"In My Opinion" Rabbitry Size

Chris Zemny, ARBA Judge, California, writes:

RABBITRY SIZES ... I don't think the size of a rabbitry necessarily dictates the quality of animals produced. I have raised Hollands in 35 stacking cages in the garage and won national sweepstakes points, and done the same with 80 cages in a barn. Culling determines quality much more than rabbitry size. It is true that numbers do help, meaning that if you produce 100 babies, you are more apt to produce a few good animals, but the quality of your babies is more dependent on the quality of animals that you start with in your breeding program.

The one thing you do find with more cages, is that you tend to keep animals that are of less quality. I cannot stress enough the importance of culling. I try to do a severe cull in the winter and cut back my herd size. It is amazing how good they all look, after the bottom of the herd is gone. I do think it takes at least 30 cages per breed to do it well. That accounts for 15 breeding does, 5 herd bucks and 10 holding cages.

The biggest error that I see people make is not keeping enough bucks for their herd. It is true you don't need as many bucks as does, but it is necessary to keep enough bucks to compensate for the faults in your does. It is hard to find 5 or more good bucks, but this one thing will help your herd immensely. Don't be afraid to keep a buck with a fault, if he has other really good points.

The other error many make is not moving down pedigrees. They tend to keep older breeding stock, rather than replace them with the ew Hollands coming up. This point is especially important with a small herd. If you keep all your old breeding does, and sell the babies, you are not moving ahead. You should be replacing at least 1/3 of your breeding does each year. That is the absolute minimum! You should also keep at least one to two bucks per year. Moving down pedigrees changes your herd quickly and can really improve the quality.

Karen Martin, Colorado, writes:

I want to share what I feel is a good number of rabbits to make a manageable rabbitry. In my opinion some breeders have a high demand for their quality Hollands and make some nice money and have waiting lists for their bunnies. These people can breed, and should, as they have a market for their "product", bunnies. When we lived in town, we had 18 cages and we really enjoyed the bunny hobby. We have found that we have to sell the babies at an early age due to cage space available, and we were not always making good decisions on who to keep and who to sell. Now that we have moved out into the country and have some property, we have a larger bunny barn and now have 35 cages. We have 14 bucks. Why? Because the bucks are fun to show and the kids love to play with them more than the does because of their friendly personalities. The bucks seem to exhibit more of a "pet" attitude and personality and are more animated than most of our does. We keep 6 senior does for breeding. We only breed 3 does at one time so we can sell all the bunnies we have then, before we rebreed. We sometimes make an exception and breed a couple more if we feel some shows are coming up, and we would be able to sell some of them at the show. I don't want our bunny bam to turn into a bunny mill. This has been a family project that is fun and is a platform to teach my children responsibilities in life and to this end, over breeding is not a good lesson. We only breed to better our herd as money making is a business, and we choose to do this as a hobby, so if we don't make a dime and spend a fortune, we don't mind. It is a lesson in responsibility for the children. If you go golfing or go boating or do model railroads as a hobby, then you spend, spend and spend...what is the difference...it is a hobby. We keep at least 5 cages for our retired bunnies that are too sweet to let go. And then we keep some cages for juniors and those we are growing out to be sold. I like to keep at least 2 empty cages available in case we would get a "pet" return, which happens occasionally, a bunny we have sold is no longer wanted, then we can take him back and keep him or place him in another pet home. This is being a responsible breeder in my opinion. I think having any more than 35 cages would be a lot more work and would take away from the fun for our busy family.

Renee McBrayer, Georgia, writes:

I feel that the number of Hollands that I raise is very important. I spend a lot more time with my Hollands than with my other breeds. (I have sold most of my other breeds to specialize in Hollands). This breed has a wonderful personality to start with, but I like to handle these bunnies A LOT at an early age. I try to get them out, to play on the ground, as much as possible. Because of this, I have to keep my Hollands down to a number that I can handle. I have room to add more cages, but choose not to. If I add too many Hollands, I will be taking away the time from my others.

Jill Gannon Ohio, writes:

My son, Kyle, is actually the Holland breeder at our home. He is 12 years old. Right at this time he has about 20 Hollands. 3 does are strictly brood does, 3-4 does that we breed and still show, and 1 buck that is just a herd buck, 2 bucks that we show and breed. the rest of the Hollands are all being shown at this time. He has been raising Hollands for almost 3 years and we are very happy with the litters we are getting now. He is just about ready to get his first grand champion that we bred, we have a tort buck that just turned senior and has 5 jr. legs. I can't wait until there is a show in our area. He will probably be expanding on his holland numbers, lately we have been getting so many nice babies, its hard to part with any of them. We also breed tans and English spots, so we have a total of 90-100 rabbits at this time, with several litters on the way.

Christine Feld, California, writes:

I find that around 40 holes works well for me with my Hollands (we have 60 holes total, but the other 20 are for 2 other breeds). Due to a hectic schedule with 4 kids and a part-time job, I don't get to a ton of shows, so I only have one show string. Forty holes is sufficient for me to work on my lines and still hold on to choice juniors to see how they develop. I feel that one has too many bunnies if each rabbit can't be checked each day and given some personal attention. I like to keep my barn clean, too, and it adds to the overall health and productivity of my bunnies. Too many more holes and I would have to let trays go dirty more often. My rabbits are very spoiled and love attention. Each has its own personality, and I feel that is part of the uniqueness of the breed. Hollands are my hobby, and I find it very enjoyable, but there is a threshold point where too many would make it a big chore.

To sum up my thoughts....Points to consider when choosing the number of holes for a rabbitry:
1. What are the space limitations, zoning, etc.?
2. How much time/day do you have to spend with the rabbits and with daily maintenance?
3. How much can you spend on maintenance items? -- feed, supplements, shavings, etc, start adding up when doing a lot of breeding.
4. What are the herd goals? Improve bodies? shoulders? crowns? Work on typey colors? Goals have helped me to focus on traits and improve my herd greatly with a fixed number of holes.

Elaine Diedrich, Wisconsin writes:

Rabbitry size...Now, as to ideal rabbitry size, I feel that is an extremely personal thing. My daughter and I have probably a very small rabbitry, with 48 holes divided between two breeds. That is not all the rabbits that we want, but it's all we have time for, and space to house. If we increase the amount of rabbits, then the time requirements would affect the income (I would have to cut hours). As it is currently, I must be acutely aware of the neighbors, and not get on their bad size. I live in a village, and the village rules that you an only have 3 pets. If they were able to see, or have complaints, about 48 rabbits I would no longer be able to keep them. Eventually, we would like to move to a farmette, but that's after the kids are out of school.

Deb Jones, Wyoming writes:

Why we feel less is best for us: We have had up to 80 holes in our barn, overflowing at times. Due to our prospective move, and my oldest daughters journey to college, Margo and I decided to cut back to 35 holes last Spring. Yes, they are overflowing at times also, but we are very satisfied with the quality of Hollands we are producing with reduced numbers. We find we are culling more consistently because we have to, with less cages available.

Besides taking less time to clean trays and less feed expenses, we find we have a lot more time to spend just "enjoying" our bunnies. This part of raising Hollands was the main reason we chose Hollands to begin with, and as the numbers of rabbits grew, the lack of time for just playing with them dwindled. The personality of our Hollands blooms with special attention from us. How many times have you known breeders that entered just one or two rabbits and placed them nationally in the top 10, or won BOB? It happens more than you think.

I like to use an analogy about dog breeding... if you were going to raise and show dogs, and told other dog breeders you were ONLY going to have 35 dog runs, all full, they would think you were crazy. And you would be! Dog breeders have animals that produce no more than once a year, usually once every other year, litter sizes vary with dog size as it does in rabbits, and yet they manage to produce high quality show dogs. Rabbits can produce 4 or more litters of bunnies per year, per doe, more than a dog can produce.

So why do we rabbit breeders need 35 rabbits to produce show rabbits? This was a question we kept asking ourselves, yet didn't like the answers we were coming up with. We finally had to admit that we were still breeding Hollands as if we were breeding commercial rabbits, where quantity, pounds of meat, were the end product. This in turn made us resemble a 'bunny mill," with an overwhelming number of pet Hollands to find good homes for.

Being a responsible breeder, and because we chose a breed with a super personality, we could not dispose of them as a "food" product, or trash. Thus, we had to reevaluate our motives, and we decided that we wanted to produce show Hollands, and if we concentrated our efforts on selective breedings, surely we could achieve this goal with a minimal number of "pets" to find homes for. We feel we are on our way to producing quality, not quantity Hollands with fewer pets and more consistent quality in our herd. We find we have more time to plan breedings, and evaluate our herd with fewer Hollands to take care of.

I have heard of some breeders that want to have more than "one" show string, which is understandable, for those chasing points, your buns can get pretty tired out going to all those shows, so two show strings can be an advantage. I myself find that I have 12-18 rabbits to show at any given time in a barn of 35 holes. This is the result of seriously managing our herd. I replace older animals with juniors, when we keep one, we must sell one... only retiring a few special ones. We have found we enjoy keeping a lot of bucks, they have a longer show career than does, and are generally more personable.

Where did the "big" rabbitry numbers begin? I believe it stems from the commercial end of the rabbit industry. When you are producing a product by the pound, more is better, numbers are key. You can eat the surplus. I don't eat my Hollands, or kill them to cull them, so I am very comfortable with less, and feel it is more of what I wanted to begin with. Would be interested in hearing from other breeders, as well as what I have included here in this column. We are all entitled to share our thoughts, just send them my way!

Kathy Brasby, Colorado, writes:

The comments about rabbitry size in the last IMO column were wonderful and very helpful. I wanted to ask about quotas (for example, limiting oneself to only 2 broken senior bucks, only 5 solid senior bucks, 15 senior does, etc.) but then I re-read the advice, especially from Chris Zemny, and decided that first I had better implement her advice. For example, I have 10 bucks instead of 5 but 15 senior does as she suggested. Who to move out? This will test my goal-setting ability and force me to choose between the better and best animals. To stay at the number of cages I have (and I don’t have room to expand further right now) will be an interesting and challenging adventure.

The Hollander/Summer Issue - July 1999 & The Hollander/Spring Issue - April 2000