1. Start out small. Research the breeds, find out what you like. Even if you’re an avid breeder, branching out into a new breed, start out small. This keeps costs down for you
as well as the work. If you get into a breed you eventually dislike for whatever reason, you will have less of them to sell back to someone else. I would typically recommend to start out with a trio. A trio is one buck and two does. To play it safer, you may just look for one buck and one doe.
2. Purchase the highest quality rabbit you can find. Keep in mind this may not mean the most expensive priced rabbit out there (but usually is.) This will save you from heartache later. Do your research. When you find a breeder that is honest and sells good bloodlines and rabbits stick with them, because you won’t want to be adding too many lines anyway. Go to a show and see who does the most winning and talk to that exhibitor. You don’t want to get off “cheap” and buy a $10-25 rabbit who is full of genetic flaws and faults and try to breed them out. Bad stock does not produce anything but bad stock. Genetic faults (ie: poor color, teeth, eye, poor bone mass, etc) should all be avoided. In the end, if you purchase good winning stock, and have good babies, you’re more likely to want to stay in the hobby and you’ll be more likely to have fun if you occasionally win with rabbits you have bred. You will find it people will line up to purchase out of your stock, you will have to dedicate a room to your trophies and you may even get top dollar for your bloodlines.
3. Do not expect to make money. Don’t quit your day job. Rabbit raising can be very expensive. It’s really a labor of love. From building a barn (if needed) to make cages, to buying stock, feed, medications, show entries and other supplies, most of us are always in the hole cash wise. Selling our stock help with our bills immensely but in no way do we make any kind of profit from breeding show rabbits.
4. Have immaculate records. Record keeping is very, very important. I keep all of my pedigrees and records as a hard copy in a trapper keeper. I also keep a lot of my records on my laptop. I use Excel to chart my breedings. I also use metal card holders on my cages and index cards, reminding me of each rabbits needs, due dates and baby information so I’m not constantly sexing the babies. Always keep your pedigrees as truthful as you can. Make sure each rabbit has an ear number, senior weight, color and name. These are required down the line if any descendants apply for registration.
People who generally have bad pedigree records, get a bad reputation and are sometimes avoided.
5. Again, keep it small. Cull. If you have limited space to house your rabbits, you will have to make difficult decisions as to what juniors to keep, and what to sell. Only keep the best stock for yourself. If you have to make a decision between keeping the mom, dad or the babies, choose wisely. I always try to get 2-3 babies out of any seniors I own before I make the decision to sell them (if I sell them.) If a rabbit has good body type, but fails in the hindquarters, you may want to keep it and breed it to a mate who has good hindquarters and see what you get. I generally do not keep anything with any severe faults. I don’t keep any rabbits with disqualifying color patterns. If they cannot be shown or registered, they do not have a place in my barn. These types are usually sold as pets only.
6. Clean your barn and cages often. Keep your rabbitry as clean as possible. You do not need to disinfect weekly, but every 6 months to a year is ideal. Or immediately after the death of a rabbit that is suspected of being ill and contagious. Quarantine any rabbits you think are contagious, to keep the disease from spreading. A good, quick way of cleaning your cages are to burn them. But this should be done in a field, outside of the barn and away from any foliage, on a calm day. Do not let cages burn for more then 5 seconds and do not use gasoline to torch it.
If you use trays, empty them every 3 days max. If you let droppings fall to the ground, clean out the barn as needed. Some breeders do this every 6 months or once a year.
Replace any rusty bottom cages with new wire. Rust can cause sore hocks and trap in bacteria. Not to mention eventually the cage may fall apart. Clean any droppings/fur from the bottom of the cages as needed, with a wire brush.
7. Make sure your rabbitry has good ventilation and light. Put windows in your barn, add fans, whatever you need to brighten up the barn and give the rabbits fresh air. Keep them out of direct sunlight and hard blowing wind. It’s kind of a balance. Darkness in the barn, over extended periods of time will lead to fertility issues. Poor ventilation leads to disease and flies.
8. Be honest when you sell your stock to any breeders. It could kill a sale, if you’re standing there trying to sell something to a veteran breeder. If they see the fault and hear your lies, they will not buy from you. I never buy from people who do this. In cases if they would have been honest with me, I might have over looked the fault, but I do not tolerate any lies. Who knows what they could lie about? I always fear that a pedigree might be false or made up. Always be honest, just to avoid any conflicts. Always try to have your pedigrees with you to show the buyer. If you have forgotten the pedigrees, get the buyers address and mail them out immediately, with any registration papers or legs the rabbit may have won.
9. Make friends at the shows. It’s always funner showing with a friend. Share your wins and loses together. Some people even get close enough to split the cost of hotel rooms to some far away shows. They carpool, frequently buy from each other or share each others bucks for breeding. It’s much funner to go to a show with friends then to be alone and isolated.
10. Join ARBA and any local clubs. Volunteer! By joining ARBA you are now able to register rabbits and apply for grand champion certificates (when you win 3 legs on a rabbit.) You also recieve a guide book and a year book for each year you are a member. 99% of all rabbit breeders are members of ARBA because it’s the organization that keeps it all in line and going.
Local clubs are the ones who pay for your shows. Donating to them, joining and volunteering are the best things you can do. Each show usually has a raffle. Bring any item, or put a nice show rabbit out there to be raffled off to bring in big money for the club. Who knows, with your little donation, next time they could be able to have even nicer awards, or put on a triple show, or do something else special! Volunteer at shows as a writer or bring food for the club’s lunch. Writers are usually hard to find. All you do is stand there and match up the ear #’s the judge reads off and mark their placement on a sheet of paper. This is so the club has a record of who wins and who wins legs, trophies or other awards. It’s a very important job and very easy for anyone of all ages to do. So go join your clubs and volunteer, make the show go smoother so everyone can get out of there are a decent hour!
11. Make your own cages. This is very time consuming, and hard on your wrists if cutting wire by hand, but in the end will save you money. Many vendors sell beautifully built cages for high dollar. If you don’t have the time to make your cages, and can afford these, GREAT. If not, buying rolls of wire is the way to go. I purchase my wire from local vendors at shows, or I order it from Klubertanz Equipment Co.
You’ll want to visit my pages on building rabbit hutches or building hanging cages for more information.
12. Keep your rabbits separated when they reach certain ages. I usually separate my juniors no later then 3 months of age. They all get too big to be in one cage, plus some bucks are early bloomers and will either start to fight or even try to mate with their siblings. All rabbits this age and over should always be separate. The only exclusion is moms with their babies. I always remove babies no later then at the age of 8 weeks (2 months.) At this time I may rebreed the mother.
13. If you raise long haired breeds, buy some clippers. After 15 years, this is something new to me that I wish I would have done LONG ago. American Fuzzy Lops, as juniors go through a coat. First they get their baby coat that tangles almost immediately and gets stuck in the cage floor, making it unsanitary. Then sometimes they get their senior coat on their own early, which causes them to go into full blown molt, leaving dead fur all over the cages.
I purchased an Oster 2-speed electric sheer (clipper) and am now shaving all of my juniors when they get their first baby coat. Shaving or cutting a baby coat keeps them knot free AND as a bonus, they can get a nice senior coat before they turn senior. The clipper I got does not shave all the way to the skin. It leaves a fine patch of fur to cover their body. So it is perfect for any time of the year, the rabbits will not freeze without their longer coat.
I trimmed 6 juniors yesterday with my clippers, all in the space of 30 minutes. If I would have let their baby coat grow wild, I would guarantee I would have had to groom by hand, probably spending an hour on each baby, just a few weeks from now. It is a huge time saver and worth every penny. Clippers run from $80-300 depending on where you buy them. I did my research and purchased one with a good rating (rating provided by amazon.com) and found it being sold new on ebay. I saved about $100 on my clipper and it was brand new and works great. I would recommend clippers for anyone considering ANY wooled breeds. (ie. Jersey Wooly, Fuzzy Lop, any Angoras)
14. Once you get going, invest in an automatic watering system. These are AMAZING! Another thing I always wanted, but just installed last year. I use the Edstrom flex tube system. In north AL we have fairly mild winters. My lines never freeze unless we go below 25 degrees for an extended period of time. Here, that is fairly rare. On these days I revert back to crocks and water bottles. (So always keep some just incase.)
The watering systems are set up to be hooked into an ordinary garden hose, or to be manually filled by you. I manually fill mine now, but use a hose if I am out of town for a couple of days, the rabbits will always have water. Then whoever I hire to feed them only has to worry about feed.
The watering system can be expensive to set up, but can be re-arranged and parts re-used. I first used mine for my stacking cages. Then I bought splicers to connect my shorter pieces of tubing together into longer pieces for my hanging cages.
I don’t have to worry about rabbits dumping their water and going without when I am at work. I also don’t have to worry about playful rabbits chewing their their water bottles (which happened ALL THE TIME with me.) Or even some water bottles that either leak (95% of the time, mine leaked) or got stuffed up and wouldn’t work at all. I have not had one complaint with my automatic waterer. It makes life so much easier in the small rabbitry. I have about 40 cages. In the past it would take me a good 30 minutes to an hour to feed and water everyone. Now it takes me 10 minutes at the most. (Except on those rare days when the lines freeze.)
If you are in a colder climate, you can still install and automatic watering system. You just do it with PVC pipe, to allow you to install heat cables. These keep your lines from freezing. Heat cables cannot be used in the flex tube system.
15. If you have a burn out, take a break. Go easy on your kids. Mostly all breeders have a burn out and want to sell out at some point. Especially young breeders. For me, growing up rabbits took up most of my life. I actually thought I hated them several times and demanded to my parents to sell all of my stock. This is because I was made to do a lot of the work myself, at an early age. I was also denied to do “teenage things” with my friends, because I had to be home to feed the rabbits at a certain time. Parents should help out too. If the kids want to go hang out with their friends, go to a movie, let them. Help them out once in a while to prevent a hatred or burn out.
When I turned 20 and did sell all of my stock, after my dad passed away. The first thing I thought was that I was free, and I would NEVER get back into something so time consuming again. I ended up getting back into it as soon as I bought a house, a year later. I REALLY, REALLY missed the hobby and my rabbits. I regret ever selling my stock now, every day. Even doing everything now by myself, my schedule is flexible and I don’t feel “held down” by my commitment to my rabbits. Don’t let the hobby effect your every day life and keep you from doing other things that make you happy. That’s the best way to prevent a burn out in anything you do.