Thinking about getting into rabbits, but not sure what you’ll need to raise them properly? Good news, with a few basic items, you’ll be starting off right!
To raise rabbits you will need:
- High quality breeding stock
- A hutch or pen for each adult rabbit
- Nest box for each doe
- A hutch for each litter of growing rabbits (fryers)
- Water bottles or bowls
- Pelleted feed
- A way to handle the manure
- A shaded place to put the rabbit pens
We’ll focus on the things you need to raise meat rabbits, not pet rabbits. If you are not raising rabbits for meat, everything is the same for setting up to raise pet rabbits except for the specific tips on breeding stock selection.
How many rabbits do your need? I have a great article on How Many Rabbits Do You Need For A Family Of Four, check it out!
Purchase meat type does and bucks
Purchasing high quality meat type rabbits breeding stock is the first step towards successfully raising rabbits for meat.
Sincerely, nothing will make up for poor quality genetics if you cheap out on breeding stock or buy the “cute ones” that you are pretty sure will work.
Don’t chance it! It will cost you just as much to feed a high quality, meaty rabbit as it will to feed a rabbit with a thinner build.
Traits you are looking for in your rabbits
What are you looking for? Here are some things to start:
- Healthy rabbit, clear eyes and nose
- Wide across the shoulders
- Wide across the loin
A high quality meat rabbit will look chunky. If you are interested in rabbits that are not “meaty” looking, realize that they will take much longer to feed to butchering weight, if they make it. You will also get less meat per rabbit when you do decide to butcher them.
Cost To Get Started With Meat Rabbits gives you the cost breakdown to get started with a high quality trio and the equipment needed to keep them and raise their fryers.
Things you want to avoid with rabbits
Things you are looking for in order to avoid:
- Discharge from eyes or nose
- Poopy hind end
- Scruffy fur
- Ear mites
- Fur mites!
- Sore hocks
- Thin/long build
As you can tell, most of these problems to avoid are health related. Treatable problems, like ear mites, you can get rid of, but why give yourself extra work to do?
It is in your best interest to avoid this list, even the easily treatable ones, when getting your first few rabbits.
The last “thing to avoid” is thin/long build. A rabbit with a long or thin build will take longer to grow, eat more and produce less meat. Choose meat type genetics to begin with to raise rabbits economically.
Rabbits need a roomy pen
There are a few things to keep in mind when choosing or building a pen for your rabbits.
- Floor space
- Location of pen in shade, out of wind and rain
- Can you reach the rabbit
- Can you monitor the kits
- Handling manure
Your rabbits will need some sort of pen. It could be individual pens, for adult breeding stock or a group pen for the fryers.
You’ll need to keep in mind the final size of the rabbits or have another pen to move them too when they need more space.
Rabbit pen size needed, per adult rabbit
If your rabbits are for breeding stock, each doe will need to have a pen large enough for a nest box and a separate pen for the doe when you wean the kits. The buck will also need a pen of his own.
You should be planning for 24″ x 30″ per rabbit and more like 30″ x 36″ for a meat breed rabbit that will be bred, you’ll need the space for the nest box.
Have one nest box per doe
Nest boxes keep babies safe, you’ll need one per doe. Nest boxes can be built at home or purchased.
If your rabbits are pets, you don’t need a nest box and it may actually be a bad idea. Your rabbit may decide to use the nest box as a toilet (which you’ll have to continually clean out), giving you more work to do!
Cage floors should be made of cage wire
Most people would have their rabbits on a wire floor with a resting board put in for the rabbit to get off of the wire when she wants to.
The wire need to be small enough that it supports the rabbit but large enough that the poop balls will easily fall through.
For cage floors, 1″ by 1/2″ cage wire is commonly used (it will hold up better than hardware cloth). The sides of the cage are usually made of a wire with bigger openings, since the nice and sturdy cage wire used on the floor is costly.
You’d think a wooden floor would be ideal and easy on the rabbit’s feet, but not so!
A wooden floor will keep all of the manure and urine in the pen so the rabbit will have to track through it all day.
Since a solid floor will severely limit ventilation, it will also trap odors (like ammonia fumes), in the cage. You definitely want a floor of cage wire!
To be clear: you need a pen for each adult rabbit, plus a pen to raise each group of fryers (weaned and growing kits).
Colony raising rabbits as an option
I know some people are colony raising rabbits. I’ve never raised rabbits this way. but I see articles and videos from a number of people who are.
If you want more information on colony raising rabbits, check out Dana Thompson in New Zealand.
Rabbits need a feeder
The most popular type of feeder for rabbits is a J feeder.
This feeder holds a few days worth of pelleted feed and is harder for the rabbits to dig feed pellets out of or to poop in.
Your more “creative” individuals can still manage it! Overall, a J feeder keeps the feed clean and cuts down on wasted feed.
If you are considering giving your rabbits some other feeds in addition to the pellets, put the new feed (like oats) in a separate, hard to spill bowl.
Do not put the supplemental feed in the J feeder or the rabbits will dig out the pieces they want and spill the rest of the feed!
Provide rabbit proof water
The reason I put rabbit proof is that your rabbits will try to spill any water they can jump into, like a crock on the cage floor.
This is the reason why you see that so many rabbit raisers have their rabbit’s water in a water bottle hung on the outside of the cage.
The good news is that using the water bottle does keep the water out of reach of the rabbit. The bad news is that if you need fast growth from your rabbits, you should use a crock/bowl for the water instead.
Why? It takes more effort to get water out of a water bottle than to drink it from the bowl. Plenty of water is needed for fast growth, in order to digest the food. Limit the water and you have effectively limited the growth of your rabbits!
For a pet rabbit or any breeding stock that is not quickly growing, a water bottle will be fine. For a fast growing rabbit, especially a group, use a “spill proof” bowl that you refill a few times a day.
To be clear, your rabbit will poop in the bowl, at least in my experience! This is the reason you need to refill the bowl. Most likely they didn’t drink it all, they need fresh.
Rabbits need a good pelleted feed
The easiest way to feed your rabbit is with pelleted feed. It’s complete, with all of the nutrients that your rabbits will need.
Get a 16% to start with and feed it to all of your rabbits. If you have a choice (not all areas offer multiple brands of rabbit feed) go with a pellet made of hay/grasses over one that is high in grains, like corn.
Read the label. If the first few ingredients listed are grains, try to find another brand.
Feeding no or low amount of pelleted feed
You’ll come across plenty of information online mentioning feeding rabbits without pellets. Take caution here.
You’ll really need to be on your game with nutrition and balancing the ration to make sure your rabbits are getting what they need, if you don’t feed any pellets.
Is no pelleted feeding doable? Yes. Is it easy? No. You must do some work and balance the rations. If you do not balance the rations, you’ll have problems with growth and reproduction in your rabbits.
A more popular choice than no pellets would be to add greens or hay for part of ration. Certainly doable, but will make your rabbits grow more slowly than feeding all pellets. Nothing wrong with finishing a bit slower, if it pleases you!
How are you handling the manure?
Your rabbits will be producing manure, its guaranteed! All rabbits, of all breeds. What are your plans to use the manure your rabbitry produces?
If you are a gardener, rabbit manure is the ticket! Not into gardening? Ask around or put up an ad online.
Rabbits need to be in the shade
Shade is a big deal for rabbits! Your rabbits like a temperature that is much lower than what you would consider comfortable, think lower 60’s.
Locate your rabbit hutches in all day shade or under the overhang of a building. Rabbits having all day sun is asking for trouble with heat!
I should mention, the other option is a temperature controlled building for your rabbits, like the wall of an insulated and temperature regulated garage.
I don’t have a space like that available. Too bad, it would be ideal and I’d definitely use it if I had it!
“Extras” that will make raising rabbits easier
The following items are nice to have and will make your life easier by helping you do a better job with your rabbits. They are not mandatory items, but are handy.
Resting boards: These are flat, plastic, grid mats that give the rabbit a place to get off of the wire. You could use a piece of wood, but it will not have the airflow or be as easily kept clean.
Get new heavy duty ones, the recycled ones are too soft and rabbits eat them!
Carpet square: Using carpet square anytime you set the rabbit on a table (or other slick surface) helps the rabbit feed more secure.
Fans: Sometimes, it’s still smoking hot in the shade! That’s when you need additional cooling power for your rabbitry. If you have access to electricity where you keep your rabbits, use a fan to help them stay more comfortable.
Scale: The best way to tell how your rabbit is doing is to weigh it. Fryers need to be weighed to see how they are gaining and adults need to have their weight monitored, as well.
While this may not seem like a big deal at first, consider that one of the main reasons why rabbits do not stay productive is because they are fat! This applies to both bucks and does.
If you weigh your adult rabbits monthly you will have a better idea of how they are doing on your current feeding plan and if that plan needs adjusted to keep them in top form.
Relying on “even though I already fed her the correct amount, the rabbit still looks hungry” will have you overfeeding, leading to fat and unproductive rabbits.
The second thing you should be weighing is the feed, for any rabbit not on full feed. Why? It’s the fat thing again.
Pen Records: For pen records you can get as simple or as complicated as you want. I use index cards that are clipped right on to the cage. Put them in a section where the rabbit can’t reach through the wire and chew on them!
I tend to put the most urgent items on the card in marker then switch the card as needed. Things like due dates, or planned breeding dates.
Really, anything you need to know, or at least not forget, while you are out with your rabbits doing day to day care.
The cards are great for short term information, not so great for long term. That’s where the notebook comes in handy.
I also like to keep a “master list” in a note book. This helps me keep track of what the rabbits do over a period of time.
Routines, Tools and Equipment Needed To Raise Rabbits is an interesting list type article on Grit.com. His list is a bit different than mine, check it out to see if you want to include some of these items, as well.