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.
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.
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.
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.