Forming a Rabbit Co-op

by Deb Sandoval

A breeder recently called me to ask my opinion on forming a rabbit co-op with another breeder. She knew someone in her area who had recently formed a co-op and she was afraid of not being able to compete by herself. There are many advantages and disadvantages to forming a co-op with another breeder and each of these should be carefully considered before making this decision.

The primary advantage is increased financial resources. Purchasing high quality Holland Lops is often very expensive and often more than any one breeder is able to spend on what is after all a hobby. Splitting these costs is often the most practical alternative to mortgaging your house or spending your kid's college money. A single buck can easily breed both yours and someone else's does. Aside from the financial benefit there are many other advantages to forming a co-op. There is increased cage space. If both breeders are already established there is an increase in the genetic pool to select the best possible breedings for each animal. If approached with the right attitude there is twice the pleasure in showing since you can now take pride and pleasure in your friends wins as well as your own.

Co-oping can also bring two friends closer together as you work together to improve both of your breeding programs. However, there can be problems with co-oping especially if it is not approached properly from the beginning. There can be hurt feelings or a sense of being taken advantage of if arrangements or not kept fair and equal. The solution to this problem is to clearly lay out the rules or guidelines of the co-op from the very beginning. Here are some suggestions for co-op guidelines.

1. If purchasing a buck, for example, with combined funds it should be agreed upon before the purchase, where he is to live, who is going to show him, and whether his offspring will be divided equally between the breeders or will remain the property of whoever owns the doe. If the two rabbitries are of about the same size it is often easiest to alternate keeping the rabbit at one or the other barn every one or two months. The offspring would then remain with whoever owned the doe. This may not be fair if one breeder has a much larger herd than the other and therefore the potential to produce many more offspring.

2. If you are combining the breedings of two already established herds then it must be decided how the offspring will be divided. If the two herds are of about equal quality before forming the co-op, then the easiest method is to do several combined breedings at about the same time then when the litters are old enough to separate toss a coin for the first pick then alternate picks not just within a litter but from among all the offspring of about the same age. Subsequently, each time a batch of litters is ready to divide whoever went second last gets first pick. This keeps it as fair as possible, but since we all know that a truly great rabbit only comes along rarely be prepared for the chance that it won't be your turn to pick and your partner may get that rabbit. Which leads to a secondary clause you might want to include which is that regardless of who gets the pick of a certain buck, the other person has free breeding rights to that rabbit without having to split the resulting litter.

3. A more difficult situation occurs when combining the breedings of two herds of unequal quality. One breeder may already be established with good quality animals either purchased or bred, while the other breeder may just be getting started. Since one partner is in effect contributing more, there may not be a feeling of being "equal" partners. In this situation it is very important that there be an open and honest discussion before any co-op is formed. Perhaps one partner can always get first pick for a set period of time, or the showing can be done in one person's name more than the other for a period of time; as long as it is agreed upon ahead of time and both parties feel comfortable with the arrangement.

4. What if one party decides to get out of rabbits? Will the other partner get to keep any and all rabbits that came either directly from a combined breeding or have a combined breeding in their background? Or, will the other only have the option to buy such rabbits prior to them being made available to others?

These things also need to be agreed upon in advance to avoid future hard feelings.

HLRSC Official Guidebook - 5th Edition 2002