Breeding Meat Rabbits

Looking to breed rabbits for meat? Overcome the challenges and litter your home with kits by learning these simple bunny-breeding basics.

| July/August 2019

Photo by Getty/onsuda

Rabbits have a well-earned reputation for, well, breeding like rabbits except when you want them to. According to conventional wisdom, all you need to do is throw a buck and a doe together, and you’ll be swimming in rabbits in a few weeks. But often there are a few challenges in store before you can start counting your kits.

A Frenzied Fortnight

When it comes to reproduction, the words “estrous” and “estrus” look and sound annoyingly similar, but they describe very different parts of the same cycle. Estrous refers to the entire reproductive cycle, from the first day of physiological activity by the ovaries, through the sexual receptivity phase, and then to the period where all ovarian activity regresses, and back to the point where it starts again. Estrus refers solely to the period where females are receptive to mating, usually right before ovulation. This is commonly called being “in heat.” To reduce confusion, I’ll refer to the entire cycle as estrous, and the estrus period as receptivity to mating or being in heat.

The estrous cycle is a little different for rabbits than other mammals. Most livestock species have a cycle that’s composed of a longer period when they aren’t in heat, and a shorter period (usually 1 to 2 days, depending on the species) of receptivity to mating. The estrous cycle generally lasts 21 days on average, although it can vary from 18 to 24 days. Ovulation occurs at the end of the heat period, and mating is timed to make sure semen reaches the egg at the optimum time for fertilization. If the timing is off, or no breeding occurs, the follicles on the ovaries that produce both the eggs and the hormones that support pregnancy regress, and the process starts all over again.

Photo by Getty/man_kukuku

Rabbits are pretty much the opposite. Does can have a period of up to two weeks when they’ll accept mating by the buck, and they don’t ovulate until after mating has occurred. They’re what is known in the animal kingdom as “induced ovulators.” Without the stimulation of mating, no ovulation will occur. Rabbits will remain receptive until the follicles regress. They’re also nonreceptive for a much shorter period of time, 3 to 4 days on average.

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