Rabbit Production 101Before you become a rabbit producer, it's important to learn some basic guidelines about getting started in the business. An informed producer is more likely to be a successful producer.
Rabbit production has three basic requirements: rabbits, cages, and a building-none requiring a huge investment. If you already have a farm and buildings, you can easily start to produce 20 does (female rabbits) with 2 bucks (male rabbit) and 40 individual cages for less than $1,000. This also includes the purchase of feeders, a water supply, feed, and a few other inexpensive items. You may soon wonder why the number of cages is doubling--don't forget that rabbits do multiply, and they also need daily care.
BreedsRabbits are generally classified according to size, weight, and type of pelt. Small rabbits weigh 2 to 5 pounds at maturity; medium breeds weigh 5 to 8 pounds; and large breeds weigh an average of 8 to 12 pounds. New Zealand and Californian rabbits are the most popular breeds for meat production. While other breeds are used, the New Zealand and Californian breeds have a higher meat-to-bone ratio. They are also very popular because their fur is mostly white, which processors generally prefer with efficient growth characteristics. A suggested stocking rate of 1 buck per 10 does should work for novice producers. Cross-breeding Californian and New Zealand breeds will result in hybrid vigor, a more "hearty" rabbit that tends to be healthier and grows out quicker. Remember to keep your source of full-blood breeding stock. Each production and management plan will vary depending on individual goals.
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CagesCages are essential and options vary depending on farm management needs. Each rabbit must be kept in a separate cage. Rabbits are territorial and living in crowded conditions can cause them to become aggressive with each other. Cages are sold individually or in sets. The number of cages per set varies from 3 to 6. Cages need to be off the ground and set on frames or saw horses or hung from the ceiling. Hanging from the ceiling allows easy access to clean underneath.
Cage sizes vary depending on your preference and size of the rabbits. A minimal size cage per rabbit should be 24 x 30 inches. A larger cage allows for a nesting box and enough space for a doe and her litter. The nesting box is placed in a cage long enough to allow a doe to kindle (give birth) and provide housing for the young rabbits until they are weaning age. Materials are available for you to build your own cages, or you can buy them from other rabbit producers who build cages to sell.
HousingA simple pole barn can provide adequate housing for rabbit production. A semi-enclosed barn is better, an abandoned poultry barn or hog parlor is good, or a small shed will suffice during the beginning stages of rabbit production. A 30 x 30 foot barn is a good size to produce fewer than 50 does and bucks. Having a pre-existing building on your land will help minimize fixed costs and enhance profitability of your operation.
Ventilation is also an important consideration. Easy access to electricity and fans may be necessary depending on the climate in your area. During the winter, a pole barn may need to be enclosed with tarps to provide protection from wind and cold temperatures. Don't forget that water freezes and rabbits can too. Ventilation is important in reducing the incidence of disease and other health-related problems. A combination of urine, feces, and water on the ground can allow various diseases to become problems. The strong odor of urine can irritate the esophagus and lung tissue of rabbits and humans. Spreading lime or vinegar under the cages will help neutralize urine and its odor.