Category Archives: Meat Rabbits

Checklist for Starting a Rabbit Project

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What do you need to start a 4H rabbit project?

We have just finished the county fair around here and are proud to announce that one of the kid’s mini satins was awarded Reserve in Show and our oldest was given the Champion rabbit showmanship award for her division. Good times!

 

 

Of course, being around all of those awesome 4H kids and their different projects, plus learning more about the livestock auction and its ins an outs has encouraged our kids to start working toward starting a goat (!) project! Eek! Our first step has been to start the research and as we’ve tried to gather information about goats, I’ve realized that other people might feel the same about how to start a rabbit project, so a post on how to get into rabbits might be helpful to you all!

 

So, here are a few things you might want to consider if you’re beginning a rabbit project:

 

  1. Finances. One thing I really appreciate about the 4H member record is that it forces the child to lay out a budget for their project. Things you should consider as you’re starting a rabbit project are: Stock, Food, Housing, and Tools.
  2. Purpose. What type of project do you want to purse? A market/meat project? Doe and litter? Showmanship? Each of these categories might require a different set up so begin with the end in mind for your success.

Here are our thoughts and best practices regarding these items:

Stock: The initial investment of stock is a big deal and many parents don’t have a clue as to where to begin to help their children! Consider the purpose of the project – if you want to do a meat pen, take a look at the breeds of commercial typed rabbits and then ask your fair what breeds of rabbit have been recognized for excellence in your area previously. If you want a doe and litter, look to a breed known for their mothering abilities. If you want a showmanship rabbit, look for breeds with a reputation for being easy to handle. Make sure that you have a copy of the American Rabbit Breeder’s Association Standard of Perfection, which is the book with the identifying characteristics of each breed. This $20 investment will save you hundreds if you allow it to teach what you’re looking for in choosing your animals and how to steer clear of disqualifications.

After identifying your purpose, start looking for places to acquire the animal(s). My recommendation is to start with the ARBA website breeder listing. This is broken down by breed and location. Ask for recommendations from those breeders. Take a look at the ARBA National Convention results. Check out the breed webpage for their top breeders. Look in the Domestic Rabbit to see which breeders have rabbits being given Grand Champion status. These are ways to figure out how you can get good advice and counsel from those who are serious about rabbit raising. (Also realize that those folks who have 30+ years of rabbit raising experience probably don’t have a webpage or Facebook farm page, so go to a rabbit show and ask people who to sit with to learn more – you’ll be shocked at how many people who truly love rabbits are truly looking to pass their knowledge on!)

Food: Each region of the country has different food offerings, so ask around. Your local feed store will be able to tell you what their best selling feed is, and if you do an internet search for food recommendations you’ll get many results. Recognize that people have really passionate about their food and many breeders blame their feed for all of their problems!

Regardless of whether you choose pellets or natural, or one brand over another, just know that your rabbit is going to have to eat! Every feed has pros and cons. Just feed your rabbit. (As an aside – seriously. Feed your rabbit. At our fair I wanted to cry over how many rabbits showed that they hadn’t been fed regularly or enough. FEED YOUR RABBIT EVERY DAY. Period.)

Feed costs will vary over the year based on what breed of rabbit you have and how much the pellets cost (a meat rabbit will eat approximately 200 lbs of pellets in a year if they’re being feed 8 oz./day). You’ll get a better price on a larger bag of feed, but make sure you’re not feeding your rabbit old feed about 3 weeks old is the longest you’ll want to keep feed for your rabbit. Fresh feed = healthy rabbits.

Housing: We follow the guidelines from ARBA and a book, Storey’s Guide to Raising Rabbits by Bob Bennet in our housing choices. We have chosen to purchase our cages from KW Cages and Klubertanz and find both cages to be of excellent quality. Putting your rabbit in a cage with rusted wire or uneven angles will hurt their feet and make their life harder. Food and water can depend on the preference of your rabbit as well as your area. For years we’ve used stainless steel crock water dishes in the winter when it’s freezing and water bottles for the summer time – but there’s not a right or a wrong to this.

Consider what you will do with your rabbit waste. Are your cages going to have pans for the droppings? If so, budget for bedding to cut down on the odors and ammonia from the urine that can hurt your rabbit’s nose. Are your droppings going to go to the ground? If so, do you have access to a shovel and wheelbarrow? Do you have a compost pile? Do you have a garden where you can put the bunny berries?

Are you raising a doe and litter project? If so you’ll need a nestbox. You can use a variety of items for your nestbox – we’ve found we prefer this style ourselves because we can clean them reliably, they are able to withstand consistent use, and they’re secure for the kits.

Tools: Livestock require tools for handling and rabbits are no exception. You’ll want to have access to a tattoo tool, whether a pen or clamp. (We use a KBTatts tattooer and love it. We also have a rabbit wrap that is extremely helpful when tattooing.) For grooming you’ll need to have nail clippers and possibly Kevlar sleeves to protect your arms from scratches. An apron or a pair of overalls can protect your midsection from scratches and your clothes from rabbit toenail snags and rips. If you have a wooled breed of rabbit you need a grooming comb.

When you take your rabbit to a show or fair, you need to have a safe way for them to travel. We use these 3 compartment, 3 lid travel carriers and we love them because they have individual openings for each hole.

Our tool box is very low on the medicines for your rabbit because we have chosen to simply do our best to breed healthy rabbits. We don’t use antibiotics. However, we do have some olive oil for the occasional time a rabbit gets ear mites and Diamataceous Earth to sprinkle over the droppings and in the fur of our rabbits. We keep a bottle of lavendar/tea tree essential oil and tin of Bag Balm around for our own scratches! (We also put bag balm on the rabbits ear after tattooing.)

 

I’ve tried to put together a pretty exhaustive list here, but I’d love to hear in the comments if you’d recommend anything additional. Starting a rabbit project is easy – rabbits are quiet, pretty clean, a lower monetary investment, and pretty cheap to keep. We’d recommend them!

Now… who can help us with the goats?! Ha!

Extended Labor in Rabbits

We blew it. Except we didn’t know we were blowing it.

 

Here’s the story – we put the nestbox in with our doe. We waited. She pulled fur and had one baby. All evidence pointed to the fact that this was a singleton litter and our temperatures are still below freezing many nights, so we fostered the little loner in with another litter to better its odds of survival, then removed the nestbox from mama.

 

And walked out the next morning to six more babies on the wire of mama’s cage, frozen solid.

 

What the….?!

 

All of our rabbit husbandry experience has taught us that rabbits give birth within a span of about 15 minutes. But in this case, I can say absolutely without question, that there was at least a 36 hour break between that first little bunny being born and the other six!

 

I don’t know how often this is, and without having personally experienced it we would have pooh-poohed the possibility of rabbits giving birth at different spaces. However, it does make me wonder about the few times we have counted babies, then a week later discovered our count was wrong and there is another baby in the box. Did the mama have another while we weren’t looking?

 

The only explanation I can figure for this behavior is if both of the uterine horns were impregnated. Since we occasionally leave our rabbits in with the bucks overnight (in the winter they typically don’t want to breed immediately so we’ve found making them roommates for a time works better) perhaps the doe was impregnated in different uterine horns, hours apart, and that caused a different delivery schedule?

 

Who knows, but I was shocked enough I felt it was worth noting on the blog that it can happen.

 

And we’re so bummed about the babies who didn’t make it because we blew it.

Arizona State Convention 2017 Show Report

One of the door prizes handed out at the banquet. It's missing it's movie theater gift card in this pic!

One of the door prizes handed out at the banquet. An Arizona coffee mug, theater candy, and a movie gift card. (It’s missing it’s movie theater gift card in this pic!)

Last weekend we attended Arizona State Convention. The state convention is a wonderful time to meet new breeders, see friends, and compete against a wider pool of exhibitors. Many breeders who aren’t able to attend shows regularly will attend the state show, which is a wonderful treat.

 

We took a full carload of rabbits in six breeds: Cinnamon, Champagne d’Argent, Blanc de Hotot, Silver Fox, New Zealand and mini satin. Many bunnies. Much fur. My body is still telling me we were busy shifting those carriers around! A carton of approximately 30 lbs. is not so bad when you first move it… but when you move it over and over… yikes! Oh my achin’ bones!

 

It’s really exciting to report that we came home with a Best of Breed or Best Opposite of Breed in all the ones that we took except mini satin. (We only took one mini satin and he just couldn’t compete against the animals there. Arizona has some phenomenal animals! But we listened, took notes, and know where to work for the future!) What an encouragement that we’re doing something right!

 

I think that encouragement is pretty huge. It’s very, very easy to get consumed with the hard things of raising rabbits – the litters that don’t work out, the poop that needs to be scooped, the grumpy intermediates who scratch you and make your hands look like they’ve been through a blender… there are plenty of things about rabbit raising that aren’t at the top of the “fun” list! For us, while receiving the recognition of having a top animal is great, I’ve learned that listening carefully to the judges will help encourage me about the strongest attributes of even our worst rabbits! Encouragement is awesome!

 

The thing is, very few rabbits have nothing to commend them. If may be that this rabbit has a great head or strong shoulder or wider hindquarters. Maybe they don’t compete with the top animal, but there is always some thing encouraging to work with in the future if you’re able to see them all lined up together on a judging table. Even if it’s just validation that the rabbit I think it pretty awful is actually awful, going to a show is a great encouragement!

 

I also really can’t talk up the folks who put on the Arizona State Convention enough. They know what they’re doing and they’re kind. There’s always a bit of drama (people being people) but the show committee isn’t the start of it or spreading it. Whether it’s addressing difficult decisions or making sure the judges are able to maintain a constant flow of rabbits on their table, these people are amazing. If you’re looking for a great show to add to your routine, consider Arizona!

ARBA Nationals 2016 Show Report

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Sunset in Del Mar

We are back from Nationals and ready to give a report of the fun and excitement!

 

First and foremost, we had a wonderful time. The national show is really something. You look out along rows and rows of beautiful animals and can’t help but feel connected to other breeders. There was a sign posted on the outside of the building that said, “For five days you don’t have to explain to anyone why you show rabbits” and it’s true. You’re there with a whole bunch of other people who love this quirky hobby and it’s… community. It’s great!

 

We were able to drive this year, which was wonderful. We did not anticipate the traffic getting into Del Mar and were running a little late. So, first lesson learned – don’t push it when it comes to timing! Whoops! I could have saved myself a few grey hairs and sweaty armpits by adding extra time into our schedule!

 

Unloading the rabbits took some time because there were three buildings, Open, Youth, and Exhibition. We had rabbits in each building. Isaiah’s fitbit said we walked 10+ miles on Saturday getting everyone checked in! Whew!

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We got a few extra passengers on the cart after the rabbits were unloaded!

One all the cage risers were in, food and water cups filled, labels attached, we were good to go for the night and man, were we tired. We found a yummy seafood place for dinner, then collapsed at our hotel room.

 

The show committee had placed a schedule with approximate times and tables for breed judging on the doors of the barns, so we had a vague idea of when our breeds would show. The reality of the schedule, however, is that some breeds will move quicker than anticipated and others take longer, so everything is just a general suggestion.

Our preliminary Show Schedule

Our preliminary Show Schedule

As it turned out, all of our breeds showed on day one with one exception! So we had a very, very long day (and actually completely missed the Silver Fox showing) on Sunday and an easy day on Monday. Still it was wonderful to talk with other breeders as we waited for the judge to look over rabbits, and wander the aisles of coops to admire breeds!

 

We were thrilled to see our daughter’s Cinnamon win Best Opposite Sex of Breed in the Youth show!

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Mad Hatter’s Politico wins Best Opposite of Breed, Cinnamon Youth.

Sunday night we went to Fletcher’s Cove for dinner and enjoyed the most amazing sunset. The kids played in the ocean and we relaxed and let the salt water soothe our aching feet.

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Playing in the waves at sunset at Fletcher’s Cove will be one of our favorite memories!

 

On Tuesday night we went down to Seaport Village. The girls were thrilled to discover Frost Me Gourmet Cupcakes because, well, theres a Food Network/Cupcake Wars obsession in our house!

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Frost Me from Food Network’s Cupcake Wars at Seaport Village.

Overall I can’t say enjoy good about the National Show. Next year is Indianapolis, so I’m not sure how that will work out (although both Isaiah and I went to college in Indiana and a campus visit for old times sake wouldn’t be the end of the world to either of us… hm…) but we are going to prioritize the National show as much as possible!

Now, back to the breeding drawing board for next year’s entry!

 

Our show report from 2016 ARBA National Convention:

Cinnamon:

Best Opposite of Breed, Youth, Mad Hatter’s Politico

3rd Senior Buck, Open,Mad Hatter’s Impudence

Blanc de Hotot:

1st Senior Buck, Open,Mad Hatter’s King Fergus

Silver Fox:

1st Senior Doe, Open,Mad Hatter’s Ovation

1st Intermediate Doe, Youth,Mad Hatter’s Idryl Celebrindil

2nd Senior Buck,Mad Hatter’s Samwise Gamgee

Mini Satin:

Best of Variety, Youth,Mad Hatter’s Lucky

 

Dress Out Rates

Keeping track of your live weights, dead weights, and calculating percentages will help you know if you're on the right track for breeding.

Keeping track of your live weights, dead weights, and calculating percentages will help you know if you’re on the right track for breeding.

Caution: be aware this post discusses processing rabbits. If this is disturbing to you, please scroll on by without comment.

 

Our initial purpose for breeding rabbits was to create a sustainable food source for our family. In our state, it is completely legal to raise rabbits for your own consumption, although you may not sell them to others for anything except animal consumption. Our desire to have this all-natural meat option factored into which breeds we selected for our rabbitry, as well as what breedings we pursue as we continue moving forward.

 

As meat breeders, having a strong dress out percentage from our rabbits is incredibly important. This is where we are rewarded for the days we care for animals in harsh weather, the multiple times a day we water every rabbit by hand, etc. If you don’t actually get a return for your investment of time and energy… what is the point?!

 

Our goal for all of our rabbits is a minimum of 50% dress out rate. The dressout percentage is the percent of the live animal that ends up as carcass. Generally, the carcass weight is taken immediately after skinning and evisceration and is commonly known as the hot hanging weight. (Evisceration is the removal of viscera (internal organs, especially those in the abdominal cavity). This can refer to: Disembowelment, removal of the internal organs of an animal.) Other people may refer to this as the bone-in weight.

 

We have some breeds that will just barely clear 50% dress out and others that are closer to 59% Obviously, the higher the dress out percentage the greater return you’ll have on your investment. After that you have to figure in your cost of feed and, if you’re really daring!, the cost of your time management in order to figure out what your actual cost per lbs. of meat is in comparison to what you can get on a little styrofoam platter at the grocery.

 

Here is yet another area where keeping precise records is important! For us this means our records make note of every rabbit ending up in the cull pen is weighed live, weighed dressed out (bone in, kidneys, liver, and heart saved), and the percentage calculation.

 

Now that we’ve been keeping our records for awhile we can start tracking which bucks and does have the strongest results, which breeds are most productive, whether we have higher percentages based on the season, etc. It’s really fascinating if you’re a rabbit nerd (as we are)!

Blame it on the Wind

Someone please tell me they are also hearing Milli Vanilli singing in their brains after reading the post title? Please?! Just in case you missed the joys of being a 90s kid, here you go, in it’s full non-rabbit related splendor:

 

 

 

That’s good stuff, that.

 

Now, about the rabbits. Do you know what? My area has a “red flag warning” issued by the National Weather Service today, regular wind gusts of 40mph-50mph are expected with isolated gusts even higher!

 

Friends, that’s strong enough that our 3 year old could be knocked off his feet.

 

Maybe it’s a sad statement, but my immediate reaction to this news was to think of the rabbits in two major areas:

  1. Protection
  2. Sneezing

 

Protection. Wind is a more threatening weather condition than cold to a rabbit. Rabbits, with their nice warm coats of fur, can be extremely happy in below freezing weather. They thrive in brisk temperatures and breeders in very extreme cold climate report great success with their rabbits. Give them a bunch of hay or a box and they can withstand almost any temperatures (assuming they also have access to non-frozen water).

 

But the wind. Oh the wind.

 

There is something about wind that can take a rabbit’s life in an afternoon. I don’t fully understand it myself but I know it is true because of the experiences of multiple friends in our town. When the rabbits don’t have a wind break they can go fast.

 

Please, give your rabbits a wind break. A wind break that won’t go flying in the gusts! Our location has strong winds all spring and we’ve actually had to put several things in place to shelter the rabbits. One is the tall fence of our yard, another is a structure to block the wind, another is using the natural vegetation to block the wind. In areas that might still get wind we also put corrugated metal sheeting.

 

The tricky part is to block the wind while not removing the potential air flow that is also necessary for your rabbit’s health! Study where your wind typically hits and adjust on that side accordingly!

 

Sneezing. If you’ve been reading this blog for long you’ll know that we have a zero tolerance attitude toward rabbits with respiratory issues. If we suspect something is off we remove them from the herd. We practice quarantine religiously. We are those types of anal retentive people.

 

That being said, we occasionally have rabbits who sneeze. Our first spring having rabbits I heard a sneeze and that rabbit went directly to the cull block … where we found not a single thing awry with it upon autopsy. The second rabbit sneezed…. and we had a repeat, second verse, same as the first.

 

When the third rabbit sneezed my spouse (who tends to be pretty reasonable) said, “The last few days have been the windiest this year so far… and we have a dirt yard… and your own eyes are almost swollen shut with allergies… and I think we need to stop bopping them on the head only to discover they’re totally healthy. Animals sneeze. That’s life… not always a pure indication of illness!”

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And he is right. Completely accurate. We need to be reasonable in our animal raising. If there is crazy wind and something sneezes, it’s absolutely possible they have dust in their nose and are trying to clear the way they’ve been designed to clear dust: by sneezing it out. If a rabbit sneezes after drinking water, it’s absolutely logical that it has water up its nose and it’s using its natural defense structure against drowning correctly: by sneezing it out.

 

It’s absolutely wise to isolate a rabbit that’s sneezing and observe it. If it’s just wind then the sneezing will subside. If the rabbit is unhealthy, it will become evident within a few days. Don’t be hasty.

 

It is right to be vigilant about the health of your herd, but also remember to be reasonable. It’s an Occam’s Razor idea: “Among competing hypothesis, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected” or — in other words — don’t bop the bunny on a windy day!

 

 

 

 

 

Roundup of Rabbit Pedigree Programs

One of the basic needs for a rabbit breeder is the ability to track rabbits genealogy over time. This is one of the first tenets of rabbit raising we picked up from Storey’s Guide to Raising Rabbits. KEEP ACCURATE RECORDS.

 

The problem with this, however, is how you plan to do it. If a rabbit is going to have an accurate pedigree, there are a lot of ways to store the information! This post will serve as a compilation of the rabbit pedigree programs that exist to date (as shown by internet searching. Hopefully it’s accurate, don’t shoot the messenger if something is forgotten!)

 

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Traditional Pedigrees

The traditional way of pedigree record keeping is a handwritten pedigree. These are available from the ARBA store (https://www.arba.net/store/) and include the required three generations, complete with spaces to fill out weight, color, tattoo number, registration and grand champion numbers.

Another option is to use a pedigree template, like this one from The Nature Trail Custom Rabbit Pedigree Design. They will design a template that can be used repeatedly, each time you can type in the rabbit’s information. Pricing: $30 (as of post publication).

 

Database-based Pedigrees

Over time, smart folks have come up with the idea of creating a database pedigree program. Instead of having to write every bit of information in the pedigree, the rabbit’s information is entered into a database. Then, anytime that particular rabbit is selected in a pedigree it will automatically load and the information will populate!

As long as the original information entered is accurate, you have accurate pedigrees from that point forward, easy-peasey. The following are simply listings. We don’t have personal experience with each one of them! (We have used Kintraks for years because we have Mac computers.)

 

For Windows-based computers (PC):

Evan’s Software. Arguably the most popular pedigree software, particularly designed for those using a PC, Massechusetts-based Evan’s is reported to have excellent customer service; their webpage text exhibits a strong sense of humor on the part of the developers. Evan’s offers a service to import existing pedigree information from other databases. Pricing: $69-$89 (as of post publication).

ZooEasy. Designed for those using Windows-based computers, ZooEasy allows you to report pedigree information, medical data, finances, contacts and serves both ARBA members as well as members of the British Rabbit Council. Pricing: $59 (as of post publication).

Breeder’s Assistant. Designed specifically for dog and cat pedigrees using a Windows platform, Breeder’s Assistant can be used for all sorts of animals, including rabbits. The Breeder’s Assistant also included information stating it can import data from the Church of Latter Day Saint’s genealogical database. They offer several different types of pedigree formats, including a circular pedigree. So unique. Pricing: $99 and up (as of post publication).

Easy Rabbit Pedigree Generator. This CD-based software designed for Windows computers may be what you’re looking for if you can get past the gimmicky sales pitch of their website and want a simple, functional pedigree design. Pricing: $17 (as of post publication).

 

PC or Mac computers:

KinTraks. For many years, KinTraks was the only pedigree program available for Mac users – this is why we originally chose it for our rabbitry. Over the years, though, we have appreciated that it was a one-time purchase, the customer support is quick and personal, and the interface is very easy to use. There are a lot of ways to customize the pedigrees as well. Trial version of 100 records offered for free. Pricing: $18 (as of post publication).

Bunny Trails Software. Bunny Trails can run on Windows, Mac, or Linux systems, and was created by rabbit breeders for rabbit breeders. Includes a free app that will work on the iPhone, iPad, or iTouch and offers support for tracking show points and performances (this could be very handy for recording information during the show). Pricing: $59 – $79 (as of post publication).

Global Pedigree Project. The Global Pedigree Project is cloud-based, meaning that if you have an internet connection you can use it, regardless of whether you’re accessing the internet on a Mac or PC. Once a part of the Global Pedigree Project, users can search any rabbit within the database, whether it is in their barn or not. (I have asked my friend with Global Pedigree to double check factual information on rabbits for me – a really handy feature!) The upside? Lots of shared information and the ability to look at what other breeders have uploaded. The downside? It could be really easy for people to falsify their pedigrees using data from other rabbits. The emailed pedigrees are very well designed. Subscription based service. Pricing: $12.50 – $75 (as of post publication).

 

Do you have any pedigree programs to add to this list? What are your personal experiences using them? Leave your response in the comments!