As one of the lower members of the natural food chain, rabbits have adapted to their circumstances by maturing to breeding age very early in their life. Young Bucks are ready to start breeding around 120 days or 4 months, while the Does are between 150 & 180 days, or 5 to 6 months of age. This along with large litters between 6 and 12 kits each birthing have helped to insure the survival of the species. Seperating your bucks and does before they reach these ages will help to insure you are not overwhelmed with unwanted pregenancies from rabbits in the same litter reproducing.
In order to control your breeding, it's very important to provide plenty of extra pens to not only house the young kits, but keep them seperated as they reach maturity. It's not recommended to breed rabbits of the same litter... This will result in birth defects and deplete the overall size of the fully grown rabbits obtained from such breeding. Choose your bucks and does that you wish to breed very carefully. Look for the traits you wish to pass along, and keep accurate records of births and parents to help insure the pair you choose to breed are distant cousins to say the least.
As a breeder here at Jones Road Farms, I have found that having 10 does and 4 bucks from different blood lines helps to insure strong healthy kits and large litters. When I find traits in young rabbits such as color, pelts, or even eye color that I wish to pass along, I will raise these rabbits to breeding age to replece some of my older breeders. It's also important that my young replacement breeders possess the maternal insticts, but often times I won't know how the young female will interact with her kits until after they are born.
Some rabbits just don't make good mothers and will kill the litter as soon as they are born. I'm really not sure why this happens from time to time, but once I discover this trait, the female in question is discarded immediatly never to be bred again. In over 50 breeders, I have only had this to happen twice.
Having a good quality breeding hutch is very important. These are usually a 2 section pen in which one side is closed in to allow privacy for birthing and nursing, while the other side is open living space for feeding and watering the mother. Once you have choosen a doe to breed, make the breeder hutch her home. When breeding, take her to the bucks pen for a 24 hour visit, then return her to her home.
Gestation for most breeds of rabbits is between 28 and 30 days. During this time, extra feed and water will need to be introduced because the mother rabbit's appetite will increase for the first 3 weeks or so. As the birth date approaches within 5 to 7 days, be sure to provide plenty of fresh clean hay for her to make her nest in the enclosed area of your breeder hutch. Bermuda hay seems to work best for the bedding because it is soft and twines together easily. Her appetite will decrease the last few days and she may prefer a piece of apple or celery instead of the pellet feed from time to time.
The mother rabbit will pull tufts of fur from her pelt to create a soft warm nest for her kits and cover them even further with extra tufts of fur to help keep them warm. Kits are born with very little to no fur, so this protective layer of fur the mother rabbit provides for her young is essential to their welfare and survival. As tempting as it may be to pull the fur away to look at the newborn kits, I highly recommend waiting at least one week before trying to see the young. A mother rabbit that doesn't fully trust you may decide to reject the litter after they have been disturbed early on. Simply place the tips of your fingers through the furry bed to check that the litter is good and warm if you must, but don't try to uncover or count them for at least a week. This will give the newborn kits time to develope their first thin coat of fur and it will be easier to determine which color paterns you have produced.
I check newborn litters every evening before dark to insure they are covered and there is still plenty of hay in the nesting area, and then again during my morning feeding rounds. The kits will develope quickly and start to get their eyes open after 10 to 12 days. Once their eyes are open, they have a tendency to try to follow their mother after they have been nursed. Making sure you add extra hay and create a deep bowl for the kits to remain in will help to prevent one of the kits from getting seperated from the rest and possibly dieing from exposure. The kits depend on each other for heat while they are young, so helping to keep them grouped together is the best way to insure their survival.
Many Breeders will recommend that you leave the kits with the mother for 4 to 6 weeks, But larger litters of 8 or more kits take a real tole on the mother rabbit and she simply can't produce enough milk to sustain them... For this reason, I will introduce a large shallow bowl drinker to the breeding hutche's living space when the kits are 18 to 20 days old and start offering small pieces of apple to the feed dish as well as the kits to help them get used to eating instead of nursing. The kits adapt very quickly as they follow their mother's lead and are ready to remove from the mother when they are 21 to 25 days old depending on how well they are eating.
After the kits have been removed, the doe is ready to breed again, but I usually give her a week to ten days rest before breeding her again. Using this method, you can easily get 5 or 6 litters of kits per year from a single doe, but this schedule puts a real strain on your breeder and she will have to be replaced after 18 to 24 months, while the buck you choose will last for several years.