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Once you have your meat rabbit housing set-up and you are prepared to feed and water them correctly, it is time to buy some breeding stock for your rabbitry.
Any breed of rabbit can be used for meat, but as is true with all livestock there are certain breeds that are specifically bred to be used for meat. Some of the most common meat breeds are New Zealand (white, red, black), Californian, Palomino, Silver Fox, Rex, Champagne D’ Argent, and Flemish Giant. You can also use mixes of those breeds as breeding stock.
Ideally, if your highest priority is producing a good amount of meat in a small amount of time, you should cross breed two different purebred breeding animals. For example, when we first got into meat rabbits 9 years ago we started with two purebred Palomino does, and one purebred Champagne D’ Argent buck. By cross breeding them the offspring had hybrid vigor and thus grew faster and bigger than the parent stock. Most of those kits came out what is referred to in our area as “cottontail” colored.
When finding breeding stock the human that breeds them is just as important as the breeding stock itself. When you are first getting into something new – like breeding meat rabbits – it is very helpful to have people who can help you along and mentor you. Picking a breeder who is willing to have a continuing relationship and help you as you learn is such an asset. They also can be a source for more breeding stock as you build your rabbitry.
Look for animals that are healthy. Go visit the breeder’s rabbitry and see what conditions they are kept in. Is it clean? Do they have access to plenty of food, hay, and fresh water? Are the animals overcrowded? Check their eyes, ears, noses, teeth, claws, and rear ends for any signs of illness. Eyes, ears, noses, and rear ends should be clean and clear of any discharge or wetness. Ears should not have any bugs or wounds in them. Eyes should be bright, not dull. Teeth and claws should be appropriate length. Fur should be shiny and healthy looking. If their fur is dull that is a sign of poor health. If you are not seeing all good things in all these different categories then you need to find a different breeder. Don’t settle for less than that – it will negatively effect your rabbitry and you want to get off to an excellent start.
Sexing rabbits can be very difficult. It takes plenty of experience to be very good at it, and young kits make it even harder. Being sure you are actually getting the males and females you want is important. I know someone who bought a breeding buck and doe pair, and they never produced any kits. Come to find out they were both females. Yup – it happens more often than you would think. To avoid trouble in this area I suggest you do some research and look at photos to get an idea of what you are looking for. Then, don’t just take the breeder’s word for it – ask them to show you the genitalia of EACH rabbit you are buying and explain to you why it is what they say it is. With the knowledge you have gained from looking at photos added to them showing and explaining, you have a very low chance of getting the wrong sex rabbit.
When adding new rabbits to your existing rabbitry always quarantine new rabbits for at least 4 weeks. Quarantine means they are kept in a separate building from the existing rabbits and you never handle the care of the new rabbits and then move on to caring for your current rabbits without washing thoroughly and changing your clothes. One sick rabbit can wipe out an entire rabbitry. I read of someone who lost almost 100 rabbits in a week because they didn’t quarantine a new rabbit they brought in. Quarantine is VERY important.
You are now prepared to go and buy your first meat rabbits. In our next post in this series we will discuss breeding them.