Getting domestic meat rabbits to breed 'like rabbits' isn't the easiest thing to do. You'd think it would be, but a rabbit that lives alone in a hutch for most of its life doesn't necessarily have good breeding instincts. Diet can play a part in breeding, it's been shown that rabbits need a healthy amount of vitamin A & E in their bodies to 'get in the mood', and a diet that's low in these vitamins can create disinterest in a rabbit. When I first started breeding meat rabbits and only had 3 does and 1 buck, I tried everything I could think of, was suggested to me or that I read about to improve the breeding success with my rabbits. It wasn't a big deal if breeding attempts failed in the beginning as I was raising rabbits for the manure they produced, but the more kits the rabbits produced the more manure I had to use, so I was interested in figuring out what I could do to improve breeding success.
The standard practices for breeding rabbits is to take a doe to the buck, usually in his cage. The reason for that is to keep the buck from spending any time in a new environment, the doe's cage for example, where his primary interest will be to scent mark the surfaces, he'll do that for quite awhile before showing any interest in the doe. The person who took the buck to the doe's cage is left standing there, watching him scent mark until the buck has decided he's happy with his work and turns his attention to the doe, then the person waits to see if the buck is going to be interested in the doe and if he is if she'll be receptive to him. It's a bit time consuming. When the doe is taken to the buck's cage the scent marking ritual doesn't need to happen and breeding can take place in seconds.. if you're lucky.
Once the doe is in the buck's cage she runs the show. She's either receptive or not, and if she's not there's no breeding going on no matter how much or how often the buck tries. I've seen bucks positively exhausted from attempting to breed over and over again in a 10 - 15 minute period with no success at all because the doe isn't even a little receptive. On top of that, an unreceptive doe can be dangerous to the buck. It's not unheard of for the doe to attack, injure and even castrate the buck while they are in a cage together, so walking away from the cage and leaving them alone can be a risky thing. An experienced breeder can usually see signs of aggression coming from the doe right away and get her out of the cage before there is any harm done to the buck, but you're always taking some kind of chance when you walk away leaving them alone together.
If you're feeling secure that there won't be any fighting or attacking going on if you walk away, it is possible that left together long enough the doe will become receptive and breeding will occur, but without watching them together the entire time there's no way to know if the doe ever became receptive. You can leave them together for an hour or two, walk away to do some other things. come back and have no idea if there was a successful breeding or not. At that point you just have to wait 30 +/- days to see if the doe kindles (gives birth) or not, and if she doesn't you wait another week for good measure then try breeding her again. That process gets old, fast.
When I had 3 does and 1 buck I always made sure I fed the does black oil sunflower seeds for a vitamin E boost and dark leafy greens for a vitamin A boost for 3-4 days before trying to breed them. I found that worked ok, it increased the does receptiveness about 60%, but I was still having issues with failed breeding attempts. To rectify the situation, as manure production was still my main goal, I increased the size of my herd to 7 does and 2 bucks.
With more does I was getting more litters as I had numbers on my side now. More litters meant more manure, but it also meant more rabbits to butcher. For a few years we had lots of rabbit meat in the freezer and our need to buy meat in grocery stores was greatly reduced. I also had more home grown meat waste / bones to give to our raw fed dogs so it also reduced the amount of money we were spending to feed them. Not all the does were breeding well all the time, but enough were breeding now and then to keep us in manure, meat and dog food. That was good enough for me... but I still felt like breeding rabbits shouldn't be this hard, there had to be a good solution to the issue.
A few years later is became legal where I live to sell backyard butchered rabbit and poultry at the Farmers' Market I attend. Cool! After making sure I met all the requirements from our local health department, the local ag department and from the organization that puts on the market, I started to take home raised, backyard butchered rabbit meat to our Saturday Farmers' Market for sale... and sales were good. Now I was considerably more motivated to figure out how to get my rabbits to be more receptive to breeding.
The first thing I did was to once again increase the size of my herd to 12 does. With this increase of does I needed to redesign my rabbitry to accommodate all the new hutches. As I was pondering the new configuration and getting material lists together to build new hutches an idea came to me about building a hutch just for breeding. What if I had a hutch that could be used as temporary housing for a new rabbit, or rabbits in transition but it's main function for use was a breeding hutch. I liked the idea! Even if it didn't work out, so what.. I'd have another hutch ready to go for something in the future... and there's ALWAYS something happening here where spare hutches come in handy.
Getting back to rabbits breeding 'like rabbits'. I believe a big part of the breeding problem is that the rabbits live alone in their hutches for most of their lives, their interactions with other rabbits are limited to what they can see, hear and smell. In a colony setting meat rabbits can roam around and interact in ways that make sense to them, which allows their natural instincts to flow, they don't have to reconnect to those instincts like caged rabbits do when it's time to breed. Because my rabbits live alone in hutches I decided that the breeding hutch needed to be someplace that all the rabbits could see, smell and hear what was going on in it. I thought that would give them the best opportunity to have time to reconnect with their breeding instincts and maybe they'd start 'breeding like rabbits'.
I placed the rabbit hutches in a horse shoe shape with the breeding hutch in the middle of the horse shoe. All the rabbits would be able to see, smell and hear what was going on inside of it when any breeding was going on... and it has worked like a charm.
For my breeding routine, which is always the same, I start breeding in mid September. Due to the high heat of summer, I breed my rabbits from mid September to the end of May every year. I give all the does a break from reproducing in the triple digit heat of summer as that weather is hard enough on a rabbit without the does being pregnant, kindling and nursing during those months. The first good, cool weather morning in September I put an experienced buck in the breeding hutch and give him 20-30 minutes to go to town scent marking it. When he's done, I put an experienced doe in with him, one that is apt to be receptive, and I watch to see if they have a successful breeding. In all the years I've been doing this I've never had an experienced doe not be receptive immediately once she's in the breeding hutch. Once I see she's being receptive I know she isn't going to hurt the buck and I'm free to walk away. I leave them together for a minimum of 24 hours as they can continue to breed for some time. Even if they don't continue to breed, it's time for both of them to be in the physical company of another rabbit and I think they like that.. so I leave them together.
The next day I put the buck back in his hutch, the doe back in her hutch and I get a new buck and put him in the breeding hutch, where he goes to town scent marking the whole interior for 15 minutes or so. When he's done scent marking it I put a new, experienced doe in with him and watch to see if there's a successful breeding.... and there always is in a matter of seconds. Repeating the process I leave them together for 24 hours then get them back to their respective hutches, then get a new buck into the breeding hutch and so on.
The really great thing about the breeding hutch is that it allows for the instinct of breeding to kick in for all the does around it. I don't try to breed maiden does until the very end, after all the experienced does have been successfully bred, that's when the maiden does have experienced successful rabbit breeding over and over again from their hutches through vision, smell and sound and have had time for their natural instincts to kick in. In the past two weeks I have bred 7 of 9 maiden does in the breeding hutch with 2 different bucks, and all 7 maiden does have been receptive to the bucks within 10 seconds of being put in the breeding hutch. Time will tell if they kindle, if they have large or small litters, if they can keep their litters alive and if they are good mothers... but the initial hurdle of getting a maiden doe to breed was easy to get over, thanks to a well placed breeding hutch.