PENS AND FRYERS
The meat pen and fryer competition is a
demonstration of the breeders' ability to produce a market animal
of consistent size and quality.
Meat rabbits are judged for body type, condition,
and uniformity by the American Rabbit Breeders Association (ARBA)
Standard of Perfection. Their type must be meaty, with prime
muscle condition. The meat pen should be uniform in size, all the
same color, and all the same breed. The judges will balance the
characteristics of type, condition, and uniformity in deciding
which is the best entry. Some judges will place emphasis on
meat pen is three rabbits, any gender, more than three pounds and
less than five pounds. A single fryer is a rabbit, any gender,
more than three pounds and less than five pounds. They must not
be older than 70 days.
fur is preferred by processors, but is not required in meat pens.
New Zealand Whites and Californians are the most common meat
breed of rabbits. I thumbed through the Standard of Perfection
and picked out some rabbit breeds that could be suitable for meat
rabbits. I included Californians and New Zealands for comparison.
Sized Rabbit Breeds With Senior Buck and Senior Doe Weight Ranges
Mandolin Body Type
American* (Blue &
Medium Length Body
8.5 - 10.5
9.5 - 11.5
8.5 - 10.5
8 - 10.5
8.5 - 11
Hotots* (blanc de
7.5 - 9.5
8 - 10.5
8.5 - 10
* On Rare Breed
you can find something interesting in this bunch. By the way,
Hotots are mostly white, but do not have red eyes.
you can enter colored rabbits in meat pen competition, realize
that commercial whites, as in New Zealand White and Californian,
are often well developed specimens due to intense breeding and
Do your best to present the best specimens of
colored rabbit breeds for your meat pens.
rabbits are big rabbits. The adults commonly weigh 9 to 12
pounds. The kits will get up to 5 lbs each in 10 weeks, so 8
rabbits in a growing out cage will weigh 40 lbs by processing
time. You need at least one BIG cage. 30 inch wide by 24 inch
deep by 18 or 24 inch high is good.
need feeders or feed crocks, and two water bottles or watering
system nipples for the cage, so two rabbits can drink at once.
breed your own rabbits, you will need a nest box. A nest box that
is 10 inch wide by 14 inch long by 10 inch high will be adequate.
A top on the nest box is not required, but it is a good place for
the doe to get up away from the litter. Be sure there is a
bottom/floor in the box also. Metal nest boxes have removable
floors usually made of wood or pressed fiberboard.
be sure that the door of your cage is big enough for the nest box
to go in and out easily. I recommend using hay instead of straw
for nest material, so the kits can start nibbling hay as early as
Your meat rabbits may not be more than 70 days
old at the time of judging. You need to calculate back from the
judging date. If judging will occur on Sat August 13, count back
10 Saturdays (70 days) to Saturday June 4. This is the day you
want your litter to be born. Rabbits have a 31 to 33 day
gestation period. Typically they are born on day 31.
So we will
count back 31 days from June 4 which happens to be Wednesday May
4. That is your breeding day for meat rabbits for fair judging on
Saturday August 13. But adjust as needed for the actual judging
doe to the buck. Check the doe's vulva and look at the color, it
should be reddish or purple. Whitish color is not very good
potential. Watch them to be sure they breed. Let them breed
twice. If the doe does not accept the buck, try putting the doe
in the buck's cage and move the buck to the doe's cage for the
night. Put them back together in the bucks cage in the morning to
see if they will breed.
morning and night until the buck breeds the doe and you SEE it.
Start counting days from the day of breeding.
is time to test the buck and doe, I would recommend a test litter
before the fair if you have another big cage. Breed the doe 8 or
9 weeks before your fair breeding date. Then breed on your fair
breeding date. The test litter will be about 3 or 4 weeks old.
While she still has a litter in the cage, she will be more likely
to accept the buck.
The nest box goes in on day 28 with hay in it. If she eats
the hay, put more in. If there is no litter by day 35, take the
box out, she missed. Try not to put the box in the corner where
she normally poops or she may decide to poop in the box.
must put nesting material in the box. You can put straw in the
nest box. Fill the box loosely with straw. The doe probably
remove some straw or will pack the straw so a little burrow is
formed. You can use straw or hay if you want to. Many
people will use hay so the baby rabbits will nibble on the hay as
they grow. I also like to put a half inch of wood shavings on the
bottom of the nest box to help absorb wetness.
will have her litter in the nest box, but not always. Sometimes
the does will have the litter on the wire floor outside the box.
Do not panic. This is especially common with first time rabbit
moms. Pick up the kits and put them in the box.
doe is finished having the litter, remove the box from the cage
with the litter inside the box. You can give the doe a piece of
apple or some hay to distract her.
kits and remove any dead kits or afterbirth. Check the corners of
the box so you do not miss any. Get an accurate count now. This
is how many kits you will look for on your daily litter check.
This is good time to put fresh hay in the box. Try to save some
fur from the nest box to put back in with the kits.
remove the box everyday to check the kits. Remove any dead kits
you find, and any yucky stuff you find in there. Put in fresh hay
if needed. If it gets very cold at night you may want to bring
the nest box into the house during the night and take it back to
the cage in morning. The doe will hop in to nurse the kits. Leave
the box in for the day and bring it back to the house at night if
it will be cold.
is when you separate the kits from milk supply and leave them
with pellets and hay to eat. This is usually done by removing the
doe or some of the kits.
doe in the cage 6 weeks or longer if she will put up with the
kits. Leave the litter in the same cage. Moving the litter
stresses them and they stop eating. Always have pellets and water
all the time. Leave the litter together as long as you can since
they eat more when they are competing for food.
separate the doe from all the kits, give her hay and water only
for one day, no pellets, to dry up her milk and avoid any mammary
YOUR MEAT PEN RABBITS
You can enter two meat pens and two
single fryers in the fair. But for practical purposes, from a
litter of eight or ten you should be able to
rabbits; three for a meat pen and two for single fryers. If you
have any runts you can cull those so there is more milk for the
of the litter.
your tattoo numbers but do not tattoo the rabbits yet. You can
send in your entry form before you tattoo the rabbits. A week
before the fair, you can tattoo the rabbits with the numbers you
MEAT PEN RABBITS
You will need own the rabbits 30 days before
the fair. This means you have to buy them and pick them up at 5
weeks old (35 - 40 days). Put your rabbits in a cage and leave
them in that cage until the fair, unless they start fighting,
then you separate the fighters.
Or if you
need to own the rabbit 60 days before the fair, try to borrow a
doe for a litter or buy a doe with the litter.
The 30 day
and 60 day rule will be different depending on the rules for your
fair competition. Check the rules of your fair or show to learn
which rule applies to your situation.
BUCK AND A DOE
Plan now for your meat pen breeding. Even if it
is September and your fair is not until May. You need to locate a
buck and a doe. If you do not have room for a buck and a doe, try
sharing with another member in your project. One of you can keep
the buck and one can keep the doe and you can split the litter
for a meat pen.
Or talk to
a breeder about borrowing a doe. You pay the breeder for breeding
the doe. Then you take the doe and keep her and the litter for
the meat pen competition. After you wean the litter, you return
the doe to the breeder.
In the best case situation, you
will have use of a "proven" doe and buck, which means
these animals have had litters previously and can be expected to
produce litters again.
If you buy rabbits, you can show a bill of sale as
proof of ownership. If you raise your own, take a picture of you
and the litter when it is born with the date written on a piece
of paper in the picture to establish your ownership. A letter
stating you are the owner and signed by you and your parent
should sufficient. Check with your youth program advisor.
PREPARED TO PROCESS A RABBIT
At auction, the buyer can usually
take the rabbits home, donate the rabbits back to the exhibitor,
or request they be processed (butchered or custom). It is the
exhibitor's responsibility to process the rabbits for the buyer.
cannot find a butcher to do this for you, try to locate an
experienced hunter to help you or show you. Or you can do it
BONK AND PROCESS A RABBIT.
There are good descriptions for
processing in many publications. "Raising Rabbits the Modern
Way" a book by Bob Bennett
"Storey's Guide to
Raising Rabbits" a book by Bob Bennett
butchering and euthanasia can found at
view the Rare Breed Rabbits list and see an article describing
how the Rare Breeds were identified at the
good website is American Rabbit Breeders Association
about The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy
4H Rabbit List on yahoogroups, an email discussion of topics
related to 4H rabbit
article is stored at http://www.rabbitgeek.com/meatpennotes.html
to raise rabbits
to build hutches
to tan hides
to do with all that manure - etc
guide to raising rabbits for meat.
include rabbit reproduction, feeding instructions, and breed
A must read for the beginner.
is delicious and nutritious. There are several aspects of raising
rabbits for meat. Here I only discuss a few, but it is enough to
get the small farmer going.
YOUR BREED OF RABBIT
your rabbit's breed is probably the most important decision you
will make concerning your rabbits. My advice is to read as much
as you can before deciding which breed you like the most. You
will probably find that most producers raise only either New
Zealands, Californians, or a combination of the two. Most
producers have purebred stock of
each of the two breeds, and crossbreed them to produce more
vigorous young that
grow more quickly. They can also breed the purebred adults, and
sell the purebred offspring as breeders.
Zealands come in different colours, such as black, red, and the
most popular for meat purposes, white. These weigh from 10-13
pounds when mature. They are known for their ability to grow
market-ready fryers (4-5 pounds) by 8 weeks of age. Their average
litter size is 8-10 bunnies. The breed was developed in the USA
and is well-proportioned and has a full, well-muscled body type,
and prominently veined ears.
another good meat breed, also developed in the USA. It comes in
only one colour-white with black ears, nose, feet and tail. At
maturity, this breed weighs 9-10 pounds.The average litter size
is 6-8. The body is rather plump, but fine-boned. Breeders often
cross New Zealand and Californians for their vigorous hybrid
This is one
of the oldest breeds of rabbits. It is completely black when
born, but gradually turns silver as it matures. It is medium
length, with well-developed hind-quarters. They weigh about 10-15
pounds at maturity.
this rabbit weighs only 4-6 pounds at maturity, it is better
suited to the fryer market. This breed is becoming more popular
for home meat production, and crossbreeding. The fur is white
with good density and texture, and they have a compact, meaty
body, short neck, and small head. This breed was developed in the
USA as well.
good feed is an integral part of rabbit raising. Rabbits can
consume many different types of feedstuff, but the best way to go
is to feed commercial pellets and good quality timothy/alfalfa
hay. Refrain from feeding your rabbit cabbage and lettuce, as
this will upset the balance of good bacteria in their stomach and
cause them to get diarrhea. If you can't resist and your rabbit
gets a good dose of diarrhea, give him/her wild rasberry canes.
The diarrhea should clear up within 24 hours. Rabbits should get
pellets that contain at least 16% fibre.
How much to
feed is an important thing to know. If you give your rabbit too
much, it will become fat, and may have problems breeding, and if
a doe becomes too fat, it is likely that she will have troubles
when kindling. If you give them too little feed, then they will,
obviously, become too skinny and be more prone to other diseases.
Here is a list of the amount of feed you should give your rabbit.
Remember though, each rabbit is an individual, and these are
guidelines only. You should learn your rabbit's needs, and adjust
its feed accordingly. These are daily amounts. The first amount
is for medium breeds, and the third for large breeds.
oz. 4-9 oz.
Does 6 oz.
1-15 days 6 oz. 9 oz
16-30 days 7-8oz. 10-11 oz.
litter 10 oz. 12 oz. (Litter size-6-8 young, one week old)
litter 18 oz. 24 oz. (Litter size-6-8 young, one month old)
litter 28 oz. 36 oz. (Litter size-6-8 young,6-8 weeks old)
weaned rabbit 3-6 oz. 6-9 oz.
way to tell if your rabbit is getting enough feed is to stroke
its backbone regularly. If the bumps of your rabbit's backbone
feel sharp and pointed, increase its feed; if you can feel the
bumps, but they feel rounded, you are giving the right amount; if
you feel no bumps at all, then decrease your rabbit's intake. I
recommend a weekly check, just to make sure.
thing you need to decide when you want bunnies is when to breed
Medium breeds should be about 5-6 months before they're bred, and
large breeds should not be bred until at least 8 months of age.
The rabbits you choose should be in excellent health. Make sure
that the rabbits you are breeding are not closely related. When
you put the buck and doe together, take the doe to the buck's
cage or the doe will attack him to defend her territory, and the
buck may be more interested in her cage than in her.
doe is in the buck's cage, the buck should try to breed her right
away. If she is ready, she will allow him to mount, and raise her
hindquarters for him. The buck will squeal and fall off sideways
if a mating occurs. If the doe runs around the cage and won't
stand for the buck, then you should remove her and try in a few
days. After the first few times, he should be able to do it on
his own. A doe is an induced ovulator. This means that she will
produce eggs only after sexual stimulation. After the mating has
taken place, the follicles in the ovary grow quickly. They break
and release the eggs about ten hours later. During this time, the
sperm are moving through the doe's reproductive system.
Sometimes, the sperm doesn't live long enough for the eggs to be
fertilized, so most breeders put them together again 8-12 hours
later to ensure that the doe will have bunnies.
gestation period of a rabbit is 31 days. The young should be born
within a few days of this date. Sometimes a doe will go through
'pseudopregnancy'. This happens when a young doe is sexually
stimulated or has an infertile mating. She may appear to be bred,
even to the point of producing milk and pulling fur to line her
nest. Following stimulation, the doe releases egg cells, which
cause the uterus to swell, which, in turn, activates the mammary
glands. Ovulation cannot take place until seventeen days after
the initial stimulation which caused the pseudopregnancy. After
the seventeen days are up, put the doe (if she's to be bred) in
with the buck, as this will be the point at which her fertility
is highest. To prevent pseudopregnancy, separate young does that
are to be bred three weeks before mating. Once a doe has had her
first litter, she is less likely to undergo another
thing you must do after mating has taken place is to write down
when the doe was bred and when she is due. You can write it down
on a calendar, or on hutch cards which are placed on the doe's
cage and the bucks cage. Also, it is a good idea to have a rabbit
record book to keep track of the pedigrees and who's who and
what's what. Your records should include:
name or number
number of rabbit to which this rabbit was bred
bunnies at weaning time (optional)
As time for
your doe to kindle (give birth) gets closer, you will need a nest
box for her to give birth in. There are several choices you can
make. The most common one is to make a nest box from 3/8"
plywood. One thing is that you have to disinfect it between
litters with a solution of 1 part household bleach to 5 parts
water. Let it dry in the sunlight.
choices are wire nest boxes, which are made from 1/2x1"
wire, and you use cardboard liners that you can throw away; and
metal nest boxes which you can buy in stores and put cardboard
liners in them. Next you need nesting materials. I use hay and
straw, but you can also use wood shavings, shredded newspaper, or
cardboard. Put the nest box in three days prior to the kindling
date of your doe.
As the due
date of your doe approaches, you may notice that she is more
nervous than usual. Keep other animals away, as well as anything
that may cause noise or undue stress. When you put the nest box
in, some does will jump in and build their nest right away,
whereas others will wait to the last minute before building their
nest. Your doe may go around the pen, looking for straw or
bedding and gather it up in her mouth. When she is finished
arranging the bedding, she will pull fur from her belly and
dewlap. This serves two purposes. The first is to provide a warm
bed for her youngsters, the second is to expose her nipples so
the bunnies can nurse better. The doe may eat less a day or two
before she gives birth. After she has kindled, gently pull aside
the fur and take a quick count. If there are dead or deformed
bunnies, remove them, and cover the bunnies back up.
things don't go as they should, and your doe may die. You may
have to foster your bunnies if you have another doe which has
kindled on the same day. To do this, rub the doe's nose in
vanilla extract and put the bunnies in the nest. Usually, the doe
will not notice anything amiss, but if she does, she may try to
kill the bunnies or just refuse to feed them. If this happens,
remove the bunnies immediately, and feed them by hand. Here is a
recipe for the "˜milk' that you should use.
1 pint skim
2 egg yolks
2 tbsp Karo
to the bunnies with an eyedropper until they are full (usually
they eat 5-7 ccs). Your bunnies should be healthy, and it is up
to YOU to keep them that way. As soon as the doe is done
kindling, make sure that there is fur pulled, and if not, you
must pull some from the doe's belly. This will not hurt her. Make
sure there are no babies on
the wire, and if there are, slip them into your shirt up against
your skin to warm them. Then return them to the nest. Be certain
to watch for bunnies out of the nest box every day, because
sometimes a doe will jump out of the box with a bunny still
usually open their eyes about ten days after birth. Sometimes
bunnies are unable to open their eyes, and have a hard crusty
material holding them closed. You can use eyedrops made for
people, such as Murine, with a cotton swab to clean the crusty
stuff away. Then, gently separate the lids. Usually subsequent
treatments are unnecessary. At about three weeks of age, the
bunnies will start to come out of the nest box, and eat solid
food. Take out the nest box. The young can be weaned anywhere
between four-eight weeks, but the longer they stay with
the better. I wean mine at eight weeks.
rebreed my does when the bunnies are 6-7 weeks of age, so the doe
can have two-three weeks after her litter is weaned to regroup
and get ready for her new litter.
If you need
any advice on any health problems, please contact your
veterinarian. A clean rabbitry is a healthy rabbitry, and you
shouldn't encounter too many problems. Rabbit raising is a very
rewarding business, if practiced correctly.