Friday, September 2, 2016

Ear Mites

One morning while doing your rabbit chores, you notice that your rabbit is shaking it's head, or scratching it's years. Upon closer examination of the rabbits ears you may notice small blisters and small areas of yellow crusting scabs in the lower portion of the ears known as 'ear mange' or 'ear canker'. At this point there is only culprit responsible for this condition, the common ear mite. Ear mites are a member of the Psoroptes or Chorioptes family. They are a blood sucking parasite that burrow into the flesh of the rabbits ears and lay their eggs in small tunnels as they suck blood from the skin. When your rabbit feels the mites biting it's ears it begins shaking it's head and scratching at it's ears which can cause more damage to the ears.

The good news is that by themselves ear mites are not deadly, however, untreated they can cause significant damage and discomfort to your rabbit and they can easily be spread from one rabbit to another unknowingly by you the breeder. In worse case scenarios, the infestation can cause the rabbit's immune system to weaken making it more susceptible to other bacterial infections. If the inner or middle ear becomes infected the rabbit(s) infected may develop wry neck (torticollis) which usually results in the death of the rabbit.

So how did your rabbits get infected with ear mites? There are many vectors that could be responsible. Mites can be transported by a number of rodents including mice and rats, as well as your barn cat if you have one. They can live in straw and or the cracks of wooden hutches for a long time and continue to re-infest your herd. They can be transmitted by the breeder by unknowingly rubbing or scratching the head and ears of a rabbit that has mites and then handling another rabbit without washing their hands in between. Your rabbit can even acquire them from any activity in which there are a large amount of rabbits present such as a rabbit show, after all it only takes one newly infected bunny to spread the mites to many others. However, the most common way mites gain access to your rabbitry is when you bring a newly infected rabbit into your rabbitry that has mites, but does not yet show any signs or symptoms of the infestation. This is what happened in our case. Fortunately, we soon discovered the problem and because the rabbit was isolated, we were able to eradicate the mites without any problem, and the rabbit involved is doing fine.

Now there are many different ways to treat ear mites. The most common non-medication treatment option is the use of mineral or olive oil (way to expensive, keep it in your kitchen) to coat the scabs and drown the mites. There are also a few different “off-label” medications that can be used to effectively kill the mites as well as their eggs. Each technique has it's advantages and disadvantages whether it be cost, length of treatment time, or possible side effects. The goal of this article is to share with you the many alternatives that you may choose to eradicate the mites from your herd should you find that you have a rabbit with ear mites.

Non-Medical Treatment

The most common non-medication type treatment for ear mites is called the 'triple 3' or 3-3-3 treatment. This treatment involves coating all the scabs on the ear with mineral oil once a day for 3 days to drown or smother the mites. The easiest way to do this is to use a small medicine dropper to place 3 or 5 drops of oil in ear year and then gently massage the ear. If there are a significant amount of scabbing noted, then dip a q-tip in the oil and gently coat the scabbed areas and carefully remove as many of the scabs as possible without causing further injury to the rabbit.

Then apply the mineral oil every other day for three applications. By this point the ears should be looking much cleaner. After three applications, continue to apply oil to the ears once a week for a total of three more weeks. Hence the name 'triple 3' or 3-3-3. This technique not only kills any active mites that may be infesting the rabbits ears, it will also kill any mites that may hatch from eggs that were still in the ear.

This process works by actually drowning the live mites with mineral oil causing them to die, the reason you have to perform so many applications of the mineral oil is that the initial application does not destroy any eggs that may be in the tunnels of the skin in which they are laid. These eggs incubate for a total of four days then new mites are hatched. So while one dose of mineral oil may kill the adult mites, four days later any eggs left in the ear will hatch and the process will continue unabated. Therefore to be effective you most perform multiple applications of mineral oil as directed.

Mineral Oil
Strength: Do not dilute
Dose: 3 to 5 drops (Enough to coat the scabs on the initial treatment)
Cost: $2.00 for 16 ounce bottle (more doses then I want to count)
Availability: Can be purchased at any drug store or supermarket.

The advantages of this form of treatment is that it is extremely cheap and relatively easy to perform. The disadvantages are that it is labor intensive, and the process takes the longest time to eradicate the mites, and you may have to perform the compete process more than once for severe infestations. If you have a lot of animals it will take you along time to treat them all.

Medical Treatment Options

There are several fifferent medications that can be used to treat ear mites in rabbits, with the exception of 'Eradimite' all of them are considered 'off-label'. That is that the medication or treatment option is effective for treating ear mites in rabbits, but that is not what the original intended use of the medication was created for. Other than Eradimite, the two most common forms of medical treatment used to treat ear mites in rabbits is the use of the anti-parasitics ivermectin and selamectin.


Is a topical ear solution that uses pyrethrins (0.15%) and piperonyl butoxide (1.50%) as it's active ingredients to kill the mites in dogs, cats, and rabbits. Pyrethrins come from the chrysanthemum flower and have been used in many insecticides since the 1950's, piperonyl butoxide is a chemical that keeps the insects from being able to degrade the posion therby enhancing the effectiveness of pyrethrins. The remaining ingredients (98.3%) is essentially aloe vera. Pyrtethrins are a form of nerve agent which excites the nervous system of any insect that eats or touches it. This quickly leads to their paralysis and eventually kills them. My research into this product indicates that it does nothing to destroy the mites eggs, therefore it has to be repeated several times in order to kill all of the mites in your rabbits ears.

The recommended dosage is to place 8 – 10 drops of the mediation in each ear, which means that a 1 oz bottle will probably only be good for two to four applications before you need to purchase another bottle. The instructions for use state “Repeat every 2 days until the condition has cleared up or as directed by your veterinarian.” As far as I can tell, eradimate will kill mites in their various stages of growth, but it does not effect the eggs which is why multiple applications are needed.

I have read on may forums that pet owners claim that 8 to 10 drops are way to many for their dog, cat, and or rabbit and they usually recommend only 3 to 4 drops. As I have never used this medication, and do not know of anyone who has done so, I cannot verify if the lesser dose is effective or not. There appears to be no specific 'weight based' instructions for this medication, the only caveat is that it is not to be used on dogs, cats, and rabbits less than 12 weeks old.

Eradimite (Fort Dodge)
Strength: Do not dilute
Dose: 8 to 10 drops per ear
Cost: $17 – $20 for a 1 ounce bottle (about two to four applications)
Availability: Can be purchased on-line or at some pet stores.

Ivermectin 1% (Anti-parasitic)

Some would say that the use of anti-parasitic agents is the easy way out, however it does require the purchase of medication as well as syringes, and you need to know the proper way to administer the medication to your rabbit. The medication of choice is Ivermectin (Stromectol). Ivermectin is a broad-spectrum anti-parasitic used to treat head lice, scabies, and ear mites among other things in both humans and animals. The effective dosage of ivermectin for rabbits is 0.018 to 0.025 ml of a premixed 1% sterile solution for each pound that the affected rabbit weighs. While a smaller dose may be effective, for rabbits with a severe mite infestation, it is recommended that the dose used be 0.025 ml's for each pound your rabbit weighs. Some of the brand names for ivermectin that you will find not only on the internet, but at retail farm supply stores such as Tractor Supply include: Ivomec 1%, Vetrimec 1%, and Agri-Mectin among others.

Name: Ivermectin 1% Injectable
Strength: 10mg/ml
Dose: 0.018 – 0.025 ml per pound of rabbit
Cost: $25 – $35 for 50ml bottle (about 400 – 450 doses)
Availability: Can be purchased on-line, or locally at Tractor Supply, or at almost any farm and ranch supply store.

Of the three medical treatment options, this is the cheapest as a 50ml bottle of ivermectin will supply you with enough medication for about 400 – 450 doses for a 10lb rabbit making the cost around $0.065 per application. The advantage of this treatment is that it 99.6% effective after the administration of three doses. In addition to killing ear mites, it also eradicates any fur mites the animal may have. The disadvantages is that you need to also purchase insulin syringes (which are relatively cheap) and you need to know how to give a subcutaneous injection to your animal as you will need to administer this treatment once every two weeks for a total of six weeks.

Breeders Note: Using insulin syringes to administer ivermectin is just about the only accurate way to administer the correct dosage of medication to your rabbit. Insulin syringes are broken down into a scale known as units. There are 100 units in 1 ml (millileter). I have taken the original recommended doses from the chart in the book 'The Rabbit Problem Solver' and added a column to the chart indicating the number of units of medication you should administer to your rabbit based on the rabbits weight. If you want to perform your own calculations simply take the dose in ml's and multiply by 100 (0.25ml x 100 = 25 units), it that simple.

Ivermectin should be administered subcutaneously once every two weeks for 6 weeks (total of 3 doses). To administer a subcutaneous injection, pinch up the skin over the shoulder blades of the rabbit and clean the area with a q-tip dipped in alcohol, or with a cotton ball soaked in alcohol. Then inject the required amount of medication into the tented area of the skin that you have just cleaned. Keep in mind that ivermectin is a thick and viscous medication and it takes a while to fill the syringe, and it will take a bit of pressure to inject it into to nape of your rabbits neck. Having a partner to hold the rabbit you wish to medicate is definitely an added bonus.

Breeders Note: There are a couple of other forms of ivermection such as pour-on, pastes, and even powders, none of which I have used. While there are a number of videos on YouTube from people who have given their rabbits ivermectin 1.87% horse de-wormer orally to treat ear mites, I cannot validate the effectiveness of the dose which is often described as "pea sized." I may delve into these other types of ivermectin in a future article, but for know, know that the subcutaneous route is safe and effective when administered correctly.

Revolution (Selamectin 15mg topically)

Revolution for dogs and cats can be used as an 'off-label' medication to treat ear mites in rabbits. According the article 'Efficacy and safety of Selamectin (Stronghold / Revolution) used Off-Label in Exotic Pets' in The Journal of Applied Research in Veterinary Medicine (JARVM), Stronghold and Revolution for puppies and kittens (5lbs and under) can be used as an effective treatment for ear mites in rabbits.

In two independent clinical trials a 15mg application of selamectin killed all of the mites in rabbits whose ears were infested. In the first study, when applied to the skin at the base of the neck either once or twice after a single application of 15mg of selamectin (1 tube) no live mites were recovered from day 7 through day 56. In the second case study four 4-month-old dwarf rabbits who shared a cage all with ear mites were treated with 15mg of selamectin, no mites were detected after 7 days.

Revolution (Mauve Colored Box)

Name: Revolution for Puppies and Kittens < 5lbs (Mauve Colored Box)
Strength: 15mg per tube, 3 tubes per box.
Dose: 1 15mg application (3 doses per box)
Cost: $25 – $30 (about $10.00 per application)
Availability: Can be purchased on-line, or locally from Pet supply stores such as Petsmart, Petco, or from your local veterinarian. 

Of the three medical treatment options, this is the most expensive as one box contains only 3 does (15mg per tube) of the selamectin making the cost about $10.00 per application. The advantage of this treatment is that it is 99.5% effective after the administration of one to two doses. It is easy to administer and takes no medical knowledge to do so. The major disadvantage is the cost. If you are only treating one or two animals this may be the route you want to go, but it is far to costly to try and treat more than a few animals.


The old adage, “prevention is always the best medicine” still applies to ear mites. When bringing any new livestock into your rabbitry, the best practise is to isolate them from the rest of your herd for a minimum of two weeks, but four weeks is better. This will allow you to determine not only if the animal has any ear mites that may have been undetected by both the breeder and yourself when you initially examined the rabbit. Keep in mind that no breeder that I have ever known intentionally sold a rabbit infested with mites, but it does happen. After you have treated your rabbits and they are mite free, you will need to remove them from the cages and clean and disinfect your cages and any plastic resting boards.

The following instructions will demonstrate how we clean our cages here at TAP rabbitry. We clean and disinfect our cages about every 6 months and whenever necessary. We clean and disinfect our cages with both heat and bleach. I use a butane torch and burn off any old hair from the wire cage. Then I spray the cages with simple green and remove any additional stuck on stuff with a plastic bristle brush. The cages are then rinsed with the water hose and I spray the entire cage with a 1:10 bleach solution (1 part bleach, 10 parts water) and place the cages in the sun to dry.

Make sure you also clean and disinfect any plastic resting boards that may have been in cages with infected animals. For this, I clean them with simple green, and soak them in a container filled with a 1:10 bleach solution. Any wooden, sheet rock or other porous type resting boards that cannot be disinfected with bleach should be thrown away and not reused as the mites can live in the cracks and crevasses of these items.


If you have the time, and you are only treating a couple of rabbits, then the non-medical treatment may be the choice for you. Of all the treatment options it takes the most time and if you have a rabbitry of any size it will take you some time to treat all your livestock. It will work, but it has the lowest success rate, (most often due to human error) and may need to be performed more than once. It is however the cheapest option, and the only non-medical option that I am aware of for treating ear mites. I am not so sure that the use of eradimite is any more effective than simply using mineral oil as eradimite does not kill the eggs and you still have to perform multiple applications just as you would if you were using mineral oil. If these were my only two choices, I would definitely try mineral oil first before ponying up the money for eradimite, but this is just my humble opinion. If you are not wanting to medicate your rabbits then the use of mineral oil is definitely the only avenue you have other than destroying the animal and or animals concerned.

If you do not mind the use of anti-parasitics then Ivermectin is a good choice, especially if you have to treat multiple animals. It is an inexpensive solution when you figure the number of doses you can get from one 50ml bottle, and with a 99.6% success rate it is hard to beat. The downside is that you will have to wait for a minimum of two months before you can butcher any treated animals for human consumption to give the medication time to get out of their system. Revolution (for dogs and cats) has about the same success rate as Ivermectin, it is easier to administer, but is far more costly per dose, but if you only need to treat a few rabbits, it is the easiest of the three to administer. Like Ivermectin, a two month waiting period is recommended to allow all of the medication to thoroughly leave the rabbits system before butchering them for human consumption.

It should be noted that I am not a veterinarian, and I do not endorse any of the products that are in this article regardless of whether I have used them or not. Proper care should be taken whenever administrating any medications to your rabbits and you do so at your own risk. I have done my best to provide you with the necessary information so that you can make an informed decision regarding how you may wish to treat your rabbits if and when they become infected with ear mites. I encourage you to do any additional research that you think may be necessary regarding the side effects of he aforementioned medications. As always, if you have enjoyed this article or have found it informative, then please share it with your friends. Don't forget to send us a friend request on Facebook or Google+ so that you will not miss any of our latest articles.


Bennett, Bob, Storey's Guide To Raising Rabbits, (North Adams, MA: Storey Publishing, 2009).

Fisher, Maggie DVM, Beck, Wieland DVM, Hutchinson, Melanie J. DVM, “Efficacy and safety of Selamectin (Stronghold / Revolution) used Off-Label in Exotic Pets” in The Journal of Applied Research in Veterinary Medicine (JARVM), 2007 (pp 87-96)
Patry, Karen, The Rabbit Raising Problem Solver, (North Adams, MA: Storey Publishing, 2014).

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Linebreeding Meat Rabbits For Food and Profit

Line-breeding is a form on inbreeding that is most often used by successful rabbitry's in order to maintain the desired genetic traits and characteristics of their foundation stock. Instead of mating brother and sister (inbreeding), linebreeding is the breeding of father to daughter and mother to son to maintain and improve the herd. The process of selectively breeding offspring to their respective parent has been performed for hundreds of years with cattle, goat, pigs, sheep, poultry, and rabbits by both farmers and ranchers. The goal is to produce enough offspring in your rabbitry that you can put meat in the freezer and sell quality livestock while maintaining a quality genetically stable bloodline.

So what does a genetically stable bloodline look like? Well with linebreeding the goal is to be able (after several generations) to produce a specific generation that still has 50% of each of the genome of the original parents used as your foundation stock. Sounds almost impossible right? Actually, it is pretty easy if you keep accurate records and are careful with your breeding program.

To be successful, your breeding must be kept on strict lines and within limits, and may be adopted for years without having to outcross any new rabbits into your bloodlines. To aid you in your endeavor, you will not only need to have a linebreeding chart, you will also need to know how to read it, and that is the goal of this article. The process will become clear once you understand how to use the linebreeding chart accompanying this article.

The Linebreeding Chart

To begin the process we need an unrelated breeding pair of rabbits (male and female), this pair will be known as your foundation stock or original male and female. They are represented at the top of the chart simply as 'Female' on the left and 'Male' on the right. Each dotted line represents a female (doe) and every solid line a male (buck). Where the two lines meet there is a circle with a letter depicted indicating what group the offspring of this breeding pair belong too. In addition, there is a fraction indicating the amount of genetic material (genes) that each parent has contributed to each offspring.

Getting Started

Once we have chosen a breeding pair to become our foundation stock, we begin the breeding process. All of the kits from this breeding will be labeled group A. Looking at the chart we see that all of the kits born in this litter will receive one-half (½ or 50%) of their genes from the original male, and one-half (½ or 50%) of their genes from the original female of this line.

Once the rabbits from group A reach breeding age (about 6 months), we will breed back one of the males from this group to our original female (mother to son), and one of the females from this group to our original male (father to daughter). These two breedings produce the rabbits in groups B and C, each of which possess three-fourths (¾ or 75%) of the genes of the parent and one-quarter (¼ or 25%) of the genes of the other parent. In this case, Group B carries three-fourths (¾ or 75%) of the genes from our original female, one one-quarter (¼ or 25%) of the genes from our original male, while group C carries three-fourths (¾ or 75%) of the genes from our original male and one-fourth (¼ or 25%) of the genes from our original female.

So, how did we arrive at these figures? Let's examine the kits produced in group C by the breeding our original male with a female from group A. Our original male carries 100% of his own genes and the female from group A carries one-half (½ or 50%) of our original male genes. Adding these two fractions together we get 1 ½. We then take 1 ½ and divide it by 2 (because the breeding takes two rabbits) and the result is that all the kits produced by this breeding (which will be labeled group C) will carry three-quarters (¾ or 75%) of the genes from our original male, and one-quarter (¼ or 25%) of the genes from our original female (1 + ½ = 1½ / 2 = ¾ male genes). This same principle is carried through out the chart with the number by the circle indicating the fraction or percentage of the genetic material that each parent has provided (left side of chart female, right side of chart male).

For the third generation we breed a male from group C to a female from group B. Each of which contains three-quarters (¾ or 75%) of the genes of the male and or female respectively. All of the kits from this breeding, labeled group E, will contain one-half (½ or 50%) of the genes from both our original male and female.

This is determined by adding three-quarters (¾, or 75%) of the females genes from from group B to the one-quarter (¼ or 25%) of the genes from the female from group C and divide by 2 (¾ + ¼ / 2 = ½ or 50%). Likewise we add three-quarters (¾ or 75%) the male genes from group C to one-quarter (¼ or 25%) of the males genes from group B and divide by 2 ( ¾ + ¼ / 2 = ½ or 50%). This is the objective of linebreeding, namely to come back to a point in which the rabbits in your herd contain one-half (50%) of the genetic material of both your original male and female foundation stock. As long as we do this we are not inbreeding, rather we are linebreeding. Therefore, each time we breed without going outside the bloodline, we are maintaining the genetic base of our original male and female rabbits.

Next, we breed a male from group B with our original female resulting in group D, whose kits posses seven-eights (7/8 or 87.5%) of the original females genes and one-eighth (1/8 or 12.5%) of our original males genes. We also breed a female from group C, to our original male, resulting in group F, whose kits possess seven-eights (7/8 or 87.5%) of the original males genes and one-eighth (1/8 or 12.5%) of the original female's genes. We will also breed a male from group F to a female from group D, resulting in group I, and again we come back to our genetic goal as all of the kits from this breeding contain 50% of the genes from both our original male and female.

The next generation will produce kits having one-half (½ or 50%) of their genes coming from our original male and female at group N by mating a male from group J and a female from group H. Offspring from groups G and K if bred together will also return us to our goal of producing kits that contain one-half (½ or 50%) of the genes of each of our original male and female foundation stock.

Following this form of linebreeding enables the breeder to keep several different males and females breeding that are genetically similar enough to retain and improve on their original breeding pair without causing any genetic anomalies or health issues.

The percentage of genes contributed from our original male and female for each group are listed below in what I consider is a little more concise and readable format.

1st Generation (Group A)
Group A's Genetic Makeup: 50% original female, 50% original male.
  • Breed a male from this group, to your original female to get group B, and breed a female from this group to your original male to get group C.

2nd Generation (Groups B and C)
Group B's Genetic Makeup: 75% original female, 25% original male.
  • Breed a male from this group to your original female to get group D, and breed a female from this group to a male from group C to get group E. Breed a female from this group to a male from group D to get group G.
Group C's Genetic Makeup: 25% original female, 75% original male.
  • Breed a male from this group with a female from group B to get group E. Breed a female from this group to your original male to get group F. Breed a female from this group with a male from group F to get group K.

3rd Generation (Groups D, E, and F)
Group D's Genetic Makeup: 87.5% original female, 12.5% original male.
  • Breed a female from this group to a male from group E to get group H. Breed a female from this group to a male from group F to get group I. Breed a male from this group to a female from group B to get group G.
Group E's Genetic Makeup: 50% original female, 50% original male.
  • Breed a male from this group to a female from group D to get group H. Breed a female from this group to a male from group F to get group J.
Group F's Genetic Makeup: 12.5% original female, 87.5% original male.
  • Breed a male from this group to a female from group D to get group I. Breed a male from this group to a female from group E to group J. Breed a male from this group to a female from group C to get group K.

4th Generation (Groups G, H, I, J, and K)
Group G's Genetic Makeup: 81.25% original female, 18.75% original male.
  • Breed a male from this group to a female from group I to get group L. Breed a female from this group to a male from group J to get group M.
Group H's Genetic Makeup: 68.75% original female, 31.25% original male.
  • Breed a female from this group to a male from group J to get group N. Breed a female from this group to a male from group K to get group O.
Group I's Genetic Makeup: 50% original female, 50% original male.
  • Breed a female from this group to a male from group G to get group L. Breed a female from group to a male from group K to get group P.
Group J's Genetic Makeup: 31.25% original female, 68.75% original male.
  • Breed a male from this group to a female from group G to get group M. Breed a male from this group to a female from group H to get group N.
Group K's Genetic Makeup: 18.75% original female, 81.25% original male.
  • Breed a male from this group to a female from group H and you get group O. Breed a male from this group to a female from group I to get group P.

5th Generation (Groups L, M, N, O, and P)
Group L's Genetic Makeup: 65.63% original female, 34.37% original male.
Group M's Genetic Makeup: 56.25% original female, 43.75% original male.
Group N's Genetic Makeup: 50% original female, 50% original male.
Group O's Genetic Makeup: 43.75% original female, 56.25% original male.
Group P's Genetic Makeup: 34.37% original female, 65.63% original male.


There are several prominent breeders of meat rabbits throughout the United States that have been successfully linebreeding for years. One of the more successful pseudo-commercial type organic rabbit meat breeders is Polyface Farms owned by the Salatin family who have a pretty substantial herd of rabbits. They have been linebreeding meat rabbits for more than 25 years with great success. So much so that they have developed their own strain or bloodline of meat rabbits. Through the process of linebreeding you can develop those traits you are looking for in a specific breed of animal and continue to enhance those characteristics to their full potential. This has been proven time and again by breeders of cattle, sheep, goats, and pigs through specific lines of livestock that have been successfully breed for 50, to 100 years and more without any new genetic material being added to the herd.

Now most of us will never be breeding meat rabbits for that long, but it will probably take you 1 to 2 years for each generation to work your way through Fetch's chart that is listed in this article. That's 5 years in the most optimistic view, but more likely it will take you 7 to 10 years to produce a good quality herd while maintaining it's genetic diversity. I say this because of the following reasons. First, in my personal opinion you shouldn't start breeding your doe until she is 6 months old. Second, once your doe is ready to breed, you may have to cull a few litters before you get the best male and female from each group in order to breed for the next generation. Hey, but that's ok, placing rabbits in the freezer is the main reason most of us are raising meat rabbits. Finally, you have to consider that the climate in which you live and the type of housing you use for your rabbitry has a big impact on your breeding schedule. If you live in the south, you will generally be unable to breed between in the months of May, June, July, August, and most of September if you do not keep your bucks in an air conditioned barn. In East Texas were we live, that only leaves you with 6 to 7 months out of the year in which to breed before the temperature starts to get above 80 degrees.

So, by the time you get to the 3rd generation you may have five breeding pairs with some males and females breeding to more than one generation all producing meat for your freezer and livestock for you to sell as you look for that next best rabbit(s) to continue your bloodline. Who knows, with proper herd management, maybe one day you can be successfully breeding your own bloodline for more than 20 years just as the Salatin's on Polyface Farm. As always, if you have enjoyed reading this article and find the information here valuable, we ask that you share it with your friends. Do not forget to send us a friend request on Facebook or add us to your circle on Google+

Similar Articles On Our Blog:

New Zealand Rabbit Genetics Part 1: Dominant And Recessive Genes
New Zealand Rabbit Genetics Part 2: Coat Color, It's In The Genes


Bennet, Bob, Storey's Guide To Raising Rabbits, North Adams, MA: Storey Publishing, 2009

Patry, Karen, The Rabbit Raising Problem Solver, North Adams, MA: Storey Publishing, 2014

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Breeding For Success

 Up to this point I have written four articles about meat rabbit genetics and how to breed for color and specific color patterns (solids, charlies, and brokens), but I have never really tackled the specific subject of establishing a successful breeding program. Because selecting a specific breeding program and maintaining your herds health as well as genetic diversity is so important, I decided to write this article for those of you who are just getting started raising meat rabbits.

Whether you are breeding meat rabbits just to supply your family with a healthy nutritious source of meat, and/or you want to be able to sell extra livestock to off set your food costs; how you setup your breeding program after you have purchased your first rabbits will have a significant impact on your rabbitry's performance. The topics I am going to discuss in this article are: inbreeding, linebreeding, outcrossing (outsourcing) and crossbreeding. Before we get started, let's look at a few important terms.

Inbreeding – Inbreeding is the process of breeding closely related rabbits such as brother to sister. With this type of breeding program all the rabbits in your herd are closely related.

Linebreeding – Linebreeding is a specific form of inbreeding in which all of the rabbits in the herd are related to a specific ancestor or ancestors to maintain a specific trait. The genetic relationship of the rabbits in linebreeding is generally further apart than with straight inbreeding.

Outcrossing – Outcrossing or outsourcing is the method of breeding your livestock with that of another genetic line of the same breed. No matter how successful you are, eventually every breeder will look to add some new blood into their herd.

Crossbreeding – Crossbreeding is the method of breeding in which two different breeds of the same type of animal are bred to produce an offspring with traits from both breeds.


If your are raising meat rabbits for the sole purpose of meat, then in theory you could follow a program of straight inbreeding. Rabbits raised using this process will be closely related and will have offspring that are not as genetically diverse. Because of this, inbreeding accentuates both good and bad existing characteristics and or traits. If you are not vigilant and do not cull your herd properly (removing rabbits with poor traits), you will soon find that you will begin to have substantial problems as the less desirable traits begin to increase exponentially in your herd.

Problems that arise with an inbreeding program include: malformed teeth, deformities, smaller litters, higher mortality, and less disease resistance. Keep in mind that if you later decide that you want to sell meat rabbits, then you need to adopt a program of linebreeding as opposed to straight inbreeding as no one will want to purchase your rabbits if they do not meet the standards of the breed due to abnormalities, or if the appear sickly.


Line breeding is the selective process of breeding related animals, that have specific traits that you desire to have in your future off-spring. The goal of linebreeding, is to keep the amount that any one animal contributes to the DNA of it's offspring at or below 50%. Therefore, line breeding can be an effective way to improve the individual traits of the rabbits in your herd. The genetic relationship of the rabbits in linebreeding is generally further apart than with straight inbreeding. A good linebreeding program involves the use of relatives such as grandmother to grandson, grandfather to grandaughter, uncles to niece, mother to son, father to daughter etc… With linebreeding as opposed to straight inbreeding there is a little more genetic variation in your herd.

This is the type of breeding program that is followed by most successful rabbit breeders, whether they are breeding for meat or for show. While it is technically a form of inbreeding, by following a specific line breeding chart, you can maintain a wider genetic makeup in your herd without having to worry about the problems associated with straight inbreeding.

Outcrossing or Outsourceing (Bringing In New Stock)

No matter how successful you are, eventually every breeder will look to add some new blood into their herd. Outcrossing or outsourcing is the process in which you do this. Whether you are looking to improve a specific trait such as fuller hindquarters, or a more luxurious coat, or you simply believe your herd is becoming too inbred and losing vitality, then outcrossing may just be the way to go.

There are two specific was to outcross your rabbits. The first, and the one that most people will end up doing is simply purchasing a new buck for their herd. The second option is to take one of your does to another breeder to be mated with one of their bucks. Of the two, the first option injects the most new genetic material in your herd and has the most impact. By purchasing a new buck, as opposed to a doe, you can use him to mate with all the females in your herd adding his genetic makeup to your herd.

When outcrossing, only choose rabbits with the specific traits that you are looking for. If you are outsourcing using option one and are purchasing a new rabbit, then it is my advice to purchase a new buck that is pedigreed. A pedigree does not guarantee you that 'all' of the offspring that this rabbit will produce will have the specific traits and features you are looking for, rather it gives you a genetic road map of the potential of the animal. Remember, it is not necessary that the rabbits that you purchase come with a pedigree, rather they should come from a long line of rabbits that carry those same specific traits you desire. Personally, I would rather purchase a quality looking rabbit without a pedigree, then purchase a less looking desirable rabbit that has a pedigree. Yes, I have done this, and over time (generally three to four generations) you can develop your own specific pedigree.

If you have a friend or family member that is a fellow breeder, or you know of another breeder in your area that produces quality rabbits that has a genetically different line of rabbits, then option two may be a viable choice. This option is less desirable (because it has a lesser genetic impact on your herd), but it is also the cheapest (does not require the purchase of an animal). A variation of this theme is to trade or barter one of your good quality offspring for that of another breeders offspring. My friend Steve Coyne (owner of Texas Bunny Barn) and I often trade livestock, and or outcross our does. This has worked out well for both of us. While I originally purchased all my 'John Gillis' line of livestock from Steve, I have since added some Basgil/Borden bucks and does to our herd as well as a few from breeder Bonita Hunt (who raises meat rabbits of show quality, and wins a lot!) so we have different genetic lines.

The Good and Bad Of Outcrossing

If you have read any of my articles on rabbit genetics on our blog, then you know that all rabbits will carry some recessive genes (genes that carry traits not visible to the eye). Therefore, any new rabbit that is brought into your herd will carry some of these recessive genes that will be passed along to their offspring. So if the first generation of outcrossed offspring is not exactly what you hoped for, keep the offspring that have the traits you desire and cull the rest to the freezer. Then take those offspring that you saved and breed them back into your line. This technique will maximize the good traits that you desire, while eliminating the transmission of less desirable traits into your herd. By continuing to follow this process, you should then start to have good results rather quickly, and you can keep your freezer full of meat, which is my opinion is always a bonus.


Many of the rabbit breeds we have today are the result of crossbreeding two or more rabbits to create a unique breed. As mentioned, the process was historically performed by breeding two different breeds with the breeder keeping those offspring with the desired traits and culling the less desired offspring. Through the process of inbreeding they continued to refine those characteristics for multiple generations. Then changing to linebreeding they continued to selectively breed until they had a genetically different rabbit.

For the home meat breeder, crossbreeding usually means the breeding of two different breeds specifically for meat to put in the freezer. While we do raise two different breeds of meat rabbits here at TAP rabbitry (American Blues, and New Zealands). We currently do not crossbreed. My friend Steve Coyne of Texas Bunny Barn, raises the same breeds and has bred crosses many times for meat. I must say that the crosses of New Zealand and American Blue's that Steve has bred appear to be somewhat larger than the New Zealands themselves and this may be an avenue that we one day approach just to put meat in the freezer.

If you are wanting to sell meat rabbits to supplement your income, be careful of crossing breeds. If you are a sloppy record keeper, and do not keep your crosses separated you could soon find that your herd of pure bred rabbits all end up as hybrids. Now hybrids fine if you are just producing meat, but not a good thing if your are telling your customers that your rabbits are pure bred when they are not. Selling someone a rabbit you claim is a pure breed when it is not is not only a poor business practise, but it has a direct impact on both the reputation of the breed as well as your rabbitry.


In animal management whether you are raising cattle, sheep, goats, chickens or rabbits linebreeding is the most common method for procreating and expanding your herd. If you want to ensure long-term breeding success in your rabbitry, then linebreeding is your best bet. By consistently mating rabbits of similar backgrounds, you can keep the rabbits with good traits and cull the rabbits with bad ones to the freezer. This process will allow you to consistently produce good, healthy animals without having too many surprises in your litters, as well as keeping your freezer stocked with delicious and nutritious meat.

When the time comes that you need to outcross by purchasing new livestock for your herd, my recommendation is to purchase a good quality buck as it will have the greatest genetic impact on your herd. If you can outcross with a friend or fellow breeder for free that is even better. However, given the choice to outcross for free to an inferior rabbit versus purchasing a good quality buck should be avoided. No sense adding genetic crap to your herd just because it is free. Free crap is still...well crap. In my next article I will explain how to use Flech's linebreeding chart to help you implement a successful linebreeding program into your rabbitry. 

I hope this article has shed some light on some of the questions regarding breeding of rabbits for meat production. Yes, these same principles apply to all rabbit breeds whether you are breeding for meat or show. As always, if you find any information in this article useful, please share it with your friends. Don't forget to send us a friend request on Facebook or Google+.


Bennet, Bob, Storey's Guide To Raising Rabbits, North Adams, MA: Storey Publishing, 2009

Patry, Karen, The Rabbit Raising Problem Solver, North Adams, MA: Storey Publishing, 2014

Fellow Breeders Mentioned In This Article:

Steve Coyne (Texas Bunny Barn) Terrel, Texas (972) 742-4922
Meat Breeds: New Zealand (Red and White), American Blues
Lines: John Gillis

Bonita Hunt (Baileywick Rabbitry) Dial, Texas (903) 946-4666
Meat Breeds: New Zealand (Red, White, Blue, and Black)
Lines: Basgil/Borden, Robatham's

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Corned Rabbit

Today we are going to examine an alternative way to can and preserve your rabbit through the process of corning. So what exactly is corning? Before the advent of refrigeration, meats were often salt cured to preserve them, a process known as dry curing. 'Corning' is an Anglo-Saxon term for meats that were dry cured (preserved) by rubbing them with salt pellets that were similar in size to corn, hence the term 'corned'. Over time, this process was replaced by wet curing or brining, and the term 'corned' became synonymous with the wet curing or brining process.

When most Americans hear the term 'corned' they think of corned beef, a dish that is generally believed to be of Irish origin although it was also a common Jewish practice. For most of us here in the United States corned beef is most often served on St. Patrick's Day. On this day many Americans cook corned beef and cabbage, which is the unofficial dish of St. Patrick's Day.

The only commercially prepared meat I have seen corned here in the United States is beef, however, any type of meat can be corned. Traditionally corning meat is accomplished by placing the desired product (usually brisket) in a brine and left in the refrigerator for 7 to 10 days. The brisket is then placed in a large stockpot and boiled and served with your sides of choice with cabbage being the most common on St. Patty's day.

In this article I am going to show you how we corn and pressure can our rabbit in one easy step. Simply allow it to sit in the jar once canned for at least a week and you will have some fantastic corned rabbit. I will be using a modified version of the raw pack method. What I mean by this is that the rabbit will be packed into heated jars raw, and then hot brine will be added to the jars before placing them in the pressure canner to be processed.

So where did I get the idea for corning rabbit? Well the credit must go to John Fugozzie who posted a recipe on corning rabbit on the 'Hostile Hare' Facebook page. While John prepared his rabbit in the traditional manner of brining it in the refrigerator and then cooking it, I decided to combine the techniques of canning and brining in one step.

Corned Rabbit

I like to use this recipe for old bucks and does as older rabbits are tougher rabbits, and the corning process makes them tender and juicy. Now I am not too anal retentive when I debone my rabbits as I boil the bones and then hand remove any meat leftover from the bones and then either use it right away or can it as well. Of course the broth is then reduced down to make rabbit stock. My point is that the amount of meat you get for corning when you debone a New Zealand meat rabbit may be more less than what I get, but I assure you nothing at our house goes to waste. The two bucks that I butchered weighed about 10lbs each, and I canned 4 pints of corned rabbit and an additional 2 pints of cooked rabbit meat for a total of 6 pints plus about 4 pints of rabbit stock. BTW, I used half of batch of the brine recipe.

The Recipe

6 to 8 lbs rabbit deboned (4 old rabbits)
1 recipe of brine (see below)

Now, I rough cut my rabbit into about 1-inch chunks and then place it in the refrigerator and boil all my bones and then allow them to cool so that I can pull off the meat and reduce the stock some. Why do I do this before corning my rabbit? Because I have a 23 quart pressure canner I have the capacity to can all of the rabbit meat and stock at the same time (even though the stock doesn't have to be processed this long). If you have a smaller canner, then just do the corned rabbit first.

The Brine

For my version of corned rabbit I used the basic brine recipe that John posted on Facebook. While I liked the final results, my friend Steve Coyne author of 'I Grow Vegetables' blog thought it could use an additional tablespoon of pickling spice. So like all recipes, I recommend trying it first as written and then adjust if the next time to suit your personal preferences.

1 gallon of water
2 cups of kosher or any non iodized salt
2 ½ teaspoons of pink curing salt (Prague powder No. 2)
3 tablespoons of pickling spice
½ cup of brown sugar.

Combine all the ingredients in a non-reactive pan (stainless steel, enamel ware, Teflon coated etc...) and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and keep the brine hot. Put the cut-up pieces of rabbit into your heated jars and cover them with the hot brine leaving 1 ¼-inch of headspace.

I place all my pickling spices in the brine and simply add the brine with the spices to my jars. If you do not wish to do this, then simply place the loose spices in a small cheesecloth sachet and toss it into the brine. When you are ready to add the brine to the jars simply remove the sachet.

Chef's Note: Do not confuse 'Pink Himalayan' salt with pink curing salt (Prague powder), they are not the same and cannot be used interchangeably.

Processing Your Rabbit

Now I mentioned that this was a modified process of the 'raw' pack method. Generally when you raw pack meats, you stuff the jars full and add salt if desired, but you add no liquid. For this recipe, I packed the jars with raw meat, but added my hot brine to the jars and then processed them as raw pack. I did this because I wanted the rabbit to corn in the jar allowing me to skip having to keep it in the refrigerator for 7 days before canning.

Once you have poured the brine into your hot jars, remove any air bubbles, and add your heated two piece rings and lids to the jar and screw them hand tight and place them in your pressure canner. If you have read any of my other articles you know that all meat and meat products (including poultry, turkey, and rabbit) must be canned in a pressure canner. You cannot safely can meat products in a water bath canner, I repeat, all meats must be pressure canned.

Chef's Note: To keep the jars hot I left them submerged in my water bath canner with the water at a slight simmer. If you were doing a large batch of rabbit or other meat, you could wash your jars in the dishwasher and remove and pack them when they are still hot.

Once you have all your jars placed in your pressure canner process per the USDA's Complete Guide To Home Canning Guide 5: Preparing and Canning Poultry, Red Meats, and Seafoods as follows:

Pints for 75 minutes at 10lbs in a weighted pressure canner, or 11lbs in a dial gauge pressure canner.
Quarts for 90 minutes at 10lbs in a weighted pressure canner, or 11lbs in a dial gauge pressure canner.

Once the rabbit is processed and the jars have cooled, store them in your pantry and in 7 days you will have some of the best corned rabbit you have ever tasted.

Serving Your Corned Rabbit

As I mentioned, this is a modififed version of a 'raw' pack and the results were quite amazing, that is if you like corned or pickled meats. I must admit that I have only eaten my corned rabbit in only a couple of ways since I canned it, mainly cold straight out of the jar and it is yummy! You can use this corned rabbit as a substitute for corned beef in any corned beef recipe but it is particularly good in corned rabbit and hash, and it makes an interestingly tangy version of rabbit (chicken) salad. I am going to let John have the final word on how he and his family likes to eat their corned rabbit “We love the stuff. It can be mixed with eggs for an omelet, cooked with cabbage etc. like traditional corned beef. By far, though, our favorite way to eat it is toasted, on rye bread, with swiss cheese and a little thousand island dressing. (Think Reuben without the sauerkraut).”


Much thanks to John Fugozzie for inspiring me to make a canned version of his traditional refrigerated corned rabbit recipe. If you are looking for a way to preserve older bucks and does that are no longer productive corning is an excellent option. Whether you choose to go the traditional route and corn your rabbit in the refrigerator like John, or can it using my modified canning process, the rabbit will always be tender, and flavorful. You can check out John's original recipe on Facebook by clicking on the link below. As always if you have enjoyed this article we ask that you share it with your friends, and don't forget to send us a friend request on Facebook or Google+ so that you will not miss out on our latest articles.

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Sunday, July 24, 2016

Breeding For Brokens and Charlie's

In this article we are talking about breeding New Zealand's (NZ) for specific patterns, not necessarily for color. In order to do that we need to know exactly what defines a solid, broken, or charlie pattern. According to the American Rabbit Breeders Association (ARBA) there are only three sanctioned solid colors of New Zealand Rabbits: red, white, and black (blue is not yet an approved color). Solids rabbits are generally considered 'self' colored rabbits, as they all carry the (aa) allele pairing. The one exception in NZ rabbits is the New Zealand Red (NZR). The NZR, while not only being the original color of the breed is actually an agouti, which means that it carries either the (AA or Aa) allele pairing. (For more information about genetics and allele pairing see my three articles on NZ color genetics). However, when it comes to breeding for patterns, the NZR is considered a solid.

According to ARBA there are only two sanctioned broken colors of New Zealand Rabbits: red & white, and black & white (blue & white is not yet an approved color). A quality broken pattern is one in which both ears colored, with color around the eyes, and on the nose. The body pattern may be spotted, with individual colored spots or patches over the back, sides, and hips: or a blanket pattern with color starting at or near the neck, and continuing over the back, sides, and hips in an evenly balanced pattern. Toenails may be white, colored, or any combination of the two.

Charlies are the red-headed step children of NZ rabbits when it comes to the ARBA as they are not recognized for show purposes. In appearance, a charlie looks like a broken 'lite' if you will (meaning it has a similar, but a lot smaller color pattern due to their different allele pairing (EnEn). While they are not shown much love by ARBA, for breeders however, charlies are an important part of their breeding and livestock sales as many people are looking for good quality charlies. Of the three patterns (solid, broken, and charlie) the charlie pattern is the least common.


A solid black or white New Zealand (NZ) rabbit should be the same color all over, however that is not exactly true for all of the other colors of the breed. For example, The New Zealand Red (NZR) has a red upper body coat, while the fur on the belly is a lighter shade of red or tan/cream color. For show purposes, the one thing that all NZ solids (except reds) have in common is that their coat should not be interspersed with any color of fur. When judging show rabbits even one small hair of a different color located between a toe can cause a rabbit to be disqualified.

Keep in mind that a 'solid' or 'self' colored rabbit may also be referred to as 'steel tipped' if it carries the (Es_) allele. In rabbits with this allele, the color of some of the hair on the fur will have silver to orange coloring on the tips of the hair shaft. Other than being 'steel tipped' If the rabbit in question has any pattern in which one color is interspersed with another (red and white, black and white, or blue and white) then it is classified as either a 'broken' or a 'charlie'.

Broken Pattern

A NZ rabbit with a broken pattern will be one of three color patterns (red & white, black & white, and blue & white). The primary colored portions of fur occur in a patched or blanketed pattern on the face, ears, and nose of the rabbit. Ideally, a rabbit with a broken pattern should have a balanced marking on its nose (full butterfly). The ears should be totally colored and the front feet should be white. The fur around the eyes is generally the base color of the rabbit with some white interspersed. Overall, the amount of colored fur or 'broken pattern' on the rabbit should be evenly distributed, however the actual amount of color may vary from 10 to 70 percent.

Charlie Pattern

A NZ rabbit with a charlie pattern will be one of three color patterns (red & white, black & white, and blue & white). Similar to brokens, a charlie has it's own specific type of pattern. A charlie may look like a broken, but there are specific patterns that are looked for in charlies that brokens do not have. A distinct marking that generally stands out on charlies is their abbreviated patch of color on their nose. It is quite a bit smaller that the full 'butterfly' mustache of a broken, hence the nickname “charlie” because this distinct nose marking is similar to the 1920's comedic actor Charlie Chaplin. Later, we will discuss how Charlies are genetically different from patterned rabbits, and they often look like sparsely patterned brokens, often having less than 10% color on a field of white fur. While some brokens may look like Charlies, Charlies are a distinctively different rabbit genetically. If the rabbit in question has a parent that is solid, then the rabbit cannot be a Charlie. In addition, if a rabbit that is suspected to be a Charlie and during breeding it produces even one solid offspring, it is not a Charlie, it is a broken. This will all be made clear when we examine the gene that is responsible for these patterns, the English spotting gene.

The English Spotting Gene:

The 'En' or English Spotting gene is the gene responsible for producing both broken and charlie patterns. As with color, breeding for a specific hair or fur pattern is simply a matter of genetics. Every complete gene is made of two allele's with each parent giving one allele to their offspring to make a complete pair. If you understand nothing else, then this is all you need to know, so I will repeat it, each parent gives one of their offspring one half of the allele paring that produces the rabbits specific color pattern or lack their of. Believe it our not there are only three possible combinations. The rabbit either has no pattern (enen) allele pairing, has a broken pattern (Enen) allele pairing, or has a charlie pattern (EnEn) allele pattern.

Normally allele pairings are written as two specific genes inside a set of parenthesis. For example the charile allele pair is denoted as (EnEn). To help make the concept of gene donation easier to understand, I will write these pairings with a comma between them to help those of you who are new to color and pattern genetics differentiate between the individual allele's. Keep in mind that each parent supplies one allele (or half) of the gene to make the allele pair of their offspring. Just remember that the correct way to write an allele pairing is (EnEn) not (En, En).

Broken Pattern (Enen) or (En, en)
Charlie Pattern (EnEn) or (En, En)
No Pattern or Spots (enen) or (en, en)

So let's look at some possible pattern combinations when we breed a:

Solid (en, en) to Solid (en, en) = 100% solids.
  • Solid to solid will give you 100% solids, no ifs or buts here.
Solid (en, en) to Broken (En, en) = some brokens (En, en), but mostly solids (en, en).
  • You will get the occasional broken here, but with three 'en' allele's and only one 'En' allele, the mathematical chance that you will get a broken in a liter is about 25%.
Broken (En, en) to Broken (En, en) = some brokens (En, en), some solids (en, en), some charlies (En, En).
  • This combination has the potential for the most variety. With an even number of 'en' and 'En' allele's you will get will get a higher percentage of brokens (about 50%), but you will get some solids and charlies as well (about 25% each).
Charlie (En, En) to Broken (En, en) = some brokens (En, en), and some charlies (En, En).
  • You will get the occasional broken here, but with three 'En' allele's and only one 'en' allele, you will get mostly charlie's (about 75%) while the mathematical chance that you will get a broken in a liter is about 25%. There is not possibility of getting a solid rabbit from this breeding.
Charlie (En, En) to Charlie (En, En) = 100% charlies.
  • Charlie to charlie will give you 100% charlies, no ifs or buts here.

Keep in mind that these mathematical percentages will bear out over time with multiple breedings. It is possible that in one breeding of broken (En, en) to broken (En, en) that you get all brokens and no solids or charlie's, that's simply the way genetics work. So keep that concept in mind when you breed. The only two breeding combinations that will give you 100% known outcomes are solid-to-solid and charlie-to-charlie. The rest of the time it is up to nature. However, keeping good breeding records and knowing which pattern combinations have the potential (mathematical percentage) to produce certain color patterns will help you to be successful in your pursuit of breeding or brokens and charlies.


When it comes to genetics, breeding for a specific color pattern (solid, broken, or charlie) is quite a bit easier than trying to figure out the individual color genome of each rabbit. After all, you only need to know whether the buck and or doe is a solid, broken or charlie. The rest is basic probability (mathematics), and nature will take care of that for you. You may not get the exact outcome you want with every breeding, but eventually with careful breeding the math works itself out and over time you will see that certain breedings will give you a certain percentage of broken or charlie kits that you desire. As always, if you have found this article interesting or informational please share it with your friends. Don't forget to follow us on Facebook or on Google+ for the latest articles on our blog related to raising your own meat rabbits.

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