In a single year, a doe can have up to 12 litters of kits. The average litter size is six kits, which means that if a doe is constantly in the presence of a buck, she could be able to produce approximately 72 kits a year.
Sexual maturity is reached by both doe and buck around the age of six to eight months. When the time comes for breeding, the doe should be transferred to the buck’s enclosure, which can be done either in the morning or in the evening.
Puberty typically occurs when a doe reaches 70 to 75% of her mature weight. In most cases, however, it’s better to wait until they’ve gained 80% of their adult weight before mating them. Long before the female can ovulate and give birth to a litter, she exhibits sexual behaviour (acceptance of mating).
The breeder should not treat this as a sign of puberty, but rather as a sign of prepubescent play. Does are thought to be in oestrus for most of their lives. The doe has an oestrus cycle that can occur without regular periods of heat. When a female rabbit accepts service, she is in oestrus (heat), and when she rejects him, she is in dioestrus. After the doe has been successfully mated, ovulation will occur.
A doe in heat is characterised by an arched back and raised hindquarters. When a doe is in dioestrus, she is more likely to hide in a corner of the cage or show aggression towards the buck. A doe with a red vulva will accept mating and ovulate 90% of the time, but a doe with a non-red vulva will only accept and ovulate 10% of the time. As a result, the presence of a red vulva is a good sign, but not a sure thing of oestrus.
In most cases, successful mating is over in a matter of seconds, and the male will fall off the female while making a distinctive noise. Getting a better pregnancy rate and a larger litter size is easier when the female is mated two times a day, one in the morning and one at night.
Rabbits have an estimated gestation period of 30 days, therefore a doe should be kept in a cage by herself for the first 20 days after mating. A doe will pluck fur from herself before giving birth to build a nest for her offspring. Additional bedding material, such as gunny bags, paddy straw, or sawdust, must be placed inside the nest.
A whiteboard and a calendar should be prominently displayed on the farm, as farmers will use the calendar to manage the white board. For this system to work, a set of basic rules must be learned and memorised, or the white board and calendar can be accompanied by a sheet with these rules:
• Day 1: Check for receptivity (swollen, darkened vulva) and bring the doe to the buck’s cage.
• Day 14: Palpate the doe (13 days from mating) to see if the mating was successful. If mating failed, check for receptivity the next day.
• Day 28: If palpation confirms pregnancy, place a nest box in the hutch (14 days from palpation).
• Day 31: You should expect kindling three days after the nest box was provided.
• Day 33 to 60: Look for rebreeding receptivity (this is highly dependent on diet quality and can range from a few days after kindling to two months).
• Day 45: Remove the nest box (14 days after birth).
• Day 59: Wean the kits from the doe (28 days after birth).
Using the above “rules”, create a farm grid (a visual representation of the hutch layout or orientation) on a white board. Make each square on the grid a hutch. Each square must have at least one “task” represented by a date written in a colour that corresponds to the task type. The tasks and colour markers must be completed in order to comply with the aforementioned rules.
The daily farm work consists of a walk through the farm to feed and water the herd. During this time, a simple inspection of the hutches can reveal any unusual issues that require attention. After feeding and watering, the farmer reviews the task list. The farmer should look for that day’s date (and any boxes with past dates). The date (or a circled date) tells the farmer which hutch has a task to complete (based on the grid that represents the farm layout) and what the task is (based on the colour of the marker used).
The system works on the premise that for every task completed, another one arises. Therefore, if a doe is successfully palpated on day 14, that tells the farmer to write down the next date for which a task is required. For example, the palpation confirming pregnancy (14 days from palpation), place a nest box inside the hutch (Day 28). Because future tasks must be written on the white board, the calendar displayed with the system is essential.
There is usually only one task per square on the grid, but there can be multiple tasks. It will be checked after kindling for receptivity and weaning will be set up with the doe’s kindling date in mind. Extra cages for young fryer (nonproducing) rabbits can also be mapped onto the grid, but since they have no “management tasks” that use this system, they can be either blacked out or marked with an “X”.
If a doe is not receptive on the day of the task, the farmer circles the date in the same colour. Deferred tasks are highlighted on the board and can be revisited the next day. A written log in a notebook or binder is a related management tool. Unlike the white board, this keeps track of the herd.
Keeping production sheets on hand allows farmers to track the productivity of their breeding females and start selection based on productivity. The number of successfully weaned kits is a better measure of productivity than the number of kits born.
The information provided in this article is credited to:
The Peace Corps. (2014). A Complete Handbook on Backyard and Commercial Rabbit Production. Available at: https://pclive.peacecorps.gov/pclive/index.php/pclive-resources/resource-library/1281-r0041-complete-handbook-backyard-rabbit-production/file
The National Department of Agriculture in South Africa in cooperation with JA Erasmus at the Glen Agricultural Development Institute. For more information visit www.daff.gov.za or send an e-mail to DPP@nda.agric.za.
Nurturing the roots of change in rural Kenya in cooperation with Bonnie Ami Holt at the Mitahato Education and Development Fund. For more information visit www.mitahatoedf.com/ or contact them on +254-728-082887.
Dutta, P., Singh, R.K., Dhali, A. & Rajkhowa, C. (2009). Backyard rabbit farming. ISBN 10.13140/RG.2.1.1742.5440/1. Available at: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/273886912
Lebas, F., Coudert, P., de Rochambeau, H. & Thébault, R. (1997). The rabbit – Husbandry, health, and production. ISBN 92-5-103441-9. Available at: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/38977233_The_Rabbit_Husbandry_Health_and_Production