Sometimes you just need to know how to begin!
I had a great conversation tonight with a friend who is seriously considering raising rabbits. We went around and around about what type of rabbits he should get, what supplies he needed before his initial purchase, what his rabbitry goals would be. The reality is that we can’t answer any of these questions for him – he needs to spend time thinking about what will be the best fit for his purposes. However, we can ask him some questions to get his creative juices going… here are the few he left tonight pondering:
1. How many? The number of rabbits you choose as an initial investment depends on your purposes for your rabbitry. If you are looking to show, you’ll likely want to consider three does and two bucks per breed. You’ll want some options for genetic strength, plus it’s not as much fun to take a single rabbit to a show. Set yourself up for success by giving yourself some options.
If you are specifically breeding for meat, a trio of two does and a buck will be a strong start, even closely related rabbits would be fine to start as long as you have a plan for infusing new blood sometime in the next year or so. Ask yourself how often you’re hoping to have rabbit on the menu? How many mouths are you feeding?
2. What’s your Budget? Your purposes for your rabbitry must inform your anticipated budget.
Are you planning to keep rabbits only for your own consumption? Then an unpedigreed meat mutt might be a good start as they are typically as much as 50% cheaper in initial investment. The downside to an unpedigreed rabbit is you don’t have an idea of the size or colors in the background of the rabbit – of course, if your main goal is for meat… those are considerations that really don’t matter! In this area meat rabbits are sold for around $25 per rabbit (I’ve heard people quote a range from $5 to $35 for a meat mutt around the country).
Are you hoping to sell the babies of your rabbits to offset other rabbitry expenses? Then you’d better be willing to spend a little more for a pedigreed rabbit as your initial purpose – a registered rabbit is even better if you can find one. The pedigreed rabbits I’ve seen advertised are anywhere from $45 to $150+ per rabbit, depending on your lines, the show worthiness, proven or unproven, registered, etc.
Obviously, with that much of a price range, it makes sense to consider your intended outcomes before you make your first stock purchases. I will suggest to purchase the best quality rabbit you can find in your price range. Don’t go simply off of slick websites or advertisements, instead contact several breeders and ask for recommendations.
Facebook is a good way to connect with other rabbit breeders, although be cautious – sometimes the people who post the most and sound the most knowledgable are the same ones you should avoid at all costs. Particularly on Facebook, once you’re in the group for your rabbit breed, spend time reading through the archives of comments and posts. Over time you’ll get a sense of those breeders who have a similar value system to your own… contact them and see what can come from that!
3. What will you Feed? Are you planning on feeding your rabbits pellets or letting them range and eat grasses? A smart buyer will purchase their initial stock from a breeder who is set up similar to what they want to do.
We feed pellets and hay and can give someone a pretty good idea of what weights to expect at which ages in our lines. However, if someone took our rabbit and switched it on to a fodder system I can almost guarantee it would not hit the same weight gains in the same period of time. If someone approaches us wanting meat rabbits for fodder I’m going to encourage them to check in with a few other breeders as our rabbits will likely not perform as well for them. (The caveat to this is that it only takes a few generations of careful culling to transition a rabbit from the desired growth rates on fodder. So the question is how long you’re willing to wait!)
4. Where will they be Housed? Similar to the advice on feed, consider whether the rabbits will have a similar environment to what they have been used to when they come to your home. Our rabbits are outdoors 100% of the time – and they don’t all transition with excellence to an indoor garage rabbitry! On the other hand, we’ve purchased rabbits coming from a garage rabbitry and there’s been a significant adjustment season for them to enjoy life in their new outdoor space with a view!
On the same lines, consider temperatures. A rabbit used to Phoenix temperatures will likely not fare very well in, say, Minnesota if it goes to it’s new home in January! Try to either purchase your stock from a rabbitry in a similar climate to your own or in a “shoulder season” so the rabbit has time to transition to the new season with as little stress as possible.
5. What breed? Do you want a 13+ lbs Flemish Giant rabbit? Is a mini Satin going to be just the right fit on your lap for a snuggle? When you look at your rabbitry, which rabbit is going to take your breath away just by looking at it? Start browsing photos of the different rabbit breeds. Educate yourself on the pros and cons of each breed – they all have both!
Ask yourself again what your goals are for your rabbitry, and what gives you joy. There is a great deal of poop cleaning, water bottle scrubbing, consistent feeding, etc. necessary to care for your rabbit – so whatever you do, get a breed you enjoy watching move! Learn about their personalities and make an educated decision. Genuine pleasure in being around the animal makes the endless hours of husbandry less daunting.
6. What breeder? Do you want a simple transactional purchase of livestock? Do you want to develop a relationship with a breeder? Do you want someone you can contact months after the sale and ask questions about raising your animals? What is the breeder’s philosophy about rabbit raising? Take your time in selecting a breeder.
Some people will be attractive to you right off the bat and you just know they’re the right fit for your first rabbit purchase. Others are the exact opposite and you’ll know you don’t want to work with them right away. Occasionally you’ll work with someone you don’t particularly like because you’re terribly interested in their specific stock!
Challenge yourself to think through some of these questions as you start your search so that you’ll recognize a good fit for a breeder quickly.
Relax! Regardless of anything else, relax! It’s a rabbit! We’re over the top crazy about these little critters, but they still are just that… critters! There is not a thing in this hobby/lifestyle that can’t be adjusted or fixed, so try not to freak yourself out with all the options. Just relax, have fun, and be intentional about your rabbitry!