2 Lessons Learned While Raising Rabbits

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)

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More New Additions…Finally!

Last time Big Mama gave birth, she did so after 30 days.  So when I woke up this morning, Day 33, I REALLY expected to see baby rabbits.  So imagine my surprise when I went out at 6am, and nothing.  Last time, she gave birth in the dead of night.  I was definitely starting to question my palpation skills (which are shaky to begin with), and was starting to wonder if this was a false pregnancy.  Actually, a lot of things were going through my mind.  I went back out at 7:30am, and BAM.  Bunny bomb had gone off.  (She really, really, really makes a mess of her hutch.  Fur and blood everywhere, every time.)  She also didn’t get as fat this time, so I also assumed the litter was smaller.  Wrong on that count too – 9 kits total.  However, this time, we had one DOA.  It definitely perished sometime while still inside mom – it was mostly  developed, but had some discoloration and was very small.    So 8 live, squirmy, and apparently healthy kits.  Way to go Big Mama!  No pictures of them, I was ill prepared.  Tomorrow. 🙂

Garden is STILL not in, weather is just not cooperating for tilling.  My plants are exploding in their poor little pots, and I’m really trying to resist transplanting to larger (as I intend to put them in the ground anyways).

The other two litters are growing well..the older ones seem to be slowing down in weight gain.   They’ll be 9 weeks in 2 more days, and may manage to tap 4lbs.  I’d like to hold off to 5lbs – and honestly, the two does I’ll be keeping for now.  The topic for next time – space, and how to fail to plan for growing litters.  Case study:  Me.  How I long for a lot of land and outbuildings.  🙂   But I’ll probably have to build “up” and put another layer up to make sure we have enough room for growing buns.

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Big Mama resting up.  I didn’t get a photo of her right after the birth – but it’s better that way.  She had a lot of blood on her, not a pretty sight!

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My poor plants.  They’re growing well, but it simply must stop raining so we can till!

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Pack of babies.  They’re starting to sleep a little less now, but they are still almost always snoozing when I come in.

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Exercise set-up with 2 of the junior does.

Off to the Show! (Litters Day 45 and Day 6)

Good afternoon!  So far, all of the babies are surviving and thriving.  The Greenhouse is a balmy 83F, though I have a fan going in there (extra ventilation!) and it’s only about 8 degrees warmer than outside.  All of the rabbits have shade and plenty of water, and no one is doing too bad as far as looking uncomfortable.

S0 in a turn of events, we had a rabbit show about 30 minutes from here.   After some emailing back and forth with the very nice organizer, I decided that even though I didn’t feel ready – I would bring a rabbit or two so I could get an expert opinion on them.  I’m certain there are multiple schools of thought on showing rabbits and the backyard (meat) breeder, and I won’t pretend that I’ve spoken with many folks at all about it.  The concept, if you’ve been exposed to any showing/judging of any critter – is that each breed has its own “Standard of Perfection”.   Does a backyard breeder with purebreds need to concern themselves with attaining this Standard of Perfection if all they are doing is using the bunnies for their own table?  But here is my take, and why I’m now more seriously considering getting into showing.  (For the record, 3 months ago when I started I had ZERO interest.)

1.  The New Zealand is a meat rabbit, and its standard of perfection encompasses that.  (Unless I happen upon some weird trait which makes it look like a bodybuilder.)  Better understanding what traits to select for will ultimately help your own herd produce more meat.

2.  Selling rabbits can be an excellent way to diminish the $ cost of raising rabbits.  If you are selling, purebred bunnies with parents that have judged well will often sell better.

3.  If you do transition into any sort of selling breeder, being known for quality stock in your breed (even on a small scale) will help immensely with word of mouth and more customers.

4.  It’s fun!  Plus it appears that rabbit shows can be a nice way to hock your other wares. (There were people selling jelly at the one I went to!  Means I may be bringing pickles along to my next one..)

Now that’s out of the way, I took two rabbits in.  I went in initially with the plan of having a judge look at them, and at the least tell me if there were any “faults”.  (I really don’t want to breed faults through my herd, unless again – I stumble across a fault that is unusually beneficial for meat production.)  They didn’t have ear tattoos (I need ink yet), and the entry fee was all of $3 a rabbit.  To me, that was worth the information I would get.  Long and short, rabbit people are wonderful and helpful – and not long after I got there I had an explanation of what to do, how to do it, and my two buns had new ear tattoos.  I took my buck, as well as the doe I intend to keep from the older litter.

The buck placed 3rd in his class (Senior white new zealand buck) – out of 3 rabbits.  Hah.  He has a fault which the judge called a “Crease”.  Basically, his body doesn’t start soon enough after his head.  His daughter (The other one I took) was too young to actually show as a junior. (She’s almost 3lbs, she needs to be 4.5lbs).  That’s okay though – I got what I came for – the judge took a look at her too.  He said she is a very nice doe, and extremely promising.  So – long and short – I’ll take her in again to the next show I attend, whenever that will be!

And now, for the pictures…

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Waiting for our turn!  The “pet taxi” is a cleaned-up garage sale buy (Score!) – and the itty bitty one on top is my little doe in my cockatiel carrier.  Hey, it works!

 

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I took this photo due to the giant mound of fur that is a rabbit (being held by the guy on the table.)  There are some very interesting looking rabbits.

 

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This was the New Zealand judge.  They divide it up into “Open” and “Youth” shows.  The show I went to did both, this was the youth group going first.  (Blacks, reds, whites)

 

 

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Panorama shot!  I guess I wasn’t surprised at how many people were there, but at the same time – I guess there are quite a few rabbit folks out there. 🙂

 

 

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A shot of one of the new kits.

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And finally – the litter on a fairly warm day.  The sun isn’t on them all the time, just when I move the tarp so I can take a picture.   (By the night, they’ll be back in a pile!)

 

Litter – Day 42!

The first litter has marked 6 weeks old today.   Time sure flies!  The litter weight, for comparison:

6 Weeks:  18.69lbs

5 Weeks: 13.65lbs

4 Weeks: 8lbs 10oz

3 Weeks:  5lbs 3/4 oz

They are now officially all out from Big Momma, and eating/growing on their own.  The largest one is one of the 2 does, clocking in at 2lbs 8 5/8oz.  Pretty good, I’d say! As a group, they gained more than half a pound apiece over the last week.

As for Little Mama, her 7 kits are doing very well also. (Day 3 now, technically) I can’t get over how full their tummies are.  (You’ll see in the picture, it looks like they’re going to burst)  She had them mostly uncovered yesterday while it was warm out, and when I went out this morning – she had covered them completely under a nice mound of fur for the night.

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One of the new kits this morning.  Big, full bellies!  And they’re starting to get just a tiny little bit of that white fuzz.

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These are the boys, enjoying their bachelor pad.

Baby Bunnies Everywhere (New Litter Day 2)

It’s been a great week so far.  The weather is awesome (Low 70s), the greenhouse is keeping cool, and we have lots of bunny babies.  The brand new Momma bunny is actually doing very well with her kits.  When I went out this morning, she had pulled a TON more fur (a lot of it on the bottom of the cage – I was wondering when the bunny bomb would go off) – and she had put more with the kits.  She also hopped up and fed them too, their bellies are nice and full.  As this is her very first litter, I’m still prepared for the fact that she is learning – and I may lose kits from her inexperience.  But so far, it’s going splendidly.

Big Momma (my proven doe) is down to just one kit left in the cage with her.  I left one in there just in case the other doe had milk issues.   All of her kits are growing, and growing fast.  Official weigh-in day is tomorrow, but I can tell you that they’re all over 2lbs.  One is almost 2.5lbs, and they’re 6 weeks tomorrow.  I’m very happy with that rate of growth, and growth rate will be a primary thing I select for with future breeding.

Now..for the pictures!

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One of the baby does.  She’ll be 6 weeks tomorrow – and already 2lbs 7oz.  I’m going to use this little box for growth comparison, plus it sits nicely on the scale.

 

 

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One of the kits that was born yesterday.  A little over 2oz (though I won’t be able to weigh the same kit every time, so the weight will just be an idea of growth).  Pretty amazing to realize that it only takes 5 weeks to go from this to the picture above!

 

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The two baby does being adorable.  They have the highest chance of sticking around, as I do want to expand the number of adult buns we have to 6.  Of course, if we end up overrun with rabbit in the freezer, I might reconsider scaling it back to 4 or 5.

Litter (#2!)- Day 0!

Great news!  We now have “Mama Rabbit #2”.  She had 7 kits, and in the photos below are literally hours old.  They’re all dried off, she made a nest and lined it with fur.  She didn’t do quite as well as Mama #1 (I really need to pick proper names for them) – but it is her very first litter.  7 kits for a first litter is good enough for me!   Thankfully we have very nice weather coming up, so even if she didn’t pull a ton of fur, it’s not supposed to be very cold at all. (Bottoming out around 55 tonight).  I made a point to cover them back up as best as possible.  Normally rabbits kindle (give birth) at night, she opted to go sometime in the middle of the day.  Always an adventure!

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The nestbox – now with kits!

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The instinct to get back in the nest makes taking a picture very hard.  So here are two shots of super newborn rabbits. (Only out for a few seconds to count and make sure they’re all alive)

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Proud Mama rabbit #2.  (She got lots of green hay and oats today!)

Litter – Day 4

Went out this morning, we still have 8 and they’re all doing well!

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One of the babies.  They’re starting to get more white – which means their fur is coming in!

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Shot of the litter in the nest.  They’re getting bigger, so they’re easier to see.

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This is what the nest box looks like normally.  Keeps the babies hidden and snug.

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Today mom went in and checked it out right away!