The Basic Care of Rabbits
There are over forty-five different breeds of rabbits, of which forty-five are presently accepted by A.R.B.A (American Rabbit Breeders Association) A.R.B.A. puts out a book titled "The Standard of Perfection". A description of every breed accepted can be found in this book. This same book is used by judges when your rabbit is being evaluated at a show. Anyone who is going to breed rabbits should have a copy of this book in their home library.
Before deciding on a particular breed of rabbit, figure out what you are going to do with them. Do you want it for a pet? To put meat on the table? To show? Rabbits come in various sizes, colors, and fur types. The smallest mature rabbits range from 2-4 lbs. A medium size breed can range from 5 ½ to 9 lbs. and large breeds can weigh 10-12 lbs.. There are also giant breeds of rabbits that weigh 16-20 lbs.. The rabbit should fit your environment. If you have limited space or if the owner is to be a young child, you might want to go with the smaller breed. Breeds I would suggest for a young child are Dutch, Holland-Lop or Mini-Lop, but the choice is ultimately yours.
Rabbits have their own personality. In my experience, most rabbits are good natured. I have come across a few with aggressive personalities and this can happen in any breed. Whatever breed you choose try to deal with a reputable breeder (one who has been in it a while, and will still be there tomorrow).
TYPES OF RABBITS
Some breeds of rabbits are better suited for meat production. Examples of these are NewZealand, Californian, and Satins. There are rabbits bred for wool production such as Angora rabbits, French,English,German & Satin . Also, there are rabbits raised for fur like Satins, Rex (Mini and Standard size), and NewZealands. Lastly, you have your fancy breeds of rabbits. Some breeders raise these for show or pets. A few examples of these are Netherland Dwarfs, Holland Lops, and Jersey Woolys.
The more rabbits you have, the more space you’ll need. Leave yourself room to expand if you plan to breed a lot of rabbits. The most important rule to remember is ONE CAGE FOR EACH RABBIT. A good size cage for a small rabbit is 24"x30"x15". This will give you enough room if it is a doe to raise a litter in the future. If you are planning to have one small rabbit (pet), it could live in a cage 24"x24"x15". Larger rabbits would require a cage 36"x24"x18". All wire cages are best. They are easy to clean, allow a good view of the rabbit for quick visual checks.
Rabbits need protection from drafts, inclement weather and predators. All wire cages are easy to hang in a preexisting barn or shed, or you can build a roof on legs with solid sides. Rabbits can take cold weather better than hot weather, but they cannot take drafts. They are susceptible to heat stroke and can die in a matter of minutes. When a rabbit is in heat-stress, time is of the essence.
Try to feed and water your rabbit at the same time every day. The most important part of a rabbit’s diet is WATER. If they do not have water, they will not eat. All the nutrition a rabbit needs is incorporated in today’s nutritionally balanced pelleted rabbit feed. Some feeds are better than others. You do not have to buy the most expensive feed, but don’t be "penny wise and dollar foolish". Some of the cheaper feeds are not worth the loss . Read labels. Cheaper feeds tend to change their ingredients more often. Rabbits can be fussy eaters sometimes and will refuse to eat certain feeds. If a feed is working for a breeder, try to stick with it.
A rabbit needs only water, pellets and hay. Grass hay is best and less expensive. Hay is important because it adds roughage [long-fiber] to the diet and keeps the digestive tract in good working order. I try to feed hay to my rabbits every other day, but twice a week is sufficient. The best way to feed hay to a rabbit is by hay-rack attached to the rabbit’s cage. Hay thrown on the floor of the cage can become soiled and a source of disease. Rabbits also use hay for nesting material.
A good quality feed pellet, hay, and water is a must. I use 18% rabbit feed pellets as it works well for me. Water is VERY important. Without water, they will not eat. If they do not eat, they will not grow, breed, or raise quality litters. Try to feed and water at the same time every day. (Hay is important because rabbits need long-fiber in their diet to keep their intestinal tract healthy and working properly. Do not give rabbits younger than five months any greens; carrots, apples, bananas, etc. because it can cause diarrhea which is usually fatal in baby rabbits. Satins will do well on 3/4 cup of feed per day. In the winter I feed about a cup for bucks. Does with litters should have food in front of them at all times. (full feed) because they are making heat to keep warm and making milk to feed their babies. Young bucks and does are fed 1 to 1&1/2 cups to afford proper growth and warmth. All of your rabbits should be treated as individuals. Some will require a little more food and some a little less. Only you as the manager of your rabbitry can know who should get more and who should get less food. In winter I feed my rabbits 18% pellets and black oil sunflower seeds, not the ones with stripes. The black oils will help the satin sheen of the coat and also help to make heat. Be careful not to give too many sunflower seeds in the summer. That is one time you don't want your Rabbits to hold too much heat. Another good thing to feed your rabbits is rolled oats, uncooked! That will give them flesh, but not fat. They can also be used to get any rabbit that's gone off feed to start eating again. Another thing to try is racehorse oats with molasses, [Sweet-Feed] Use them sparingly. They will also help with the sheen. When adding things to your feed watch your rabbits carefully. You don't want them to get too fat and you don't want them to go into molt. (shedding their coat) Remember to keep everything in moderation. When used properly, these additives can help. Remember to pay close attention to your rabbits. Go to this link: Crystal Creek Rabbitry For more GREAT feeding information from another reputable Breeder:
A nestbox can be made of wood, wire, or metal. I prefer to use a wooden one in winter. The box should not be too large or the doe may use it as a toilet area. Make the box about 2" longer and 2" wider than the doe. The doe will put hay and fur (which she pulls from her body) in the nestbox to keep the kits (baby rabbits) warm. If you think the doe is pregnant, try throwing a handful of hay on the floor of the cage on the 28th day after mating. Usually, she will gather it up in her mouth and start making a nest somewhere in the cage. If your rabbit doesn’t gather the hay up , she still could be pregnant. Put a nestbox in the cage with some hay in it. Some rabbits will wait till the last moment to build a nest. Rabbits kindle (give birth) usually from 28 to 32 days after breeding.
When you are ready to breed your rabbits, ALWAYS TAKE THE DOE TO THE BUCK’S CAGE. Never try it the other way around. Don’t look away or blink your eyes. It all takes place very quickly. Write the date down on a calendar and count 28 days from that date. That will be the date you put the nestbox in with the doe. After a successful breeding the buck will usually fall over sideways or backward. He may squeal or he may not. After breeding takes place bring the doe back to her cage. You may want to increase her feed in a few weeks, but not too much or she might become over-fat. A fat doe will have trouble kindling (giving birth). After she kindles, don’t be alarmed if she does not stay with her babies. Rabbits only feed their young once a day for about 5 minutes or less, usually in the morning or late evening. To check the babies, take out the box, and look at them. Their bellies should be round like little ping-pong balls if they have been fed. If your doe is a little aggressive when she is with her litter, don’t be alarmed. She is just protecting her young. Be cautious when you remove the nest box. Your rabbit should get to know you and realize you will not hurt her babies. Talk to her in a soft, low voice, tempt her with her favorite treats. Try to take her mind off of what you are doing. When a rabbit is constantly aggressive there is no place for them in your barn. Aggressive behavior can be genetic.
When starting any rabbit venture , start small. Don’t rush in and buy a lot of rabbits right away. Start with a trio; two does and one buck or maybe two pairs, preferably young stock. They will grow as your knowledge does and you can get acquainted with their idiosyncrasies. Give yourself a chance to find out if you really want to raise rabbits without going into a lot of expense. Cages, feeders, water bottles, rabbits, and food all cost money. If you find out that rabbit breeding is your cup of tea, you can always expand. Rabbits must be fed and watered every day. This includes holidays. Be prepared to spend time getting to know your rabbits. Each day as you feed and water , be observant for changes in behavior. If a rabbit that usually comes to the front of the cage to greet you when you do your chores, is now just sitting in the corner, this could be a sign of something wrong. You must be aware. If you are you can prevent a lot of problems before they start.
Rabbits do not get many diseases. In fact, veterinarians treat them like an exotic pet. Most breeders know more about rabbit diseases and treatment than most veterinarians. If you think your rabbit is sick, get in touch with the breeder. He/She can tell you what is wrong in most cases, and how it can be treated.
The two most prevalent diseases in rabbits are: Mucoid Enteropathy, Scours, Coccidiosis… They cause diarrhea and dehydration. The rabbits won’t eat like they should. This can affect rabbits of any age, most commonly seen in four to eight week old bunnies. They die very quickly if affected with this and not treated.
Snuffles is a virus that lies dormant in many rabbit’s systems. It can be brought out by stress… aka, a change in the weather, kindling, going to rabbit shows … Snuffles is highly contagious. It is contracted through the air, contaminated water bowls, or by the caretaker who can carry the germs. This disease will not affect humans. You must be sure to disinfect the cage, water bowls, and feeders. Be sure to wash you hands and change your clothes before handling any other rabbits in your herd.
Snuffles manifests itself by a pure milky white discharge from the nose., matted fur on the front paws from the bunny wiping it’s nose, and runny eyes, Abscesses or sore-hocks.
THERE IS NO CURE FOR SNUFFLES.
The best treatment is to euthanize the animal to try and keep the rest of the herd from being infected.
The best advice I can give you in raising rabbits is to learn a lot and have fun!
Some good books to read about rabbits are:
"A Kids’ Guide To Raising and Showing Rabbits" by Nancy Searle
"Raising Rabbits the Modern Way" by Bob Bennet
"Rabbit Production" by Cheeke, Patton, Lukefahr, and McNitt.