Management in rabbit keeping requires attention to many little details, but mainly includes good housing, good feeding, hygiene and most important, good record keeping. A well-fed rabbit cannot survive dirt. Regular, thorough cleaning at least once a week, but preferably twice a week is very essential. A hutch should never be damp.
Handling the rabbit is important and must be gentle and firm – the animal must never be picked up by the ears alone. The common method is to grasp the ears close to the head with one hand, and support the animal with the other hand placed under its body to take the main weight.
Figure 1: Handling a Rabbit
Rabbits are removed for handling through openings, by their hindquarters first. Most rabbits are docile; occasionally an individual becomes vicious and attacks because of rough handling or fright. Fright may also result in the doe scattering young over the floor of the cage or eating them. It is useful to accustom youngsters to handling from an early age, and to examine breeding stock periodically to ensure satisfactory health and condition.
An adult rabbit changes its fur once a year. This is called a moult. At this time a rabbit looks most bedraggled, with ragged old fur being pushed out by the newly growing coat.
A rabbit should not be bred during moult and should be handled as little as possible, while feeding should be mainly green food and hay. If the hutch is situated where direct sunlight can enter, the new coat will quickly lose its fresh bright colouring. The adult coat is first grown at about 7 months of age.
The young can be removed from their mother’s hutch as early as 1 month of age. At this time they will be eating pellets freely and although the shock of weaning will put back their growth for a few days, they soon recover. Weaning should be done as early in the morning as possible, this gives the youngsters plenty of time to settle into their new hutches before nightfall. Remember that young rabbits at this stage can panic very easily and great care must be taken to see that they are not unduly frightened.
Early weaned rabbits (four weeks) can be mixed and grown together in large litter pens on concrete floors. In this case a 0,2m2 floor space per Rabbit is allowed up to marketing time (8 to 10 weeks). On wire floors, each rabbit is allowed 0.1m2 floor space. Where several litters are mixed, the animals must be of similar age, otherwise fighting and bullying may result.
Feeding and watering space must be adequate to allow all the rabbits in these colonies to feed and drink at any one time. Full feeding (allowing them to eat whenever they like) will increase efficiency of weight gains, and will ensure rapid growth of stock fattened for market. Young rabbits intended for breeding must be separated at the age of 12 weeks.
At the age of 12 weeks, animals selected for future breeding (usually the faster growing, bigger animals) are sexed and housed separately. Sexing after eight weeks is quite simple and can be done easily by examining the reproductive organs. Holding the rabbit in its back, and using the index finger and thumb of the right hand, the body is gently pressed on each side of the reproductive organ, thereby exposing it. In the male the sexual organ appears as a rounded tip, whilst in the female it is slit-like or v-shaped.
Figure 3: The Major Organs of a Rabbit