Archive for July, 2012


July 16, 2012

In the midst of the commotion over the new APHIS proposal, I have one major thing to say to rabbit breeders, and all animal breeders:

Don’t quit.

Don’t stop raising rabbits.  Don’t do it!  We can’t back down.  I know that laws are sketchy and hard to understand.  I know that cases like Debe Bell are frightening and threatening.  But we must not stop till they make us.

Here’s what I honestly think: there are so many rules now, so many loopholes, so many gray areas in the wording of things, and so many Animal Rights groups influencing local Animal Control officials, that if someone really wants to take issue with ANY animal breeding operation, they can and will.  This recent proposal doesn’t make it any more or any less likely. There are hundreds of thousands, probably millions, of animal breeders out there.  The chance that they will target a small scale rabbit breeder like you and me is microscopic.  (Note – I am not, not saying that it will not happen.  I don’t think we should ever just “rest assured” that the government won’t enforce the laws!)

However, animal rights activists WILL succeed in knocking out dozens of small breeders using their one big weapon: fear.  They target a big breeder, make a scene, and knock out lots of small ones who are afraid of the same thing happening to them.  There are already too many regulations to enforce, yet by constantly revising old ones and making new ones, they keep breeders concerned with them. It’s a scare tactic.  It’s terrorism.  We can’t let that succeed.  Can’t, can’t, can’t.

Animal breeders can’t quit, and can’t go hide in closets.  We need to be active and out in the open to keep the public properly informed, and prevent brainwashing by animal rights groups as much as possible.  See how the cycle works?  ARA’s make an example of one breeder, and dozens of others quit because of fear.  Breeders who don’t quit often lay low, wanting to escape detection.   They hide their rabbitries; they stop promoting rabbits to the public; they take down their websites.  Fewer and fewer people learn about the enormous benefits that raising livestock offers.  That means fewer and fewer people will be on our side.  While I totally sympathize with wanting to protect ourselves by laying low, in the long term, it’s shooting ourselves in the foot.

We are doing a good thing.

It’s important to raise rabbits.  We need to provide for and protect our families by being self-sufficient.  Raising rabbits is a way to keep the government OUT of our business — so we don’t need to depend on it for necessities.  We’ve got to live like we have constitutional rights if we expect to keep them.  We can’t let people take them away from us through terrorism if not through actual laws.  We have to do what’s right and trust God with the results.

It troubles me so much that America has gotten to this point.  I stay in touch with a community in central Africa that is trying hard to start up a rabbit project. It’s so cool how they all work together, and the difficulties they face with poor equipment, thieves, etc. The birth of every kit matters so much. Here we’ve become so spoiled that some Americans think we can afford not to breed or own animals.

What we should not do:

Stop raising rabbits

Take down our websites

Stop educating the public about the value of rabbits as livestock

Live in fear


What we should do:

Keep the websites up!  Keep promoting rabbits at fairs, community events, youth clubs, etc.  Keep informing the public of the tremendous benefits of rabbit meat, and how raising rabbits for show can bind families together, and about how bunnies can make such fun companions.

Abide by the laws.  I highly recommend keeping accurate records and following the new ARBA minimum care standards.

Keep fighting.  We as Americans live in a democracy, remember?  Government for the people by the people.  Resist big government.

And take heart.


“These things I have spoken to you, that in me you might have peace. In the world you shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.”  –Jesus in John 16:33

APHIS and Rabbits – Will proposed change affect bunny breeders?

July 12, 2012

Last Updated: 8/18/19

Licensing Requirements for Rabbit Breeders

This post has gotten quite long, so let’s break it into a Table of Contents.

1. Introduction

2. Background and definitions

3. Do breeders need a license currently?

4. Original changes proposed by APHIS

5. What will the changes mean for rabbit breeders?

6. What can we do to help? Suggested talking points.

7. FAQ

8. Links for further reading

9. General Notes

Does a person need a license to breed and sell rabbits in the United States?

This is an excellent question to which every breeder should know the answer. We need to know if we are following the laws of our government, and if we are, why, so that we can respond to anyone who asks.

The short answer is that under current regulations, most rabbit breeders do not need a license to raise and sell rabbits. However, these regulations are currently undergoing revision, so we need to keep a close eye on what happens with them, and speak up to protect our rights. Most breeders are not aware of even how things stand now, but ought to be, especially if we want to understand the potential changes.

At this point, we need to look at these regulations on three different levels:

1) How things are right now. These are the regulations that are currently in place and we currently need to follow.
2) How things would be if the changes that APHIS recently proposed were actually instituted, and
3) What the final wording of the changes might be if they pass.


USDA is the United States Department of Agriculture, which oversees the production, care, transportation, and sale of animals in the United States.

The AWA is the Animal Welfare Act. Signed into law on August 24, 1966, by President Lyndon B. Johnson, this federal law lays out regulations for minimum standards of care for warmblooded domestic animals not used for agricultural purposes, or those used in exhibitions such as zoos or circuses. States also have their own regulations in addition to AWA. You can learn more about it or even read the full text at the APHIS website.

APHIS is the USDA’s Animal and Plant Inspection Service. The job of APHIS, and more specifically, the “Animal Care” division of APHIS, is to make sure that individuals are complying with the Animal Welfare Act.

The AWA “requires that all individuals or businesses dealing with animals covered under the law must be licensed or registered with APHIS.” Source:

It does, however, provide a number or exemptions from licensing. If you raise animals that are covered under the AWA, you are required to be licensed unless you are exempted.

So is a rabbit breeder exempt from licensing with APHIS or the USDA?

Currently there are a number of exemptions which cover most rabbit breeders.  This all applies to cavy breeders as well.

Rabbits only used for food or fiber:

“The rabbit business is exempt from regulation if the rabbits are intended only for food or fiber. If any rabbits are designated for use in the pet, exhibit, or laboratory-animal trade, the business is regulated.”  Source: Guidelines for Licensing Registration

Rabbits sold for pet use are currently exempt under the following conditions:

Direct Sales – You are exempted if you sell pet rabbits directly to the final buyer, such as an individual pet owner. That final buyer must not be a research facility, or an “exhibitor” under the AWA definition, such as a petting zoo or circus. You may not sell to a pet store or other retailer and still qualify for the “direct sales” exemption.

(Note: The AWA’s definition of an exhibitor is not what we think of as a “showman,” or someone who shows pedigreed animals, but rather someone who puts animals on display to the public, like a zoo or animal act.)

Under $500 – If you do sell rabbits to an “exhibitor,” research facility, or retailer, you can still be exempted only if the total sales income does not exceed $500. Please understand that this is gross income, not profit.

The $500 threshold confuses people, so let’s look at it this way. Most of us sell over $500 worth of rabbits in a year, right? But the good thing is, most of those sales don’t count. Most of those sales are not regulated by the USDA, because they are “direct sales” right to the buyer. Those are not sales regulated by the USDA, so they don’t count toward the threshold.  If you do sell “regulated” animals – like to a pet shop or research facility – you are required to be licensed after you pass the threshold of $500.

If you think about it, you realize that this cap is there to divide commercial pet producers from those that breed pets for a hobby and sell a few to a pet store or research facility.

Rabbits sold for show or show-breeding:

Under the current wording, it’s not very clear where show rabbits stand. Livestock sales are not regulated by the AWA, and to most breeders, show rabbits are much more livestock than they are pets. Pet rabbits don’t usually produce rabbits that are eaten (livestock) but our show rabbits do.   However, both ARBA and SRPS have confirmed to me via email that the USDA considers show rabbits to be pets until they are used for food or fiber.   Therefore when we sell show rabbits to each other, the way it’s legal is because we are selling directly to another owner.

The rest of this post is based on the belief that show-only rabbits are considered pets.  My rationale for believing this comes from reading the Animal Welfare Regulations.   If you’d like to read that rationale, please click here. 

There’s another exemption called “retail pet store” that may also cover rabbit breeders. The Licensing Guidelines state:

Retail Pet Stores: Anyone whose entire business consists of selling domestic animals to pet owners is exempt.

Currently, rabbit breeders don’t usually need to fall back on this exemption because there others such as the direct sales one that cover most of our transactions.  (Note – see the Animal Welfare Regulations, page 13, points i and vii.  You’ll see that direct sales and retail pet store are separate exemptions.)

Perhaps you have heard about a maximum number of breeding females that an owner may have and be exempt from a license. This minimum is for dogs, cats, and exotic or wild animals, and has no bearing on rabbits or cavies.

In summary,

if you are selling rabbits for meat or fiber you do not need a license.

If you are selling directly to a pet owner or another showman, you do not need a license.

If you are selling to a retailer such as a pet store, and exhibitor such as a petting zoo, or a research facility you do not need a license as long as you make no more than $500 gross from this type of regulated sale in a calendar year.

That’s how it is now. That’s probably not how it will always be, but that’s how things are now.

So let’s look at how things might become:

In May this year, APHIS proposed some changes to their regulations about who can sell animals for what purposes without a license from the USDA.

You can read about the effects of the change as it was originally proposed on SAOVA’s website.   The proposed changes remove the “direct sales” exemption altogether. That means the “retail pet store” exemption suddenly becomes important for rabbit breeders.  As it was originally proposed, the change would limit the definition of “retail pet store” to mean that a buyer has to physically enter the seller’s place of business to buy a pet (or show rabbit) in order for the seller to be exempt from licensing. For most rabbit breeders, that means having buyers come right to your home.

What will it mean for rabbit breeders?

Thankfully, through the efforts of ARBA, SRPS and many other dedicated animal-raising organizations, APHIS has changed their tune on the proposal, to some extent.  APHIS is now telling people that the “enter place of business” idea will be replaced with (or will be defined as?)  “face to face contact” between buyer and seller, in a place of public oversight, prior to the sale of the animal. If this is the case, breeders could be exempt as a “retail pet store” if you sell rabbits directly to final owners, as long as you meet the owners face to face in a place of public oversight.

The proposed change does not affect the $500 threshold. As we understand it currently, under the proposed change, all rabbit sales will be regulated unless

-The rabbit is intended for food or fiber purposes

-The rabbit is intended for pet (or show) purposes, and the buyer and the seller meet face to face in a place of public oversight, so the buyer can examine the rabbit before purchasing.

-The total gross of REGULATED sales does not exceed $500. Realize that face-to-face sales and food/fiber sales are not regulated and therefore do not count toward the $500 threshold.

*Remember – The maximum number of breeding females rule has no effect on rabbits!*

If the proposal is changed to “face to face” sales, it will affect rabbit breeders in only one big way.  The original intent of the proposal is to stop sight unseen pet sales, where the buyer does not have a chance to examine the animal before purchasing.  All in-person sales will not be regulated, but all sales where the buyer and seller do not physically meet would be regulated.  To use an example, if I sold a trio of rabbits based on pictures to a person on the other side of the country, and then sent them to convention with a third party where the buyer could pick them up, that would be regulated by the USDA.  If I wanted to ship rabbits by air to someone on the west coast, that would be a regulated activity.  I would need a USDA license to do these things if I sold more than $500 worth of regulated animals in a calendar year.  (Remember, you can sell up to $500 of normally-regulated sales each year without needing a license.)

Obviously, not being able to share stock around the country without meeting the seller face to face could put a significant crimp in certain breeding projects.  Take my breed, the Silver.  Despite its unique history which dates back to the 1500’s, the Silver today is a very rare breed.  There are a few Silver hot spots in the country; a few states where you can find one readily.  But I often hear of people interested in the breed who don’t live in one of the “hot spots,” and they find it very difficult to locate stock for sale.  The only sure place I know to find some Silvers for sale is the ARBA convention each year.  Not everyone can travel to convention, but almost everyone can find someone nearby who is going and will transport rabbits.  If suddenly people couldn’t even get rabbits that way, this breed would be even more likely to die out.  We might lose one of the very first breeds that people raised domestically.  Okay, not the end of the world, but it’d be a shame to have it happen for no good reason.

What can we do about the situation?

We won’t know exactly what the new wording of the proposal will be until it passes congress.  At this point, APHIS hasn’t even decided what the final version will say.  The comment period on the proposal closed on August 15, and now APHIS will review the comments and make a final decision.  Then the proposal must pass congress.

Don’t stop there.

So send your comments to your Congress representatives and to the Congressional Ag committees and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack.  Click the link – the Cavalry Group has a form that makes it super easy.

Frequent Questions & Answers

Have the changes already taken place?  No!  Not at all; we are still working from the “old rules.”  Don’t adjust your operating procedures yet.

When will the changes go into effect?  Maybe never.  If they do, it will be at least several months as APHIS needs to come up with a final proposal and then it needs to be approved by congress.

Will it affect transporting rabbits to Convention this year?  No, the changes will almost certainly not be in effect during Convention 2012.

So will I have to meet buyers at my house?  According to how the proposal was originally written, yes – at your house or other “place of business.”  But right now APHIS is telling us that that will not be in the final proposal.  Instead sales must be made with the buyer and seller meeting face to face in a place of public oversight.  But even that may change by the final revision.

Can I sell to a pet store without a license?  Yes, if your income from such a sale is not over $500 annually.  This applies NOW, not just if the proposal passes.

Could I sell a rabbit and send it to convention with a transporter, even if I am not attending myself?  Under current rules, yes.  Under the proposed rule, you would have to get a USDA license to do this, unless you do not exceed $500 in gross income from this type of sale.

Under the proposed change, could I ship rabbits by air without a license?  If the buyer did not see the rabbits before purchase, that would be considered a “sight-unseen” sale and be regulated.  You could do it without a license if your income from that type of sale is $500 or less each year.  Rabbits shipped outside the United States are not regulated.

Is the $500 threshold added up per-sale, or on a yearly basis?  On a yearly basis.  Your total gross income for a year for ANY sale that is normally USDA regulated must not exceed $500 or you would need a license.  That means if you sell $200 worth of rabbits to a pet shop in March, and $350 worth of rabbits to a research facility in November, that would cross the line.  Realize, the $500 threshold applies NOW – it’s not just a “if this passes” thing!

Can I not have more than four brood does?  Yes you can have more than four.  The breeding females limit has no effect on rabbits or cavies.

What if the buyer and seller chat on Skype?  What if they exchange pictures of the rabbit?  Can that count as face to face?  I don’t think that counts.  However, APHIS needs to clarify what “face to face” means exactly.  Put the question in your comments.

I thought ARBA told us not to worry about it? As much as I appreciate the ARBA, believe that it is underestimating the effect that this proposal would have on its membership.  True, by the time the proposal passes congress it may be modified to the extent that it will have virtually no effect on rabbit breeders, but we aren’t to that stage yet.  Please consider carefully what I’ve said in this post, do your own research, and see if you think that the proposal will have any effect on rabbit breeders.  Other animal-breeder organizations such as the AKC, the  Cavalry Group, and the Sportsmans and Animal Owners Voting Alliance are not taking this proposal lying down.  The very fact that it was started by the animal rights-oriented Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) proves that this proposal is of no small concern to animal breeders.

Should I just go get a USDA license?  No, there’s no reason to do that, at least right now. Wait to see if this proposal passes, and what the final wording will be if it does.

What does it take to get a USDA license?  You need to comply with the Animal Welfare Regulations.  Check them out to see what the required conditions are for keeping rabbits.  In addition to other requirements, licensees need to have an adult on the premises during all businesses hours.

If I had a USDA license, would my rabbitry need to be inspected?  Yes.  Last week I heard with my own ears Dr. Rushin of APHIS say that they currently do inspect all facilities before issuing a license. Also, we know that APHIS does not always announce their inspections in advance, and may show up anytime.

This is all so confusing.  Should I just quit?  No!  No, no no!  Don’t give up your rights as US citizens to raise animals.  Don’t give up to the minority: squeaky-wheel animal rights activists that just want you to quit.  We can work through these concerns and keep our critters.  Don’t give up.  And if you have any questions, feel free to email me.


Related Links:

Washington Animal Watch   – Detailed information about what legislation mean to animal breeders, and rabbits in particular. – An organization providing legal defense for animal owners.  They offer very affordable membership rates.  I highly recommend checking them out  – Three important steps to help fight this proposal  – Stay up to date with the Show Rabbit Protection Society  – Facebook group to stop APHIS.

The Rabbit Ed Society’s Legislation Info Page – Links to info for every state

General Notes

Please do not consider anything I write to be the final or official word on the subject.  I am still learning like most other breeders, but in an effort to fully understand this situation, I have spent many hours reading the Animal Welfare Regulations and related documents, and talking with informed persons including taking part in a teleconference with Dr. Gerald Rushin of APHIS, one of the people that helped write the proposal. I’m pretty sure that what I have written is accurate.   In this article I have simplified things as much as I can, but licensing requirements is not a simple issue, and can’t be fully covered in an easy-read article such as this.   I’m definitely open to any questions, suggestions, or corrections.

Remember that this page is only about FEDERAL requirements for raising and selling animals.  State and local authorities have their own rules as well.  The Rabbit Ed Society has helpful links to related pages in every state.