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Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Rabbits for fun and...profit?

Often, when I'm selling bunnies as pets, I get asked the question "Do you make a lot of money breeding rabbits?" Some folks are genuinely curious, others have a gleam in their eye that says "If you say yes, I want a second one".

The cold hard truth is- no, I am fairly sure I don't even break even each month. It's entirely possible that some of the top breeders in the nation DO turn a profit. I think it's safe to say that 90% of us would be thrilled to make $5 in any given month.

Why is it so expensive, you ask?

Let's put aside for a second the entire showing aspect and concentrate on someone wanting to breed rabbits just as pets.

To begin with, you need cages. A cage in a pet store at a decent size is going to run you AT LEAST $40. If you're just hoping that your two pets will breed occasionally and make you some side money, you're probably going to splurge and spend $60+ on a super nice condo cage for your darlings- twice, because you can't constantly house your buck and doe together. Then, you'll need pine shavings or other bedding, either for the bottom of the tray or for the solid bottom cage. Let's say that's $6 a bag monthly.

Conservatively, we're already at $86 start up, and you have no food, water bottles, food crocks, or rabbits!

If you buy your rabbits from a pet store, you will usually pay $40. You may get lucky and get a mean one that has been left too long in the store for the oh-so-discounted price of $20-$30. If you luck out and find a breeder, you can spend anywhere from $10-$15 (my usual pet prices) to $65. Yep, some breeders to charge $65 for pet rabbits. In the interest of this example, let's say you choose to go with a breeder in the middle road and pay $60 for a socialized breeding pair.


Food! You can pay the ridiculous amount of $5 per 2.5 lbs of worthless food at a pet store, or you can buy a good quality pet food from a feed store- how about Purina rabbit chow, at $11.50 per 50lbs. This food will probably last you a while with only two, but remember, you have to keep it dry and clean!


Water bottles and food crocks? Let's see- I'm going to say conservatively you'll spend $10 on 2 bottles and food crocks.

$165.50. Wow. Already. Of course, these are going to be pets, and you probably were going to spend all this anyway, so you're willing to absorb that cost, right? Now you need hay. Do you want to pay $8 a bale or $3 for a pound? Most people don't want to have to store a huge bale of hay, it's messy, so you're going to opt for $3 a pound. Among two rabbits, fed every other day, you can stretch that pound to a week. $12 for hay a month.

$177.50. Add at least $5 for a nestbox.

$182.50-YAYY You now have everything you need to breed rabbits!

So you breed your pair, and because you went with the breeder, both are proven and you get 4 babies your first go-round. But one dies. It happens, they don't all make it. So you're down to 3.

Those three are happy and fat, and at about 2 1/2 weeks or so you notice them eating mama's food and hay, so you up the amounts she gets. You're going through it only a little faster now...just wait. By the time the babies are 4 weeks old, they are regular piggies for the pellets. They have to stay with mama bunny until AT LEAST 6 weeks old though. . They are 8 weeks old now and you've weaned them, so you had to buy food a little more quickly, and of course, you doubled the amount of hay you were buying because young rabbits need plenty of it. So in the last 2 months of their lives, you spent $24 a month on hay. So in just hay alone, these 3 babies cost you $24 EXTRA (remember, you were spending $12 a month for your original two). Because you plan to sell them quickly, you don't buy a weaning cage, you leave them in with mama (you should buy that cage for weaning!).

Now, you want to get rid of the babies quick, so you sell to a pet store. Congratulations, you made $5 a baby. $24- $15= $9 in the hole on hay alone, not including extra feed. So you decide instead to put an ad up on one of the free websites online. You decide to list them for $15 each. After wading through spam (those darn Nigerians have more lotteries...) you manage to sell one. Woo!! Only need to sell 1 more to be $4 in the green! But no one wants to buy and after 2 weeks or so of feeding them, you drop the price to $10 and sell another. Nope, you didn't make money! You *would* have been $1 in the green, but because you had to feed them and give them hay, you still lose money. You can't sell the last one, and the pet store doesn't want it , because a rabbit the ripe old age of 11 weeks isn't as cute as the 6 week olds they want you to sell them. Now you have to give it away.

:( You made no money! See why breeders don't make money?

With show bunnies, there is a whole new added level- depending on breed, we don't pay $30 for a rabbit. The most expensive rabbit in my barn I paid $75 for, and that's only because I have two wonderful rabbit friends who sold me bucks for 1/3 of their value. We have to add in show entry fees, usually $3.50 a rabbit per show, because we have a better chance of selling rabbits with Grand Champions in their pedigrees and with legs under their belts. We sell pet rabbits to folks, brood rabbits to folks, but c'mon, if I pay $75 for a doe and use my $150 buck with her and she only has 2 babies, 1 of which is pet quality (so, $15)...see how FAR I have to go to even begin to recoup the value of the rabbits producing?

Now, you can offset some of these costs- buying hay in bales, finding rabbit cages at yard sales or lucking out and getting some from someone either switching to new ones, or selling out...even using hanging cages instead of stackers reduces costs, because you don't need bedding. The more does you have, the more babies you will get- but there is still the need for hay and food.

Tim and I figured out that once we got past start up costs, we could easily afford the rabbits. Right now, we spend about $25 on rabbit food alone a week. A WEEK. But, that's equivalent to one more meal at home, instead of a nice restaurant. Manageable. And, we're searching for a better food at a cheaper price. Culling hard helps the prices stay manageable too- I'm reducing my holland and mini lop herds, so I'll need less food, less shavings for their pans, etc. We go to less movies, spend less on vacations and junk food, etc.

Some folks sell bunny manure. You're not going to get rich quick that way either, but it's a way to make a little something back, if you have a market. Some people do website graphics that are rabbit related, or bring rabbits to parties/presentations for a small fee (contact me, I'm available for parties ;) ).

Why would you want to have rabbits at all? Now that I've bored/scared you with the numbers, I'm going to get to the fun part.

Rabbits are very rewarding. I still get thrilled when the babies run to the cage door to lick me, or the rabbits beg for head rubs. They are goofy little creatures, as you know if you've ever seen them "binky". Thanks to the rabbits, I've made friends with people I'd otherwise have never met. Nothing, I repeat: NOTHING, is cuter than baby bunnies curled up with their mama and each other.

They teach children a sense of responsibility and work ethics- if you take care of your rabbits and make smart breeding decisions, you could end up producing a BIS winner. They learn sportsmanship, because you won't always win, no matter how hard you try. And lets be honest- if your kid is out in the barn with some bunnies, they aren't going to be on the streets stealing and doing drugs. Not that bunnies are the perfect anti-drug. I'm just saying- you'll be more involved in your child's life through going with them to bunny shows, than if they are plopped on the couch eating cheese doodles and watching Spongebob.

Rabbits aren't a get rich scheme. You're not going to make tons of money and be able to quit your job. But, if friends are important, or if teaching your children life lessons matters to you, they are invaluable.

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