Rabbits are perhaps the cheapest, easiest and cleanest source of protein on a homestead, in an urban garden or on a small farm. Getting started with them isn’t always as easy as you’d want it. The importance of good breeding stock is impossible to overstate. In this post I’ll confess to some of the issues I had to go through before I finally had some good breeding stock.
I have made several attempts at obtaining good breeding stock to start producing meat rabbits, but I haven’t had the greatest luck. Does weren’t always the best moms, some rabbits had health-issues, and some didn’t produce any young that consistently grew large quickly. Then, last year, I was off to the small livestock market, and I fell in love.
I saw some beautiful Belgian Hares for sale, and I bought my first ram and doe. I bought them at 2 months old and they quickly began to switch to a plant-based diet instead of pellet feed. Belgian hares grow slowly, so I didn’t expect them to have a nest very quickly.
I was happy with my new couple. But one morning I discovered my doe dead in the straw. She hadn’t shown signs of illness the days before, so I was quite disappointed. Luckily, I could get another doe fairly quickly. And this one was great! She was very social, adapted well to her new food and in March 2018 she had her first nest. Sadly, this wasn’t to be a success. Temperatures had suddenly dropped from 5°C (41°F) to -17°C (1,4°F) by day and all her 8 young died. If you’ve read anything about breeding rabbits, you’ll know this doesn’t mean that the doe will always be a bad mother, so I tried again. In April, when the weather had become more stable, she had another nest of 4 young. A small nest, true, but all of them survived and grew up to be gorgeous Belgian hares. When they were two months old I separated them from the mother and bred the doe again. I made sure she had access to richer foods, and lo and behold; 12 baby bunnies born! One of these 12 died, which isn’t uncommon, the rest are healthy rabbits, almost ready to be sold as pets.
This just shows you how you may need to experiment with rabbits, go through some difficulty before you get your breeding population right and how success also depends on the weather. But! There is a lot you can control! I don’t think my doe would have had such a large, healthy nest if I hadn’t fed her extra-carefully on purpose. If you are having similar issues with your rabbits, please don’t give up! Keep growing in knowledge and improving your methods, you’ll figure out what works for you.