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 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.
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 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.
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.
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 John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.
We recently had something of a mystery. Actually, we haven’t figured it out yet and probably never will. We bred our doe and then waited the usual 31 days for her to have her kits (babies). The nest box was empty at that time, but given that the weather had turned cool, we kept checking up to day 35, at which time we decided that she hadn’t been bred and that we’d need to wait for spring to try again. Even though our rabbits could have babies at any time, the temperatures need to be above freezing to ensure the kits will survive, so we never breed them in the winter.
Imagine our surprise when day 40 arrived and we looked inside the nest box again in order to clean it out. Suddenly there were babies in there! We were so surprised by the arrival. Given that this is the mother’s first time, we decided to close the nest box and leave it completely alone until the babies were a bit bigger. The other day I noticed the first popper, a baby who has jumped out of the next box for the first time. So, I decided it might be acceptable to look inside. Moonglow, the mother, has had a lovely litter of seven babies.
All of the babies are solid white with pink eyes. The bottom line for us is that nature constantly teaches us not to place any schedules on our animals. In this case, mom obviously chose a time to have her babies that would work best for them. The babies are all doing exceptionally well and will be able to survive the cold now that they have a full covering of fur. We’ll move them to less crowded conditions once we’re certain that they’ll do well in the cooler weather (for now, they’re keeping each other warm).
What surprise had nature presented you with lately? Do you find yourself being amazed at all of the wonders that nature presents? Let me know your thoughts at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.