Rabbitry may be too generous of a word for five does and two bucks. Perhaps I should tone it down and call it a “warren.” A group of rabbits in the wild would live in an underground city of sorts called a warren, so why not steal that terminology? It has a nice ring to it — Tiramar Rabbit Warren.
Quibbling over terminology aside, we’re starting out in a new(ish) venture. I say (ish) because this is not the first time I have raised rabbits. I had my first rabbits way back when I was a preteen, and I’ve owned and raised them on and off since that time.
I still remember my first rabbit. She was a little black and white Dutch named “Willie,” which was short for Wilhelmina. I would show you a picture, but that was before I had a camera or a cell phone. Also known as the stone age.
I’ve owned a looot of rabbits since then.
I’ve had a little bit of everything. Big rabbits. Little rabbits. Mixed breeds. Pedigreed. Holland Lops. A Mini Rex. I’ve even owned a rabbit that I hid in my dorm room freshman year.
His name was Seven, and he passed away in 2014. Of all the rabbits I’ve ever owned, he was my favorite.
I wish I’d decided to get back into raising rabbits while he was still around. Alas, hindsight is 20/20.
Now I have Georgia and Caroline, a New Zealand and American Blue, respectively. They are the first does to start off the warren/rabbitry/what have you.
After Georgia and Caroline, the rabbit bug hit me. There’s this particular breed/color pattern that I’ve always loved called Harlequin, so when I found a Harlequin breeder who would be nearby on a certain date, I bought a trio from him. Yes, we drove two hours to pick up rabbits. Yes, it was totally worth it.
The does are Loma (white/”Magpie”) and Pumpkin (orange/”Japanese”).
The buck, my personal favorite, has been dubbed Linus. The Japanese patterned Harlequins have such autumnal coloring that it was only fitting to name him after the Peanut character obsessed with The Great Pumpkin.
I also have a New Zealand x Californian buck, Tex. Handsome fellow as well, isn’t he? He doesn’t surf or hop with an accent…those are just his parent’s breeds.
And then, after I’d sworn I was done buying rabbits, a family friend told us that he was selling out and needed to place his last mixed breed meat doe. Guess what happened next?
Yep. Say hello to our (really) last doe, Alice. She is a ruby eyed white mature doe who has kindled before. She’s really quite pretty, but it’s hard to get a good picture of a REW,
After these starter buns, no more names. We don’t name our food.
Starting our meat rabbitry has taught me a few things I never considered when I just raised pet rabbits. It’s not exactly a complicated process, but here are some tips to help you along the way:
Check what’s available locally before choosing a breed.
When I was first researching which breed I wanted, I fell in love with American Blues. They’re usually docile, on the Slow Foods Ark of Taste list, and they’re a heritage breed listed as threatened by the Livestock Conservancy. They seemed like the perfect breed for me.
There was just one problem: They are hard to find in my area.
I found one breeder nearby and bought Caroline from him, but he only has one breeding pair himself. I since have not been able to find any other Americans that aren’t a four hour drive from me. And four hours is a little much for meat rabbits. If I had plans to show that would be one thing, but these are for the freezer.
All in all, don’t get your heart set on a particular breed until you’re sure you can actually get your hands on it.
Be ready to wait a few months before having kits.
When I was raising mostly pet mixes and lops, it was fairly easy to find breeding age buns for sale. I’ve found this is not the case with meat rabbits. All but one of my purchases have been of rabbits 8 – 10 weeks old. (That’s mostly what I see advertised as well.)
Why is there such a discrepancy?
Because meat breeders eat the ones that don’t sell. Pet breeders don’t. When a meat rabbit reaches 12-16 weeks, they go to freezer camp if they’re not already sold or being kept by the breeder as new stock.
Rabbits reach safe breeding age around 6-8 months for does and 4-5 months for bucks. Rabbits are pregnant for roughly a month, so you may be waiting 5 or more months after purchase before having any kits, and then another 3 months before harvest.
Prepare more housing than you think you’ll need.
I originally planned to have two does and one buck. Ha! We see how long that lasted.
Rabbits, like most livestock, can be a little addicting. Since they don’t require much space or cost, it’s easy to justify “just one more.” Passing by on the temptation of a good deal or a beautiful bun is not easy. Then there’s the need for grow out pens, separation of males and females, space for new breeders and new bloodlines to keep yours healthy and not inbred…
Luckily it’s really easy to build hanging rabbit cages as well as rabbit tractors. They’ll last for years, are multi-purpose, and economical to construct, too.
Five does and two bucks is a good start for us. We plan to eat rabbit once a week, so if all five does kindle twice yearly with an average of 5 kits per litter, we’ll be set.
We should have our first kits sometime this fall, and those kits will be grown out and sent to freezer camp. I’m looking forward to some rabbit stew this winter!