Title Page
 Table of Contents
 Back Cover

Group Title: Bulletin - University of Florida. Agricultural Experiment Station ; no. 661
Title: Raising domestic rabbits in Florida
Full Citation
Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00027104/00001
 Material Information
Title: Raising domestic rabbits in Florida
Series Title: Bulletin University of Florida. Agricultural Experiment Station
Physical Description: 26 p. : ill. ; 23 cm.
Language: English
Creator: Arrington, L. R ( Lewis R. ), 1919-
Publisher: University of Florida, Agricultural Experiment Station
Place of Publication: Gainesville Fla
Publication Date: 1963
Subject: Rabbits -- Florida   ( lcsh )
Rabbits -- Breeding   ( lcsh )
Genre: government publication (state, provincial, terriorial, dependent)   ( marcgt )
bibliography   ( marcgt )
non-fiction   ( marcgt )
Bibliography: Bibliography: p. 23.
Statement of Responsibility: L.R. Arrington.
General Note: Cover title.
Funding: Bulletin (University of Florida. Agricultural Experiment Station) ;
 Record Information
Bibliographic ID: UF00027104
Volume ID: VID00001
Source Institution: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier: aleph - 001595659
oclc - 01720238
notis - AHL9754

Table of Contents
    Title Page
        Page 1
    Table of Contents
        Page 2
        Page 3
        Page 4
        Page 5
        Page 6
        Page 7
        Page 8
        Page 9
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        Page 12
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        Page 19
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        Page 25
        Page 26
    Back Cover
        Page 27
Full Text

~4, 4t/.

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Agricultural Experiment Stations
University of Florida ,Gainesville
J. R. Beckenbach Director

l i 6 O tb 16

L.R. Arrington


INTRODUCTION ........ ----.-- --3.......... ............

B REEDS ........ ... ..... .. I..'.. ... ... .3. .

HOUSING AND EQUIPMENT .... ............... ..

BREEDING AND MANAGEMENT ...... ................. ... 8



MARKETING RABBITS .......... ....... 21

SUMMARY ...... 22

LITERATURE CITED ................. ......... 23


Cover: New Zealand White female rabbit with litter.




Domestic rabbits are raised in many countries and in every
state in this country. They are successfully produced in Flor-
ida for meat and other purposes. Substantial markets for rab-
bit meat have developed around some of the cities where they
are produced on a commercial scale. Rabbits are also used as
experimental animals in biological and medical research. Some
are kept by fanciers; some are kept as pets; but the largest
number produced are sold for meat. Raising rabbits offers an
excellent project for 4-H Club, FFA, or other youth projects.
Many rabbit producers are members of a local rabbit club, the
Florida State Rabbit Breeders Association, or the American
Rabbit Breeders Association, and derive much information and
pleasure through the association with these organizations. Mem-
bers participate in regular meetings and in rabbit shows spon-
sored by these organizations.
The purpose of this bulletin is to present basic and general
information, from many sources, useful in raising rabbits, and
to outline results of research in rabbit production conducted at
this station. For more detailed information, readers are referred
to books and other publications shown in the list of references
and to journals, magazines, and other sources of information
listed in the appendix.

Sixty-six breeds and varieties of rabbits are listed in the
1954-56 Official Guide Book of the American Rabbit Breeders
Association. Six of these breeds originated in this country, and
many of the varieties were developed here. Within these breeds
are many different types which are raised for different purposes.
Several of the medium and heavy breeds are produced primarily
for meat. The Angora is raised for Angora wool. Other fancy
breeds are often kept only by fanciers, as pets, or for their pelts.

Dr. Arrington is an Associate Animal Nutritionist with the Florida
Agricultural Experiment Stations.

Florida Agricultural Experiment Stations

Breeds Raised in Florida.-Many of the breeds are success-
fully raised in this state. The New Zealand White, New Zea-
land Red, and Californian are meat breeds raised in largest num-
bers. The smaller Dutch rabbit is also produced for meat. The
Chinchilla, Champagne de Argent, and Angora are produced in
smaller numbers.
Selection of a Breed and Breeding Stock.-The selection of a
breed is often a matter of personal preference after the general
purpose (meat, fancy animals, laboratory animals) has been de-
termined. For the beginner, selecting good healthy breeding
stock is more important than the fine points of difference between
breeds. If the objective of the rabbit enterprise is production
of meat, then the use of one of the heavy or medium weight
breeds would be logical. For this, the New Zealand White or
the Californian might be selected. Pelts from white rabbits
bring a higher price than pelts from colored rabbits, so the se-
lection of a white breed has an advantage in terms of selling
pelts after slaughter for meat.
Once the breed has been chosen, the selection of animals of
good quality and type and free from disease is important. Ani-
mals which are healthy and vigorous-as evidenced by proper
weight for age and breed, smooth hair coat, bright eyes, and
alertness-should be selected.
The ideal mature weights for some common breeds are:
New Zealand White and Red, 10 pounds; Californian, 9 pounds;
Dutch, 412 pounds. When possible, the previous breeding record
of the animal should be studied. One should expect to pay a
higher price for good breeding stock than for animals which are
sold for meat or other purposes. Rabbits with a known pedigree
and registered by the various breed associations may be pur-
chased. The use of registered animals as foundations stock for
a herd will help insure the procurement of satisfactory breeding
animals. It should be pointed out, however, that good breeding
animals which are not registered are available. Probably the
most convenient place to purchase animals is from a reputable
breeder in the locality of the purchaser. The various breed
associations and rabbit clubs have information on rabbit pro-
duction in the different localities. Classified advertisements in
some of the journals listed in the appendix will also provide in-
formation on sources of rabbits.

Raising Domestic Rabbits in Florida

Elaborate and expensive housing and equipment are not re-
quired; however, equipment which is easy to keep clean and
maintain is essential. Rabbits must be protected from rain, ex-
treme cold, excess heat, and strong wind. The hutch is not only
a cage to restrain a rabbit and prevent his escape, but is its home,
and should be comfortable, adequate, and sanitary. A variety of
housing types may be used if the necessary protection is provided.
Hutches and Housing.-Mature rabbits are housed individual-
ly and should have approximately one square foot of floor space
for each pound of body weight. This means that an eight pound
rabbit should have a hutch that has eight square feet on the
floor. A suitable height for most hutches is 22 to 24 inches.
Hutches which are approximately 30 inches deep by 36 to 48
inches long and 22 to 24 inches high are most common (Fig. 1).
Many types of construction material may be used. Hardware
cloth which is /2 inch or % inch mesh is widely used, along with
appropriate framing and roofing. Hutches which are of all
metal construction are more desirable; they last longer and are
easier to clean and keep sanitary. Wooden hutches may become
soaked with urine or water, remain moist, and are likely to
harbor disease organisms. Small wire such as 1/ or % inch or
% x 1 inch mesh is recommended as a protection against wild rats
and other small predators.

Fig. 1.-A metal, double compartment rabbit hutch housing New Zealand
White rabbits.

Florida Agricultural Experiment Stations

Floors are most appropriately made of heavy hardware cloth
or welded wire. This provides a self-cleaning floor, and no bed-
ding is necessary. For the smaller breeds % inch mesh wire
is satisfactory. For medium and large breeds % inch mesh or
s x 1 inch or % x 1 inch welded wire is needed. With any type
of floor, exposed nails, wire ends, or any rough places which may
injure or irritate the animals should be avoided.
Two general types of housing are common-outside hutches
with an individual roof for each unit (Fig. 2) and multiple units
(Fig. 3) placed in a barn or shelter (Fig. 4). Outside hutches
should have a double roof with an air space between roofs when
the roofing material is metal and exposed to the sun. Cages
placed under a larger shelter may be double or triple tier when
necessary in order to conserve space within the shelter. Multiple
tier hutches, however, will require the use of litter pans to col-
lect manure and more labor in cleaning.
Feed and Water Equipment.-A variety of feed and water
containers are used (Fig. 5). Those which are easy to clean and
maintain in a sanitary condition are most desirable. Heavy
porcelain vessels are frequently used and have the advantage of
being difficult to overturn. Feed containers attached to the out-
side of the cage with a trough extending through an opening
to the inside make feeding easier. Automatic watering devices
are available, but are practical only in large rabbitries.
Fig. 2.-A common type of outside hutch used in Florida.

Raising Domestic Rabbits in Florida

Fig. 3.-Multiple tier hutches used inside a shelter or barn,
housing Dutch rabbits.

Nest Boxes.-Several days before a doe is due to kindle she
should be provided with a nest box containing some bedding
material. A box similar to an ordinary apple box is ample, and
modified apple crates are often used (Fig. 6). It is desirable
to cut an opening about 6 x 6 inches at the top of the box and 5
to 6 inches from the bottom for easy access by the doe. Modified
nail kegs are sometimes used as nest boxes.

Florida Agricultural Experiment Stations

Fig. 4.-Shelter barn for housing rabbits. Note hinged panels which may
be opened or closed for proper ventilation.

Successful production of rabbits for meat depends upon a
large number of litters per breeding doe. Since the doe may
be bred again by the time she weans her litters at about eight
weeks, or earlier, a good healthy doe should produce four litters
per year.
Age to Breed.-Rabbits of the smaller breeds are ready for
breeding when they are about four months old, and medium
breeds at six to seven months. If the doe is small for the breed
and age, breeding should be delayed until she approaches normal
size for her age. Most does will reproduce normally for 21/2
to 3 years, but as they become older, there is a tendency to
produce small litters.
Breeding.-Rabbits will breed at any time of the year, but
optimum fertility occurs during the spring and early summer.
Females do not show estrus cycles characterized by recurrent
periods of sexual desire, and during the breeding season they
remain in heat for long periods of time. There may be a short
period when new follicles are growing and old ones regressing,
and the doe may lack interest in the male and may not breed
during these few days.

Raising Domestic Rabbits in Florida

When a doe is to be bred, she should always be taken to the
buck's hutch. If the buck is taken to the doe's hutch, she is
likely to fight him and not accept service. Mating will generally
take place within a minute or so if the doe is ready and if the
buck is aggressive. A successful mating can generally be de-
termined by the buck's falling on his side. As soon as mating
has taken place, the doe should be returned to her hutch. Usual-
ly one service is adequate for normal breeding. Some breeders,
however, make a practice of mating twice. When this is done,
the same pair of rabbits should be bred about five hours later.
At times a doe will not accept service, but mating may still be
possible by restraining her. When this is necessary, hold the
doe by the loose skin over the shoulders with one hand and place
the other under the rear portion of her body. Raise the hind
quarters to the normal height for service, and usually, mating
will occur, making it possible to breed does that might other-
wise not accept service. One buck should be maintained for each
8 to 10 does. Mature bucks may be used for breeding three times
per week, but young males should be used only once or twice each
Determining Pregnancy.-The doe may not conceive at every
mating, and it is desirable to know whether or not the mating
has been successful. The technique of test mating is not always
satisfactory. A method of palpating the doe has been developed

Fig. 5.-Several types of feed and water containers used for rabbits. Por-
celain containers are widely used for feed or water. Metal type hopper
feeders are sometimes used for feeding does with litters. The glass
bottle with delivery spout may be attached to outside of cage.

Florida Agricultural Experiment Stations

Fig. 6.-Common types of nest boxes. Note sheet metal on entrance
to prevent rabbit from gnawing wood.

and is a very successful and simple procedure for determining
pregnancy. The technique is described in detail in a leaflet by
Suitor (6)2. A rabbit breeder may develop the technique by
palpating at 14 to 16 days after breeding, and with experience
a breeder should be able to check pregnancy with this procedure
at 10 to 12 days following mating.
Gestation Period and Kindling.-The gestation period (time
from mating until birth of the young) is 31 to 32 days. Several
days before the scheduled kindling date, the doe should be pro-
vided with a nest box to which has been added some sawdust, hay,
or straw. On the day or the day before kindling, the doe will
begin to prepare a nest by pulling hair from her body. At the
time of kindling, and for a day or so following, the mother and
the young should not be disturbed except for regular feeding and
watering. The nest should be examined about the second day
to determine whether or not there are any dead or injured young.
Occasionally it may appear that the female is not feeding her
young, because she may seldom be seen in the nest box. This
should be no cause for concern, since feeding requires only a
very short time. Attempts to force a doe to nurse her young
are usually not successful.

2 Numbers in parentheses refer to Literature Cited.

Raising Domestic Rabbits in Fiorida

The number born per litter may range from 1 to about 12,
with about six the average number. When the number born
in one litter is more than eight, it may be desirable to transfer
the excess to another litter which is smaller in number so that
the young wili4atve sufficienimilk. This can be done with young
up to about a week of age. Of course, the nearer the two litters
are to the same age, the more satisfactory the transfer. Al-
though the doe can raise more than eight rabbits, they will be
smaller at weaning time, and tests have found that litters of 8
to 10 young provide most economical production.
At approximately three weeks of age the young will begin
to come out of the nest box and eat small quantities of feed. In
warm weather they will be seen outside of the box much of the
time during the day. At four to five weeks the nest box may
be removed. The young continue to nurse the mother up to
seven weeks or more, although they are also eating dry feed.
The common practice is to leave the young with the mother
until they are weaned at about eight weeks and sold as fryers.
Results of experiments at this station have shown that the young
may be successfully weaned as early as four weeks of age. The
young from 36 litters weaned at four weeks continued to grow
normally, and at eight weeks of age were equal in size to those
weaned at eight weeks. The results do not indicate that all
young should be weaned at four weeks, but that they may be
successfully weaned earlier than the usual eight weeks. If the
number in the litter is large, early weaning of the larger rabbits
between five and seven weeks may be desirable in order to re-
lieve possible overcrowding in the hutch. Early weaning should
make it possible to re-breed the doe at a somewhat earlier date.
Does normally continue to secrete milk beyond four weeks after
kindling, and some does that had their litters weaned abruptly
at one month developed slightly swollen and caked udders. For
this reason, and in order to permit smaller rabbits of the litter
more growth, probably early weaning should be done gradually
between the fifth and seventh week.
Sexing Rabbits.-Until rabbits approach maturity it is not
easy to distinguish the sexes; yet it is often desirable to separate
the sexes at an early age. Accurate sexing of young animals
may be done with a little practice by carefully examining the
external sex organs. Slight pressure with the thumb and fore-
finger around the organ will expose the inner surface. In the
male, this will appear to form a circle; in the female, a more

Florida Agricultural Expeiimenet Stations

elongated opening with a slight depression next to the anus.
In very young animals the differences are not pronounced, but
as they become older, the differences are more easily observed.
Record Keeping.-As a part of the management program,
some form of record keeping is necessary for a successful oper-
ation. The number of records kept and the system used may
vary, and any number of systems may be used to provide a
record of information on the production of the animals. At-
taching a hutch card to each cage provides the most convenient
method of keeping records. Any information of importance
related to the rabbit can be easily recorded. These cards may
be retained for a permanent record, or the information may be
transferred to a record book.
Breeding and production records are useful in evaluating
current stock and in planning future breeding. The date of
breeding will enable one to know the scheduled kindling date.
The male to which the female is bred and the number born to
each doe should be recorded. It will often be observed that very
small litters are produced. This may be a fault of the buck or
the female, and when this is determined from the records, the
poor breeder should be culled. Sometimes a doe will produce a
good litter, but the young do not grow well and are small at
weaning time. This may mean that the doe is a poor milk pro-
ducer. If records are available to show that this occurs often
with any doe, it is good evidence that she should be culled.
Identification and Tattooing.-In order to maintain any rec-
ords, some form of identification is required. The common
method is the ear tattoo. Permanent numbers are easily made
on the inner surface of the ear, using a tattoo needle and tattoo
The rabbit is herbivorous, subsisting entirely on plants and
materials of plant origin. In the natural state rabbits eat both
fresh and dried portions of a variety of plants, including the
seed of some plants, which provide a more concentrated source
of energy, protein, and other nutrients. For economical produc-
tion of rabbits a well balanced and more concentrated ration than
can be provided by feeding hay and greens is required.
Nutritional Requirements.-The requirements for rabbits in
terms of specific nutrients have not been as well established as
they have for other farm livestock. Based upon the known re-

Raising Domestic Rabbits in Florida 13

quirements and results of practical feeding trials, a ration which
provides the nutrients shown in Table 1 should provide adequate
Protein requirements for growth were studied in a series
of feeding trials conducted by the author. Five different levels
of protein were fed to Dutch and three levels to New Zealand
rabbits at two different ages. A complete pellet ration contain-
ing 15.5 percent crude protein was modified by the addition of
a carbohydrate concentrate to reduce the protein intake and by
addition of a protein concentrate to provide intake of protein
greater than 15.5 percent. Each feeding trial was conducted
for four weeks, during which weight gains and feed consumed
were determined. The four-week old Dutch rabbits consuming
15.5 percent crude protein gained significantly more than those
consuming either 11.5 or 13.5 percent. Intakes of protein great-
er than 15.5 percent did not increase gains. At the older age,
rabbits consuming 13.5 percent protein gained slightly more than
those consuming 11.5 percent, but the difference was not statis-
tically significant. Efficiency of feed utilization was not affected
by level of protein intake. These results indicate that 15.5 per-
cent protein in the diet is adequate for normal growth.


Crude Nitrogen-free Minerals
Protein Fat Fiber Extract or Ash

Dry does, herd
bucks, and de- 12-15 2-3.5 20-27 43-47 4.5-6.5
veloping young
Pregnant does
and does with 15-18 3-5.5 14-20 44-50 4.5-6.5
Growing young 15-16 3-5.5 14-18 44-50 4.5-6.5

Types of Feeds.-A variety of feedstuffs may be used to pro-
vide the nutrients required, but commercial pelleted rabbit ra-
tions are most satisfactory, and the majority of the rabbit pro-
ducers feed commercial rabbit pellets. The cost of this prepared
pellet ration may appear expensive, but when it is considered
that the ration (if properly prepared and of good quality) is a
complete ration and can be stored and fed with little waste, it
is generally the most practical feed to use.

Florida Agricultural Experiment Stations

Some of the grains such as oats, barley, wheat, or the sorghum
grains may be fed, but their use presents the problem of provid-
ing an adequate protein intake. The use of soybean oil meal or
other oil seed meals as a protein source is not always desirable,
since rabbits do not like to eat meals. Cottonseed meal or cot-
tonseed meal pellets should not be used unless the product is a
low-gossypol meal. Gossypol, which is normally present in cot-
tonseed meal, is toxic to rabbits, and heavy mortality will result
unless a low gossypol type meal is fed. Fifty percent of the
rabbits fed rations containing 20 percent cottonseed meal died
within a few weeks.
Feed Requirements and Efficiency of Feed Utilization.-Lac-
tating does and growing young may be full-fed with a ration of
the composition listed in Table 1. Feed should be kept available
to them continuously, and this should be clean and fresh. Should
feed become wet or contaminated with feces or urine, it should
be replaced with fresh feed.
Herd bucks and dry does fed a complete ration must have the
amount limited; otherwise they will become too fat for breeding.
In an experiment designed to determine the amount of a com-
plete ration which would maintain body weight of mature ani-
mals, it was observed that a daily intake equal to 3 percent of
body weight would prevent gain or loss of weight. Mature male
and female rabbits (non-lactating) were fed the complete ration
in different trials in amounts ranging from 1.6 percent of body
weight to full feed (approximately 5 percent of body weight).
Daily amounts less than 3 percent of body weight resulted in
weight loss, and amounts greater than 3 percent caused weight
gain. When the mature rabbits had a free choice intake of the
ration, they consumed amounts equal to 5 percent and more of
body weight and gained weight rapidly. Mature rabbits of the
medium breeds, weighing about 10 pounds, may be kept in good
condition by feeding about 6 ounces daily of a complete pellet
ration. Smaller breeds should be fed 3 to 4 ounces, depending
upon the size. These amounts may be varied depending upon
the condition of the animal.
The amount of feed required to produce a pound of rabbit
meat will vary with the type and quality of ration, the health
and vigor of the doe and her young, and other factors. Results of
research reported by Templeton (7) have shown that 3.25 to 4.5
pounds of feed are required to produce each pound of live weight
at two months of age. This includes feed for the doe and litter

Raising Domestic Rabbits in Florida

from the time of mating until the litter is weaned at two months.
Results of similar experiments at this station have shown that
an average of 3.19 pounds of feed is required for each pound
of weight of Dutch rabbits at 8 weeks of age, and 2.64 pounds
for New Zealands. These data were based upon feeding trials
with 32 litters of equal size in each breed, using a complete pellet
ration, and included feed for the doe and litter from kindling to
8 weeks of age.
Young rabbits make more efficient utilization of feed than do
older growing animals. Results of an experiment designed to
study the effect of age upon feed utilization are recorded in
Table 2. Dutch and New Zealand rabbits at three different ages
were full-fed a complete pelleted ration, and the weight gain and
feed efficiency were determined in a 28 day feeding trial. Both
rate of gain and efficiency of feed utilization decreased as the
rabbits became older. The results demonstrate that the earlier
rabbits can be brought to market weight, the greater efficiency of
feed utilization can be realized.
It was observed also that New Zealand rabbits utilized feed more
efficiently per pound gain than did the Dutch rabbits.


Dutch New Zealand
Total Avg. daily Feed per Total Avg. daily Feed per
Age gain gain lb. gain gain gain lb. gain
(lbs.) (lbs.) (lbs.) (lbs.) (lbs.) (lbs.)

4-8 wks. 1.48 .053 2.73 2.10 .075 2.29
8-12 wks. 1.05 .037 4.65 1.81 .065 3.90
12-16 wks. 0.98 .035 6.57 1.28 .046 6.21

Methods of Feeding.-Rabbits may be fed once, twice, or three
times each day depending upon the system of feeding and type
of feeders used. It is doubtful that feeding three times each day
is necessary unless feeders are small and it is necessary to add
feed frequently to insure adequate feed for the young, growing
animals. Feeding once daily has been found satisfactory for
the rabbits maintained at this station when adequate amounts
are provided at each feeding for lactating does and growing
young. When hopper-type feeders are used, sufficient feed may
be added to last for several days. These should be checked peri-

Florida Agricultural Experiment Stations

odically, however, to insure that feed is available to the rabbits
and has not become contaminated. Once the feeding schedule
has been established, it should be followed as closely as possible.
Hay, Green and Succulent Feeds.-Since rabbits can consume
fairly large quantities of roughage, and under natural conditions
subsist largely on this type of feed, it is sometimes thought that
domestic rabbits should be fed large amounts of these feeds.
Hay and green feeds may form a part of the total ration, but
lactating does and growing young require more concentrated feed
than is supplied by roughages. Many producers feeding a com-
plete pelleted ration find it desirable to feed a little hay two or
three times each week. This is not necessary when the complete
pellet ration is fed, but a small amount of hay fed two or three
times per week appears to be beneficial. Unless the hay is a good
quality legume hay, the amount should be limited so that the
intake of pellets or grain ration is not materially reduced.
Fresh green feeds and some root crops such as carrots are
always relished, and for this reason it is sometimes thought that
they should be fed in large amounts. These feeds may be fed in
small amounts along with the pellet or grain ration, but they
should be supplied with caution. When a good quality pellet
ration is fed as the regular ration, these supplemental feeds are
not necessary. A small quantity of fresh, clean greens two or
three times a week may be supplied. If these are fed, however,
the amount should be limited to the quantity which will be eaten
within a few minutes. Overfeeding of green feeds, when the reg-
ular feed is a dry ration, may result in digestive disturbances.
Water and Salt.-The amount of water consumed by rabbits
depends upon environmental temperature, age, and type of feed.
Young animals have a higher water requirement than mature
animals, and high temperatures and the use of dry feeds increase
water requirement. Rabbits will not consume more water than
is needed, and a fresh, clean supply should be available contin-
Commercial rations normally contain about I% percent salt,
and this is adequate to supply the requirements. When rabbits
are offered additional salt free choice, they will consume portions
of this salt. Many breeders, therefore, make a practice of sup-
plying salt free choice in the form of salt spools.
Antibiotics.-Some commercial rabbit rations contain anti-
biotics. These compounds have been found to increase the gains
of some species of animals, but have not been observed to im-

Raising Domestic Rabbits in Florida

prove gains of rabbits. There is evidence, however, that anti-
biotics reduce the incidence of enteritis (7) and indirectly in-
crease growth rate.
Domestic rabbits are subject to certain diseases, some of
which may cause serious death losses, especially among young
animals. The cause of some of these diseases is not understood,
and satisfactory treatments are unknown; but for others the
cause and treatment are well established. Prompt treatment of
a sick animal is always desirable. Suspected cases of coccidiosis,
respiratory infections, or other contagious diseases should be
isolated to minimize the possibility of spreading the disease. The
practice of good management and good sanitation will contribute
much toward keeping rabbits healthy.
Sanitation and Cleaning.-Feces or filth of any kind in the
cages should never me permitted to accumulate. Excessive
moisture from urine, wasted water, or a blowing rain is also un-
desirable. The plan for keeping any good rabbitry should begin
with the construction of hutches and equipment. Properly con-
structed hutches with wire floors, described earlier, are essential,
but using the so-called self-cleaning floor does not eliminate the
need for periodic cleaning and disinfecting.
Specific recommendations for methods and frequency of
cleaning and disinfecting are difficult to make. During the hot
and wet summer months, the hutches should be cleaned at least
once each week. During the winter months the periods for clean-
ing may be extended when there is no evidence of disease. After
the hutches and the feed and water containers have been cleaned,
they should be disinfected and may be placed in use as soon as
they are dry if disinfecting solutions are used. Several types of
disinfecting equipment may be used. Various commercial sani-
tizing solutions are available, and should be used according to
directions accompanying each product.
The diseases or ailments which are listed and discussed in
the following sections are not the only diseases which affect
domestic rabbits. The list is limited to those which have been
observed most often in Florida. A much more detailed discus-
sion of rabbit diseases has been written by Blount (2), and the
subject is also discussed in detail in books by Sanford (5) and
Templeton (7).

Florida Agricultural Experiment Stations

Ear Mange (Ear Canker).-This condition is caused by a
small mite which occasionally gains entrance to the inside of
the ear. The canker may be observed easily as a rough scaly
exudate on the inner portion of the ear near the head. The con-
dition may be suspected when rabbits are observed to shake their
heads and attempt to scratch the ear with the hind feet. Mild
infestations do not cause serious damage, but a serious case
which is untreated is definitely harmful. Treatment for this
condition is relatively simple, and treatment should be started
as soon as the abnormality is observed. One of the following
mixtures may be applied to the affected area: (1) 25 parts vege-
table oil or olive oil, 5 to 10 parts of ether, and 1 part iodoform,
or (2) 95 parts of vegetable oil or olive oil and 5 parts of carbon
tetrachloride. Treatment should be repeated in 6 to 10 days. The
application of ordinary household vegetable oil without added
chemicals has been found effective in mild cases of infections.
Sore Hocks.-Many rabbits, when confined to conditions of
domestic raising, will develop sore hocks. This occurs more
often on the rear hocks, although it may occasionally appear on
the front feet. Frequently a slight injury, such as may occur
from a rough or sharp place in the hutch floor, will initiate the
trouble. The lesions, which begin as small sores or scales, will
increase in size if not treated. Treatment should be started as
soon as lesions are observed. The hair adjacent to the sore
should be clipped away, and if the lesion has become scaly, it
should be washed in warm soapy water and the loose scales re-
moved. Iodide ointment or zinc oxide ointment applied every
other day will aid healing. If the sore has become abscessed, it
should be lanced before treatment. In many cases it may be
necessary to provide some soft bedding on the hutch floor. Span-
ish moss and hay are often used, and this should be changed
frequently so that it does not become wet and dirty. Some severe
cases of sore hocks will not respond to any treatment, and the
wisest action may be to cull the animal from the herd.
Diarrhea (Scours, Enteritis, Bloat).-One of the most serious
problems among domestic rabbits is that of enteritis or bloat.
The mortality, especially among young animals, is heavy. The
specific cause of the trouble is unknown, and thus there is no
known treatment. Affected animals lose their appetite and be-
come inactive, listless; the hair coat roughens; the eyes squint
and are dull; and the ears droop. Some animals exhibit exces-
sive thirst and will sit near the water cup and drink often. Diar-

Raising Domestic Rabbits in Florida

rhea is usually present, and bloat may occur. Some young in a
litter may be affected, while others have no evidence of trouble.
Some cases clear up after a few days without any treatment, but
others may linger and the rabbits never regain normal growth.
The use of antibiotics has given some help, but has not en-
tirely prevented enteritis (7). A compound known as nitrofura-
zone (NF-180) has recently given promise as a means of control-
ling enteritis, but the overall effectiveness of this product is not
yet known. Results of experiments by Hagen (3) showed that
nitrofurazone reduced the number of enteritis deaths by 50 per-
cent during a nine month period. The use of a water soluble form
of nitrofurazone in the drinking water at this station caused a
rapid recovery of 75 percent of the young rabbits affected with
diarrhea. Nitrofuran compounds are now available commercial-
ly for stock feeds. A water soluble form or a form which must
be mixed with the feed may be used. When a feed which con-
tains the nitrofurazone can be procured, this is the most practical
means of administering the drug. The water soluble form of the
drug may be administered in the drinking water when it is not
possible to use a feed containing nitrofurazone.
Coccid;os's.-Rabbits are subject to intestinal and liver forms
of coccidiosis. The symptoms are similar to those of enteritis,
and enteritis is sometimes diagnosed as coccidiosis. The disease
is spread through the feces, and if feed becomes contaminated
with feces or if rabbits consume feed from the floor of the hutch,
the danger of spreading the disease is increased. It is very
difficult to eliminate entirely the source of infection, but proper
management and sanitation can keep it under control. Treat-
ment with sulfaquinoxaline by one of the following methods has
been found effective. (1) Add feed grade sulfaquinoxaline to
the ration at a level of 0.025 percent of the feed for 3 to 4
weeks. (2) Add water soluble sulfaquinoxaline to drinking wa-
ter at level of 0.025 percent for 2 to 3 weeks. Sulfaquinoxaline
prepared for treatment of coccidiosis in poultry should be satis-
factory for use with rabbits.
Eye Infections.-Eye infections may result from bacterial in-
fection, dust, fumes, or other irritants. The eyes often close and
secrete excessive amount of fluid. Affected animals may be
treated by washing the eyes with boric acid solution (1 table-
spoon boric acid powder to 1 pint water), then applying an oint-
ment which is used for treating eye infections in humans.

Florida Agricultural Experiment Stations

Wet Dewlap.-The dewlap is a pendulous fold of skin which
appears under the neck of the females in some breeds. During the
hot summer months when animals drink frequently, this dewlap
becomes wet and may stay wet almost continuously. When this
happens, the area is likely to turn green, the hair is shed, and
the skin becomes rough and sore. A simple and usually effective
treatment is simply to raise the water cup so that the dewlap
does not become wet. When it is necessary to treat the condi-
tion, the hair should be clipped off, the affected area kept dry,
and an ointment such as zinc oxide applied every other day until
the condition clears.
Pneumonia.-Rabbits are subject to pneumonia, which is
manifested by listlessness, poor appetite, labored breathing and
elevated temperature, and bluish color to eyes and ears. Fre-
quently pneumonia develops following some other abnormality
such as sniffles. Once pneumonia has developed, the mortality
rate is usually high. Dampness, rapid changes in weather, ex-
posure, and dust, smoke, or other irritants may tend to bring
on the pneumonia. No cases have been observed here except as
secondary or terminal effects of other diseases. As soon as
pneumonia is suspected, the animal should be separated from the
other rabbits and treatment must be started early if it is to be
effective. The intramuscular injection of a combination of Peni-
cillin and Streptomycin is usually effective. The preparation is
composed of 400,000 units of Penicillin and 1/ gram Streptomy-
cin in 2 milliliters of sterile water given in doses, of 1 milliliter
for fryer size rabbits and 2 milliliters for mature rabbits. Re-
peat on third day.
- Caked Udder.-The mammary glands of heavy milking does
may become swollen, congested, and sore within a few days after
kindling or at any time during the nursing period. This usually
develops when there are too few young in the litter to take all the
milk. When the glands become sore, the doe frequently refuses
to let the young nurse, and the condition is aggravated. If nurs-
ing young from another litter are available, they may be used
to remove the milk. The doe may need to be restrained so that
the young may nurse. The udder may be massaged lightly, and
lanolin applied, but usually the removal of the milk is sufficient
for relief of the congestion.

Raising Domestic Rabbits in Florida


The largest number of rabbits sold in this state are marketed
for meat. These are sold primarily as fryers when they are
about eight weeks old and weigh between 3 and 4.5 pounds. The
rabbit meat industry is based primarily upon the sale of fryers,
although some older animals are used for meat.
Consistent markets for rabbit meat have been established in
some areas, and no doubt markets will be developed in other
areas, if good quality rabbit meat is provided. Anyone interested
in rabbit production should determine the market situation in
his area before engaging heavily in a rabbit enterprise. Some
have entered the rabbit business without so doing and have found
themselves without a suitable and profitable market for their
Slaughtering facilities and procedures for slaughtering and
handling carcasses should be inspected and have approval of the
state and local health officials. It is the responsibility of the
processor slaughtering and marketing rabbits to see that require-
ments and regulations are met.
Marketing.-Rabbits sold for meat are generally handled
through a processor who slaughters and prepares them for sale,
although some large producers slaughter and prepare their own
animals for market. The processor may collect marketable ani-
mals from the producers in his area, or the producers may deliver
them to the processing plant. Animals ready for market are
generally delivered or collected once each week. The dressed
carcasses should be iced as soon as possible after dressing is
complete, and promptly delivered to the wholesale or retail
Rabbits may be sold as laboratory animals to hospitals, re-
search centers, and experimental laboratories, but problems may
exist in supplying animals for this purpose. The laboratory may
require animals known to be free of specific diseases. Also the
demand may be intermittent. The laboratory may at times re-
quire a large number of animals of a specific age, sex, or breed;
then there may be long periods when no rabbits are purchased.
The delivery or shipment of the animals, frequently to a distant
location, may also present a problem difficult for the small
Slaughtering and Dressing.-Rabbits should be stunned be-
fore the throat is cut for bleeding. A blow behind the ears with

Florida Agricultural Experiment Stations

the side of the hand or with a stick will sufficiently stun the ani-
mal for bleeding. After stunning, the animals are suspended
by the hind legs, and the throat is cut or the head entirely re-
moved so that complete bleeding occurs. The head, front feet,
and tail are removed. The skin is cut around each of the rear
hock joints, and a cut is made through the skin on the inside
of the legs between the hock joints. Hides are then easily re-
moved by pulling down and over the forward part of the body.
This method leaves the skin intact and suitable for sale after
drying. After the skin has been removed, the body cavity is
opened with a cut down the center, and the viscera are removed.
The liver, kidneys, and heart may be left with the carcass, or
one or all of these organs may be removed. Dressed carcasses
should be stored in ice or under refrigeration until marketed.
The dressing percentage (ratio of the weight of dressed car-
cass to live weight) which may be expected from fryer rabbits
is approximately 59 to 63 percent. Dressing percentage records
from the slaughter of 150 rabbits at this laboratory were as fol-
lows: Dutch, 8 weeks old, 60.3 percent; Dutch, 13 weeks, 63.3;
mature Dutch, 62.8; New Zealand, 8 weeks, 55.9; New Zealand,
13 weeks, 59.2; mature New Zealand, 58.2. The average dress-
ing percentage for all Dutch slaughtered was higher than the
New Zealand.
Preparation of Skins.-Rabbit skins have some value and
should be saved when the number of animals handled is suffi-
cient to warrant their preparation for sale. Skins from white
rabbits bring a somewhat higher price than skins from colored
When the skin is removed, it has been turned inside out and
should remain in this shape for drying. Special drying wires
may be purchased, or they may be made from heavy wire. These
are inserted into the skin so that it is stretched for easy drying.
The skins so prepared should be hung in a well ventilated room
free of insects and rats until they dry completely.

Methods and recommendations for raising domestic rabbits
in Florida have been described. Breeds commonly used, methods
of housing, breeding, feeding, management, and marketing have
been outlined and discussed. Diseases most often observed are
listed with some recommended means of treatment and control.

Raising Domestic Rabbits in Florida 23

Results of recent research indicate that:

1. Rabbits may be successfully weaned earlier than the usual
eight weeks.

2. Feed required per pound of weight at eight weeks (feed for
doe and young) was 2.64 for New Zealands and 3.19 for

3. Cottonseed meal which has not been treated to remove gossy-
pol was toxic to rabbits.

4. Nitrofurazone was helpful in preventing and curing mucoid

5. Dressing percentages of Dutch rabbits was 60 to 63 percent,
and New Zealand, 56 to 59 percent.

6. Young rabbits made more efficient utilization of feed con-
sumed than older growing rabbits.

7. Fifteen and one half percent crude protein in the ration was
found adequate for growth.


1. Aitken, F. C., and W. K. Wilson. Rabbit Fe-ding for Meat and Fur.
Tech. Comm. No. 12. Commonwealth Agricultural Bureaux, Farnham
Royal, Bucks, England.
2. Blount, W. P. Rabbits' Ailments. Fur and Feather, Idle, Bradford,
England. 1957.
3. Hagen, Karl. Use of Furazolidone (Nf-180) for Prevention of Enteritis
and Pasteurella-Type Pneumonia in Rabbits, USDA Rabbit Experiment
Station, Fontana, California. 1957.
4. National Research Council. Recommended Nutrient Allowances for
Domestic Animals. No. 9. Nutrient Requirements for Rabbits. Na-
tional Research Council, 2101 Constitution Avenue, N. W., Washington
25, D. C. 1954.
5. Sandford, J. C. The Domestic Rabbit, Crosby Lockwood and Son, Ltd.,
26 Old Brompton Road, London, S. W. 7. 1957.
6. Suitor, A. E. Palpating Domestic Rabbits to Determine Pregnancy.
USDA Leaflet No. 245. 1946.
7. Templeton, G. S. Domestic Rabbits Production. The Interstate Printers
and Publishers, Danville, Illinois. 1955.
8. Templeton, G. S. and C. E. Kellogg. Raising Rabbits. Farmers Bulletin
No. 2131. USDA. 1959.

Raising Domestic Rabbits in Florida


Journals, magazines and other publications on rabbits:
American Rabbit Journal, Warrenton, Missouri.
Small Stock Magazine, 118 S. Linden Street, Lamoni, Iowa.
The National Rabbit Raiser, 420 South 6th Street, Minnea-
polis 15, Minnesota.
Domestic Rabbit Raising in Florida, Bulletin No. 6, State
Department of Agriculture, Tallahassee, Florida.
Official Guide Book. The American Rabbit Breeders Associa-
tion, Inc., 4323 Murray Avenue, Pittsburg 17, Pennsylvania.

Publications issued by U. S. Government Printing Office, Wash-
ington 25, D. C.:
Common Diseases of Domestic Rabbits, ARS-45-3, Agricul-
tural Research Service, USDA.
Physical Composition of Fryer Rabbits of Prime, Choice and
Commercial Grades, CA-44-37 Agricultural Research Service,
Malocclusion or "Buck Teeth" in Rabbits, CA-44-48, ARS,
Inheritance of "Wooly" in Rabbits, CA-44-36, ARS, USDA.
The 1954 Rabbit Projects with 4-H Clubs and Boy Scouts,
APH Correspondence Aid No. 12, USDA.
Value and Use of Rabbit Manure, CA-44-47, USDA.

Some sources of rabbit equipment and supplies:
The Florida Agricultural Experiment Station does not recom-
mend any specific equipment supply firms; however, as informa-
tion the following are listed.

Keipper Cooping Co., 3235 W. Burnham St., Milwaukee 15,
Streed Electric Co., 3804 W. Broadway, Robbinsdale 22, Min-
Albert's Manufacturing and Supply Co., P. O. Box 4295, Van
Nuys, California.
Long Manufacturing Co., 12231 Garvey Avenue, El Monte,
Southern Rabbit Corp., P. O. Box 114, Marietta, Georgia.

26 Florida Agricultural Experiment Stations

Bussey Products Co., 6000-19 W. 51st St., Chicago 38, Illinois.
R. A. Grindstaff, S. 104 Audubon Street, Spokane 43, Wash-
Glick Manufacturing Co., 2720 Mt. View Road, El Monte,

Weston Manufacturing and Supply Co., 1842 Spur Blvd.,
Denver, Colorado.
Nadri, Inc., Box 4798, Cleveland 26, Ohio.
Fehr's Rabbitry, 1302 Woodlawn Avenue, Indianapolis 3,

Other companies not listed may also supply rabbit equipment.


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