I’m probably at about Lesson #1000 by now, but a few stick with you.
1. Always check the ground for kits after a birth, the day of and the next day.
I found out this morning that Big Mama actually had 10 babies total. 1 DoA. The other one, well – on a day a rabbit gives birth, inspect the whole area – ground included, for stray kits. She must have had one on the wire, and it crawled out of the hutch. By the time I saw it, it was too late. In retrospect, I’m lucky Little Mama didn’t have all of her kits on the cage floor (some new does do that). I checked the cage for extra kits, but never looked around the ground. For the next litters, I’ll be putting up a litter-saver border around, which will stop them from being able to crawl through the side of the cage. Lesson learned.
2. Rabbits reproduce like, well, rabbits. It’s a very appropriate saying.
Before I embarked on this endeavor, I literally spent about 4-5 months researching, tearing my way through a book, and visualizing/planning. Somewhere, in all of that, I completely missed one crucial thing – Fully understanding how quickly rabbits can reproduce, and some key rabbit behavior. In fairness, I thought I would leave the litters in with the mother until they were close to 3 months, then butcher. (Somehow, I figured she’d keep feeding them, and all I would need to do is feed her.) Hah, fool. I had an ideal picture of a rabbit lounging, nursing her young like a dog or pig would. Apparently, rabbits freaking hate nursing. Once the litter is out of the box, Mom’s new mission in life is to avoid her kits’ appetites. So, essentially, the kits chow down on pellets and hay regardless. Which also means there isn’t a whole lot of reason to leave them in with Mom past 6-8 weeks.
Somewhat too late I also discovered that rabbits can easily have a litter every 2 months (re-discovered, really. I had read the whole book, but I didn’t commit this to memory the first time through)- and in fact, it’s best to breed them again while the kits are still with Mom. (Less internal fat, easier for her to conceive) The economics caught up with me too – if I’m feeding 3 seniors, more kits help balance out the feed costs. I had PLANNED on 5-6 breeding adults with hutches, and 2 cages for growing out kits. Well that’s right out the freaking window. Right now I have a bank of 6 smaller hutches (Which aren’t really ideal for growing out rabbits), and 2 big hutches. I’m pretty much set on the fact I’ll need to give up some of the already limited space in there – and put in at least 2 more growing out cages. Even so, this means I may not have any extra room to keep a promising junior or two. Ultimately, I will probably have to stop at about 3 breeding does. I don’t want to put up another greenhouse/building yet, so for now – I just have to adapt my plans and decide between butchering/selling every kit, or dedicating a little space to keeping some promising rabbits. Someday we’ll move out to a lot of land, preferably with an out-building or two, and I won’t worry about space!
On a happier note, Big Mama’s new kits are doing very well. They have insanely plump little bellies (to the point there’s some color difference from how distended they are), and the 8 I knew about are all fed and moving. (Champion fur-puller)