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Someone recently mentioned "breeding like rabbits". So my question is how fast do rabbits breed? If I accidentally bring home a pregnant female rabbit, or a male and female pair from the local fair, and she has babies, and I keep everyone together, without having any spayed or neutered, how fast will they reproduce?

I will of course keep feeding them, and making sure they have good care. Really how bad could it be? So maybe I have 6 or eight bunnies to find homes for by the fair next year. right?

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As noted in Monicas answer Gestation period is generally 28-31 days. It varies greatly by breed. My English lops usually go on day 29 but I have had a few that went on 30 and a few instances where they went over 31 days with the latest being 36 days(no that did not go well). Netherland dwarfs on the other hand go day 30-31. I have never had one go earlier or later. Some of the commercial breeds like M70 (a New Zealand cross for commercial production) have been selected for short cycle times to maximise their production value. A breeder friend of mine reports periods of as short as 24 days in his M70 herd.

The number of rabbits varies by several factors. First is breed. Smaller breeds tend to have smaller litters. For my netherlands my average has been 3-4 per litter with the largest being 7, though only one survived the first day and all were very small. My english lops tend to be 8-12 depending on the lines. There are definitely lines that I have noticed greater numbers from than others. My friends M70's typically have 12-16 per litter.

In a domestic setting most breeders will wait at least 60 days between breedings. This gives the doe time to recover from the stress of having the babies as well as to care for the litter. I personally give at least 90 days to allow the rabbit to fully recover. Most quality breeders will recommend no more than 3 litters in a year. Rabbits that are bred right back seem to have less healthy and lower quality litters than those that are given an opportunity to recover fully.

In the wild rabbits are not constrained like a domestic herd and breed pretty much right back so long as there is an alpha buck near by. Cottontails typically have litters of 6-10 about 6-7 times a year. Given a 50% mortality rate a breeding pair of rabbits can easily grow to to 50 in just one year. Repeat that for just 2 years and you have over 30000 rabbits provided there is food and shelter enough to support them.

The phrase arose because sailors would seed islands as they explored with rabbits. In just few years, with few predators, a half a dozen rabbits could fill a good size an island with a source of food to hunt, and this is the origin of the phrase breeding like rabbits.

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According to the proceedings of the New Zealand Ecological Society from 1977, a field study of wild rabbits showed an average of 29.4 babies per female rabbit during one breeding season (they are generally fertile for ~243 days per year, basically the non-cold months). They are having litters of around 5.3 babies per litter and a bit over 5 litters per season (8-9 month season, so they have ~60% of the litters they could have).

Of course, domesticated rabbits may well breed more frequently, given the more stable food supply, lower stresses from predators (and food needs), and closer contact with males (assuming they are in a cage together).

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According to this article:1 the gestation period for rabbits is 28-31 days, a rabbit can be impregnated within hours of giving birth, litters contain 1-14 babies, and rabbits are fertile from about six months of age. So, that's a lot of rabbits.

That article doesn't cite any sources. The House Rabbit Society also says the gestation period for rabbits is 31 days, but I couldn't find sources (or conflicting claims) for the rest.

By comparison, cats (left unchecked) have 2-3 litters a year with a gestation period of 58-65 days and a litter of 4-6 kittens (source).

1 Which, from its title/URL, is presumed to be written with an agenda, but I can't find counter-claims for the information I'm repeating in this answer.

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  • Actually the numbers coming out of your first link seem to overly conservative. It says 72 offspring from the Alpha Mother at 12 months but between 4 and 6 months her girl babies are going to start having babies. ref 1 Ref 2 – James Jenkins Jul 21 '14 at 0:15
  • Yes, if we assume that everybody survives and breeds as much as possible, it escalates pretty quickly. That rabbits can do that doesn't automatically mean that they do; I don't know, hence my hedging a bit. But, to get back to the root of the question, yes I think there's some basis for "breeding like rabbits". – Monica Cellio Jul 21 '14 at 3:35
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What most people won't tell you is that if you leave a doe in the cage with the buck and he keeps after her, she will eventually reach around and castrate him!

You never leave a doe unattended for more than a few minutes. If she's grumpy and doesn't want anything to do with him and she starts getting nippy towards him, you get her out of there quickly.

Rabbit reproduction also depends upon breed. A med. small rabbit will have approx. 4-6 kits per litter. And the bucks can oftentimes go temporarily sterile during high temps (high 80's to 90's).

Some breeds aren't prolific and some are. Some strains within a breed will produce less than others. I've raised New Zealands that gave me litters of 10 to 12. I've raised English Spots that averaged 8 and FL whites about 4-6 per litter.

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Opposite sex pairs will begin reproducing as soon as they mature. Left unchecked, an unspayed rabbit and her intact female descendants can produce more than 1300 offspring in a year. Over the course of five years this number balloons exponentially to more than 94 million! Spay or Neuter my Rabbit? by Dana Krempels, Ph.D.

While it is unlikely you will have 1300 live healthy rabbits after a year, you are likely to have a few hundred dead ones, and a couple hundred lives ones from the an unchecked breading program. The logistics of keeping them feed and clean become unmanageable.

This answer is at the extreme end of the possibilities, the release of Rabbits in Australia was near this level of reproduction. But of course the negative impacts to the health of quick breeding population means many of the 1300 do not survive.

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