We are reposting our Managing Rabbits Series from 2013, and today we come to the repost of our Birth to Weaning post. There are minor changes made to the post. Enjoy!
We have discussed housing and feeding, buying and breeding, kindling, and now we are moving on to management of a litter of kits from birth to weaning. I finished off the last post discussing checking to see if a doe is feeding her kits properly, and with the question of what we do if we find that she is not.
First of all, we have never had a doe refuse to feed an entire litter before. So I can’t speak on what to do in that situation. However, we have had times where we find that one kit is not being fed and the rest are. We have had two different outcomes when this happens. First, we always try to force the kit to eat and the doe to feed them. We do this by sitting on a chair with our legs out in front of us bent at the knees. We set the doe on our lap, making sure she is fully supported and feels secure, and we get her calmed down. Then we take the kit and turn it upside down and shove it under the doe, helping get its mouth to a teat (as in, we actually find a teat and get the kits mouth right to it while they are both in this position). Most kits get excited and go right to work eating. I figure this usually means that somehow that kit got bullied out of eating by the others and just needed a little help. We have only ever had to force it one feeding when this happens and from then on we find the kits all full at every feeding. There has been one time, however, where the kit would not eat. It seemed weak and unable. A natural culling process was taking place and that kit did not survive.
Some people attempt the above force feeding with the doe on her back as it is easier access for the human. We have never had success with that.
As for hand-rearing abandoned or sick kits: we don’t. First of all we have never had a need. We have been able to move kits over to be with another doe’s litter the one time we have needed it. In addition, I have read that it is really difficult to successfully raise orphaned kits until they have reached 2 weeks or older and that under that age the mortality rate is very high.
There have been several times that we have moved kits from one doe’s litter to a different doe’s litter. It has always been successful for us. We purposefully breed our does back to back so that we have litters born within 24 hours of each other for exactly the purpose of having the option of fostering kits if we need to. We haven’t had any problems with our buck being able to accomplish this successfully.
One example of why we would want to foster kits is when a doe has a huge litter. If the other doe has a smaller litter we will even them out so they are both raising the same number (or close to the same). For example, if one doe has a litter of 10 and the other doe has a litter of 6 we foster two kits over so they each raise 8. How do we do this? We take two kits from one nest box and before we put them in the other nest box we rub them along the side of the new mother to help get her scent on them. We them mix them in with the other kits, being sure they are nicely settled down in and not separated in any way. We have never had a doe refuse the new additions.
Fostering doesn’t work if the kits aren’t really close in age. You have seen through my baby bunny growth update posts how fast they grow. They are changing daily, so even 3 days makes a huge difference in the size of the kits. They can’t be fostered if there is a difference in size. Even if the mother would accept them it is likely that the bigger, older kits would get all the nutrition as they are more able to eat quicker and bully out the littler ones. So we never have done more than 24-36 hours difference in age when fostering.
From birth to weaning the mother and kits are fed unlimited pellets and unlimited hay. They (of course) have unlimited water as well.
At about 10 days we clean and replace the bedding in the nest box. It is right before the kits eyes are about to open and we want them to open them to a clean environment to decrease the chance of infections. To do this we put the kits in a bin or bucket lined with a towel (someone makes sure they don’t get out, their spastic movements can sometimes cause that). We remove the fur and set it aside (picking out any yucky parts and throwing them away). Then we remove all the hay and the cardboard in the bottom of the nest box. We put in new cardboard, a bunch of new hay and push the hay around the make a round niche for the kits. We replace the kits and cover them with the saved fur.
Around 3 weeks of age the kits will start coming out of the nest box. But they often still use it for sleeping and warmth. Right around a month we remove the nest box from the cage. When exactly it happens is different for each litter. When they stop using it and the cage is being crowded by its presence, we remove it. In cold weather we leave it longer, hot weather shorter. We let the behavior of the litter of kits decide when it comes out. But it usually happens around 4 weeks of age.
As long as the doe is in good condition, we re-breed her when the kits are 5 weeks old. Longer gaps in between litters can cause a doe to have a harder time getting pregnant again. But if she isn’t in good condition we don’t push her. We give her a couple of weeks after weaning with unlimited food and get her back up where she needs to be.
At 6 weeks old we begin our weaning process. I will discuss how we do this in my next managing rabbits post.