I am often asked how I run a successful Rabbitry. First of all, I have a grand total of eight cages folks. My Rabbitry is really nothing special. Is it successful? Umm… sure. Is it profitable? Umm… probably not. So gauging my success with rabbits is really a matter of defining your idea of “successful”. I will tell you something though, I feel that I run a successful Rabbitry because of how happy my customers are with my rabbits and how beneficial my rabbits have been to my own goals.
I do have a few words of wisdom to those of you thinking if starting your own Rabbitry. Whether that Rabbitry is focused on wool breeds, meat breeds, or pet breeds, hopefully these tips will help you in making that big decision and to move forward.
1. Don’t breed rabbits to sell rabbits.
This may confuse you right off the bat. Don’t I need to breed my rabbits in order to make more rabbits to sell? Well, yes. But the bigger question should be why? Why do you want to sell rabbits so badly? Are you trying to improve the breed for show? Are you breeding for meat? Question your own motives first before breeding. Please do not breed your rabbits just so your children (or yourself) can “experience the cycle of life”. I can guarantee that you will never sell every last rabbit, which brings me to my next point…
2. Have a plan for rabbits that don’t sell.
If you have a rabbit, or two, or twenty, that you are not able to sell, what will you do with them all? The largest and most important aspect of running a Rabbitry –or choosing to breed any animal for that matter– is to take responsibility for your actions. Be prepared to butcher extras to keep your numbers down if need be. Don’t plan to give away your problems on Craigslist or FreeCycle.
3. Don’t go over your maximum occupancy.
This one kind of resonates with the first two keys. Don’t breed for four litters when you really only have resources to support two. Additionally, don’t buy or bring home three rabbits when you only had room for two. This should be common sense, but it is hard to be rational when you are faced with fuzzy cuteness.
4. Don’t expect to turn a profit.
Honestly, just don’t. It doesn’t matter how you work the numbers, it just isn’t very likely that you are going to make any sort of profit that is worth bragging about. If you become a millionaire from raising rabbits, please let me in on your secret… you must be a god or an alien or something.
5. Think feed!
Do a little research on what is available in your area. Pellets are easy, sure, but they are not always the best choice. Quite a few “big brands” of feed have been known to be the cause of wiping out an entire Rabbitry because of poor quality or mold in the feed. Be careful, look for quality, and go for fewer ingredients. Rabbits are herbivores, not vegetarians. They eat seeds, leafy greens, grasses, etc. Fruits and veggies are treats.
6. Have extra supplies on hand.
This is fairly self explanatory. I can’t think of a time when extra supplies weren’t handy. It’s just a good idea for when something breaks to have an extra.
7. Check local laws.
This is a weird and overlooked point. First of all, does your city or homeowners association have rules on a maximum number of pets? Are rabbits considered “pets” or “livestock” in your area? Also look up the youngest age you are legally allowed to sell rabbits in your state. For most states it is eight-weeks old, but look into it for your own peace of mind.
8. Know your breed!
First find the breed you would like to focus on. Don’t choose more than two breeds to start. Do all the research you can before buying that first rabbit! The American Rabbit Breeders Association, ARBA, has a fantastic book on the accepted standards for each breed. The “Standards of Perfection” book costs about $15 on their website, but you will not find the information anywhere else. Not even on the Internet. The SOP lists each breed’s details such as standard weight, accepted show colors, disqualifications, and more. This is particularly handy when you are running a Rabbitry and/or breeding animals. You don’t have to “show” rabbits to make it worth your while to learn these things. Become an expert in your breed!
9. If you can’t clean it, you can’t own it.
This is a really great family rule that applies to animals as well. I don’t care if you find someone to help with cleaning cages and equipment. I don’t care if you pay someone to do it for you. But if it isn’t cleaned at least once a week, it isn’t going to live here.
10. Prepare for the worst.
Things die, plain and simple. It is a sad truth. Have a health plan (do you go to the vet?) and set a price limit for each rabbit. If you choose to go to the vet (make sure your vet is knowledgeable in rabbits specifically), set a price limit for what you are willing to spend. Very few, if any, rabbit ailments are curable, so spending $500 to prolong a painful life is no way to treat your animals and no way to spend your money. Be prepared, study illnesses, know basic kit care and milestones, and remember that not every rabbit kit will live.
11. Cull hard.
Go ahead and visit the “Contact Us” page to send your hate mail, because I know I’m going to get reamed for this one. Cull hard! If it is weak, sick, or aggressive, it has no place in your Rabbitry and CERTAINLY no place in your breeding program. Period. Weak kits won’t live, sick animals will infect everyone else, and aggressive animals will only cause you heartache and pass on bad traits. Why would you want to deal with all that? In my Rabbitry, weakness leads to a ceremonial firing squad, new animals are ALWAYS quarantined to prevent the spread of sickness and a longer health assessment period, and aggression calls for a first-class ticket to freezer camp. No one likes to talk about it, but cull hard and without exception.
12. Stand behind your sales!
First, be honest. Ripped ear? List the rabbit as so and be sure the buyer understands that the rabbit will not be “showable”. Heck, give them a discount! Be a decent and reputable Rabbitry. What makes it easier for everyone is to have a clear and fair sales policy that protects you and your Rabbitry. I personally do not offer a health guarantee because I do not know first-hand how the rabbit is fed, treated, or what other animals it is exposed to after leaving my Rabbitry. I am always happy to explain this to people, and you know what? No one is ever upset by it once they hear my reasoning. More importantly though, provide support to your customers. Give them someone to talk to about any joys, issues, or questions they may have. Then, make sure they have your contact information even if it changes. Don’t be that breeder that disappears off the face of the earth once you get paid. Be punctual, helpful, and supportive. You will always be the breeder of that rabbit and forever responsible for it.