(c) Gryph- if you repost this article, please post with a link back to my website.
Almost everyone has heard the saying, "breed like rabbits." The thing is, breeding rabbits isn't usually as easy as people think it is. With a little knowledge, though, you can help make things go a little smoother.
Most breeds reach senior (adult) age by six months although a few breeds are not seniors until eight months (such as Silver Fox) and some are not until a year (such as the Flemish Giant). The SOP guide sets out the official senior age for each breed. Some bucks can breed much earlier. I know someone who had a Rex buck that had four litters on the ground by four months old. Does are a little trickier. Just because a doe hits senior age doesn’t mean you should breed her. Be sure that she has reached a good weight and size before you breed her; let that be the determining factor rather than her age.
Ideally, in good condition, you should plan to breed about every 90 days. A doe is pregnant for about 31 days, and then ideally kits are weaned no sooner than 8 weeks. Rebreed her the day you take the kits away; she gets a break from kits for 31 days until the next batch is born, and then the cycle repeats itself. You can breed harder- up to 6 litters per year instead of 4, but you are going to have to watch your doe’s condition carefully in that case. Two does and one buck, with four litters per year per doe, even if they only raise out 6 kits per litter (a good quality doe should produce and raise more), will produce you 48 rabbits per year to eat.
Breeding at least two does at the same time is always a good idea. If there is a problem then you can foster kits between the does. Or, if one doe has a very large litter and one has a small litter, you can balance out the numbers. If for some reason both does have very small litters, you can foster one doe’s litter to the second doe, and rebreed one of the does immediately. You will also need fewer grow-out pens, as you can grow out the kits together.
Many rabbit breeders inbreed and line breed with no harm. Line breeding is breeding father to daughter, or mother to son, and so on. Inbreeding is breeding siblings together. There is value in line breeding and inbreeding in that you can use these practices to reproduce good qualities from the rabbits you are breeding. Keep in mind, however, that along with concentrating good genes, these practices can also concentrate bad genes. Try not to inbreed or line breed too hard- bringing in new blood is always a good idea.
When your rabbits reach breeding age, then it’s time to breed your rabbits. Before you do so, do an inspection of your rabbits. Do they appear to be healthy? Are their nails trimmed to prevent them injuring each other? Is your doe in good physical shape? Check your doe’s vent. Is it very pale, or does it have some color? If it has any color, then it’s time to breed! If you;ve never bred your rabbit before (either buck or doe), it's a good idea to do a final gender check! You wouldn't believe how many times I have heard tales of breeders who realized they couldn't get a pair to cooperate because they ended up being the same sex! Always take your doe to your buck’s cage. Never bring the buck to the doe's cage because she will fight to protect her territory. Don’t worry if your cage seems small for two rabbits- the less space they have, the easier it is for your buck to catch your doe. Supervise all breedings.
Rabbit breeders jokingly call this ‘bunny porn’ but there’s a valid reason for closely watching your rabbits. Some does will get aggressive, and there have been many instances when a doe has castrated a buck while a buck is trying to mate with her. They may engage in a little foreplay, chasing each other around the cage, sniffing each other, the buck may attempt to lick her face and ears and she may even mount the buck. Eventually, he'll mount her (it's extremely common for him to try everywhere but where he should actually be). The doe will lie down flat on her belly, get up on her back toes and lift her rear. The act takes only a few seconds. When it's complete, the buck will fall over on his side or backwards and might grunt or squeak. This is called a fall-off. Don’t interfere unless it seems like they are doing actual physical hard to each other. Another reason to keep a close watch is that breeding can take only an instant, and you don’t want to miss it and risk losing a litter because you thought that breeding didn’t actually take place. I like to get three fall offs before I consider a doe bred, and more is better.
If your doe is not receptive then she may back into a corner or clamp her tail down. Rabbits are induced ovulators meaning they ovulate upon breeding, so if your doe is not being receptive, try again in a day or two, and keep trying until she lifts. In some rare cases a doe will not lift, and you may have to resort to table breeding, where you hold the doe in place and help to position her while your buck does his thing. Unfortunately, not all bucks are willing to cooperate with this method. The trick is to keep persisting. If you have a very stubborn doe that will not lift, try swapping cages and leaving her in the buck’s cage overnight. You can also try a car ride- many does get in the mood after a good car ride.
Never, ever leave your rabbits alone and unsupervised unless you are 100% certain that they will get along. It only takes a second for injury to occur, including broken legs, backs, and even having your doe castrate your buck.
Once you have witnessed three fall-offs, you can put the doe back in her own cage. Be sure to record the date and be ready for kits in approximately 31 days.