Keeping Baby Bunnies Alive
Animal Husbandry is an art. An art of keeping your animals happy, healthy... and alive. Here are 5 tips to help you keep a full nest box!
1. Keep Diligent Breeding Records
Rabbits birth 31 days after they are born, like clockwork. Always put your nestbox with hay in the cage at 28 days, unless you are absolutely sure the doe isn't pregnant. Even then, add the nestbox. The first two litters I had were complete surprises to me because the male never "fell off the female." I palpated anyway but didn't feel anything, so I never put the nestboxes in since I thought it was impossible for them to be pregnant. The does never showed signs of nesting, since it was their first times as well, so I left it at that. At 31 days, I came down in the morning to babies on wire and unhappy mommas. I immediately grabbed the nestboxes and put the buns in, but it was too late. They all died within a few days. I have never made the same mistake and have always added nestboxes at 28 days, just in case!
2. Always Breed at Least Two Rabbits at the Same Time
Rabbits can often have more babies then they can take care of because they don't have enough milk, patience or skill. Rabbits can't tell their babies from those of another doe, so as long as the babies are close in age, you can take a runt or struggling babies from one doe and give them to another to raise. Right now, I have a new mother, Hyacinth, who only had 2 babies and one died shortly after birth (I was out of town and my husband says he found it out of the nestbox, rare for such a young kit). Since Hyacinth only has one baby and a Vervain and Metasequoia, two other does, had large litters and were struggling to feed them all, I took the smallest runts from their litters and gave them to Hyacinth to raise. A tiny Black Otter runt I was sure wouldn't make it gained weight so fast, I put it back with Metasequoia and picked out another for Hyacinth to foster.
Another of the foster babies, a little white from Sweet Vervain, was so emaciated I was sure she would die. I tried to single feed her *see next tip*, but the white wouldn't even attach to a nipple. I decided I would at least give her a chance and put her in Hyacinth's nestbox. As you can see below, in a three days, she is already looking healthier, with a fat belly, shinier hair and less folds on it's legs. It still may not make it, but at least we're trying.
It helps if the foster mom doesn't have the same colored babies if you want to keep track of who's baby is who's for pedigree or breeding purposes.
3. Single Feed Your Runts
If you have a struggling runt, I recommend fostering first. This is usually the easiest way to do it as long as the foster mom isn't overwhelmed with too many babies herself. The difficulty wish Single Feeding a baby is you have to pick up the mom, lay her on her back and put the baby on her belly to feed. Often, the sweetest doe can turn temperamental or a usually anxious doe can relax with nursing hormones, but either way, no doe I have ever worked with likes being turned on her back with a baby suckling at her breast. At any moment, she can give a powerful kick, sending the baby flying no matter how hard you are holding her legs. It's best if you can have two people doing this, one to hold mum and one to keep the baby on the belly, no matter what. I usually let the baby suckle for 5 minutes, or until the mom has had enough. I do twice a day, which is the normal feeding. Does usually only jump in the nestbox twice a day for about 5 minutes at a time. No wonder runts have a hard time keeping up!
4. Bring your Babes Inside in the Winter During the "Freeze" Week
Freeze week is what we call the week where the babies are large enough to get out of the next box but too small to get back in. The mothers don't know or don't care to put the baby back in the nestbox, so they usually freeze to death. Lots of rabbit blogs/stores will tell you to use nestbox warmers, covers or other fancy things to keep the babies warm. The problem is, nestbox warmers need to be plugged in and anything you put in the nestbox is going to turn gross with pee and poop. Covers don't really work because usually, it's not the baby that crawls out, they stick to the mom's teat and are pulled out. Also, that just sounds like a pain in the butt. The easiest thing is to simply bring the nestbox inside and place it in a larger box in a warmish basement, garage, kitchen, empty drawer or foyer, like we do. Then, take it out or bring the doe in twice a day to feed them. You usually only have to do this for a week, and for us, saved at least one baby from every litter. If this sounds like too much work for you, don't breed in the winter.
5. Clean, Clean, Clean
Rabbits are dirty animals. Dirty, dirty, dirty. They pee and poop and shed hair constantly and any fancy Instagram bunny that tells you otherwise is lying. It's easy to only photograph shiny, silky rabbits for more likes, but the raw truth is that most of the time, even the best kept rabbits smell of urine and leak hair like a sieve. Especially Angoras and Rex. This means you have to roll up your sleeves and keep your cages clean. Getting a couple of good brushes as well as Animal Grade Iodine will go a long way to keeping healthy does, and therefore, healthy babies. Poop can carry parasites within 24 hours of coming out of the rabbit, so you must clean off any poop every day. Coccidiosis is a highly contagious sporozoal infection in rabbits, with low prognosis of healing. It is caused by a protozoal parasite, Eimeria sp. Healthy rabbits can be asymptomatic "carriers" of the protozoa. The oocysts (eggs), shed with the feces, will contaminate the environment, food and water. Although the disease occurs essentially in rabbits in small, dirty cages, especially younger rabbits, it appears also in well cared for rabbits. General hygienic measures indicate that rabbits should be given a dry rather than moist pellets, washed fresh vegetables and plenty of fresh water; in these conditions coccidiosis in unlikely to appear. When several rabbits are housed together, it is recommended to avoid putting food on the ground or to let several rabbits eat each other’s soft cecals.