Friday, February 24, 2012

Best Practices - Breeding for Rabbit Health

I've been actively breeding rabbits for about 6 years now.   I bred rabbits when I was a child as well.   I found it a fun hobby and I still do.  I love talking bunnies. I love teaching about bunnies.

I belong to a few different rabbit boards.   Meatrabbits, Rabbittalk and Rabbit Addict.   There are two others that I visit infrequently  homesteading today and Poultry Swap.   Each board has a different focus and flavour to it.  Meatrabbits tends to focus on raising rabbits in a healthy safe way, rabbittalk has a similar focus but also has pet rabbit talk, show rabbits, general chit chat, Rabbit addict is mostly show rabbit folk.

One of the things I've learned through the boards is to set goals for your rabbitry.

My goal with my rabbits is simple (yet difficult).. to breed healthy rabbits with good temperaments which over time will do well on the show table (depending on the breed involved).

So today I'll talk about best practices focusing on health.

What does breeding for health mean?  Why is it so important?  What's all involved with breeding for health?

Rabbits are prey animals.  That means they are designed to reproduce quickly and live long enough to reproduce themselves.  Healthy, intelligent animals do that.. the unhealthy, unintelligent don't.  That's simply the way of life in this world filled with the results of sin.  Prey gets eaten unless prey can grow up quickly enough, be healthy and smart enough to avoid becoming food.   It's the animals with a healthy immune system that survive.

So my goal with my rabbitry is to build an animal with a strong immune system.

This presupposes that I'm doing everything at my end to assist in this regard.
  • Clean cages.   Without clean cages, even the healthiest rabbit can get ill.
  • Good feed.  Bad feed can cause a host of issues with rabbits.  Failure to breed, grow etc.
  • Fresh water.   Without water rabbits won't eat.
So what I look for in my rabbits goes as follows:
  1. I don't keep rabbits that I have to fuss with as babies.   They need to keep themselves clean (no matted poo),  learn potty manners (as in they need to go in one corner of the cage), no runny eyes, no sneezing, no bloating, no making me squint at them saying hmm.. something ain't right with you.  no nothing.
  2. They need to mature at a reasonable rate and in doing so need to not have days of going off feed.  They need to be relatively stress free animals.  They need to have good feet, good bodies, no abscesses, sore hocks, good teeth, and so forth.
  3. They need to be able to breed without making it into a big production.  This assumes that I am watching them for signs of readiness.
  4. They need to be able to reproduce without intervention. No stuck kits.  No prolonged labour.  This doesn't mean that I don't leave room for error in first time moms.  First time moms make mistakes at times.  But I rarely have issues with first time moms. :)
  5. They need to raise their litters.   Feed your kits, raise your kits, be nice to them.  No peeing on them.  Be a good mom basically.
Steps 3-5 They need to accomplish without having health issues.  No going off feed.   No pickiness when it comes to feed offered.  No blowing snot.  No runny eyes.   No rabbit diseases.   No tilted heads.  

I want a rabbit that when you look at it, you get a picture of glowing health.


Because I've read too many stories about people doing one of two things.
1. Breeders that take seriously breeding for health that end up, over time, having rabbits that fit all their criteria for good healthy rabbits.  Rabbits that end up being strongly healthy able to handle well the way they are raised and handled.
2.  Breeders that end up not focusing on health and having snotty noses, babies that fade, and a whole host of other things as their priorities in rabbit raising are different.

I've been focusing on health for the past two years.   In just that short time I've rarely get kits with runny eyes, I don't lose entire litters to weaning entropathy,  no rabbits blowing snot and such obvious issues.   I still lose the occasional rabbit...but with much less frequency which is WAY COOL.  I HATE losing rabbits unnecessarily.  AND if I breed for health then I get rid of that anguish of losing rabbits untimely.

Now mind you... if I have a wonderfully healthy rabbit that has the attitude of a pit bull with a less than positive agenda on his mind.. I won't keep it.  Temperament is very important as well...but that's not the point of THIS particular post.  :)

Breeding for health doesn't mean that I never lose a bunny untimely...but it does mean that I reduce the likelihood of such happening, and that's what the goal is...reduction in untimely deaths.  Which is accomplished best by breeding for health. 

Breeding for health means that I need to cull out everything that doesn't meet my standards.  Cull can mean a variety of things - cull to the pet store as a pet, cull to private rabbit sale - pet or breeder, cull dead to feed a critter (but not if it's sick), or cull dead to enrich the soil.    

Culling dead is not a happy event, but in the life of raising animals it's part of it if you truly want to improve your animals.   Just because a rabbit doesn't meet a health standard doesn't negate it's usefulness in other areas of life - a baby rabbit that didn't meet my cut can grow up to be a perfectly lovely pet, an adult rabbit who can't reproduce can fill a void in someone's life and if I can pet out a rabbit I will happily do so.  But a rabbit with a less than positive outlook on life who also has health issues.. I do not send out as a pet.    Who wants an unhealthy rabbit?    Who wants a nasty rabbit?   Fortunately since temperament is also important to me I rarely get nasty rabbits.  :)

Not every rabbit makes it a  keeper rabbit.
Not every rabbit makes a pet.
But every rabbit can be useful in life in some regard.
And that's the way it should be life.  Everything has a purpose.

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