Kits Moving Toward Adulthood

The kits are moving ever closer to adulthood. At this point, they’re weened and join mom at the dinner table each day. They also don’t run and hide every time they seem me. In fact, they’re downright curious about me at times.

The young adult rabbits join mom for dinner.
The young adult rabbits join mom for dinner.

It’s amazing to see how fast they’re growing. Of course, rabbits don’t grow at nearly the same rate as meat chickens do and the feed a bit more expensive. These rabbits will leave the cage soon and go to a gender segregated cage where they can grow to full size. In the meantime, they love to hop about during the day and play with each other and mom. For the most part, Moonbeam tries to ignore the playfulness, but there are times when she has had enough and does something about it. A grunt or a bit of a nip is usually all it takes to get the youngster back on its best behavior.

Meat rabbits aren’t as tame as you might think, however. Right before I took this picture, Moonbeam took a nip out of my hand. It wasn’t anything serious, but she did draw blood. She was irritated that I reached inside the cage to get the food containers. It isn’t something that happens every day, but it’s important to realize that these animals might look cuddly, can be cuddly, but they’re also animals with a set of instincts that you need to respect. Certainly, Moonbeam got mine. I usually keep the most aggressive rabbits for breeding purposes because they do make better parents and have stronger offspring. Even through several heat waves that might have caused problems for other rabbits, six out of Moonbeam’s eight kits survived without problem (and one of the two that died was a runt that had problems feeding from the outset).

After Moonbeam’s kits leave the cage, I’ll give her a little time to rest, and then breed her again for the fall season. In most years, I normally breed the rabbits twice—once in the spring and again in late summer. Because I lack a heated rabbitry, I never breed the rabbits more than twice to ensure I don’t need to overwinter them. The rabbits that are higher off the ground and have a cozy nest box to live in do just fine, but the larger cages are on the ground and don’t offer enough protection. Let me know about your hare raising experiences at


Chicken Fledging

The chicks are fast becoming pullets. No, they won’t become hens for quite a while yet. People get the idea that chicks become hens immediately, but they go through a pullet stage first. A pullet is a chick that lays smallish eggs and hasn’t moulted for the first time yet. A chick becomes a pullet at between 16 and 24 weeks of age. My chicks are currently 17 weeks old, but they’re of a “heavy” variety, which means that they get larger than most hens do and require more time to grow to size. It will likely be closer to the 24 week end of things before I see the first pullet eggs from them.

However, the first signs that they will soon become pullets are all there. For example, their feathers and wings are now strong enough so they can fly to the top of the run fence and walk along it with relative ease. I saw a couple of them outside the run the other day—calling to their buddies who are still on the inside. Most important of all, they can get back into the run when trouble arrives. It won’t be long and they’ll be walking around outside the run on a regular basis, becoming free range birds. These fledged birds now have the ability to defend themselves a little, run from trouble to some extent, and get into all sorts of trouble.

Another sign that they’re becoming pullets is that their combs and wattles are becoming fuller. They’re also making hen-like sounds now. They still don’t quite talk the talk, but they soon will. The beeping phase that happens between being a chick and being a pullet is coming to an end.

The most important sign is that the pelvis bones are starting to separate. You can check the pelvis bones by holding the chick in your arms with it’s back facing toward you. Calm the bird and give it a good place for its feet so it doesn’t kick. Place your hand on its rear and you’ll feel three prominent bones. These bones will separate when the bird is ready to starting laying eggs.

Pullets like to lay their first eggs in privacy, so expect to see the first eggs late in the day or even when you open the coop first thing in the morning. It’s important to check for eggs more often when your pullets start laying to keep egg eating at bay. Once the pullets begin to lay, I’ll go out every two hours during the day to check the nest box. A pullet can also be quite fussy about her surroundings, so make sure you change the hay in the nest box relatively often. Let me know your thoughts about pullets at


An Update on the Kits

The kits continue to grow. They’re starting to become more cautious. However, most important of all, they can get in and out of the nest box whenever they like. Instead of seeing out of the nest box (unless I sneak up on them), I normally see them peering out at me from the next box.


Four of the kits look out from the nest box.
The kits peer out from the nest box at me most of the time now.

This is a natural behavior. The kits will run for safety most of the time until they get a bit older. Of course, there always has to be an exception to the rule. One of the kits just ignores me and continues to do whatever he feels like doing at the moment.


One kit stays outside the nest box with its mother.
One kit always seems to have a mind of its own.

The kits are now starting to eat solid food. I see Moonbeam go into the nest box at times, so I think she still feeds them a little, but the kits are starting to consume more food on their own. This means that I need to keep a watch on both food and water in the cage to ensure that the doe and her kits have enough to eat. The doe won’t hog the food, but she doesn’t encourage the kits to eat either. Everyone seems to fend for themselves when it comes to rabbits.

Play is becoming a lot more important for the kits as well. There is a shelf in the cage and the kits will often jump on top of it. They seem to like looking down on the others in the cage. Only one kit can fit on the self at a time, so I was a bit surprised to find three of them up there the other day piled on top of each other. The bottom kit must have felt quite a burden. All these views of playtime come surreptitiously—I must peer at them from a distance and without them seeing me. Otherwise, into the nest box they go (well, except for the brave kit who really doesn’t care about hiding from anyone).

Overheating is a real issue at times. The kits could remain cool by staying outside of the nest box. However, during the heat of the day I often find them piled on top of each other in the next box. Because the kits are almost weaned and able to eat solid food, I now move them around and get them out of the nest box on warmer days. On some days I put an insert into the nest box so they can’t get inside and instead stay outside where it’s cooler. In times past, I’ve actually lost kits to heat simply because they insist on piling on top of each other.

In a few more weeks I’ll sex the kits and move the boys to one cage and the girls to another so they have a place to continue growing without the potential for inbreeding. Males can start breeding in as little as 14 weeks—females become fertile in about 16 to 18 weeks. It’s essential that you separate the rabbits before this time or you can end up with some unfortunate results (mothers made pregnant by their sons). Inbreeding can produce all sorts of terrible behaviors. In the meantime, the kits can look forward to spending a bit more time with mom. Let me know your thoughts about the growing stages of kits at


Cooling Your Animals in Summer

Now that the summer weather is truly come to stay, I’ve turned my attention more fully to keeping my animals cool. I’ve talked about this issue before as part of my Keeping Your Animals Healthy in Hot Weather post. However, over the years I’ve learned a few more tricks of the trade. The first is to keep the house at the same temperature as the outside as long as practical and rely on ceiling fans as much as possible. The approach saves money, of course, and makes my house more environmentally friendly as well, but it also seems to spare my animals some level of shock. This is especially the case with my dogs, who must go outside at various times during the day. I was actually finding that my dogs weren’t doing as well as they could when they got back in from outside and I think it was due to the shock of temperature change they felt.

Of course, I also run my business out of the house, which means computers generating lots of heat and not liking to be overly hot. All of my computers have temperature sensors that monitor motherboard and chip temperatures as needed. I actually found that most systems today can run in higher temperatures as long as you keep the air circulated in the room. So, I now keep my house between 75 and 80 on hot days and rely on ceiling fans to keep the air circulating in my office. Because the office is where I’m generating the most heat, I monitor the temperature there, rather than the dining room (which contains the air conditioner thermostat). An office temperature of 80 can actually equate to a house temperature of about 75, which is quite comfortable. I adjust the thermostat as needed to keep the office at 80, rather than trying to keep the rest of the house at a specific temperature.

Everyone gets shade during the summer months. However, I’ve been smart in the way I’ve provided shade. The shade is at the back of the cages and coop. The shade elements (mostly trees), hang slightly over the cages, coop, and run area. The front of the cages and coop are left as open as is possible so any breeze whatsoever can help keep the animals cool. Even so, I must still bring some of the rabbits in during really hot days and the chickens get their bucket of cooling water (they wade in it). It’s absolutely essential that the animals all have clean, cool water to drink, which means going out to change the water several times each day. I usually go out three times daily to check on everyone and make sure they’re doing well.

The cats are always the easiest to please. Smucker still loves to sleep in the bathtub on hot summer days. Sugar Plum likes the floor in the other bathroom. I tend to leave them alone except for the checks I make on them.

Animals still need hugs during the summer months and they still need play time. I’ve been getting out at 5:00 to ensure that I take care of these needs when it’s still cool. During the day I leave the animals completely alone and do everything I can to help them rest comfortably. Making sure you keep track of your animals and address their needs is one certain way to keep them around longer and to enjoy your time with them more. Let me know your thoughts about keeping animals cool at


Mock Chick Fights

The chicks continue to grow. Unlike meat chickens, however, they grow at a glacially slow pace at times. This growing period is important to the chicks because they’re building strength, stamina, and skills. Part of this process involves mock fights.

The fights really are mock. If you watch them long enough, you see that the birds barely touch each other and they don’t actually use their talons. (I tried getting a picture for you, but would those hens cooperate? I think not!) What it looks like is that the two chicks fly up and touch beaks—a sort of a kiss. They use their wings as well, but not with nearly the same ferocity as used in a real fight. Unfortunately, while this skill will help with some animals (see Possum’s Surprise for details), it doesn’t do anything to help the chicken when it comes to hawks, weasels, raccoons, and other odd assorted animals. When the fight is over, it’s not uncommon to see the birds pile on top of each other somewhere in the run to rest for a while.

The mock fights do build strength and stamina. However, they serve the important purpose of helping to establish the pecking order and to also create a bond between hens. The pecking order is essential because only one hen can lead. The lead hen right now is Violet, but she could lose her place at any time to a worth adversary. As the chicks grow older, the mock fights will become real fights that could become a problem, except for the order established by the lead hen. She settles the disputes in the coop.

Bonding between hens is essential. It’s important though not to confuse chicken bonding with human bonding. Yes, laying hens are smarter than meat chickens, but they aren’t all that smart. You can teach them certain behaviors, but they work mainly on instinct. The lead hen can only lead because the rest of the hens are bonded to her and are willing to be led by the strongest and most knowledgeable hen in the coop. When you see hens outside the coop, the lead hen is normally there to establish the route they take and the other hens cluster around her. The act of bonding makes it less likely that a predator will get all of the hens—just the unfortunate hen that is attacked first.

The chicks are using their new found camaraderie to make a place for themselves in the coop. I noticed the other day that the other hens don’t try to get at all the food dishes any longer. The chicks have taken the smallest dish for themselves. The older hens will try to come around at times, but the chicks have started to gang up on the hens and chase them away from their food. At some point, it’s inevitable that there will be more real fights in the coop as the chicks establish themselves more fully in the pecking order.

I doubt that the Buff Orpingtons will attempt to gain much status. They’re gregarious birds that don’t appear to care about much except getting their fair share of the food. The new Americaunas will probably fight for some level of status with the existing Americaunas and the one remaining Buff Orpington. However, the Barred Plymouth Rock seems to show the kind of aggression needed to eventually take on Violet. I don’t see it happening until sometime next year though.

Watching your chicks carefully is important. You need to know that they’re adjusting to their new lives in the coop and that they’re healthy. Mock fights are an important part of the growing process and you shouldn’t try to stop it. Actually, some of them are hysterical. Two of the chicks engaged in a mock fight this morning, lost their footing, and rolled down to the bottom of the run. Just a bit dazed, they got up, fell into a heap, and then promptly fell asleep with the rest of the chicks around them. Let me know your thoughts on mock fights at



The first set of kits have been growing like crazy. In fact, they have begun popping out of the nest box, which is why they’re now called poppers. Several times a day now I need to check the cage and put the poppers back into the nest box. They’re getting old enough to get out, but they aren’t really old enough to be out. It’s still possible to lose the kits at this point if they get too cool, wet, or simply aren’t able to get milk from mom.

Five white kits have gotten out of the nest box and need to be put back in.
The kits are getting incredibly cute.

In this case, all five of the white kits have gotten out of the nest box. Immediately after I took this picture, I put them back in because they aren’t able to get into the nest box on their own. Notice that their eyes are open and they have a full covering of fur, but the fur is so downy and light that it really doesn’t help keep the kits warm. In most cases, the kits simply huddle in the corner of the cage for warmth when they get out like this.

Eventually, the kits will be able to get in and out of the nest box by themselves.  About the same time they’ll start to eat a little solid food. However, they won’t be weaned for at least a month and it’s absolutely essential to keep them where they can access mom quite easily.

Rabbits have a bicornuate duplex uterus, which consists of two completely separate uterine horns and no uterine body. Each horn has its own cervix and the two cervices combine into a single vagina. The reason that this deeply medical knowledge is required is that experience has shown that about half of the kits mature faster and are stronger than the other half. I’ve read everything I can find on the topic online and haven’t been able to figure out why except that one horn apparently provides a better environment than the other. The other half of the kits haven’t popped out of the nest box yet because they’re smaller and weaker than the kits you see in the picture.

For some odd reason, it’s also not unusual to find the kits separated into two piles at birth. Eventually they combine into a single group, but the two piles appear regularly when the kits are first born. An assumption on my part is that the kits in one horn are born first, followed by those in the second horn. Carefully watching the doe shows that the nest box typically contains some kits, she comes out to eat or simply to wait, and then she goes back into the nest box to have the remaining kits.

It would be nice to find out more about the birth process and why things happen as they do. If you have additional input about rabbit births, please feel free to contact me at


Introducing the Baby Bunnies!

A number of people have asked me about how the rabbits are doing. It seems the chickens have been monopolizing the blog (and they have). About 30 days ago, Spartacus, my buck, made his rounds to the various cages with nest boxes. However, there wasn’t too much to report until Wednesday. Moonbeam, one of the does, had started pulling out her hair to make a nest. She had also gotten quite pudgy. On Wednesday she started having her babies. Now, she’s back to being a much thinner rabbit. (Because she’s feeding babies, I’ll give her nearly twice the normal amount of food and I’ll ensure her water dish is completely full.)

Moonbeam is a Rex and California Giant hybrid who just had a litter of eight kits.
Moonbeam and Her Special Treat

A friend had given me some strawberries and a few of them were getting a bit on the mushy side. So, all three of the new or expecting does received a special surprise with their food this morning. Moonbeam never eats her meal before I close the cage, so she’s just eying me right now.

Moonbeam is the best mom out of all the rabbits. She goes out of her way to keep her babies (kits) happy. To start out, she completely fills the nest box with her hair. Imagine having to pull out the amount of hair shown here.

Moonbeam uses her own hair to keep her babies warm after they're born.
Moonbeam Completely Fills the Nest Box with Hair

I’m always careful opening the top of the nest box. It’s important not to upset the mom. She could possibly choose to abandon her babies, so I open the lid carefully and then wait to see if she pokes her head in to watch me. Moonbeam trusts me, so she calmly sat outside the nest box and ate breakfast. She still watched me, but she wasn’t anxious about it. This view of the hair gives you an idea of just how much she pulled out (I shot her good side for the photograph).

Moonbeam made herself nearly bald in an attempt to provide enough hair for her kits.
Moonbeam Provides a Lot of Hair to Keep the Kits Warm

I never touch the hair or the kits. A number of texts that I’ve read say it’s permissible, but I’ve had does reject their babies because of the human scent on them, so I choose not to take the risk. I carefully moved the hair aside to count eight pudgy babies. The babies are born blind and hairless. They’re actually quite small at this point. It’s important to remove the hair just long enough to count (and take a picture in this case). Otherwise, the babies could get a chill.

This picture shows three of the kits, complete with the head of one of them.
Three of the Kits

You can only see three of the kits in this picture. There is so much hair that I can only move a small part of it at a time. I definitely don’t want to force poor Moonbeam to pull out any more. Notice that you can clearly see the head (with ears) of one of the kits. This one will likely be completely white. The other two kits have blotches that indicate they have black spots like their dad.

Moonbeam actually required 32 days to have her babies. The average time is about 30 days. That’s part of the reason that these kits are a bit bigger than normal. The kits will probably stay in the nest box for the first 30 days or so of their lives. It just depends on how fast they grow. During that time, Moonbeam will feed them each day. Let me know your thoughts about raising rabbits at


A Chick Update (Part 10)

Sometimes chick behaviors can be a little more than interesting. Of course, you saw a few of those behaviors in the previous post, A Chick Update (Part 9).

This week was special in many ways. One of the Buff Orpington chicks has taken it into her head that she needs to sit on eggs. However, the egg she wants to sit on is the super jumbo sized eggs laid by the Buff Orpington hen. The super jumbo eggs are so large they actually peg my egg scale. My customers love them, but I have yet to figure out what this chick is thinking about because she’s truly not large enough to sit on anything quite that large—at least not comfortably. I had a good chuckle the first time I saw her doing it and must admit that the laughs haven’t ended. Well, if it helps her become a better hen, then more power to her. None of the other chicks has shown the slightest inclination to lay on any of the eggs laid by the hens.

The chicks can be even messier than the hens and the hens won’t lay eggs in a nest box fouled beyond a certain level. With that in mind, I’ve been replacing the hay in the nest boxes every week or week and a half.  I’ve also been scraping accumulate fecal matter off the horizontal surfaces each day. This past week  I decided that the coop needed a lot more than a touch-up. Unfortunately, that meant locking the hens out in the run while I did the cleaning. Chaos ensued while the hens staked out various territories and decided it might be fun to chase the chicks around for a while.

Even the best fun wears out after a while though and the hens soon decided that they absolutely must get into the coop at this particular moment. At first the pecking at the run door was light and somewhat sporadic. It soon grew much louder and more spirited. Eventually, the hens decided that the hen pecking at the door at that particular moment (only one can fit in front of the door) wasn’t doing a very good job. So they took turns knocking each other off the ramp, with a new hen pecking frantically at the door. All this happened in about 45 minutes mind you, so I really wasn’t taking very long to clean the coop, but you could never have convinced the hens of it.

When the coop was finally cleaned, the hens came strutting in—fuming. They gave me a piece of their mind. A few jumped in the nest boxes and began to pick at the new hay. Violet chose to provide me with the full onslaught of her upset by screaming at me (in chicken no less). Rose decided to peck my boots. Let’s say that the hens were definitely not impressed with my cleaning job—it fell well below par.

At this point, the chicks began to look inside the run door, but they seemed most determined not to come in. They seemed confused, “Is this the right place?” After a few seconds one of the chicks screamed and ran back down the ramp, followed by the others. They refused to go into the coop until it was time to put them up for the night.

Chickens are suspicious of everything. It’s a natural behavior that keeps them alive in the wild because everyone loves a good chicken dinner. However, in the coop, the behavior often leaves me belly laughing. If you get chickens for no other purpose than to get a good laugh, you really could do worse. Let me know your thoughts about all things chicken at


A Chick Update (Part 9)

The chicks are continuing to grow. They’re definitely working their way into coop life. Of course, the hens will continue to intimidate them until they’re full sized, but it all comes down to keeping the pecking order straight. As the new chicks become larger and more capable, some of them will work their way up the social ladder and eventually become leaders in the coop. It’s fascinating to watch them grow and change. They still peep like young chicks, which is one of the reasons I think the hens don’t actually spend a lot of time harassing them. Nature provides cues that younger animals need special care. It’s most definitely that way with hens. I imagine there will be some additional confrontation in the coop when the chicks become full-fledged pullets. In the meantime, the hens do continue to teach their charges the appropriate behavior of chickens.

At a certain point in their development, chicks will start to manifest more hen-like behaviors. This week I noticed that the chicks are now starting to hang out with each other outside. They’ll simply roost together during the daylight hours and watch that silly man working in the heat of the day in the garden. I actually do find them staring at me. I tried to get a good picture of the roosting behavior, but every time I started getting close enough, they’d jump down because they just knew I was going to feed them.

As they grow older, the chicks start chumming around on the roost.
Chicks Viewing the World from a Roosting Spot

Sometimes the chicks will sit out there for hours just watching the world pass by. They murmur at each other and I often wonder what they’re saying. If you listen long enough, you do find that chickens most definitely have a vocabulary.

There was a change in the chick lineup this week and it probably happens in most coops at some point. One of the Barred Plymouth Rock chicks never really got along with the others. It would try to attack the older hens and it didn’t pal around with the other chicks. I could never get it to sit in my hand. Let’s just say that it wasn’t very social. I had planned on spending time with it improving its social skills. Unfortunately, the chick had other ideas. It ran between my legs to get out of the coop this week. Nothing would convince it to come back inside and every attempt to catch it was unsuccessful. This meant that the chick would spend the night outdoors. Someone had a chicken dinner that night—I never saw the chick again. Interestingly enough, I didn’t get any eggs the next day. The chickens seemed to realize that someone was missing.

People fail to understand that chickens, like every other animal, have personalities. Those traits define how the chicken acts within the flock. For example, I’ve had to get rid of some chickens in the past because they started eating eggs (see Feeding for Healthy Chickens for details). You can modify some behaviors, but not others. An antisocial hen will cause constant problems in the flock and that’s what was happening with this Barred Rock. After she left, the coop suddenly quieted down. Because of their personality traits, you need to treat the chickens in the flock differently. Some chickens really do want to be held, others petted, others talked to, and some just want to be left alone. Knowing your hens makes a huge difference in providing appropriate care.

The chicks are also making progress in their management training. At the end of the day I can now put their final bit of food in the coop. Going into the run, I can clap my hands and they run inside to enjoy their meal—at which point, I close the run door. Eventually, they’ll start to come when I cluck at them. It takes time to train the hens, but the older hens do come when I call them. Let me know your thoughts about all things chicken at


A Chick Update (Part 8)

A lot has happened with the chicks since last week’s A Chick Update (Part 7) report. Of course, they continue to grow. They’re also arguing a bit more, but that’s the way of siblings everywhere. Sometimes the arguments are quite funny though. One chick tried to get what it thought was a worm or another goodie from another chick, only to discover the goodie was just a piece of straw. She then blamed the other chick for misleading her (or that seems to have been the point of the second peck). I sometimes watch them for a while just to see what they’ll do next. It’s difficult, at times, to figure out what they’re doing. Of course, I’m sure they think the same thing of me.

This week was the first week the chicks were able to go out of the coop and into the run. Things went pretty much as I thought they would. At first the chicks hid in the corner furthest away from the door leading to the run, but they warmed up to the idea of being outside quite quickly. It wasn’t very long and they were outside running about, sometimes chasing each other from one end of the run to the other. Mostly they tried to emulate the hens though and pecked at the dirt appreciatively.


The eight chicks are now old enough to go into the run outside the coop.
Chicks Having Fun in the Run

What I didn’t realize is that the chicks soon discovered one of the hen tunnels. Yes, I thought I was pretty smart filling in all those tunnels and waiting until it had rained a few times to ensure that the dirt would be packed down, but the chicks had an entirely different idea. It wasn’t long before they opened the tunnel enough to get out from the run. The hens were too large to fit, so they squawked as the chicks enjoyed their freedom. Only, the freedom wasn’t quite so welcome after a while and the chicks started to scream quite loudly. It seems they couldn’t figure out how to get back into the run.

Upon hearing all the turmoil, I decide to check things out. What I saw were the six hens, who should have been able to fly out of the run and enjoy a walk wherever they wanted, stuck inside the run because they had become too fat to fly that high. Outside the run were the chicks, running about madly, trying to find a way back into the run. Yes, it was the old story of the grass being greener on the other side of the fence with me stuck trying to figure out a workable solution.

I waited for the chicks to calm down. I knew that if I approached them at the time I discovered the breakout, they’d simply run in some other direction. Three of the chicks just let me pick them up when I carefully approached them. Not surprisingly, it was the Buff Orpingtons who made the gesture.  I carefully opened the coop door and called to the remaining chicks. Two of the Americaunas just walked inside, looking quite pleased with themselves. This left three chicks outside.

At this point, I broke out the fishing net. I hope my neighbors weren’t watching (and if they were, they got a really good laugh). Imagine a guy running around chasing chicks in the high grass and woods with fishing net in hand trying to catch the chicks underneath. The ground is completely uneven, there are hidden holes, and the chicks have a tendency to disappear under leaves at the worst possible moment. It took fully an hour to catch the two Barred Plymouth Rocks (a most obstinate bird) and the remaining Americauna.

The next morning I spent additional time making sure the tunnel was quite sealed. This time the chicks stayed inside the run. I’ve been out there first thing every morning since looking for additional avenues of escape because the chicks certainly are trying hard to find one. Let me know your thoughts about all things chicken at