I was recenlty praised and questioned about my success in the rabbit world. Where I have raised rabbits for nearly 10 years, I am still new and naieve to many things, but I'd like to share my experiences, as I did with the family who asked me.
1) Get started and involved early
Get involved with 4-H or FFA. Show in ARBA. There is no better example as earlier this year I saw Melissa Magee doing breed ID with her kindergarten daugher, Lena. She would take her around the showroom & ask her the breed and color. You'd have to know who I'm talking about to understand this, but it was too darned cute! I didn't get started in the rabbit project until I was in 6th grade, and I didn't really get "involved" until high school or later. This was attributed to #2.
2) Purchase quality rabbits from the start
Try not to purchase rabbits from pet stores or petting zoos. Sometimes fairs aren't even the appropriate place to get quality rabbits (depends on the fair...).
DO RESEARCH. Find quality breeders near you. You may have to DRIVE or have rabbits transported from far away places to get what you NEED. (My 'starter' doe came from Canada!). If you have rabbits you dont want, or is inhibiting your ability to move on, then rid them in the most right way possible, wether they go as pets or whatnot.
Be WILLING to pay a respectable price for a rabbit that's worth the money. I'm not saying purcahse a $150 doe because the breeder wants to cheat you, but be willing to pay that $ for a doe who is worth the price. Then again, there are breeders who are willing to GIVE nice rabbits to youth because they will find it in their best interest to. I have given away several nice Mini Lops to get youth started, and I do not regret it, even when they go back to kick my butt! Roger gave me my first two Satins. Nicole gave me my current permanent herdsire. Then again, I have had to spend hundreds of $ on rabbits to help my stock. It all depends on the breeds and breeders you are dealing with.
3) Use breeders bucks
If you purchase does from a breeder, you are going to want a buck of similar lineage. Roger was the one who instilled the importance of using other breeders bucks. The herdsires breeders keep are better than the bucks they are willing to sell you. He helped me immensely with my Satin stock by letting me use his awesome bucks. Furthermore, I use friends bucks when available. It widens your gene pool while strengthening your herd at the same time. When you don't compete against those breeders, it helps you both out. You can offer pick of litter, share prefixes or even split the litter. Some breeders will charge fees, some will let you do it for free, and some don't believe in this theory. If you know the breeders stock, know their herd is healthy, I think it's an investment worth doing.
4) Wooden nestboxes
So you become a breeder when you have your first litter. My first litter was in 2000, it was actually a Dutch litter! Some people toss over the fact on if to use metal or wooden nestboxes. I can't give you an experience with metal nestboxes, I've never used one. I don't have a reason, but I'm not going to pay for dozens of boxes when I can make my own. There is no problem with using wooden nestboxes if you keep them clean and sanatize them after each litter. They are sturdy for my does to rest on and gives them something to chew on. Plus you can craft them to each individual doe :)
5) Early weaning
Early weaning is advice I would give to any livestock producer. I'm not saying wean at 4 or 5 weeks. 6 weeks is the earliest, I will ever wean. 7 weaks normal and 8 weeks I think is getting too long. When you have litters of 6-8 on average, the less time a doe is on a litter is more time for her to recooperate and the faster you can safely get those babies on feed, the more and the better they will start growing.
6) Replace older stock with younger stock
Always try to replace your sires and dams with their offspring. Theoritically, if you are breeding for better generations, your babies should be better (atleast equal) to their parents. If you arent getting those results, you are doing something wrong. Genetics and lineage is hard to master, or even understand but the more you get the basics, the easier this is. I try my hardest, but sometimes it truly is hard to replace those wonderfully producing GC's. Sometimes it takes more than two litters!
7) Don't keep rabbits for color or markings (5 pts)
Don't keep a rabbit because you like its color or how cute it's broken pattern is. Color and markings are only 5 points. FIVE percent. Now it's nice to have your rabbit stand out from all those steels, chestnuts and chins on the table, but that should be your last and final consideration. This can be argued on the fact that I have some colors in my barn or the fact that I have a BEW project. It's simple, the colors in my barn have respectable type and my BEW project is seperate from the rest of my herd. It is never more than 2 or 3 rabbits at one time.
8) Establish a working barn, cages, equipment
You cannot go anywheres with your herd unless you have a barn that works for you! And whatever it is that ends up working, if it works, it works! Some people have rows of hanging cages. Some people swear by stackers. Some use crocks, waterbottles or auto-water. Some people make their own cages and barns. When I first started out, I didn't have a barn. I had wire cages that were hutched and kept behind our garage. I finally got my barn in 2002. Over the years I have used a variety of cages. What works for me, are the modular wire cages with cage stands. I have also purchased a few sets of new stackers. I have 24 holes on one wall. There is a 9 hole stacker, two 6 hole stackers and then a 3 hole stacker. I use J-feeders and I have an auto-watering system by KW Cages. J-feeders are nice if you have them screened, so the feed fines can fall through, and you can feed them quickly if need be. They work wonders for does on litters. I had waterbottles since day one. I still own about fifty 32 ounce bottles. But, when I went off to college my parents put their foot down, and I regreably at the time, went to Auto-water. I was very scared to make the transition, but it was all overrated. My rabbits figured it out and I will never go back. True, I can't monitor how much an animal is drinking, but I can still FEEL their flesh condition and see their manure output in their trays. That is the only negative. I cannot express the feeling to not have to water, for them to have cool fresh water, and how much they want at all times! Plus, it doesn't freeze as easily and takes up less space. Plus its way less work. I cannot describe to you the pain of keeping bottles clean in the summer, filling up 30 or more bottles at one time and in the winter, ohhhh when they freeze, that is not fun.
9) Get a name for yourself
Invest in business cards. Embroider an apron. Put up a unique 8x11 page by your rabbits. Put your name on your carriers. Make a website! Do something unique, a font, a color or logo.
10) MEET PEOPLE, TRAVEL & HAVE FUN
Meet people, just not the people who raise the same breeds as you! Do not sit around at shows. Get up and meet judges, registrars and show secretaries and superintendants. Go out to breakfast or dinner together. Travel! Be willing to make those trecherous drives to other states or the big conventions. Since being in the hobby, my hobby has taken me to places I would have never gone to before. The last requirement, is to HAVE FUN. My lack of participation in other livestock showings are the people, and how they inhibit you to have fun. It's really weird, us rabbit people and how we all get along so nicely. The last show I went to, friends that I went to Michigan with came up and asked me if I had lodging plans. I hadn't even been in the showroom for 5 minutes! I had no plans, and we shared a cottage on the beach that was cheaper than any hotel in town. Laugh with friends & make memories, because as long as you are having fun, you're atleast doing one thing right ;)