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2017 Animal Care Wednesday Webinars
Husbandry Practices in the Spotlight

During the August 2nd Animal Care Wednesday Webinar, we had a great discussion about rabbit care and nutrition management. Mike Avesing, American Rabbit Breeders Association judge and rabbit breeder, presented not only the basics of rabbit nutrition, but also covered tips and considerations to raise rabbits for show or commercial markets.

Not Just the Easter Bunny

“Many people forget that rabbits can be raised for more than just pets; they can be raised for meat, fur, wool, show, or research purposes,” said Avesing.

Rabbit breeds vary in size and appearance. Netherland Dwarfs weigh around 2 pounds while Flemish Giants can weigh upwards of 20-25 pounds. The American Rabbit Breeders Association has around 25,000 members and their national convention held in late September attracts over 30,000 entries representing the various breeds. Little do many people know, but the Iowa State Fair has the largest rabbit contest in the United States.

Despite the large interest at the show level, there are a limited number of commercial rabbitries in the United States – most located in Missouri and Arkansas where pelt and meat processing is available. Currently, the wool market is doing well and spinners seek it for yarn. Giant Angora rabbits grow wool that can be 6-8 inches long and are typically clipped annually to provide high quality wool.

Caring for Rabbits

Once a breed is chosen, the basic facilities for raising a rabbit is straight forward. Good ventilation and heat stress management (sprinklers, fans, or foggers) are the most important things to ensure their well-being. Adequate cage size is typically 30 in x 30 in x 18 in for bucks (males) and 30 in x 36 in x 18 in for does (females). Cage materials are wire or wood structures. Wire cages are preferred for easy cleaning and longevity because rabbits may chew on wood cages.  Wood cages are also harder to sanitize.

As with any animal, feed cost is the largest expense. The goal is a lean and well fleshed rabbit, not fat. Handling a rabbit daily helps determine how it is growing under all the fur. A basic rule of thumb is rabbits eat 3-4% of their body weight each day.

  • Commercial rabbit (9-12 lbs): 1 cup (6 oz) per day
  • Dwarfs: ¼ cup per day
  • Minis: ½ cup per day
  • Giants: 2 cups per day
  • Kindling Doe (female that gave birth): 2-3 ounces first day and then increase to full feed

Feed Management
Rabbit feeds are pelleted and range in crude protein levels from 15% to 18% (typically used for commercial rabbit growers and breeders) and fiber levels of 20-22%. The key to feed management is keep it fresh or the rabbit won’t eat it. For this reason, limit feeding is beneficial because the rabbit has a set amount it must consume before the next feeding. Full feed, or ad libitum, is typically used for does with kits or giant breeds that are growing. However, attention to these feeders is important for the health of the rabbits and to minimize feed waste. Supplemental feeds may include sunflower seeds, oats, barley, or corn; however, rabbits are not naturally seed eaters so small amounts should be considered if trying to use these to improve coat quality for a show. Grass hay may also be fed weekly or daily to enrich the diet. Salt spools used to be popular to ensure salt intake, but rabbit pellets have been reformulated to include sufficient levels to meet rabbit’s nutritional requirements.

Other Considerations

People often forget that rabbits are nocturnal animals and are most active at dawn and dusk each day, so feeding them in the evening helps mimic their natural feeding behavior. More important than the time of feeding though is being consistent with feeding at the same time each day.

Beyond these nutrition and feeding recommendations, Avesing provided an overview of the common diseases and health conditions that rabbit caregivers should be aware of to ensure animal well-being.

Animal Care Wednesday Webinars

To listen to this and past webinars, visit the animal care resource website. For more information about upcoming Animal Care Wednesday Webinars, please contact Heidi Carroll.

The next Animal Care Wednesday Webinar is September 6, 2017 @ 11:00am (CST). To join webinars, log in to the Zoom Meeting a few minutes prior to the start of the webinar.

If you have questions about rabbit care and nutrition, please contact Mike Avesing 563.263.5959

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