Historically, the rabbit has enjoyed great popularity as livestock in the USA, and many homesteaders still grow them today. Owners enjoy how easy rabbits are to raise and how their meat is a more environmentally friendly option. What’s more, as an animal that is small and easy to care for, they are the third most popular pet in the country. Let’s find out how long it takes to start raising rabbits and what you need to consider before diving in.
From Kitten to Geriatric: A Timeline
If you’re thinking of acquiring rabbits, you’ll need to know what to expect over the course of their lives. Let’s explore the timeline of their lives, from when they are born to when they die.
Young rabbits are called kittens and are born completely blind, with their ears closed, and almost no fur. After about a week, their fur starts to grow, but they are still dependent on their mother, called the doe, until weeks 3-4. At that point, they will start to eat solid foods and after six weeks, they are independent of the doe. If you buy a juvenile rabbit, it’s going to be 1.5-3 months old.
At the three-month mark, you’ll need to vaccinate your rabbit against Calicivirus, which is a fatal disease. In case you have both male and female rabbits, you’ll also need to separate them at that time and neuter them one or two months later. While normal or miniature breeds reach full maturity at around 10 months old, giant breeds take a bit longer, up to 14 months. As juveniles, rabbits eat 80% hay and 20% fresh green vegetables.
For the next two years, your rabbit is considered a young adult. The diet can now also include adult rabbit pellets, but keep in mind that they shouldn’t be overfed, as this can cause obesity and chronic diarrhea. Many people who keep them long-term as pets enrich their rabbits’ environment, for example by providing them with toys or branches. As this is a very active life stage, young adult rabbits will need space to move around in.
After two years, you may notice your rabbit slowing down as it moves out of the young adult phase. At this point, it’s important to monitor food intake so that you’re not overfeeding it. Many pet owners also opt for six-monthly veterinarian checks to make sure the rabbit is healthy.
The majority of rabbit breeds can live up to 12 years if they are well taken care of. Like other species, they are susceptible to conditions such as arthritis and heart disease, and their environment has to be adapted to cater for their changing needs. More frequent checks with the vet may also be in order to maintain optimal health.
Choosing a Breed
There are a number of different rabbit breeds to choose from, and the timeline might differ slightly depending on which one you choose. While many people raise rabbits from the meat, others use them for wool or simply as pets. They can be especially suitable for families because they are reasonably easy to take care of and have a slightly shorter lifespan than more common pets like cats or dogs.
Raising Rabbits for Meat
If you’re raising your rabbits for the meat, you’ll need breeding stock, which means does that regularly produce offspring that is then slaughtered. Many people opt for California or New Zealand rabbits because those breeds grow up very quickly and can weigh five pounds after only 10-11 weeks. The growth speed and end weight are important, as you’ll want to maximize your resources such as feed and cage space.
Another option is to raise Angoras for their soft and precious wool. Normal Angoras can mature in only 8-9 years, but if you opt for a giant breed, they may take over a year. Generally, they produce up to 12 kittens per litter, so you can grow your stock at a similar rate as meat rabbits.
These rabbits are more sensitive than other breeds and there might be special consideration if you opt to give them a try. Most Angoras produce around 18 to 20 ounces of wool a year and their kittens are quite valuable, selling at around $50, so a combination of shearing and selling the juveniles could work well as a stream of income.
Increasing Your Stock
People who want to keep rabbits as livestock regularly need to replenish their stock with does that produce fast-growing and heavy offspring. But true to the phrase ‘breeding like rabbits’, they multiply very rapidly, so you might not need to keep so many does at once.
Although one rabbit could reproduce every six weeks, this would be stressful and wear her out, so it’s recommended that you let her breed every 12 weeks. This still produces four litters a year, and at eight to ten kittens each, you’ll have plenty of rabbits. Keep in mind that each one will weigh around five pounds, given you’ve chosen high-quality does.
Tips for Optimal Care
Raising rabbits doesn’t have to take long, and you can grow your stock very rapidly even if you start with only a few animals. They are well-suited for beginner breeders because they are very hardy and reproduce so quickly, so you’re likely to succeed. However, there are a few things to consider before buying your first rabbits.
A big reason why rabbits are easy to breed is that you don’t need to worry about inbreeding as much as with other forms of livestock. As long as you don’t let siblings breed, you shouldn’t run into any issues, even if the rabbits are related. That said, it’s a good idea to occasionally replenish your stock to create genetic diversity.
Rabbits are great starter animals, but that doesn’t mean that they are low-maintenance. In fact, you will have several daily tasks to complete: feeding them, providing water, and mucking out the cages. You will get the best results if you feed them fresh leafy green vegetables, which can require some work to acquire and wash.
Before buying your first rabbit, find out where you’ll be able to bring them if they get sick. Vets skilled in rabbit care can be rare in certain areas, so make sure you have a trusted one available to you locally. You’ll also need to decide what level of care you’re willing to give your rabbits and how much you’re prepared to pay for this.
Sometimes, a medical problem will develop that requires additional attention and may be costly. If you’re raising them for the meat, you may cull such rabbits, but if they are pets for your children, this is worth noting.
Rabbits are cuddly and sweet, but not all of them love to be picked up and petted. Unspayed ones often display some territorial behavior, and if they have been mistreated in the past, they may nip your fingers. This is worth keeping in mind, especially if they will be interacting with children on a regular basis.
If you’re looking for a pet, a source of fresh meat, or even some income, raising rabbits could be a great option for you. They are easy to care for and don’t require as much space as some other livestock such as chickens, sheep, or goats. Because they are prodigious breeders, you’re sure to build up a large stock quickly.