red Raspberry Leaf is supposed to be good for pregnant rabbits and also help them produce more milk after they give birth. In our experience, it does just that! I started giving Rosie raspberry leaves two weeks before she gave birth. She gave birth to TEN kits, no problem. This was our first litter, so we were prepared for the worst, but she ended up being a fantastic mom, and we only lost one baby. I still give her raspberry leaves, but plan on switching her to mint once it comes time to wean. She’s got nine healthy, well-fed kits!
Lemon Balm is supposed to be another good calming herb for rabbits, although I haven’t tried it yet. I’ve got a cutting growing right now, so once it’s strong enough I’ll give that a try. Edelweiss Ranch has a lot of info on herbs and their uses for rabbits – it’s a great place to start!
Ok, now get ready for the cuteness overload!!!
Right now the plan is to keep a doe (and possibly a buck), sell a few to help cover the cost of our initial investment, and process the rest. So if you’re local and interested in New Zealand Reds, let me know!