Help! My Meat Rabbits Won’t Breed

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One of my Standard Rex pairs getting ready to breed as the jealous Californian buck looks on

Are you having problems getting your rabbits to do what they’re supposedly so famous for? They’re just sitting there in your barn, lying around in the lap of luxury, eating bag after bag of expensive food and your freezer is empty? So frustrating! Here are a few tips and tricks that have proven useful to me over the past four years running my rabbitry in getting more bang from my bucks. Get it?

First, we all know to bring the doe to the buck’s cage and not the other way around. This is because if you bring the buck to the doe, often he’ll be too interested in sniffing out the new territory than sex. If bringing her to him doesn’t work, you can also try putting them both in a neutral area. I’ve noticed if I put my pair in a tractor/cage together outside on the grass, often they’ll get in the mood. You can also try putting them in a larger than usual enclosure and this added freedom and fresh air may inspire them. Of course, there is also the rare recalcitrant doe who must have the buck brought to her in order to get the deed done. Some people also swear by taking an unwilling doe for a car ride. It’s unknown whether this works by jumpstarting the survival instinct or simply the vibration.

Some does also require that the buck puts some effort into breeding and will refuse him if he doesn’t give her a good chase. If you have a lazy buck who just wants to mount and not chase, try your doe with another more energetic buck and see if she acquiesces so you know what’s up. You’ll also have usually better luck breeding a young doe, say between 6 months to a year old, as opposed to an older doe who has never been bred and may become permanently uninterested.

Light plays an important role in rabbit receptivity. Nature has built that into them so that there are less babies born in the harsher winter months when there is less food and more predation. If your rabbits get no artificial light, they might be reluctant to breed in the darker months. Adding a single lightbulb on for a few hours a day either before or after the sun rises or sets, will often make a big difference. You may also want to try breeding around dawn or dusk, when rabbits are naturally more active.

Temperature too can make rabbits unwilling to breed if it’s either too hot or too cold. Rabbits can even become temporarily sterile if temperatures are too high for extended periods.

Not her time of the month maybe? Nope, rabbits are induced ovulators that drop their eggs whenever successful mating occurs. This also means that you will have better luck conceiving if you always breed your pair twice. I usually wait for the buck to fall off once or twice, then separate them, then put them together again in a few hours. If you’re not sure what it means for the buck to ‘fall off’, don’t worry, you’ll know it when you see it. Some bucks even scream when they do. I’ve heard different accounts of how much time is best to wait between breedings, from 1 hour to 8 hours. I generally wait between one to four hours or so. It’s also important to make sure the male’s equipment is in good shape. An injured or sore-looking penis or testicles may inhibit fertility or willingness.

Doe rabbits are more inclined to lift during certain periods and you can tell how receptive they are by checking the color of the vulva. A darker pink/purplish color is best for breeding, while very light pinkish-white is generally a no-go. I personally never bother doing this. If my does refuse to breed, I just keep putting them back in every day until they do. You will often also have better luck breeding a doe if she still has kits with her. A quick way to test receptability is to stroke your doe along her back and see if she lifts her hind end and tail for you. A doe who does this will almost surely lift for the buck.

Food. One trick I’ve learned is to wait to feed your rabbits until after a breeding has occurred. If she refuses, she refuses, and of course still gets fed, but if she accepts then they sort of start viewing the food as a reward. I also think they have more energy when they’re hungry and will sometimes just sit there like lazy bums if they’ve already eaten. Another important aspect to consider is that if your bucks are fat, they’ll be too lazy to breed. You want to keep them slim and trim. This goes double for does, who will sometimes have trouble conceiving if they’re too fat.

Something I use a lot here on my little farm is apple cider vinegar. One use is to put about a teaspoon in the doe’s water (32 oz) for a few days if she’s refusing to lift. I don’t know if it’s actually the vinegar helping or just coincidence, but I’ve seemingly had success with it in the past. You can also try giving your doe more fresh food. A very safe treat that I like to offer is blackberry bramble.

Cleanliness. I’ve noticed that if the barn is a bit stinky or I’ve been neglecting my chores, the rabbits get a bit depressed. I know I wouldn’t feel too frisky if I was living in dirty conditions, so I can’t blame them. Try giving your hutches or barn a good thorough cleaning and you may find your rabbits more willing.

Good luck!

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