Run a Rabbit Hobby Farm – Setup, Breeding & More
This is a general guide to acquiring rabbits, setting up your rabbit farm, and raising and breeding your rabbits humanely:
- Plan Your Herd. First, decide on your herd size and composition (breed). As noted, you can start a hobby herd with just one buck and two does, though adding another doe or two (if budget permits) allows for more diversity. Experts recommend no more than one buck per five does.
- Plan Your Hutch and Run. Look for a pre-built hutch or hutch plan with adequate room for your herd, keeping in mind that you’re going to have a lot more rabbits on your hands soon. Hutch plans and product descriptions generally spell out capacity. Mind local space-per-rabbit ordinances, if there are any. And make sure your backyard has enough space, in a suitable location, for the whole thing.
- Apply for the Requisite Permits. Determine whether you’ll need to apply for a permit from the requisite authorities. If so, make sure you have all your ducks (or rabbits) in a row before you send in your application. When in doubt, contact your municipal zoning or animal control office for details direct from the source.
- Build or Install Your Hutch and Run. Once your farm is legal, set up your rabbits’ future home. If the prospect of building a DIY hutch is daunting, tap a handy friend or family member to lend a hand.
- Get the Space Ready for Your Rabbits. Ready everything your rabbits will need to be safe, healthy, and comfortable: food and water containers, hay and pellets, bedding, and sanitation equipment. Don’t forget to prepare the nursing room inside the hutch with adequate bedding. Before you populate the space, make sure everything is clean and clear one last time. You don’t want to find a colony of chipmunks in your hutch on the day you bring your rabbits home.
- Purchase Your Rabbits. Next, find a local breeder for your chosen breed. If you’re not sure where to start, check with your local chapter of the American Rabbit Breeders Association, or use an aggregated list from a site like RabbitBreeders.us. (Note: I haven’t independently evaluated these sources.) Don’t worry about getting pedigreed rabbits with papers. That’s only necessary if you plan to show your rabbits in the future.
- Get Into a Rhythm. Get into a feeding and cleaning rhythm that aligns with your rabbits’ habits and your personal schedule. Every herd is different – and, as your herd grows, your responsibilities will change.
- Breed Your Rabbits. Now for the fun part. Remember, does are eternally fertile, so don’t mix genders until you’re ready for the consequences. If you have more than one buck, use a spreadsheet to track which does he mates with and the generational lines that result. You’ll know your doe is about to give birth when she starts (literally) pulling out her hair and adding it to the bedding in the nursing room. Rabbits are born blind and helpless, and you won’t see much of them until they’re weaned. Neither will the mother, for that matter: she’ll feed them twice a day, but otherwise go about her business more or less as usual. Just check periodically that the babies are still alive, but don’t be sad if any don’t make it – it’s common for younger mothers to lose most or all of their first few litters. Always use gloves when handling baby rabbits – their immune systems are as tender as their skin.
- Let the Litter Grow. Once the litter’s surviving members are weaned, let them do their thing for a few weeks. For most breeds, four to six pounds is the ideal fryer size – larger than that and the meat is too gamy, smaller than that and you don’t get enough. Wait at least 14 days after weaning to breed the mother again. Some experts recommend as much as 30 to 45 days, but that’s up to you.
- Decide What to Do With Your Bounty. You can’t keep your fryers forever. At 12 to 16 weeks, you’ll need to decide what to do with them. If slaughter is prohibited on residential properties in your hometown, find a local meat processor to humanely and efficiently process the fryers. Otherwise, you’ll soon learn a thing or two about amateur butchering.
- Repeat As Needed. A healthy doe on a fast but safe breeding schedule (14 to 21 days between weaning and conception) can produce 200 to 250 pounds of meat per year. As long as you’re willing to keep the cycle going, your rabbits will keep your family well-fed.