Line Breeding and Inbreeding Rabbits

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Can you inbreed rabbits? More so, should you? What is line breeding? Learn how to develop a good eye and good judgment in your rabbit breeding.

Can you inbreed rabbits? What is line breeding? More importantly, should you?

Line breeding is the process of breeding closely related animals, usually father to daughter or mother to son, in an effort to improve individual traits.

Inbreeding is the same as line breeding but the animals are much more closely related, typically brother and sister.

Nearly all animals have been inbred or line bred at some point, and rabbits are no exception.

In fact every breed of domesticated rabbit (or cow, dog, cat, and even fish) have been bred by humans into what they are now.

Hundreds or sometimes thousands of years of breeding lines have created the cows, pigs, sheep, and other farm animals that we now have. Rabbits are no different.

Line Breeding and Inbreeding Rabbits

Line Breeding vs Inbreeding

Before we begin it’s important to understand the difference between line breeding and inbreeding.

Line breeding

Line breeding is the act of breeding a father to a daughter, or a mother to son. It also could includes grandparents or sometimes great-grandparents.

This lets you  “line up” some of the good genes so to speak. Line breeding can enhance good attributes but you will also see some bad attributes amplified.


Inbreeding is the act of breeding brother to sister. Breeding such closely related animals can greatly enhance traits, good and bad.

Inbreeding is a great way to “set” the characteristics of the sire and dam but it can also create “bad rabbits” that must be culled because of temperament, health, or deformities, more so than with line breeding.

When you inbreed you should cull heavily and only keep what you are really pleased with.

Don’t worry, you’re not going to create a two headed franken-rabbit because you inbred your rabbits, but you should be aware that recessive genes good and bad will be enhanced much more than with line breeding.

Why Inbreed/Line Breed

If you want to narrow the range of genes in your rabbits, thereby enhancing the good and bad traits, and can sort and cull out the poor results constantly and continuing on to the next generation then you can enhance your breeding stock to your individual liking.

Even more so, if you have a good eye and good judgment, you will create superior rabbit stock.

When you’re thinking about how to get the best herd with the least amount of animals, there’s no doubt you have to consider how closely related you want your rabbits to be over the long haul.

When you start out with good stock and have a good herd and practice selective breeding, in-breeding and line-breeding will build strength and not weakness.

Unless there are “bad” recessive genes in your starting buck and doe that line up in their offspring, you can (in theory) line breed rabbits for generations without encountering any decline.

Line breeding enhances characteristics both desirable and undesirable, so if there is an inherited weakness then yes, it will become worse. If there is a strength the offspring will improve with every generation.

That’s an oversimplification, but it gives you the basic idea.

How To Start Your Own Rabbit Line Breeding Process

All great lines start with two good rabbits.

They breed and you keep their best offspring, culling the rest from breeding.

After they mature, breed these offspring back to the parents and repeat again for the second-generation offspring back to the parents and grandparents, always selecting the strongest pairs and keeping only the best kits.

Continue breeding like this until you are ready to outcross. You should understand and know exactly why and for what reason and exactly what traits you are trying to add from this new line into your line.

As time goes on, the herd branches out.  The rabbits get more and more distantly related as the foundation stock gets pushed farther and farther back on the pedigree.

At this point you could continue on to find more “ideal” genes by outcrossing (see below) and selective line breeding, or go back to the oldest viable stock you have and strengthen their traits into a new generation.

What often happens is that one day an exceptional, almost magical, buck will be born that is your “ideal specimen”. This buck will have “ideal” genes with every good trait enhanced with none of the bad baggage. He is literally living proof of your hard work.

Use this buck to breed your best does and begin the entire process over again.


Once you have a line established, you can evaluate the faults that you produce on a fairly regular basis. When you see a weakness or a chance to improve something you may bring in another line that has a strength in that area.

This is called outcrossing. In this way you will create a unique line that exists nowhere else on earth.  If you choose wisely you will have superior rabbits.

Until you can produce predictable results, there will always be a very large “chance” component to any breeding, so wait a minimum of two to three generations, and perhaps more, before you improve your lines by outcrossing.

Consistency and Patience

Breeding is all about consistency. If you want long-term success with your animals, line breeding is your best bet.

The occasional outcross may bring you a winning rabbit, but such an animal rarely breeds consistent offspring as good or better that itself. This is where patience comes in.

The best rabbits are bred, not bought, and breeding takes time. It takes patience, wise management, a good eye, and a healthy environment.

Don’t be discouraged if your work does not show instant results or if you must cull heavily in the first few generations (much more so with pure inbreeding). Rabbits carry many recessive genes for fur, size, temperament, and health. Breeding will bring out the bad as well as the good.

If you consistently mate rabbits of similar backgrounds, eventually all the good and bad traits contained in a line will surface. Eventually you will produce consistently good animals if your original stock was worthy enough to be bred.


Having a unified and tightly controlled line, where all rabbits are fairly similar, gives you the opportunity to tackle problems one at a time. This is why outcrossing too soon can cause problems. Sometimes you may want to wait several generations before breeding outside of your line.

At the same time if you are getting poor results in the first generation, don’t look to outcrossing for an answer. Instead reconsider your initial breeding stock. Sometimes very nice rabbits simply have too many recessive bad genes that line up with each other.

Don’t try to tackle too many things at once either. Lets say your rabbits have have thin ears and small hindquarters. If you want better meat rabbits you should focus on breeding larger hindquarters and simply keep the ears in check.

After several generations have passed and your rabbits have great hindquarters then you should focus on their ears. Concentrate on what you want the most and keep the rest of the rabbit at the level it is now.

urban homesteading meat rabbits

If it’s not clear already, inbreeding and line breeding can lock in bad traits as well as good ones. Too much inbreeding will always result in sicker and meaner rabbits eventually as they lose their vitality and disease resistance because of bad recessive genes being turned on.

Know when to outcross. Consider outcrossing if you’re having trouble breeding out a certain fault of otherwise healthy rabbits, or perhaps after several generations your herd is becoming too inbred and producing dead or deformed kits, or your rabbits are getting sick easily.

When you outcross, choose a rabbit not only with the strong traits you’re aiming for, but also choose one from a long line of rabbits with those strong traits. Remember that a buck will impact your line much more than a doe.

The first generation of outcrossed babies may or may not be what you hoped for either. If they show promise continue the line for another generation and see what you get.

Remember that the rabbit from the new line will always carry recessive characteristics and some of those might clash with your line’s genes. But if you’re consistent and patient you will see results. Take the best of those kits back to your line and soon you should see results.

Use wisdom and common sense when breeding your rabbits, and do not fall prey to the phobia that breeding cousins will result in 2 headed bunnies. It’s simply not true.

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