Inked Rabbits - All About Tattoos
Rabbits are tattooed for many reasons, but it all comes down to identification. You’ll want to tell your rabbits
apart (after a while all black rabbits look the same and if you ever get cages mixed up you’ve got a mess). You’ll
want to keep accurate records for medical or breeding purposes (pedigrees are important - even in wool
rabbits). You may want to enter your rabbits in a show, in which case they must be tattooed, or sell them. You
may have a rabbit that escapes and ends up in a shelter, a natural disaster, or rabbits stolen; when you have a
tattoo you know and can prove that that is indeed your rabbit. No matter what your purpose for having rabbits is,
tattoos are beneficial.
Rabbits are tattooed in the ears. This makes it easy to see except for the English Angora, in which case it just takes a little bit of work to part the wool enough. The Ear Number is the number tattooed in the rabbit’s left ear and is only to contain numerals 0-9 and letters A-Z. No special characters, shapes, or smiley faces are allowed. If the rabbit is to be shown, ARBA also requires nothing of a profane or sexual nature be tattooed. There are some breeders who want a rabbit to only be used for meat or breeding and will tattoo things like, “meat”, “cull”, “no show”, etc. This does not however prevent the rabbit from being shown. If you truly do not want the rabbit shown, a smiley face, exclamation point, star, etc in the ear is a disqualification and prevents them from being shown. These characters can still be written on a pedigree however, so you can still keep track of your rabbits if they have them in the ear. Rabbit tattoos are quick, easy, and there’s no reason to skip the tattoo, even if you don’t own a tattoo kit.
The first step in having your rabbits tattooed is deciding on a system. You can simply tattoo a rabbit’s name or the first few letters of the name. That works great as long as you don’t have several with the same initial letters; choose 5 characters, it’s surprisingly easy to duplicate 3 and 4 letter sequences. You can also choose a system like the ones below that breeders commonly use. A good system should tell you who a rabbit is, where it’s from (the farm), and may have the option of telling you who the parent’s are, who litter mates are, and more.
K = farm name
S = rabbit breed or rabbit initial
94 = Rabbit # born in the barn
So KS94 could be the 94th Silver Fox born at Kaninchen Farm or it could be the 94th rabbit out of a rabbit named Sweety Pie, at Kaninchen Farm.
4 = Buck’s number
B = Farm name
7 = Doe’s number or kit number of the litter.
J = Farm name
X = Dam or Sire’s letter
9 = litter number
2 = kit number in litter
There are three ways to tattoo a rabbit. No matter which way you choose, having an old bath towel on hand to wrap the rabbit in to help hold them and keep them calm is a must. The first way to get your rabbit a tattoo is to simply take the rabbit to a rabbit show and ask to have it tattooed. There’s usually always someone there with a pen who would happily do it for $2-5. This is a quick, cost effective method for the person with only one or two rabbits.
If you have several rabbits or will be breeding, consider purchasing a tattoo kit yourself. There are two styles - the clamp, and the pen. Clamps used to be the most common way that people would tattoo their rabbits. You purchase a clamp and a set of letters. You load the letters onto the pliers, clamp them down firmly on a rabbit’s ear, and then rub ink into the holes with a small brush. This method is quick, dirty (ink will smear in the ears for a few days), and doesn’t allow for duplicate letters unless you purchase multiple sets for additional letters. If you do not clamp hard enough, the letters won’t show up later. If you clamp too hard, you can puncture the ear or create permanent divots/bumps.
The tattoo pen is rapidly gaining in popularity with breeders for the freedom it provides. With a clamp you must take the time to swap out letters between rabbits, but with a pen, you just dip it in more ink and carry on seamlessly. The pen allows you to write anything you want for the tattoo or draw special characters which will make the rabbit unshowable. Set up with a pen takes approximately the same time as with a clamp, but the time/work between rabbits is much faster. However, it does take more time to hold the ear still and tattoo vs just a quick clamp on. Pens do require replacement needles after a few dozen tattoos, but they are cheap and last for a long time - we’ve gone through 3 in 6 years.