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How and Why To Tattoo a Rabbit

Tattooing is absolutely essential for a quality rabbit breeding program since it allows for the identification of individual rabbits and the historical tracking of their growth and genetic expression.  We’ve uploaded a video of the tattooing of one of the kits from Snow White’s AH litter.


We usually tattoo our rabbits around five weeks of age. By this time their ears are sufficiently large for us to use our ear tattoo forcep. Our forcep is from Ketchum Mfg Co. (http://www.ketchummfg.com). We chose their smallest model: Ketchum Ear Tattoo Outfit Model 50D which has 4mm (3/16″) character size. We bought this smallest model because We wanted to tattoo our rabbits as young as possible so that we can start tracking individual growth rates as early as possible. With this forcep model, we can start tattooing as early as four weeks.

While the instructions for use says to put the tattoo ink on the characters before engaging the forceps, we have stopped doing this because the tattoo characters then need to be washed and we noticed that the characters started rusting after just a couple of washes. Instead, we now apply the forceps without ink and then rub the ink into the puncture holes with a toothbrush. We wipe off excess tattoo ink right afterwards with a Q-tip because it allows us to see if we missed applying ink to any of the puncture holes. The results of this method is similar to the method instructed by the manufacturer so we’ve settled on doing it this way.

The bunnies clean each other’s ears so the tattoo becomes very legible in just a few days. As the bunnies grow, their ear tattoo becomes bigger and more legible as their ears become larger.

The characters are very expensive ($3.70 each). A set of letters is $96.20 and a set of numbers is $37.00. We didn’t feel like paying for anything more than a set of characters and numbers so we came up with the following system to minimize cost but still allow us to tell lineage and sex. Every litter born is given a unique, two letter litter ID. We started with first letter A. AA was skipped since we only have 1 A so it goes AB, AC, AD, …, AY, AZ.

After 25 litters (AB-AZ), then we would start with BA, BC, BD, etc. Again, BB is skipped since we only have 1 B. This system allows us to have up to 26 x 25 = 650 litter IDs before we run out, which is possible but unlikely. Even if we run out, we can pay $100 for another additional set of characters and then start with ABA, ABB, etc. which should give us another 26 x 25 x 26 = 16,900 litter IDs.

We record information associated with each litter ID (buck, doe, breed date, date of birth, number born, number weaned, weekly weights, etc.) in a spreadsheet. For tattooing, we combine the litter ID with a single digit number. Bucks have tattoos with litter ID preceded by a number (i.e. 1AH, 2AH, 3AH, etc.). Does have tattoos with litter ID followed by a number (i.e. AH1, AH2, AH3, etc.).

By 5 weeks, growth ranks are pretty well decided. We use the 5 week weights to number the kits’ tattoos. Best to worst growers are numbered from smallest to largest number. This way once tattooed, we can then easily tell sex as well as growth performance when we later have to select from the litter for sales as pets, breeding stock, etc.

In the video, we were tattooing AH1 which would be the #1 (best) doe in AH litter. There are four does in this litter so the worst doe in this litter would be AH4. There are five bucks in this litter. The best buck for this litter would be 1AH and worst would be 5AH.  Hope this explanation clarifies the thought process behind our tattoo identification system.

We came up with our system after rereading and rethinking at least several dozen times the only detailed source we could find online about the subject (http://www.verlannahill.com/Tattoo.htm).  We didn’t think any of the systems described was flexible or scalable enough for rabbit multiplication.  For example, a letter to represent each parent seemed limiting.  A rabbitry of any size could easily have more than 26 does over time.  So far, we haven’t had any regrets about our system.

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