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The Country Enterprise Handbook
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Keeping rabbits

A healthy buck can serve ten rabbits quite effectively.

The doe should be well grown before she starts breeding, around eight to nine months. Take the doe to the buck's cage, not the other way round, as does fight intruders. Most bucks are keen and leaving them together for fifteen minutes should be sufficient. When the doe is pregnant she will require peace and quiet and gradually increasing food levels towards the end of her pregnancy. On the twenty-sixth day after mating, put a nesting box in with her. She will line this with hay and soft fur that she has pulled from her chest. When the doe has littered do not be tempted to disturb the youngsters; frightened does eat their young. If you leave them totally to her care for the first week they will soon be hopping about the hutch. It is better not to feed much greenstuff while the doe is lactating as it can have a laxative effect. The best way to provide water is in drip bottles. The water in them must be kept fresh. While the doe is lactating she will drink a great deal. If you usually use a bowl for water, you will need to put some mesh into it when there are youngsters in the cage or they will leap into it. The young start to eat their mother's feed at an early stage so they will need some extra food if she is to keep in good condition. The young can leave the mother at six weeks. The doe will be ready to return to the buck in two weeks. The young stock should be reared on to killing weight which is about two and a half kilograms live weight. The easiest way to weigh a live rabbit is to put it in a string bag and hang the bag on a spring balance. If you give the rabbit anything solid to get a purchase on while it is being weighed, you are in for a struggle. If you have the time it is worth handling the rabbits and being friendly with them. It is then easier to handle them when you have to. It pays to take care with rabbits though because a scratch from them often turns septic and for some reason they often seem to scratch the inside of your wrists which is a tender spot.

Any stock required for future breeding should be segregated when the fatteners are ready. Does can be kept together, up to eight in a group if the space is big enough. Bucks must be reared separately from now on. Bucks will literally fight to the death. The whole cycle of mating, pregnancy, littering, fattening and breeding is very quick in the rabbit kingdom. When we built up to fifty breeding does, their offspring at various stages and the attendant bucks, we began to feel overrun. By using some simple mathematical progressions it was simple to see that if we increased much more, we or the rabbits would have to go! Although they are small compared to sheep and pigs, rabbits can fill freezers at an alarming rate. When we oversupplied our local market for fresh rabbit we started to make rabbit pies to sell to local pubs and restaurants. As long as the meat is well seasoned, rabbit pie is very good.