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Rabbit Rhythm Newsletter #010 - Breeding in Winter, sexing rabbits, and more
November 17, 2010

Rabbit Rhythms of December

Rabbits laugh at winter.

They grow thick coats that enable them to withstand frigid weather. And as the weather turns cold, rabbits begin to do what they do best - multiply!

For a rabbit farmer, this is good news, since does have been turning up their noses at the bucks through most of autumn.

Rabbits are seasonal, especially when it comes to breeding. Commercial rabbit production operations have climate-controlled facilities with extra lighting to simulate long spring days, but we still think a little internal clock inside the rabbits holds some influence over them. If you notice that does resist breeding in autumn, this may be why.

In the wild, rabbits stop breeding as early as July, depending on the local climate. During the off-season, bucks peacefully coexist without fighting, and no one mates. The entire warren is in recovery and health-rebuilding for the up-coming breeding season.

When is that? Late fall, surprisingly enough! Rabbits begin breeding as the temperatures drop into their winter lows, which is as early as October to November. Wild rabbits have their first litters of the season in late November or early December, and will rebreed as rapidly as the day after kindling a litter.

Of course, if the food sources aren’t rich and full of energy, the does are not likely to kindle many babies at one time, and only 3-4 may survive to weaning. Of these, up to three of the four may be taken by predators. (Don’t feel sad - this is the role of the rabbit in a healthy ecosystem.) But thanks to their successful and rapid rebreeding capabilities, the rabbit population remains stable or grows, despite predation.

What does this mean for a rabbit breeder?

Take advantage of the rabbits’ natural, wild, rhythms, and start breeding those does! Your does may already be more willing to breed now that we're approaching December. If not, they soon will be.

Plus, take thought to keeping the kits warm through the winter months. The doe will do all she can to keep her kits safe and warm in the dead of winter, with a little help from you...

  • Ensure your rabbits and their cages remain dry and out of drafts. Thankfully, a huge fancy barn is not essential.

  • Provide an extra inch or two of pine shavings at the bottom of the nest box to help insulate against the cold. You can also put a piece of cardboard (cut to size) under the shavings as added insulation.

  • The doe will pull lots of fur for her nest. If she doesn't, you can pull some yourself from her dewlap and belly. Don't be afraid of hurting her - we think her hormones might actually loosen the fur somewhat, especially on the tummy.

  • Make sure there's more fur in the nest than you think should be necessary. We lost 2 kits last spring because one doe didn't think her kits needed much fur covering, and we didn't pull any extra fur from her.

  • When you remove the nest box, give the 2-week-old kits a shallow cardboard box containing shavings. Then pile it up with alfalfa, mix, or timothy hay for the kits to nestle into.
That done, the kits should be just fine despite temperatures into the single digits (F) or worse.

New Information on

1) Our Rabbit Breed Descriptions page got too long! It now includes only the breeds from A - F, and we added two additional pages to cover G-N, and O-Z. We still have a ways to go before finishing that last O-Z page. (We knew it would be a biiig undertaking!) Once complete, we plan to create dedicated description pages for many, if not most, of the ARBA-sanctioned breeds. For example, see our new Chinchilla rabbits page.

You'll find links to all the breeds at Rabbit Breeds.

Broken tortoiseshell pet rabbit

2) Raising-Rabbits wanted to make it easier for you to verify the gender of your rabbits.

  • Have you purchased a bunny recently?
  • Did your two "does" recently have babies?
  • Do you need help telling the boys from the girls in your rabbit litters?
We hope we just made your job easier. We took pictures of the pertinent parts of our own bunnies and a couple of our adult rabbits, and wrote clear (we hope) guidelines on how to tell the bucks from the does. You'll find the information at Sexing rabbits.

Rabbits in the News

Thanks to rabbits (and researchers), there is potentially great news for arthritis sufferers and those with severe joint injuries.

"Rabbits implanted with artificial bones re-grew their own joints, complete with cartilage," reported researchers on July 28, 2010. Read the full story here.

  • Rabbits formed new joint tissue using their own adult stem cells
  • A single compound called growth factor stimulated the production of those stem cells - no baby rabbit fetuses had to die...
  • Rabbits were hopping around normally on brand new joints after just 3-4 weeks
  • The new joints are anticipated to last many years, since they are completely natural and formed as part of the body rather than a metal implant.
Research is ongoing, but very promising.

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Your friends at wish you a very Happy (and grateful) Thanksgiving.

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