|Since I'm a Holland Lop Breeder, I will give you information mainly about this breed. The basics are the same for all breeds, however Hollands can be a bit trickier to breed because of their body type.
Before you decide to breed your rabbits, I ask you to think about a few key things...
- What is your purpose in breeding? (It may be for commercial or family meat purposes, show, pet, fur, or other)
- Are you breeding to a standard? All purebred rabbits have a stardard that describes what the ideal animal of that breed looks like. If you don't know the standard, you can talk to other breeders who can fill you in on the details or you can join the American Rabbit Breeders Association and buy a book of Standards of Perfection.
- Are you breeding purebred or crossbred rabbits? There are many unwanted rabbits in the world of unknown heritage. If you are breeding for meat, then heritage does matter. There are breeds developed for maximum meat production with as little waste as possible. The does are bred to kindle and raise large litters. The litters grow to marketable size quickly. Show breeders are always buying new stock for show and breeding. They are looking for that 'part' they need to improve their own herd. These people usually prefer to buy a pedigreed, purebred rabbit that originally came from good stock. It has been said that it costs as much to keep a purebred as a crossbred. If the rabbit is a neutered pet, then heritage doesn't really matter...you will still love that bunny. If you are planning to breed, then give this a lot of thought.
- What are you going to do with the offspring? If the SPCA or such is your answer, then I would advise against the breeding. If you are planning on selling them, you will have much better luck if they are purebred. Many people like to know what they are getting as to the future size, shape, and coat of the rabbit. Rabbits vary greatly in size and coats, from giants to dwarfs. Keeping Pedigrees and showing rabbits opens up a huge new market for your rabbits. If you are breeding for meat, then go ahead and breed. You already have plans for the offspring!
- Are you prepared for medical emergencies and the possible loss of your rabbit? Not all births go as expected and if your doe is a pet, her loss could be devastating.
- Are you prepared to NOT make money? By the time you raise those little ones to a sellable age, they can eat quite a bit of groceries. If you show, then the cost of keeping a whole herd along with showing and travelling expenses, usually puts you in the red. You will be breeding because you love it. The amount of work involved is much more than you will ever get paid back for.
- Prepare to become a 'bunny slave'. The rabbits need daily care, and the list of chores never ends. As soon as you finish one job, there are three more that need doing. By the time you are done those, the first job needs done again. The nails never stop growing, the bunnies never stop eating, drinking and pooping, the fur never stops flying. Be prepared to spend a MINIMUM of an hour a day with your rabbits. Forget about long holidays unless you have someone reliable that will care for your bunnies. It is hard to find this reliable person, and you can't use them too often or you will wear them out. (My reliable people are my husband, Vicki and Cori, and Terry Vincent- Thank you, thank you, a thousand times for your help!!) In the winter being a bunny slave becomes at least three times harder if you have to battle low temperatures and frozen water. You do this because you love it...not for money, not for fame and fortune. Those cute little bunny faces will keep you coming back.
- Prepare for disappointment, deaths, problems, not winning. Learn now to be a good sport. If you have a weak stomach, can't touch rabbit droppings, don't like the smell, or don't like lifting 40lb sacks of feed, being a rabbit breeder might not appeal to you. You could probably get by with just a rabbit or two.
So, if you still want to breed, keep reading....
Before you start:
- You will need a separate cage for the buck and the doe. They will keep breeding if they are housed together. You will need another cage for the offspring, and more cages if you wish to grow them up for meat or show. This can be quite a financial investment to start with...feeders, trays, water bottles etc. You will also need to have a nestbox for the doe.
- Make sure your rabbits are free of diseases. Rabbit VD can cause the doe to lose her litters.
- Make sure your rabbits are in condition. Overweight does have a hard time conceiving.
Finally...the easy part. (ha,ha!)
- Bring the doe to the buck's cage. He will try to mount her. Hopefully, your doe will cooperate and will rise her rear up for him. Wiithin a very short time will kick his feet, and may grunt and fall off. I usually allow a buck three matings, and then remove the doe. It is recommended to come back within an hour to six hours for a rebreeding. Go write this date on the calendar so you don't forget!!! Also, count up 28 days on your calendar and write "Nestbox". Finally, count day 30 and write "Bunnies Due". Don't think you are going to remember. Nothing worse than seeing a perfectly nice litter born dead on the cage floor.
- Does are induced ovulators, which means they don't have a heat cycle like dogs do. They do have times when they are more willing to be bred than others. If your doe doesn't cooperate on the first day, keep trying each day until she does. Light plays a big part in the doe's receptivity. Try to simulate the number of hours of light in spring by leaving the lights on in the barn, and you may have better luck. Some does can be very stubborn about rising for the buck. You can try to assist her by lifting her rear slightly. (make sure you have long sleeves on in case she tries to bite). If she is running around like crazy and is grumbling, you might want to remove her and try her later. She could do damage to the buck.
- Always watch. No it isn't being rude or nosy...it is important for several reasons. You will know if she was actually bred. You will be there if things go wrong and she attacks the buck, or if the buck starts to bite her too much.
- When the breeding is done, take the doe back to her cage.
Now hopefully, your doe is pregnant.
- Some does, especially if they are overweight or older, will be harder to get bred.
- In about 12 days, you can palpate the doe (you may need to be shown how to do this) to see if she is pregant. You can feel little olive sized fetuses in between her ribcage and vent area, they will be closer to the back near where her bladder would be. Don't squeeze too hard, but you do need to really get your fingers into her abdomen to feel them.
- At about 16 days or so, some does will start to stuff their mouths with hay. This is very cute! They will be showing nesting behaviour but it isn't necessary to put the nestbox in yet.
- At 28 days, put the nestbox in. The nestbox varies in size. I use an 11 x 16 plywood box. It is about 11 inches high. The high sides help prevent the kits from getting dragged out to the wire. I line the bottom with white woodchips about 2-3 inches deep. You can put clean hay in there as well. If you put the box in too early, the doe may use it as a bathroom.
- You should be able to feel the kits feet moving around inside the doe if you sit with her with your hand on her belly. I love feeling the babies!
- The doe may start to pull fur when the box is in. She will hopefully make a soft nest ahead of time, but some does don't pull fur until after the babies come.
- On day 30- 35 your doe should 'kindle' or have her babies. I usually stay and watch just in case, if I happen to be there when this happens.
- Normally, this happens quickly, but if things go wrong, it may take longer. If it goes too long, then do expect dead kits. Holland Lops often have problems with their first litters. The dwarf does tend to have smaller bodies, which can make delivering a big headed kit difficult. If I lose the litter, then I rebreed the doe right away. The second litter usually comes out just fine.
- You may have to assist a stuck kit. If you have something to grab, use a washcloth, lubricate the opening with jelly and apply gentle traction with the contraction out and toward the doe's belly. Don't pull too hard!
- Sometimes a bit of Tums can help if the doe is having problems. She may be low on Calcium. Some breeders use Oxytocin to help with contractions. This must be bought from a vet and he will give you advice on using it.
- Each kit is cleaned quickly by the doe. She usually eats the placenta, but you may find one that she missed. It looks like a small chunk of liver. The kit will try to get a bit of nursing in right away. The littermates come quickly, so the doe will let it fall into the small hole she digs in the woodchips. Does don't pick their young up like cats, so they can't move them around very well. A kit born out of the nestbox will stay on the floor and die unless you pick it up and put it back. You may need to warm it up if it's cold. Don't throw out a cold kit. I've brought some cold, dead looking ones back to life by warming them inside my shirt.
- Some kits are born very large. They are called fetal giants. You usually find these in small litters. They are often dead when born because of the slow delivery, and they can hold up their littermates from being born, so they die too. Prevention includes not overfeeding the doe, and breeding her lots to induce many eggs to be released and a larger litter will result.
- At the opposite end of the spectrum are the 'peanuts'. These are born very small, and are the result of a double hit of the dwarf gene. They usually don't live for more than 3 days. They will shrivel and die, as they are unable to eat. You won't get any peanuts unless both parents carry the dwarf gene.
- Check the nestbox for the number of kits. Dig around and make sure there are no dead ones hidden in the chips. They will rot and cause stinky, messy problems.
- Some does will retain kits. They will not be able to breed again. Does will often pop out a dead baby within a day or two. These will sometimes be quite awful to look at....all long and stretched out.
- Some does will cannibalize their kits. Some are over-enthusiastic cleaners and will eat an ear or tail by accident. Breeding is not for the weak of stomach!
Raising the litter
- Now that you have your litter, you don't have to do much more than check on them at least once a day. I like to make sure they are fed within 24 hours. They will have nice round balloon bellies if they are fed. The doe only feeds them once or maybe twice a day, so don't worry if you don't see her in there with them. She may be feeding at night when you aren't watching. If they don't have round bellies, I will hold the doe on my lap and let the bunnies under her (also on my lap) to feed. Make sure she doesn't kick them! I cover her eyes, or stroke her head to calm her.
- Check the babies and do a head count each day. You need to remove any peanuts or kits that have died. I like to check and see how they are coming along and what colour they are.
- Their eyes should open in about 10-12 days. Check eyes for any that get stuck shut again, and moisten them with clean water until they open..
- At about 3 weeks they will start hopping out of the nestbox. I usually clean it out, and turn it on it's side so they can still sit in it. The doe may appreciate being able to hop up out of the way of the kits.
- The kits will start their transition to pellets during the next week. Trim their butts of excess fluff to prevent poops from sticking. CHECK their fluffy rears EVERY DAY during this time. The poops can block up so fast! Either pick them off with your fingers, or if it is bad, soak them off and wash it all off. They'll get past this stage soon. Offer lots of hay.
- At about 6-8 weeks you can start to wean. Some breeders remove one or two kits at a time, until they are all gone. At 7-8 weeks, they can go to their new home. Some bunnies are bigger and can go sooner, some will need more time with their mother.
- You can now breed your doe again if she is in condition. Some breeders will speed up this schedule, but I don't find it necessary with my does. You don't want to give them too long of a break, or they can become difficult to breed again.
I'm sure there will be more to add... I hope this helps. If you think of anything I've missed, please let me know.