Getting Ready to Breed - but first some Rabbit Lingo!
If you would like to breed rabbits, your first concern should be picking a healthy male and female. With purebred rabbits, you can check their ancestry for productivity and good genetics -- the breeder who supplied your rabbits will have productivity records, pedigrees, and show records. Should your rabbits mate successfully, you’ll want to keep your own productivity and show records for use in mating future generations.
Only mate rabbits of the same breed. You can use one male rabbit for up to ten females; the male can manage to breed daily. Never breed a male and female from the same litter. However, you can breed father to daughter and mother to son if you choose.
Small breeds: the doe will be ready to mate around five months of age; the buck will be ready around six months of age
Medium breeds: the doe will be ready to mate around six months of age; the buck will be ready around seven months of age
Large/Heavy breeds: the doe will be ready to mate around eight months of age; the buck will be ready around nine months of age
If you are hoping the resulting litter will meet breeder standards, stick with mating rabbits who are the same color. You can mix colors with interesting results, but the kits may not meet breed standards that way. Make sure that the pair you choose for breeding is free of genetic defects like cloudy corneas or dental problems.
Before breeding, check both the male and female for evidence of loose stool. Examine their genitals for signs of disease or infection. If both rabbits are healthy, you are ready to breed! Bring the female to the male’s cage -- never the other way around. You can leave the female with the male overnight, or you can remove her as soon as they have mated.
Keep in mind that temperature extremes can lessen your chance of a successful impregnation. A male rabbit can become temporarily sterile if exposed to temperatures above ninety-two degrees Fahrenheit. Extreme cold may cause the female to not conceive because her system is more concerned with her own survival. You may have difficulty getting your rabbits to mate during molting season -- October to December.
Between ten to fourteen days after mating, you can check the female for pregnancy. The easiest way to do this is to gently palpate the lower abdomen with your thumb and forefinger. If she is pregnant, you will be able to feel marble-sized lumps in her lower abdomen.
The gestation period for domestic rabbits is approximately thirty-one days, but may vary by two days either way. During her pregnancy, the doe will grow plumber, but doesn’t require a change in diet. Don’t give her any new foods or increase the amount you feed her.
Around the twenty-eighth day, you should place a nest box in the cage. Don’t put the box in too soon, or she will make a mess of it. Line the bottom of the nest box with absorbent pine shavings, then fill it the rest of the way with alfalfa hay. Watch your doe to make sure she is preparing the nest -- if she starts to spread the hay across the bottom of her hutch, you may need to move the nest box. You want to make sure she gives birth in the nest box for the health and safety of her litter.
The mother-to-be will pull fur from her abdomen and shoulders up to a week before giving birth. The fur will help line the nest and keep the babies warm.
Giving birth can happen at any time of day, but will most likely be at night. Delivery takes approximately ten minutes; once she is done giving birth, she will cover the kits with fur and leave the nest box. The babies are born hairless and with closed eyes -- they must be protected from exposure! If your mother rabbit gives birth outside the nest box, you must move them yourself. A mother rabbit will never move her own babies.
The mother will nurse her babies only once a day, and usually at night. Her milk is nutritious enough to sustain the babies for twenty-four hours or more. You can tell that the babies are being fed enough if their bellies are rounded.
If you will not be breeding your rabbits, you should consider spaying or neutering them after the age of four and a half months. Neutering will keep a male rabbit from becoming aggressive. Spaying will prevent uterine cancer, the most common type of tumor in female rabbits.