THINGS WE LEARNED DURING OUR FIRST YEAR

THE BEGINNER BREEDER

As a new rabbitry, Verlannahill has been a challenge for all of us.  When I say it has been a challenge I don’t mean to suggest a burden for just the opposite is true.  A challenge should be something good.  For us Verlannahill Rabbitry has been a motivating stimulus that has encouraged us to expand our knowledge by reading, writing, listening, observing, and otherwise immersing ourselves into the hobby.  We have made some mistakes, corrected them, and in the process, learned some valuable lessons.  We have met so many wonderful people; a few that we have mentioned on this web site, and all that have proved an important influence for good.  The writing of this web page has validated the statement that teaching is the swiftest route to learning.  And it has been an invaluable exercise in expanding our knowledge.

As a new rabbitry, Verlannahill has been a challenge for all of us.  When I say it has been a challenge I don’t mean to suggest a burden for just the opposite is true.  A challenge should be something good.  For us Verlannahill Rabbitry has been a motivating stimulus that has encouraged us to expand our knowledge by reading, writing, listening, observing, and otherwise immersing ourselves into the hobby.  We have made some mistakes, corrected them, and in the process, learned some valuable lessons.  We have met so many wonderful people; a few that we have mentioned on this web site, and all that have proved an important influence for good.  The writing of this web page has validated the statement that teaching is the swiftest route to learning.  And it has been an invaluable exercise in expanding our knowledge.

 

The preparation for writing this piece got me to thinking that there are probably many people even now considering the idea of starting into this hobby who might appreciate reading about the things someone else has experienced.  Foresight is always so darn near-sighted.  And it gets to be a bit discouraging to keep running into walls, locked doors, and occasionally stepping into something unpleasant that hindsight always sees so clearly.  With that in mine I offer you these bits of wisdom for your consideration.

 

If you are brand new to rabbits, I suggest that after obtaining all the necessary equipment, you purchase one rabbit from a respectable breeder who specializes in the breed of your choice   For more information go to our Rabbit Owner's Guide.

 

PLANNING

 

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EDUCATE YOURSELF:  Look for a few good books on the hobby and read and re-read every page two and three times.  I would recommend as your first book you consider, “Storey’s Guide to Raising Rabbits, by Bob Bennett, Copyright 2001 by Storey Publishing, LLC.”  This is a well-written book holding a wealth of ideas, great explanations and very sound advice.  It would be well worth your time and money.

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ASK QUESTIONS:  Don’t be afraid to admit that you are a green horn, and don’t be shy about asking questions.  I remember going to our first show, “without taking any rabbits of our own”, where we spent a good part of our time helping an experienced breeder carry his rabbits to and from the judging tables.  I can’t begin to tell you the wealth of knowledge we picked up that day.  We also made a good friend.

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VISIT A RABBITRY:  If you can, visit a rabbitry near your home.  It will prove to be a fine opportunity to observe several different breeds of rabbits.  Look over the breeder’s facilities carefully, looking closely at the type and style of housing he has for his rabbits.  Compare what you see with what you have learned from your reading and visiting with other breeders. You may be impressed with what you see or you may learn what you don’t want.  Either way it will be a valuable learning experience.

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LEARN ABOUT THE RABBIT BREEDS:  I have been asked and I remember asking what rabbit was the most popular and the best to raise.  That is one of those questions for which there is no one good answer.  Of the 45 breeds recognized by the American Rabbit Breeders Association, ARBA, each one has its own distinguishing characteristics. Behaviors, and merits that make them a particularly attractive choice.  It comes down to individual preference.  Each breeder has their favorite and many breeders end up raising several different breeds.  The best breed is the breed you personally find most attractive and intriguing.

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CHOOSE ONE BREED TO START:  If you have done your homework, visited with some breeders and looked over a lot of rabbits, you are ready to narrow down your choice to the one breed of rabbit that strikes your fancy.  Once you have chosen a single breed, concentrate on learning all you can about their special qualities to promote the excellence of the breed in your own rabbitry.  Obtain a Standard of Perfection book from the ARBA to learn the standards of your specific breed.  Follow these guidelines as closely as possible when purchasing and breeding your rabbits.  You may also gain valuable information by visiting the national club web site of your chosen breed.  If a site is available, you can reach it through the ARBA Breeds page.

 

 

Now is a good time to do a reality check on the feasibility of your plans and ideas.  If you still believe this hobby is for you, only then should you begin planning the construction of cages and facilities appropriate for the breed of rabbit you have chosen for your rabbitry. 

 

    THERE ARE SEVERAL THINGS FOR YOU TO CONSIDER:

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City and county ordinances as well as zoning regulations pertaining to the raising, breeding and selling rabbits in your area

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Your family's commitment and cooperation with your new hobby

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Your personal long term commitment to the hobby and remember rabbits can live for 5-10 years.

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Space limitations for the size of rabbitry you envision

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Time limitations on your commitment for the care and feeding of your rabbits

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Expendable funds you can reasonably budget for expenses

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Market availability for the rabbits you raise

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The number of rabbits you will be starting with

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Size and weight of the breed you have chosen

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Control of odor, splatter and general clutter

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Ease of disposal of waste and other debris generated by the rabbitry.

 I have tried to place these considerations in the order they should be addressed.  The answer to anyone may determine the feasibility of your decision to continue with the remainder.  Raising rabbits is not for everyone.

 

BUILDING YOUR RABBITRY

 

 

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The choice of the style of pen to keep your rabbits is an important consideration.  Another consideration is where you will keep the pens; will they be indoors or outdoors?  I personally recommend open wire cages hung inside a movable rack that will be kept indoors in a climate controlled environment.  For an example, view Our Rabbitry page. (Use your browser's "back" button to return to this page.)

 

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Keep in mind that rabbits are gnawing creatures and will chew on any exposed wood surface that is not covered with metal or wire fabric.

 

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Unless urine guards are installed inside the cages, any exposed surfaces, even those several feet beyond the cages, will be subject to urine spray and splatter.  Even with urine guards you might want to consider covering items in your rabbitry that might be damaged or stained.

 

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In picking your stock, try to purchase the best rabbits you can afford from Breeders you trust.  Make sure every rabbit has a complete pedigree.  If possible try to get as many records with each rabbit as you can.  These should include health records, certificates of leg winnings, and breeding records.

 

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There are some important items you will need to build or to purchase right away.

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Hutch cages, (one rabbit to one cage)

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Droppings pans (one per cage)

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Feeders and watering bottles

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A supply of high quality rabbit pellets.

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Carry cages for transporting your animals to and from a show and to house them while at the show and while cleaning cages in the rabbitry

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A first aid kit for your rabbits.

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A grooming board with a tight woven rug surface

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Grooming brushes.

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Nail clippers

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In time you will need to invest in or build nesting boxes

 

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I strongly recommend that you pick up a basic text on genetics and gain a general understanding of color genetics.  Without this knowledge your breeding program is pretty much going to be a hit or miss proposition with mostly misses.  Betty Chu has written a good simplified introduction to color genetics on her web site “Home of Grand Champions”  You can reach her article on color genetics at http://home.pacbell.net/bettychu/genetics.html

 

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Avoid breeding anything but pedigreed stock.  Your study of color genetics will help you to understand animal pairs that will be compatible for breeding purposes.  No responsible breeder will ever approach the breeding of his animals without having a pre-determined plan in mind for what he expects to obtain.  Animal pairs are carefully chosen only after completing a study of their dominant and recessive traits.

 

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Invest in a good record-keeping program.  Since we live in the age of computers, go for a proven software program like “The Rabbit Register for Windows by Evans Software Services, P O Box 1534, Lanesboro, Ma 021237.” This record keeping program will do everything from keeping your pedigrees and genetic histories updated to recording your rabbits winnings, health records, and rabbitry expenses. Their web site is www.evans-software.com

 

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Do Join the American Rabbet Breeders Association.   ARBA is an organization dedicated to the promotion, development and improvement of the domestic rabbit and cavy (Cavy are Guinea pigs).  ARBA has over 30,000 members throughout the United States and Canada.  Members of this organization range from the pet owner with just one rabbit or cavy to the breeders and also the commercial raiser with several hundred animals.

 

 

BECOME INVOLVED

 

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You will need to be a member of ARBA in order to register your animals and to participate in some other show activities. 

 

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You should also plan on joining the National, State or local organization representing your particular chosen breed of rabbit.  If you are interested in earning sweepstake points you must belong to such a specialty club.  These clubs also provide sources of information and timely tips.

 

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Make the effort to take in as many rabbit shows as you can.  In the beginning you may feel a bit imitated by the number of breeders you will meet that have been in the hobby for 5, 10, 15, and even 20 years or more and some that may have been raising rabbits for most of their lives.  These people, however, are going to be your source for a wealth of information that will help you to grow in the hobby

 

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It is critical that you take some meaningful time to spend with your rabbits.  Try to learn their habits and particular needs.  Handle each rabbit individually as often as possible to help them gain trust in you as well as become accustom to being touched and handled.  This activity will payoff big at show time.

 

 

EXTRA BITS OF INFORMATION

 

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Do ask for help in learning to sex your rabbits.  Don’t think that sexing should be an easy no-brainer task.  It takes a lot of practice and experience to correctly sex a younger rabbit and it is important that you learn to get it right.  Even people who have been in the hobby for several years will occasionally ask for a second opinion.

 

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You will need to locate a reliable market for the rabbits that you will be culling out of your breeding program.  This is a very important consideration that should be undertaken before ever breeding for your first litter.

 

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Plan to purchase your own tattooing equipment if you will be breeding more than one litter over a year’s time.  You should plan on marking every rabbit born out of your rabbitry.  An experienced breeder will be happy to show you the fine points of the tattooing process.

 

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Search out a veterinarian in your area with experience in treating rabbits.  This is not always an easy task.  Rabbits pose their own unique health needs that many family veterinarians are not necessarily aquatinted with.  As a breeder it is your responsibility to become familiar with some of the more common health problems and there recommended treatment.  A good place to begin your education is Island Gems Rabbit Medical Articles, Cause, Symptoms, Treatment, and Medications.   Their web address is www.islandgems.net/medical.html. Though this site is not meant to take the place of a visit to your veterinarian, it does offer pointers and suggestions to help you recognize problems with insight into suggested treatments.

 

 

Two things I strongly suggest that you avoid, Breeding rabbits as pets and thoughts of raising rabbits for profit. 

 

There is not a huge market for selling pedigreed show rabbits and practically none for crossbred rabbits or pet rabbits.  This is not to say you will not fine books and articles suggesting a glowing business raising and selling rabbits for profit.  While there are some large operations that have proved successful they are not the norm.  By far the vast majority of people who raise rabbits will expend far more money than they can ever expect to recover.  Rabbits should never be considered as anything other than a fun hobby.


Though this list is not intended to be all-inclusive, I do hope that it offers some insight and suggestions that will prove helpful.  If you have taken the time to read The Story of Verlannahill on our web page, you will have some appreciation for the adventures that we experienced.  There is always something to be said about learning from your mistakes, but forehand knowledge can be a whole lot cheaper.

 

John W. Jones

Verlannahill Rabbitry

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