The doe makes a nest with various materials and abdominal fur before kindling. The doe’s nest is usually at the end of her kindling burrow. A quiet area should be set aside for the doe to do this, and a nest box that mimics a burrow should be provided.
The most common time for kindling to happen is at night, and most of the time, no help is needed. A doe gives birth to anywhere from six to twelve kits on average in a single kindling. Rabbits are born blind and hairless. Four days after birth, they begin to grow hair, and ten days later, they open their eyes. Kits must survive on their mother’s milk for the first 20 days of their lives.
For about 3 to 4 minutes in the early morning hours, does nurse their young. There may be weaker kits in a litter, especially if the litter is large, who cannot keep up with the others when it comes to sucking milk. Here the farmer can check every baby rabbit and those underfed can be made exclusively to suckle again. A doe may refuse to allow her babies to suckle entirely in some cases. With cotton ear buds or a dropper, farmers can feed their kits cow’s milk.
The following are the steps to take to ensure a successful kindling:
- About 28 days after the doe is mated, place a nest box in the hutch. This gives the doe plenty of time to prepare a nest and provides a safe place for the young to be born.
- There have been times when their litter have been left unprotected by fur or alight on the floor of their enclosure. Even if they appear to be dead, you may be able to save them if you find them in time. Prepare a cup of lukewarm water for the babies. Dip the baby several times in the cup while holding it by the head. Then, use a damp cloth to remove any remaining moisture. Place the warmed young in a nest made of bedding material, then cover them with a blanket. From there, the doe usually takes over. If you have a doe with a lot of fur, you can use it to cover the litter in her nest at kindling time. Having a supply of extra fur on hand is a good idea. To keep the nest clean, remove some of the excessive hair from the nests.
- Deodorising or sterilising the fur is unnecessary. However, to avoid the doe from smelling the strange fur, rub her back with your hand before placing the hair in the nest box. As a result, the strange fur takes on her scent. If you do not take these precautions, the doe may eat the strange fur if she smells it.
- The doe usually consumes less food a few days before kindling. Avoid disturbing her and instead focus on ensuring that she feels at ease. At that time, you can offer her small quantities of green feed and commercial feed to tempt her. Her digestive system will thank you for this. After the doe gives birth, feed her a lot of greens.
- The vast majority of litters are born at night. The doe may become restless after kindling. Keep your distance until she has calmed down.
- New-born kits show an affinity for green grass and concentrates while continuing to nurse from the doe for another 15 to 16 days. Gradually, they start eating more solid food and suckle less from the doe.
Causes of newly born litter loss
If the doe is disturbed, she may kindle on the hutch floor, exposing the litter. The doe may be startled and prematurely kindle if predators (such as cats, snakes, unfamiliar dogs, and ants) are close enough for her to detect their presence. If she is disturbed after the litter is born, she may stomp with her back feet, injuring or killing the kits. Make sure no one enters the breeding section of the rabbitry during kindling, except for the caretaker, whose voice and presence the rabbits recognise.
A doe may not always produce milk. Unless the problem is noticed and the kits are transferred to foster mothers, the kits will starve in two or three days. Keep an eye on new-born litters for several days after birth to ensure proper feeding and care.
Does rarely eat their young. When it happens it can be due to a lack of food or a doe’s anxiety following kindling. It is also possible that the doe has bad mother instincts and is a cannibal. Does do not normally kill and consume healthy young, but only kits born dead or injured and died. It is terrible and frustrating for a farmer (especially a novice), but many does who display this behaviour with the first litter go on to become outstanding breeders. Preventing this behaviour requires proper feeding and management throughout pregnancy.
Litter separation occurs between 42 and 45 days of age. For the sake of the litter, it is best if they are separated from their mother and kept in the same cage. After they have been weaned, green fodder, vegetables, and concentrates can be fed to rabbits.
Weaning and post-weaning care
At 8 to 10 weeks of age, the young rabbits are tagged, and the growers should be housed in separate areas. For the sake of their growth, the breeding does and bucks selected should be fed well. When a doe reaches 60% of her adult body weight, she is ready to mate.
The information provided in this article is credited to:
The Peace Corps. (2014). A Complete Handbook on Backyard and Commercial Rabbit Production. Available at: https://pclive.peacecorps.gov/pclive/index.php/pclive-resources/resource-library/1281-r0041-complete-handbook-backyard-rabbit-production/file
Nurturing the roots of change in rural Kenya in cooperation with Bonnie Ami Holt at the Mitahato Education and Development Fund. For more information visit www.mitahatoedf.com/ or contact them on +254-728-082887.
Dutta, P., Singh, R.K., Dhali, A. & Rajkhowa, C. (2009). BACKYARD RABBIT FARMING. ISBN 10.13140/RG.2.1.1742.5440/1. Available at: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/273886912
Lebas, F., Coudert, P., de Rochambeau, H. & Thébault, R. (1997). The rabbit – Husbandry, health, and production. ISBN 92-5-103441-9. Available at: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/38977233_The_Rabbit_Husbandry_Health_and_Production