How to get started on your first 4-H rabbit project

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Rabbits are popular 4-H projects because of their versatility. They are more manageable for younger and beginner 4-H members and they require less space than other livestock options, making them ideal for 4-H members who have limited facilities and space to raise animals.

While rabbits may be low maintenance in comparison to other livestock, don’t take that the wrong way. Rabbits still require a lot of work and investment. Before deciding a rabbit is the right for you, learn more about the different types of 4-H rabbit projects, how to choose a breed and how to care for rabbits.

Types of projects

There are a few different types of 4-H rabbit projects — breeding, pet and market projects. You want to decide which type of project you’ll be doing before choosing a breed and getting a rabbit because some breeds are more suited to specific projects.

Familiarize yourself with the goals of each type of project below, determine which suits you and choose a breed.

Breeding — The goal of breeding projects is breeding and raising rabbits to be judged based on the Standard of Perfection of your breed. Before considering this as an option; however, you need to understand the process of culling— removing rabbits with undesirable traits from the herd. Culling is necessary when there’s an incidence of inferior production or quality or when rabbits possess disqualifying traits.

Pet — Pet projects help beginning and young 4-Hers develop a better understanding of their pets. The focus is on the responsibility and care of the pet. Participants will have to identify health needs for food, water, shelter, exercise and medical attention. They will also have to learn about the costs of purchasing, feeding and housing the pet, as well as, learn to keep records to track the pet’s progress over the course of the project.

Market

Market projects include the following categories:

  • Fryers: A one-rabbit project, raised to between 8-10 weeks old and 3.5-5.5 pounds.
  • Roasters: A one -rabbit project raised to under 5 months old, ranging in size from 5.5- 9 pounds.
  • Stewers: A one-rabbit project raised to over 5 months old and larger than 8 pounds.
  • Meat Pen: A project that includes three rabbits of the same breed and variety, raised to 8-10 weeks old, of equal size between 3.5-5.5 pounds.

Choosing a breed

Selecting a breed can be a challenge. Before making any purchases, you should research several breeds to determine which will be the best fit for your project.

Use the tips below to get started.

Breeding — Any of the 49 breeds of rabbits recognized by the American Rabbit Breeders Association (ARBA) could be used for a breeding project. No matter which breed you choose, you need to obtain your rabbits from a breeder and make sure they have desirable traits for the breed. The Standard of Perfection describes the ideal rabbit for each breed and will help you understand how different breeds are judged before you make a purchase. Learn to recognize inferior quality and specific disqualifications for any breed you’re considering.

Pet — Any of the 49 breeds of rabbits recognized by the ARBA will work, but should be obtained from a breeder.

Market — Market rabbits should be a commercial breed intended for meat production. Some recommended meat class rabbit breeds include Californians, Americans, Cinnamons, Champagne D’ Argents Crème D’ Argents, Silver Fox, New Zealand, Rex, Flemish Giant American, Giant, Standard Chinchilla, Satin and Palomino.

Caring for your rabbit

Once you’ve determined which project you’d like to do and which breed you’d like to work with, it’s time to research the care requirements for your rabbit project.

Housing

Housing for rabbits can be maintained inside or outside. Outside challenges include protecting your rabbit from weather and predators while having less control over biosecurity. Inside challenges include ensuring adequate ventilation and potentially incurring more expenses over the course of the project.

When planning your rabbit’s house you need to consider ventilation, size, material, temperature and protection.

Ventilation. Ventilation is important because the ammonia odor that comes from urine can be damaging to your rabbit’s respiratory system. To avoid this, you need to ensure there is good airflow either naturally or mechanically without creating a draft directly on your rabbit.

Temperature. The ideal temperature for an adult rabbit’s house is between 45-70 F.

Protection. If you’re housing your rabbit outdoors, you’ll need to make sure you choose a hutch or cage design and building materials to keep predators out. This is one reason many choose raised hutches.

Materials. Outside cages or hutches are generally composed of three plywood or pressed board sidewalls and a roof to provide necessary protection, wrapped with 14- or 16-gauge welded wire. A 1-inch x 1-inch or 1-inch x 2-inch wire (squares) should be used for the outside and top of the structure. Wooden floors or 1/2-inch x 1-inch welded wire should be used for the bottom of the house. “J” clips or “C” rings should be used to fasten wire to wire, and fence staples should be used to fasten wire to wooden frames. The size of your rabbit’s door should be big enough to remove it from its house once it’s full grown.

Size. When determining the required size of your rabbit’s hutch or cage, you need to consider how large you expect it to get.

  • Rabbits under 4.4 pounds require 1.5 sq ft of living space.
  • Rabbits 4.4-8.8 pounds require 3 sq ft of living space.
  • Rabbits 8.8-11.9 pounds require 4 sq ft of living space.
  • Rabbits over 11.9 pounds require 5 sq ft of living space.

When planning the height of your rabbit’s living space you should make sure its cage is tall enough for its ears to stand erect without touching the top of the enclosure — at least 16 inches tall.

Bedding

Bedding is not generally used in wire-bottom hutches and cages unless it’s extremely cold. In extreme cold, straw or hay may be used for bedding.

In wood-bottomed cages and hutches, wood shavings, wood chips, straw and hay can be used as bedding to help absorb urine. However, cedar chips should be avoided as they can cause respiratory problems.

Nutrition

Ensuring the appropriate nutrition for your rabbit depends on your project’s intended outcome, added supplements, environmental temperature, quality of pellets and access to water.

Water. Access to fresh, clean water is the most important thing you can provide for your rabbit. It’s necessary to maintain proper growth rate and body condition. Additionally, during the summer months, rabbits rely on water access to control body temperature.

Supplements. Beware of providing supplements because they can interfere with the well-balanced diet provided in commercially produced rabbit pellets. Supplements should be used sparingly or offered as occasional treats to minimize their effect on your rabbit’s diet.

Feed. Commercially produced pellets provide a complete diet for rabbits. Determining what kind of feed to get will depend on what type of project you are doing. For growing market rabbits choose a feed with 16-18% crude protein. For maintaining body weight in mature rabbits, choose a feed with 14-16% crude protein. For active breeding rabbits, choose a feed with 16-18% crude protein. Never use feed that is more than 6 months old. You can check the milling date on the side of the feed bag to determine how old it is.

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Sara is Farm and Dairy’s online content producer. Raised in Portage County, Ohio, she earned a magazine journalism degree from Kent State University. She enjoys spending time with her daughter, traveling, writing, reading and outdoor recreation.

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