We’ve all heard the phrase “breeding like rabbits,” but how fast do rabbits really breed and how many litters can a rabbit have per year? A rabbit can have a lot of litters in a year, but just how many is “lots”?
So, how many litters can a rabbit have each year? The gestation period for a rabbit is roughly just 30 days, and they can breed again nearly immediately after birth. That means that a rabbit can have 11 or 12 litters of bunnies every year, but that’s not a wise choice when you’re raising rabbits. Even aggressive breeders will aim for 6.5 litters per year, though most who raise rabbits will aim for 3 to 4 litters per year.
Let’s dig into the details and find out how many litters really makes sense.
How much time does a doe need between litters?
A female rabbit is one of a handful of animals that do not need to be in ‘heat’ to be fertile; instead, they are Induced Ovulators. Induced ovulation is the process where coitus (e.g. some form of genital stimulation) causes a surge of Luteinizing Hormone (LH) which causes the female to become fertile.
Induced Ovulators are somewhat rare, and include not only rabbits, but cats, ferrets, and camels.
We’ve all heard the old wives tale that a woman will not get pregnant while she’s nursing. I don’t think that’s actually true for humans, and I know it’s not true for rabbits.
Rabbits can get pregnant while still nursing their most recent litter of bunnies.
Still, with the ability to be fertile at any time, it is not the best strategy to keep your does pregnant year around.
It takes a lot of energy to nurse baby bunnies, and those babies won’t be ready to wean until they are 3 to 6 weeks old (though many breeders prefer 6 to 8 weeks before weaning). While a doe can be impregnated while still nursing babies, it’s not a good idea.
If a doe is spending energy on both nursing an existing litter and growing her next litter, it’s not a crazy thought that both litter will suffer from malnutrition and neither litter will achieve their full potential.
Most rabbit wranglers will let a litter nurse for 6 to 8 weeks before weaning. Then they’ll allow their doe to rest and recuperate for 2 to 4 weeks before breeding again.
This means 12 to 16 weeks between the birth of the first litter to the birth of the second for most does.
This means that most rabbit does will have 3 to 4 litters per year.
So what is the best rabbit breeding schedule?
This is a personal choice.
An aggressive breeding schedule.
Some who raise rabbits breed them every 8 weeks, which is an aggressive schedule.
In this model, you’ll breed your doe and have kits (baby rabbits) roughly 4 weeks later.
4 weeks after the birth, they rebreed the doe while she’s still nursing her first litter; keeping in mind that she’s an Induced Ovulator as we talked about above.
2 weeks later you wean the first litter of bunnies at 6 weeks old.
2 weeks later you get another litter of rabbits.
This aggressive breeding schedule will give you roughly 6.5 litters per year.
If you choose to follow this aggressive breeding schedule, you will see the wear and tear on your doe. By the 4th or 5th litter, she’ll be a ghost of her old self.
Growing babies while nursing babies greatly depletes her nutrients, and you’ll see the price of that not only in your doe’s health but in the quality of her offspring.
A less aggressive breeding schedule.
Most rabbit breeders, even those trying to maximize meat production, choose a less aggressive breeding schedule.
This less aggressive schedule aims for new breedings every 10 weeks.
In this model, like the one above, you’ll breed your doe and have kits (baby rabbits) roughly 4 weeks later.
Then, 6 weeks after the birth, you’ll rebreed the doe while she’s still nursing her first litter.
2 weeks later you wean the first litter of bunnies at 8 weeks old, which will give you much larger and healthier bunnies.
2 weeks later you get another litter of rabbits.
This will give 3.7 litters per year.
You can follow this less aggressive breeding schedule for years, though you should be mindful of the health and wellbeing of your doe and your bunnies. If either are suffering, give them a few more weeks to thrive.
A more relaxed breeding schedule.
If you want to take it easy on your rabbits, let your doe wean and recover before the next breeding.
As always, you’ll breed your doe and have kits (baby rabbits) roughly 4 weeks later.
Then, 8 weeks after the birth, you’ll wean the bunnies.
2 weeks later you’ll breed the doe.
4 weeks later you get another litter of rabbits.
This will give 3.25 litters per year and a happy and relaxed colony of rabbits.
Keep in mind that you are the stewards or caretakers of your animals, even if you are just raising them as a source of meat. Be kind to your animals and choose a breeding schedule that gives your family and your customers the best quality rabbits you can raise.