This is an article i wrote for a forum a while ago detailing what it takes to be a breeder. While we need more breeders who are dedicated to preserving and bettering our pure breeds, you need to know that breeding is DEFFINATLY for you... so if you are thinking about breeding this article may help you.
Firstly you must consider if you are intending to breed rabbits as 'pets' or to show:
There are plenty of accidental bunnies in rescues so breeding purely as pets, or cross bred is rather irresponsible...
To breed to show standards (even if you are not actually showing) if very rewarding... however there are some things to consider:
SPACE - Do you have space to house many rabbits?... before you breed a litter you should make sure you can KEEP all the babies should homes not be found. Even if you use the smaller breeder blocks of hutches, you need the extra space to allow for regular exercise.
MONEY - Health treatments, find a good vet... many breeders dont vaccinate... but that is up to you to decide. You need to have a back up for emergencies... dont be left short... and then the general care... shavings, treats, food... my bills are aroun £100 per month for shavings and feed... do not count on money from sales of rabbits... so far this year i have 'made' £50 from selling buns... (in one hand out the other... straight to feed store) and as you can see from how much my maintence is everymonth... im still over £1000 down. On top of that are toys (i buy in bulk which reduces the cost), hutches... very expensive... no good cutting corners as youll pay for it later. Then if you are showing, you need entry fees (winnings never cover your entry...) and the petrol to get to them, longer distance shows require over night stays... we are attending the london show in a couple of weeks... over night hotel, huge entry fees and approx 7 hour journey (there... and another 7 back).
TIME - When you have several buns, they each need time, they need handling and care. It is important when you have youngsters, they need lots of handling SEVERAL times a day. That is on top of normal care duties, cleaning out (every day) and the general cuddling and handling. I spend about half an hour on a morning feeding before i go to work, and then around 4 hours or so every evening cleaning and playing, in the summer more (i have no social life), you need to give up weekends for show days, and clubs need help with the putting up of pens and running of the show.
BREEDING - There are risks in breeding, rabbits dont breed like rabbits and its very dissapointing, with the smaller breeds (mini lops, nethies etc) it is very common for a doe to simply EAT, ignore or part eat a young baby. Do you have the ability to put to sleep a newborn kit that is writhing in pain, babies are born at all hours of the day and sometimes it has to be done. One of the hardest choices, can you pts healthy kits? - i always find this very hard, but if a doe has a litter too large for her to manage and you have no foster does availble YOU ARE PUTTING THE DOE AT RISK BY LEAVING THE FULL LITTER. Usually nature takes its course so thankfully ive not had to make that decision often, can you let the doe make it, if she decides a baby is not worth raising, you have to let her. Remember she knows more than you.
On top of that there are very important things that responsible breeders must do:
Health and Temperment MUST be at the foremost of your breeding program, you cant breed from a rabbit that is vicious even if it wins loads of prizes, this is a real bug bear of mine and people who do this clearly dont actually care about their animals. The same applies for health, so avoid any rabbit that has been fed on medicated pellets as they just mask all sorts of nasty problems that will soon pass through all your rabbits. If you cant keep it healthy without constant antibiotics there is a problem.
You need to rehome rabbits, you can't keep everything you breed, and as such you need to be able to screen homes, sell youngsters on a contract. You need the strength to say no if a home isnt right, and you get a lot of those. How much you sell them for is up to you, personally i feel if we priced them fairly as what a rabbit is really worth, no one would pay it. As it is i charge just enough to put people off wanting cheep snake food.
You also have to think about older rabbits, you can keep them, but bear in mind, a rabbit only breeds untill they are about 3, they may have 10 or more years left to live after that. If you do keep all your older rabbits, at some point you will have to stop breeding as you wont have the space. Most breeders decide to rehome older rabbits, either as pets, or if still young as breeding animals to another breeder. I do a bit of both, however many stay here for their retirement and i have specially dedicated retirement hutches.
As a responsible breeder it is your duty to ensure that no rabbit you have bred suffers neglect, abuse or ends up in a rescue, choose the homes carefully, and keep in touch, you must insist (new owners of my bunnies sign a contract) that if a rabbit can never be cared for (for whatever reason... many genuine) that it comes back to you, you need to have the facilities to deal with this should it ever happen.
So as you can see, you must have empty hutches, it doesnt work out at a hutch per bun, you need spaces to seperate the babies and to cope with returned buns should they happen, plus if you add in the retired buns that you cant part with you'll soon add up to a lot of space. Where to put them is another concern, most fanciers use a shed, more to protect the breeder than the buns as it's not nice cleaning out loads of hutches in the rain and snow.
You should only embark on breeding with a 'purpose' not just to produce 'cute fluffy pets' or 'to see a litter being raised' these are irresponsible reasons that add to rescue problems. Breeding should only be done to better the breed (bringing it nearer the standard), to keep it true to its attributes and improve the health and temperament of your chosen breed. Many rare breeds need to be preserved and others to be kept true, without breeders breeding 'pedigreed' rabbits all the buns would eventually end up as just one colour (agouti) and up ears and short fur, (personally i love those bunnies but wouldnt the world be dull if everybun looked the same).
Because the purpose of breeding is always to improve and better, you shouldn't breed a litter with no intentions of keeping a baby from it, if its not to help your breeding program what is the purpose of the litter, but having said that, you shouldn't keep a baby from every litter just for the sake of it, as you would soon be overrun, decide in advance what you want from a pairing, and only keep to your specifications.
Breeding rabbits is emotionally draining, you need to have the strength to say goodbye, both to babies you have raised from young and send off to carefully selected wonderful new homes, and also to older rabbits. There is a saying that goes 'when you keep livestock you also keep deadstock' its harsh but true. All rabbits eventually die, sometimes you have to make that decision as to when (although it should always be for health reasons and not because the rabbit is no longer good for breeding and showing) but sometimes, a rabbit must be pts not for its own sake but for the sake of the rest of your rabbits, some diseases that CAN be treated and managed CANT when you have other rabbits that you are putting at risk by doing so. This is a very hard thing to come to terms with.
...and if after all that you are still interested in breeding and showing, then it really is something that will bring you immense joy and pleasure. There is nothing more rewarding than watching a doe you have loved carefully raise a litter, to gain the confidence of a new bunny and see it win prizes at high levels. Seeing a breed, or colour achieving results that before you put the effort in where unthinkable and to see real progress in your rabbits and know that a rabbit loves you because it has a choice to.
Choosing a breed is tricky and every breed has a different personality, so dont choose on looks alone, smaller breeds are very difficult to breed and can be very upsetting, while larger breeds need more space, choose the one that suits you best. Popular breeds are 'easier' to rehome, but also attract the wrong kind of owners, so you have to say no more (ive never had to turn someone down who wants a sable baby, if theyve choose the breed that suits their requirements over the popular 'awwwwww lop' factor they have always turned out to be exellent bunny homes)
Finding your foundation rabbits is really tricky, find good breeders that put emphasis on the same things as you feel are important, avoid back yard breeders or anyone only interested in the money, dont over pay for a rabbit, true show breeders rarely charge much for breeding quality rabbits (in fact its usually cheeper than pet ones), people who charge a lot are usually not interested in selling you the best rabbits that you need, after choosing your breed and breeder be prepared to travel (my rabbits have come from as far away as 3 hours, 6 hours and 8 hours... thats long drives), and be prepared to wait (the longest wait i had was 10 months) to make sure you get exactly what you want, most breeders do keep a waiting list so you may not be first in line. Not every litter produces kits suitable for breeding or showing and remember breeders will want to keep the best stock back for themselves (except in certain circumstances i.e. when wanting a doe and only producing bucks etc)
If you are interested in starting with rabbits feel free to email me and we can talk about breeds, breeding and showing... have a look through the other articles on this site.