Category Archives: Pet 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!

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!

 

 

 

 

 

Researching Raising Rabbits

More and more we are contacted by people who are interested in beginning their rabbit raising adventures! This is a huge kick for us, as we have found raising rabbits to be affordable, entertaining, and nutritious!

 

There are a few basic resources we recommend to anyone getting started in rabbits; ways to research the breeds and learn best practices from those who have been there, done that. Here are our favorites:

 

This is a first stop resource for beginning rabbit breeders.

This is a first stop resource for beginning rabbit breeders.

Read Storey’s Guide to Raising Rabbits by Bob Bennett from cover to cover. This is a great resource! We found our copy at CalRanch but it’s also available on Amazon. His perspective helped us decide what design to use for our rabbit hutches, and gave us practical information on basic rabbit husbandry items. While it doesn’t go into great detail about every single aspect of rabbits, it does provide plenty of information to get you started well and understand what you’re doing and how to purchase your initial stock.

 

A subscription to the Domestic Rabbits magazine comes with your ARBA membership.

A subscription to the Domestic Rabbits magazine comes with your ARBA membership.

Join ARBA (the American Rabbit Breeders Association). Not only will being a member of ARBA give you access to their publication, Raising Better Rabbits and Cavies, you will also receive the Domestic Rabbit magazine! Every issue provides articles, district reports, veterinarian tips, and listings of individual rabbit raisers who are setting the bar high. This is a great resource for finding breeders who are showing, registering, and granding their rabbits – find the people who are serious about their rabbitry and you’ll find people who will help you get started well. The articles are top notch and relevant.

 

The ARBA Standard of Perfection gives the details of each breed.

The ARBA Standard of Perfection gives the details of each breed.

Purchase the Standard of Perfection. This is an ARBA publication that is invaluable to the new breeder. The SOP has vocabulary and definitions of different rabbit body parts, diseases, breeds, etc. Each recognized breed is listed in the SOP along with the expectations for weights and how the rabbit should look. If you want to raise rabbits that promote the breed well – and be reputable, you need to know what’s in the Standard of Perfection.

 

Rabbit Production is a comprehensive manual and excellent resource.

Rabbit Production is a comprehensive manual and excellent resource.

Consider Rabbit Production. Once you’ve fallen in love with rabbit breeding and you’re looking for a much more detailed explanation of best practices, diseases, etc., you will want to spring for Rabbit Production. This comprehensive guide is amazing in its scope! It’s a true asset to have in your library, although it does run on the pricier side.

 

Domestic Rabbits and Their Histories can give you great insight into the work needed to establish rabbit breeds.

Domestic Rabbits and Their Histories can give you great insight into the work needed to establish rabbit breeds.

Learn the History. Each of the breeds recognized by ARBA has a long and interesting history. While you might be most interested in your specific breed, it’s still interesting to learn the stories of how breeds came to be. The book, Domestic Rabbits and Their Histories by Bob Whitman is a beautiful book with really interesting stories. While it may not be on your “urgent” purchases, it’s definitely worth the read as you become more knowledgable about rabbits in general.

A Closed Rabbitry and Caveat Emptor

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Every struggle has two sides…

I recently read a discussion where a person wanting to purchase rabbits was very frustrated that the breeders they contacted had a “closed rabbitry” policy and wouldn’t allow visitors. I found it really interesting for a few reasons, one of which is that we also practice a policy of a closed rabbitry!

 

In our case we have several reasons we believe a closed rabbitry is best practice:

 

1. Babies. When we have new litters on a regular basis, we do our best to make sure our mamas have as little as possible to make them nervous. Unfamiliar voices and noises equal stress to a mama protecting her babies.

 

2. Disease. We know horror stories of people coming into a rabbitry and inadvertently introducing disease because they happened to be carrying a germ on their clothing or shoes.

3. Theft. More than one person has had their animals stolen shortly after they’ve been kind enough to give a guided tour of their facility.

4. Activists. We’ve received hate mail from people telling us we’ll burn in hell for having rabbits we raise for meat (although I believe our hell-bound status – or lack thereof – has much more to do with a personal relationship with Jesus Christ than our desire to eat healthy meat and participate fully in the food chain!). I’d rather not offer an open invitation to those who might not have our best interests at heart.

5. Privacy. In a blunt and non-friendly way (which kind of makes me cringe except it’s true), it’s really no one’s business to visit our home without an explicit invitation.

 

Additionally, recent stories of murders that can be traced to sales meetings off of Craigslist have also given us a reason to pause about meeting people for rabbit sales. We’re not to the spot where we will only sell at shows… but we’re also not far off. Rabbits are just not worth putting our lives in danger!

 

That being said, I do understand a potential buyers’ desire to see how other people have their rabbitry set up. Visiting other set ups can absolutely be an educational experience for a rabbit breeder. It’s interesting! Additionally, a site visit helps a prospective buyer know if there’s sickness in the Rabbitry. (In the past I visited a place that was filthy and had lots of sneezes. It made an impression!)

 

I think it’s reasonable for a buyer to be cautious and not want to get stuck with sick stock. However, buying any stock from anyone is always a risk, even for the simple reason that your husbandry style differs from someone else’s! There is a reason rabbits are at the bottom of the food chain – they’re intended to be a building block and provide sustenance for others. They aren’t the hardiest of all creatures and even under absolutely perfect conditions you occasionally have a rabbit die. (I have a veterinarian friend who says rabbits are frequently riddled with cancer…)

 

So what to do with this conundrum?

 

We firmly believe that it’s best for our rabbits — and by extension our buyers — to keep a closed rabbitry policy. But here are a few ideas for those new buyers who are wanting to also protect their investment:

 

  • Check the Sales Policy. Study a rabbitry’s Sales Policy and under what circumstances they’ll replace a rabbit. This gives you an assurance of replacement or refund and reasonable expectations. If a rabbitry doesn’t have a sales policy posted, don’t be shy about asking what kind of guarantees go with the animal you purchase.
  • Ask around. Attend shows and watch how people interact with your seller. See if you can talk to people who have been customers of the rabbitry in the past.
  • Utilize social media! Join Facebook groups that are relevant to your breed and do a search for the breed, rabbitry name, or the owner’s name. You’ll likely be able to find out a lot about who is considered knowledgable about the breed in that group, how they raise their rabbits, and any issues they’ve had that will help inform your decision about whether you want to do business with them.  There is a facebook group called FBI – Rabbit FeedBack and Inquiry that is similar to an Angie’s List. (Remember, not everything you read on the internet is true… so try to see several sources before you make a firm decision.)
  • Accept the risk. In anything you do you’re going to have a risk. Make sure you aren’t spending so much on a rabbit that the risk is unacceptable to you!
  • Relax. Remember… it’s a rabbit. At the end of the day, it’s still a rabbit. A rabbit is a wonderful thing… but it’s a rabbit. Relax a little!

 

What tips do you have for finding a reputable breeder? What do you think about the closed rabbitry policy?

5 Ways to Improve Your Breeding Program in 2015

Such good advice I couldn’t help but share!

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Each new year is a chance to make changes to your breeding program. How can you strengthen your herd for the coming year? How you can you meet the goals you’ve set for yourself?

1. Take inventory.

Be honest with yourself. How many does with tight crowns do you really need? How many bucks with rockin’ bodies but light bone do you have room to keep? Organize your herd on paper and make cuts where you can. It will save you both space and money in the long run, and the overall quality of your rabbits will increase in the coming year.

2. Refocus.

Cut down to a manageable number of breeds and color projects. Be realistic with yourself. If you have 20 holes and four incompatible color projects, it’s going to be very difficult to juggle those programs at the same time. Choose one or two breeds or colors to focus…

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On the Minutiae of Record Keeping

The piles reproduce like bunnies!

The piles reproduce like bunnies!

It’s a new year! Happy day!

 

Today I went through our rabbitry notes and switched everything over so the year is ready to begin again. It’s both a liberating and confusing feeling – what do I need to keep and what can be send to that circular file system called the trash can?!

 

 

I’m a little neurotic (one computer crash too many as un undergrad trying to turn in final projects) and I keep both electronic and paper records. For our electronic record keeping we use Kintraks. Since we are a Mac family this has been the best option for us.

 

I also have a 3-ring binder of rabbitry records. Each rabbit we have on site has a photo, pedigree, sales receipts, any legs they’ve earned, Registration and/or Grand Champion certificates in a plastic page protector. I use this to record matings and outcomes, tendencies, worming, and anything else that seems relevant. This is also where I have the exhaustive list of weights, treatments, etc. so I can see the longitudinal outcomes of specific pairings of rabbits.

 

These two systems essentially contain the same information and it does require me to do extra work, but I have a lot of confidence in having a copy. (One friend was on their way to a rabbit show when they had a major car issue and their vehicle caught fire! They were able to rescue the animals and grab the pedigree book but… the idea of losing all of that in a disaster was enough to make me want a back up of EVERYTHING!) Another side effect of writing everything down twice is that it aids my memory. I can recreate most pedigrees from memory just from having messed with them so much.

 

The negative? We generate a lot of pieces of paper each year. And what to do with all that paper at the end of the calendar year? I figured I may not be the only person who has run into this conundrum, so here you go, what we keep, what we pitch, and how we decide which is which:

 

Physical Records of Rabbits Gone By. I keep the photo ID page, pedigree, certificates, legs, etc. of any rabbit we’ve named. Whether the rabbit has been sent to freezer camp, sold, passed, it doesn’t matter. We keep the records. So far we haven’t had to use the paper copy for research but it’s a comfort to have the notes on the rabbit if something comes up.

Breeding Calendars. I’ve written in the past about using a breeding calendar for our rabbits. Eventually I will find the hours needed to go back through our breedings and results and meticulously compare that to the moon phases to figure out exactly how accurate the breeding calendar is in our rabbitry. Until that magical time slot appears, however, I just keep the calendars!

Catch-All Calendars. We have a paper copy of calendars we use to record when does are due, nestboxes needed, when we’ve used BunnyVac or wormed, when our rabbit club memberships are due, when shows will be held… all of that stuff! I keep these records, too, as sometimes it’s nice to be able to look at a receipt and go back and know it’s from the show we went to eight months ago.

 

Everything else, we scrap. That’s actually not too much else, but at least I’m not hoarding all sorts of miscellaneous bits of paper. (I’m ashamed to admit when we switched food I kept track of the lot numbers of each bag of food so that if there was a problem with it I would know which bag was the problem! Geesh!)

 

What do you keep track of from year to year in your rabbitry?

Rabbit Pots and Bunny Berries

The display of our bunny berries at the craft fair.

The display of our bunny berries at the craft fair.

We have been stretching all of our boundaries lately.

 

Earlier this year we invested in a cubit press from the Urban Rabbit Project to make Rabbit Pots.  (For the unfamiliar, Rabbit Pots are cubes of compressed bunny berries (rabbit poop). These are excellent starters for seed sprouts, or can be crumbled over houseplants as a fertilizers. The cubit press can also be used to create fire starters and compressed fodder cubes.)

 

We have friends who are going through the adoption process and asked us if we could participate in their fundraising efforts by offering something to sell in a local craft fair. We were absolutely in favor of supporting them but yours truly doesn’t rank high on the “crafty” scale.

 

But we do have poop.

 

So, our family put our heads together and put together an assembly line packing moistened, aged bunny berries in Dixie cups and squeezing it into cubes. (Best case scenario will allow the poop to air dry thoroughly before packaging, although a dehydrator is also a good option.) Then we primped and packed our offerings to try to “gussy them up.”

 

The results:

Rabbit Pots

The Rabbit Pots we made are about three inches square. They’re a little delicate.

Bunny Berries

Dixie cups with compacted Berries make this a good option as a seed starter.

 

 

To be frank, the feedback we received is that the Bunny Berries were the talk of the craft show and people thought it was very clever but the sales were slow, as most of the craft show clientele (it was hosted in a retirement community) were more in the market for crocheted pot holders and scarves than manure… go figure!

 

The general take away is this is a good idea, but better marketed in Farmer’s Markets or at local plant nurseries. Either way, we’re glad to add this to our arsenal of ways to make rabbit relevant to every day life!