Enjoying a New Buck

Anyone who knows me knows that I’m quite careful with my breeder rabbits. They become pets, for one thing, so the older bunnies go to the retirement home when they’re past their prime. Of course, everyone gets a hug every day. However, I also realize that my rabbits are animals with particular needs and that I need to exercise care when they have specific requirements. One of those requirements is ensuring the breeding rabbits are actually healthy enough to do the job. So, it was with heavy heart that I bid adieu to my buck, Spartacus, this past winter. He’s just too old to get the job done anymore.

I obtain my new does from my stock. When the kits are old enough, I start monitoring the does for good potential. The doe of choice is alert, quite active, robust in protecting her territory against the other kits, and large. I’m always looking for the best possible breeding stock to ensure that future kits have the best possible chance of succeeding. I tend to prefer does that are a bit on the aggressive side so that I can be sure she’ll protect her kits, but I don’t want a doe who is overly aggressive. I learned that lesson the hard way with a doe that would actually charge me when I tried to provide food and water. She’d actually bite. Yet, she was pretty mellow once her kits were fully grown.

My new buck, Oreo, is a gift from a friend. He’s friendly, but slightly aggressive. His markings really do suggest an Oreo cookie—black and white. He’s a well built buck and loves his morning hug. The reason I don’t get bucks from my own stock is that I want to prevent inbreeding. Inbred rabbits exhibit horrid behaviors (including cannibalism) that are best left to the imagination. The point is that you need an outside source of DNA, so trading with other breeders and ensuring you get from a variety of sources is one hedge against the problem.

I normally try for a buck that’s slightly smaller than my does. The reason is that a really large buck can cause the doe to have babies that are too large and she might not be able to have them normally. Even if you manage to get to the doe in time, she often dies if she can’t get the babies out. Oreo is just the right size. He’s just slightly smaller than my does.

Breeding season will arrive soon. Normally I try to breed the rabbits the first time in late March or early April so that the chances of frost at the time the babies are born is minimal. Breeding early in spring also lets me breed the does more than once (normally I go for three breeding sessions during the year unless the summer is especially hot).

Getting just the right buck for your does can take time and effort, but it’s well worth it to have healthy kits. Let me know your thoughts on choosing a new buck at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

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 John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

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 John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.