I have been raising rabbits for a while and the birthing process still amazes me. The calendar is marked to when the 30 days will be up for her to kindle. We start watching her close about a week before she is due. That is when we put a nesting box in for her to start building her nest. This box is open at a diagonal across one end so the babies don’t fall out before they are ready to start exploring. I feed a lot of extra hay to the doe at the same time so that she has some to eat and some to build her nest with. I love watching this process. Motherhood is a miracle no matter what the species.
I have watched the does pick up mouthfuls of hay and still pack more into her mouth until I thought she would choke on it. Then she takes it to her nest and comes back for more. Soon the box has a deep layer of hay for the babies to be born in.
Next I watch for her to start pulling fur. She will pull mouthfuls of fur off of herself to make a warm bed for her babies. One evening she has a little pile and the next morning she has a huge pile of fur with kits snuggled under it. I have mostly let the does do their own thing and have has success with that, but I have been advised to check the nest within a few days in case a kit has died and the mother did not clean it up. That could bring disease and other ugly things into the nest. We actually checked this most recent litter earlier than normal and found a very small baby that I am feeding on an alternate schedule to the doe. I don’t know if it would have survived or not, but I have claimed this one for my pet. Her name is Button.
I like spending time petting and letting my doe know me so at this time she is not totally freaked out at me attending things for her. I need to do more because I was been bitten by the upset mother when I got into her nest to find the runt. It did not break the skin, but it made me jumpy as she intended. I have more respect for her now and have been giving her even more personal time.
It is said that the doe gives birth to between 4 and 8 kits with each kindling. Ours have always had between 8 and 10. They are born blind and hairless and need about 2 weeks before they open their eyes and be ready to start eating solid foods. The rabbit only feeds her young at dawn and dusk. This is nature’s way of protecting the wild young from predators for a while. Of course the ones in cages don’t need that, but nature will prevail. I saw a video on YouTube of a rabbit feeding her young in a garden. You can check that out here. I watched it over and over again. It is well worth the time.
I have watched the mother push the fur aside when it is hot outside and help regulate the temperature of her babies. They have also come out from under the pile…..especially the fat ones. They are plenty warm. And in the winter they pull more fur and keep them well covered. Motherhood is amazing.
As soon as the kits start coming out to eat, I start touching them as much as possible. Especially if I know that we will want to keep them or sell them as breeding stock. It is really hard to get friendly with a rabbit and then put them in the freezer. That is the hardest part of farming……the loving and then eating.
At this point we have some really special rabbits. The ones from our Checker Giant are friendlier than most have been. All of them come for attention when I go to feed them and some stay with me while their siblings eat. The kits from our California Giant are calico or have the gene that may be passed along. We bred the mother to the same buck again and got another batch of calicos. Of course we are keeping some of them, especially since we lost the dad. And Button is calico.
You have heard the phrase, breeding like rabbits. Well…….we started with one and now have close to 30. And I can’t wait to see what the new Harlequin doe produces.