Before you start producing rabbits, you must identify your market. Rabbits are raised not only for meat, laboratory use, breeding stock, and Angora wool but also for their skins and for youth programs, such as 4-H, FFA, Pennsylvania Rabbit Breeders, and American Rabbit Breeders Associations.
Laboratory rabbit production has the potential to be a very profitable enterprise, but the requirements for entering the market make it difficult to become established. When producing for laboratories, hospitals, or universities, you must be licensed and must meet the requirements for breed, age, weight, and any other characteristics that are specified. You must raise the animals under controlled conditions, and the facility must be highly sanitary and strictly monitored. It is recommended that you start your business by selling through an experienced supplier for a while before dealing directly with laboratories.
If you choose to market breeding stock, establishing a reputation for raising high-quality animals is critical. You can develop your reputation by maintaining accurate and detailed health records, exhibiting rabbits at shows, and advertising in rabbit journals and farm periodicals.
Once you have researched your particular market (meat, laboratory, breeding stock, or wool), you can then plan the size of your operation and determine which breed of rabbits to raise. The smallest production unit to consider is a herd of around 20 does serviced by 2 bucks.
When purchasing your breeding stock, contact local breeders and rabbit clubs and check advertisements in rabbit magazines and the American Rabbit Breeders Association directory. Whenever possible, ask to see herd health and breeding records and the visit the production facilities. The rabbitry should be clean, well managed, and free of any health problems. Purchase rabbits that will produce large, but not huge, litters (8 to 10 kits), raise a high percentage of their offspring to maturity, and produce good-quality animals.
Many different types of hutches can be used. However, all metal cages help prevent unsanitary conditions that can lead to health problems. The cages should be made of 1-by-2-inch mesh for the sides and top and 0.5-by-1-inch mesh for the floor. Hanging the cages from the ceiling in single layers makes management easier for the producer. Mature bucks and does should have individual cages that are at least 30 inches wide, 30 inches deep, and 20 inches high. Junior does, fryers, and Angora rabbits (nonbreeding does and castrated bucks) may be kept in small groups in one pen. Each cage should have a feed hopper and a watering system attached to the outside of the cage.
Maintaining a sanitary operation will help you prevent disease. The best waste management systems have porous pits under the cages with layers of sand, gravel, and drainage tile. Earth and concrete floors are acceptable but require more frequent cleaning. You should have concrete walkways between the cages and should remove accumulated manure at least twice a year. Cages and nest boxes should be cleaned and sanitized after each use, and the hair should be burned off the cages. New additions to the herd, especially those purchased from a wholesale market, and any sick animals should be kept in separate cages isolated from the rest of the herd until any diseases are determined or until the animal is well.
Medium-weight breeds (9 to 12 pounds) are able to start breeding at 6 to 7 months of age, with males maturing one month later than females. Because outward signs of heat are not always evident in mature does, you should follow a strict breeding schedule. One buck can service about 10 does but no more than two to three times a week. Place the female in the buck's cage for breeding. Never bring the buck to the doe's cage because she will fight to protect her territory. Mating should occur immediately, and the doe should then be returned to her cage.
To help prevent disease problems, do not permit casual visitors inside the rabbitry. They may introduce disease and cause additional stress to the animals. Isolate any sick or injured rabbits immediately. Disinfect the isolation cage and the rabbit's regular cage to avoid spreading diseases. For a good health program, you should keep accurate records on each animal. Provide each rabbit with a tattoo identification number or ear tag and attach an identification card with health and breeding information to its hutch.
All agricultural producers in Pennsylvania, including small and part-time farms, operate under Pennsylvania's Clean Streams Law. A specific part of this law is the Nutrient Management Act. There are portions of the Nutrient Management Act (Act 38) that may pertain to you depending on the mix of enterprises you have on your farm (in particular, animal operations). Because all farms are a potential source of surface or groundwater pollution, you should contact your local Soil and Water Conservation District to determine what regulations may pertain to your operation.
There are several risk management strategies you may want to employ for your farm. You should insure your buildings and equipment and you may also want to insure your income. Insuring your farm buildings and equipment and obtaining adequate liability coverage may be accomplished by consulting your insurance agent or broker. You can also insure income from livestock enterprises through a whole-farm protection program called AGR-Lite. To obtain AGR-Lite insurance you will need your last five years of Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Schedule F forms. AGR-Lite insurance is federally subsidized and is available from private crop insurance agents. Contact a crop insurance agent to see if this type of coverage makes sense for you.
The following sample budget gives an example of the annual costs and returns of meat rabbit production based on 20 does and 2 bucks. This sample budget should help ensure that all costs and receipts are included in your calculations. Costs are often difficult to estimate in budget preparation because they are numerous and variable. Also, construction of you own pens can lower costs considerably. Therefore, you should think of these budgets as a first approximation and then make appropriate adjustments using the "Your Estimate" column to reflect your specific production and resource situation.
You can make changes to the interactive PDF budget files for this publication by inputting your own prices and quantities in the green outlined cells for any item. The cells outlined in red automatically calculate your revised totals based on the changes you made to the cells outlined in green. You will need to click on and add your own estimated price and quantity information to all of the green outlined cells to complete your customized budget. When you are done, you can print the budget using the green Print Form button at the bottom of the form. You can use the red Clear Form button to clear all the information from your budget when you are finished.
On factory farms, laying hens, pregnant pigs (sows) and veal calves are routinely confined in cages and crates so small that they cannot lie down, turn around or extend their limbs. In recent years, some states have taken steps to protect farm animals by passing laws that ban the use of battery cages for laying hens, gestation crates for sows and veal crates for calves. To date, 14 states have banned one or all of these forms of extreme confinement, and a number of others are currently debating similar laws.
Join the ASPCA Advocacy Brigade to stay up to date on ways you can help! You can also look up your governor and state legislators and contact them to ask that they vote in favor of these important laws to protect farm animals.
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