Just the word sends chills down my back.
According to Merriam-Webster, there are two definitions for “cull.” The first is the most prominent, even in the animal world.
” cull: to select or choose (someone or something) from a group “
The reality is that there is a more specific definition, not uncommon to any animal or livestock operation:
” cull: to control the size of (a group of animals) by killing some animals “
People always want to know what you do, how you do it, and what is truly reputable and responsible, relating to the word “cull.”
I cull. Everyone who raises rabbits (or other animals or livestock) culls. At this time, refer to the first definition I provided.
I raise a number of litters per year. The specific number changes based on a variety of factors, but I generally have around 5-10 does and breed them 2-3 times per year. In dwarf breeds, that might mean a total of 20ish successful litters per year, usually with just a couple babies in each. My litter sizes are typically 2-3 kits.
Out of those babies, it averages out to be about one per litter that I either keep for breeding/show or sell back into the breeding/show community. The rest are “culls.”
For me, personally, it is important to make the best possible effort I can to place them in long-term pet homes. I have been fortunate to have had the time and resources possible to seek that end result, but it truly is an intentional and time-consuming effort. There are kits I’ve fed, housed, and cared for in my home for 6-8 months before I found a suitable owner for them. I’ll be honest with you – the process of placing rabbits in good homes can be a small preview of hell. Not everyone takes rabbits seriously as pets, and sometimes it’s hard to find someone who values an animal from a reputable breeder over an inexpensive mix from a “one-time” litter in the classifieds somewhere. But I have made a promise to myself and to my rabbits that as long as I continue breeding, I will make every effort to place culls in pet homes. That’s the end result I choose for my herd.
Despite the extra work for me, that result is all rainbows and butterflies for most of the bunnies…and that’s why I do it! But there are also times when placing a cull with a pet owner is not in the animal’s best interest.
Coming on two years ago, I started working with Dwarf Hotots. They are generally pretty enjoyable, average rabbits. However, I’ve raised two kits during that time who developed aggressive temperaments. They would not only “box” my hand if it got close, but they would actually charge me, teeth bared, when I opened the door of the cage. This is something I’ve never experienced in the time I had Hollands. These rabbits weren’t just slightly territorial about their cage because of the regular “teenage” surge of hormones. These kits were mean and nasty, despite the daily handling and attention that ALL of our rabbits get, all the time.
Obviously they could not be responsibly placed as pets. Even as an experienced rabbit owner, the situation is dangerous and frustrating – both for the rabbit and owner. And as time went on, I could see that the rabbits themselves were unhappy.
For the first time ever, I decided that culling fatally was the most responsible choice for these two rabbits. This is where the very first sentence of this post comes in. It was not an easy decision. I think there is a misconception that those who raise animals choose a few to keep and then take lives willy-nilly as if it’s all “a day in the life.” That the animals are given no chance, no effort, and just euthanized to “get rid of them.”
I don’t choose euthanasia because it’s the easiest option or “less trouble.” I gave the kits several weeks of extra attention so I could evaluate whether the behavior was purely hormonal or unexplained aggression. I tried even more handling, more attention, and more time with each rabbit incase it was simply behavior based on fear or inexperience. Fatally culling is a last resort, even when it is used as more standard practice than in my barn. Not everyone has the outlet for responsible pet homes that I do, or the means to pursue them. Humanely euthanizing animals is done in the best interest of safety and health for both rabbit and human.
Unfortunately, I’m not comfortable doing the deed myself. I say “unfortunately,” because I feel like, if I can make that decision for my animals, I should be able to complete the task. I digress. I’m thankful to have a friend with more experience in that way who is willing to lend a hand.
But the drop-off is never a jolly, happy-go-lucky meeting of good buddies. I drive up solemnly, quietly, second and third and fourth guess myself, reconsider how I could prevent this end from happening, try to figure out something else I could do. But ultimately, I drive away with a sick feeling in my stomach and without a carrier in the back of the car.
I hate doing it.
Most of the time, when I talk about culling, I simply mean that the rabbit isn’t going to be part of my breeding and show herd. Instead, they’ll soon be meeting their new owner who has been anxiously driving hours and hours to hold them for the first time. I’ll be sad to see them go, but so happy to watch them meet “their person” who has promised to love them and care for them like I had.
Many times, that has been not only possible for me and my rabbits, but also the best option for them.
But sometimes being responsible and reputable means removing emotion from the situation and asking yourself, “What will be the quality of life for this rabbit?”
Culling, as in the second definition, only becomes a consideration for me when I cannot absolutely ensure the rabbit’s well being after it leaves my home.