First Times–Breeding New Zealand White Meat Rabbits

Okay, technically it is not my first time breeding, but today was the first time for Starbuck and for Sweetie Belle. Starbuck, Sweetie Belle, and Serenity are siblings purchased when they were 8 weeks old and today they were finally six months old. I bought them to expand the gene pool of my rabbitry. They have all been exhibiting breeding urges, especially Starbuck for the last month. Since Piper’s kits turned seven weeks old it was time to breed her as well. I chose to hold off on breeding Serenity as I didn’t want to have three litters coming at once. I will breed her in a couple weeks. She is smaller than her sister so this will give her a little more time to grow.

I chose to breed Piper and Starbuck together and Sweetie Belle and Leo together. My reasons for doing so are numerous. First, it is recommended that you breed one experienced and one inexperienced animal the first time. There is less confusion on the younger animal’s part if there is a mate that knows what it is doing. Piper has four litters under her belt and Leo has fathered 7, possibly 8 litters. 4 of those I’ve bred. We also have one rabbit due in a week with another litter from him. So they both know what they are doing.

Second, I wanted to get away from only line-breeding. Since Leo is Piper’s brother from the same litter, and since he is the father of Phoebe, Lola, and Andromeda, and since Phoebe’s mother was a sister to Leo and Piper from the same litter, the genetics are pretty close. I know that line-breeding (i.e. father to daughter, father to granddaughter, father to great granddaughter) is fairly common, especially with meat rabbits, but it feels to me like having all my eggs (or kits) in one basket.

Third, Starbuck and Sweetie Belle come from a mother that regularly threw 8 to 10 kits per litter. So far Piper has had litters of 6, 6, 7, and 6. Lola had a litter of 6. These were with Leo as the father. Phoebe did have 9 kits with Leo, but it seems like his average is for smaller litters. Leo has a great body type for meat rabbits, but I would like larger litters than an average of 6. So I am hoping a combination of Piper and Starbuck might give me bigger litters. Since Starbuck and Piper are both very sweet, aside from the occasional nibble, it is also their calmness I’d like to pass along. Also Starbuck and Piper have very soft fur, so I’d like to encourage that trait as well.

Fourth, because of Leo’s good body type and gentle manner I am hoping that his genes will calm down the crazy that might be passed along from Sweetie Belle (and Serenity, who is no longer very serene). And I’m hoping her genes will mean a larger litter size. Sweetie Belle is also a big girl so we could conceivably get some great kits from that pairing. Oh, groan. Sorry on the pun, there. She also has super soft fur, so I’m hoping that it will overrule Leo’s very coarse fur when we eventually keep some rabbits from them in the future.

We started by putting Leo and Starbuck in tractors near each other, about a foot apart. We put Sweetie Belle in with Leo first so that Starbuck could watch and maybe get the idea. Although that may be silly, who knows? I’m not ruling anything out. Sweetie Belle wanted nothing to do with Leo at first. She ran him in circles so hard that I wouldn’t be surprised if he lost a few ounces! She did finally concede and there were at least 3 successful matings, possibly 4. And a lot more unsuccessful goes. Leo, ever the gentleman, snuggled and groomed Sweetie Belle and she seemed content by the end of it.

Piper was more of a challenge. She wasn’t sure what to make of this young whippersnapper. She was used to Leo and his immediate dominance and Starbuck did not do that. In fact there was a struggle for dominance, some growling and charging, etc. from Piper, until Starbuck’s mating drive kicked in and he managed to get her cornered. He had no problem knowing right what to do and was successful the first time. Piper did get him a good scratch near his eye, but otherwise he came through unscathed.

Starbuck was still hesitant after that, and Piper seemed to tease him. She kept leaping over his head and racing around him, encouraging him to chase her, but charging him if he tried to mate again. You could see that she was actually trying to get him to be dominant. Her behavior was very much like that and she didn’t growl again or snap at him at all. Finally he let his wariness (you can see the look on his face above, that is very wary) go and took on the dominant role. Not quite like Leo does, but he’s learning and I think next time she will accept him much faster, especially since he will have it all down. By the time they were done they had had four successful goes. Starbuck did cuddle her, but he doesn’t seem to do the grooming like Leo does afterwards.

Anyway, in 32 days we will hopefully have 2 litters with more than 6 kits each.

Litter weights will come tomorrow for the seven week olds and the 3 week olds.


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