New Zealand Rabbit FAQs
Note: These answers are based on our own personal opinion and experiences at Crossroads Rabbitry. Remember, we raise New Zealand White rabbits on a commercial level. What may have worked for us may not be the best solutions for you. This is not to imply that you may not find different answers elsewhere.
Do I need a license to raise rabbits? Check your local zoning laws regarding the raising of rabbits. There may be some restrictions if you reside within an incorporated city. The USDA does not currently classify rabbits as livestock, so there is usually no license required for raising rabbits for personal consumption. The USDA, however, usually does require a license if the rabbits are being processed in order to sell to the public. A license may also be required to sell and transport them, depending on the annual revenue earned and the number of rabbits sold. You should check about any needed licenses before making any plans or spending any money.
Do I need a license to sell rabbits? If you do choose to sell your rabbits from home, be sure to sell them live and don’t do any butchering. If butchering is done, do this as a favor to the customer. Accepting money for butchering an animal brings you into USDA and health department jurisdiction. There may also be a license required if your sales exceed $500 per year so check with USDA first before selling to the public.
What breed should I use for meat production? The most popular is the New Zealand White followed by the Californian. It is estimated that 90% of rabbit raised for meat are the New Zealand White breed. Both of these breeds, however, have an excellent meat to bone ratio.
We only raise New Zealand White Rabbits at Crossroads Rabbitry, as our processor prefers them over the Californian and Altex breeds. Be sure to check with your processor before deciding on a breed as some processors will not buy the Californian, Altex or colored breeds. You don’t want to raise them if you can’t sell them.
As a backyard grower, how many rabbits should I start with? Starting out small is advised. Find some good young stock; 2-3 does and 1 proven buck is recommended by many growers. Make sure you are not buying older rabbits.
As a commercial grower, how many rabbits should I start with? Until you gain some knowledge with rabbit production, it is advised to start with 20-30 does and 3-4 bucks. In doing so, you can acquire good management skills without becoming overwhelmed. Try to find some good young stock from a reputable grower.
Where can I obtain breeding stock? There are many places to buy rabbits, but it is important to begin with good stock bred for meat production. Many processors will be able to provide a referral. You can also check with the Rabbit Breeders Directory or the American Rabbit Breeder Association’s website.
You might check your classified ads or craigslist. A local CO-OP or feed store may know of local breeders. Be sure to check referrals about the rabbitry you are considering purchasing from. Try to purchase your stock from a clean rabbitry. If the place seems dirty or smells, leave. Rabbitries are very difficult to keep clean, especially if large in size, but the effort should be there. It doesn’t cost much to clean so excuses are unacceptable. The condition of the rabbitry, usually determines the condition of the rabbits. Avoid pet stores, flea markets and backyard breeders. Again, make sure you are buying younger stock.
Where can I find a processor? Finding a processor can be tough as there are very few in the US. This should, however, be done before starting your rabbitry if you plan on selling them. You can check with other rabbit raisers or purchase a subscription to the magazine published by the American Rabbit Breeders Association. There is a commercial section in the middle of the magazine which lists commercial prospects as well as current market reports.
What is the best age of rabbit to purchase? It will be very difficult to find growers who are able to provide does ready to breed, as they are usually held back to increase their herd size or used for replacements. However, you should be able to find 8-12 week old does. This age may be better since purchasing at a younger age will help them get used to their surroundings before attempting to breed them.
Rabbits younger than this are much more fragile. When buying stock, try to find that good energetic buck. Be leery of buying older rabbits as they may not be producing good numbers anymore. Before breeding, does should be at least 5-6 months old and 6-7lbs. Bucks should be 6 months old, as they mature slower. At Crossroads Rabbitry, we have all ages for sale. Call for availability for does ready to breed and for large orders. We always have excellent stock held back from our best does and bucks. This is done for replacements and to increase productivity.
How many rabbits can I keep together? Rabbits are very territorial. If multiple rabbits are kept together, they will end up fighting. Bucks caged together fight more often than does caged together. When bucks begin reaching sexual maturity, they become more aggressive and will start positioning for dominance. Bucks may even attempt to castrate one another. The hormones of a female rabbit, once mature will cause her to be more aggressive. She may lash out at the handler and the other doe she is caged with. One solution to solve this problem is with a couple of spay surgeries – but this would cost around $200 ea.
Mature does and bucks should never be caged together. This will usually lead to an unwanted pregnancy as does will breed at any time of their choosing. However, some rabbits of the same sex, raised together from birth seem to tolerate one another for longer periods of time. When you visit a pet store and see several animals caged together you must realize it is usually a mom and her babies or two rabbits who haven’t yet reached sexual maturity. Most rabbits are solitary creatures and are completely satisfied being alone. However, if you feel they need companionship you can put a wire divider between the rabbits if your cage is large enough.
You must also be aware of the problems that may arise when two or more rabbits are caged together. One will be dominate over the other(s) and may prevent them from getting enough food. The dominant rabbit may then have obesity problems. A cage is also more difficult to keep clean with multiple rabbits and if one gets sick the other(s) surely will.
How long will my rabbit live? Depending on its diet and housing conditions, the “average” life expectancy of a New Zealand White rabbit is between 7-10 years. Commercial bred rabbits may only live 3-6 years. Naturally, there are exceptions. Rabbits are very fragile animals and may suffer from health problems just as we do. Rabbits can have strokes, heart attacks and intestinal problems just like us.
How can I tell if my rabbit is a buck or a doe? The only sure way to know if a rabbit is male or female is to examine the genitalia. This can be a difficult procedure. To examine the genitals, you have to turn your rabbit upside down. Do this slowly. This usually puts the rabbits into a trance. Hold the rabbit firm but gentle, in case the rabbit struggles. Have someone help you with holding the rabbit securely while you examine the genitals.
Both males and females have genitals that “pop out,” so they can be easily confused. The opening that is closest to the rabbits tail is the anus. The opening closest to the belly is the genitals. Gently place a finger above and below the genitalia and lightly apply downward pressure. Then examine what pops up. Sometimes the penis pops right out.
Other times, the penis does not appear, but you see a round tube or small circle with a small opening at the top. This is a buck. The does will have a slit. This is an opening that starts at the high point and ends where the genitals meet the body, near the anus. There are books and videos online that can assist you.
What should I feed my rabbit? There are numerous commercially made rabbit feeds out there. Try to make sure it has 14-18% protein and it’s a brand that has been around for a while. Most of these feeds have been formulated to provide a well balanced diet and to provide all of the nutrients needed for a rabbit to grow and be healthy. It isn’t necessary to give your rabbits treats or supplements. However, if you do, they should be given in moderation. Don’t ever give them any green leafy substances, seeds or meat. Timothy or Bermuda hay is a good treat and it’s good for them.
How much should I feed my rabbit? The main thing to remember is to not over feed or under feed your rabbit. Overfeeding can cause a lot of health problems and cause does to be lazy and harder to breed. Overweight bucks will also have less stamina. Underfeeding can also cause problems in mothering and breeding. Survival instincts may kick in if the doe is not getting enough feed and she will then neglect her young.
Bucks will also not be as energetic or aggressive if under fed. The amount to feed your rabbit will depend on the breed and its size. On average, a rabbit will eat approximately one fluid ounce of feed per pound of weight each day. There are 8 fluid ounces in one cup. So a four pound rabbit will eat about 4oz or 1/2 cup of feed per day. An eight pound rabbit will eat 8oz or 1 cup. At Crossroads rabbitry, we feed 8 -9oz. to our does before kindling and 6-7oz to our bucks.
How much Calf- Mana should I give my rabbit? Most animals that are fed Calf-Manna are much larger than a rabbit, so in most cases we are measuring the product in pounds, not teaspoons or tablespoons. Rabbits, however, due to their size, will need to be fed with more precision. There are many sizes and breeds of rabbits, as well as differences in age. On average, give 1 tablespoon (0.5oz.) for lactating does and large breeds. Give 1 teaspoon for growing rabbits or small breeds.
How much hay should I give my rabbit? A small handful once or twice a week will be sufficient. Hay will help keep their digestive tract healthy and prevent blockages.
How will I know if my doe is pregnant? Palpating the doe will be the only sure way of determining if she is pregnant or not. This is a process of “feeling” the embryos inside the doe, but it can be very difficult to do unless practiced. You can go online and read how to or even watch instructional videos. It can, however, be harmful to the doe and her litter if performed incorrectly. For the beginner, it may be better to just wait and see. The gestation period of a rabbit is 28-32 days with the doe usually delivering on the 31st day. Regardless of knowing for sure or not, you should still place a nest box in the cage on the 28th or 29th day.
What should I use for bedding in my nest? Wheat straw, Bermuda hay or shavings are generally used. Pine shavings and sawdust are more prone to hold dampness. Don’t use cedar shavings as they have resin and can be toxic. It helps to have some type of perforated panel in your box to help with drainage, comfort and temperature control. Make sure the bottom of the nest box is not too smooth or slippery as this can cause splaying, which is when kits can’t get traction and their legs fan out. Regardless of the material used, make sure you keep the nest clean and dry.
What should I do if my doe isn’t feeding her babies? Does only nurse their babies once or twice a day and then it’s only for about 5-10 minutes, so it is possible she is feeding them and you just haven’t noticed. Check the babies for rounded bellies (the bellies should be a little larger than its rib cage). If the bellies seem smaller she may in fact, not be feeding them or may not be producing enough milk. If you’re sure the doe is not nursing, holding her on her back to let the babies find a teat. Milk letdown can be improved with shots of oxytocin but this is a prescription drug and is expensive. We, however, use no medicines so we give our does a little calf mana after kindling to help with her milk for a couple of weeks. Bottle feeding baby rabbits is not recommended as it carries a high mortality rate.
Why are my babies dying? Hypothermia is the most common cause of new born babies dying. The first 3-4 days are the most critical. Make sure the nest box has sufficient bedding and fur. You must keep the nest dry. Check for dampness daily. Many mothers or adjacent does may urinate on the kits and once wet, the kits become cold.
It is not uncommon for does to loose their first litter as they do not have good mothering instincts yet. Usually they do much better on the second or third litter. A good temperature for kindling is 60-80 degrees. Don’t use heat lamps on the babies. A baby heating blanket works very well. A good temperature setting on the heating blanket is medium.
How many kits are needed each year to produce a profit? Most commercial rabbitries find that it is necessary to produce a minimum of 35 to 50 fryer rabbits per doe per year to make a profit. Anything less is unacceptable. That means that a commercial rabbitry must strive to average raising at least 8 litters of 7 kits each litter per year. To attain this goal, the doe is re-mated 10 to 21 days after kindling and the litter is weaned at 4 weeks of age. Using the above mating practices, and if good stock, the doe should kindle between 50 to 60 kits per year. Remember, this info is based on a commercial level and the rabbits and feed used at Crossroads Rabbitry.
When can I wean the babies? Under normal conditions, rabbits can be weaned anytime after they are 4-5 weeks of age. Many growers allow the babies to remain with the mother up to 8 weeks. The main thing is to determine if they are eating and drinking well enough to survive on their own.
How long will it take for the fryers to reach 5 pounds? This will depend on genetics, litter size when weaned, temperature, the amount of feed consumed and type of feed. The protein of the feed and cage stocking rate will also factor into this. On average, NZW fryers should reach 5 lbs. within 8-10 weeks post kindling (most definitely by 11 weeks.) This time period may be a little longer in summer months as their eating habits tend to slow down.
When can I rebreed my doe after having babies? Does will breed the following day, but it is highly advised to give them sufficient time before re-breeding. Most can be re-bred in as little as 7 days after kindling in intensive commercial operations but most breeders wait 11, 14, 21 or 28 days. Some wait up to 42 days, which usually gives you higher percentages of conception but only 5 litters a year may be born.
It would be good practice to wait until the prior litter has been weaned before re-breeding. Not always, but usually the longer a doe has between breeding’s, the higher the conception rate is. However, the number of litters per year then decreases. For example: a 42 day breed back may produce a 95% conception rate with 5 litters a year while a 14 day regime may produce a 85% conception rate and 8 litters per year. These are averages based on our own experiences and our rabbits at Crossroads rabbitry. Yours may vary. The size of your rabbitry, the caliber of your stock and what your goals are, should determine the breed-back regime best for you.
What records should I keep on my rabbit? Records are a must in raising rabbits. Keep records on your does and bucks. For does; record its birth date, the breeding date, sire and dame info, litter count, litter d/o/b, no takes, misses and raise out numbers. For bucks; record its birth date, sire and dame info, litter size sired, no takes, misses and stamina notes. Do this on a cage card, in a book or on a computer. It is very important to keep records on their production numbers and breeding habits.
Keep records on the temperature, moon phase, and the day and month when breeding, to see if there is a pattern for your successes and failures. These records will help on breeding, percentage totals, kindling, weaning and help prevent cross breeding. After breeding the doe, a nest box should be paced in the cage on the 28th day. Kindling will occur between 28-32 days with 31 days being the average. After 35 days the doe is not going to deliver and should be recorded as a miss or a no take.
Can I catch a cold or a disease from my rabbit? Even though possible, this rarely happens. It is unlikely to occur, but bacterial diseases, such as Strep throat, can cross from people to a rabbit and back. To be on the safe side, you should always wash your hands after you blow your nose before touching your rabbit or other people. Likewise, you should wash your hands after handling your rabbit, or before shaking hands with other people.
Does my rabbit need to get shots? In the US, rabbits do not need to get any shots. This is not true in all countries.
What do I do for sore hocks? Starting off with a good heavy gauge wire for the bottom of your cage will help prevent sore hocks. For sore hocks, you can use plastic floor pieces for the rabbits to lie on. Many people use ceramic tile as they are cool on the rabbits but be aware, they are also heavy. If a rabbit does get sore hocks, apply a small amount of Preparation-H or Neosporin.
What can I do with the rabbit manure? Rabbit manure is a wonderful fertilizer. It is a cold manure so it will not burn your garden, lawn or plants. Many people sell it, make compost or grow earth worms.
Do rabbits like to be held? Most breeds do not like being held but still like attention. Being animals of prey they feel better having both feet on the ground. However, NZW rabbits do tolerate handling fairly well. If handled daily from birth, rabbits do get use to being handled and can make great pets.
Should I give my rabbits toys? Most toys can have small parts that may be dangerous for rabbits. However, for single rabbits in a cage there are simple things that can be used. Tuna cans, plastic bottle lids, oak (not pine or treated) wood blocks etc. may be used to help with the rabbits boredom and stress. Make sure there are no sharp edges on the item.
Should I give my rabbit salt blocks? No. The average rabbit pellet contains and provides enough salt for your rabbit’s needs. However using a salt lick should not harm your rabbit.
Can I give bread to my rabbit? It has been said that giving bread to a doe will help it become more receptive to breeding. However, the starch in bread could cause digestive problems, so we wouldn’t recommend it.
Is my rabbit nocturnal? No, rabbits are crepuscular. This means that they are most active at dusk and dawn.
Where can I get rabbit supplies? Two good sources are klubertanz.com and bassequipment.com.
PLEASE NOTE: In order for us to provide healthy and disease free New Zealand White rabbits, we maintain a CLOSED RABBITRY. Potential buyers will, however, be able to view enough of the building’s interior to observe the rabbits and the conditions they live under. We’re sorry, but no outside rabbits, dogs or cats may be brought onto the property. Thank you for understanding.
THANK YOU for visiting the Crossroads Rabbitry web site; home of Quality New Zealand White Rabbits.