Rabbits for Gardeners (cont)
By: Bob Bennet
They Breed Like ... Well, Like Rabbits
At six months, take the doe to the buck, never the other way or they'll fight. Don't blink or you'll miss everything. Rabbits have earned their reputation for fast mating and reproduction. Gestation is 31 days. On the 28th day, add a nest box with two to three inches of wood shavings topped with handfuls of straw. You can buy or build one. Make it 10 inches by 18 inches and eight inches high; use the same wire as on the hutch floor, or wood. The doe will line the nest with fur from her chest and stomach. Litter size averages eight. When the litter is due, keep things quiet: no noisy children or dogs. After the birth, give the doe all the feed she can clean up in a day.
In two weeks, the litter will come bouncing out of the box and want to start eating solid food, although they will nurse for another six weeks as well. Keep all green stuff out, and as a transition, give a little dry oatmeal or whole or cracked oats along with the pellets.
Wean young rabbits at eight weeks, moving one or two a day to another cage. Once all are weaned, you can rebreed the doe. You can keep weaned rabbits together for another month or so. Females can stay together longer, but each male needs his own hutch after 12 weeks or they'll fight. Each doe typically produces four litters a year. Occasionally, a doe will fail to conceive on schedule, but well-bred rabbits are dependable.
New Zealand-size weanlings will weigh four pounds at eight weeks. About half of that is good freezer meat. A little arithmetic shows that eight litters from two does produces as much as 128 pounds of meat a year. Florida Whites or Tans produce half as much meat but need less food.
If slaughtering rabbits is unsavory for you, ask at the farm supply store who can do the job for you. Or just keep a few for pets. Either way, look out or you'll get hooked on rabbit raising, just as I did.
Photo courtesy of ArtToday (www.arttoday.com)