In the spring you will see many wild young rabbits along the roadways. They live underground in the tunnels dug by Groundhogs. February appears to be the month of breeding. Thirty days latter you have baby bunnies (kits) climbing about but still fed on mother’s milk. Once they leave the nest, they are on their own. Predators wait for this abundant food source following a long hungry winter.
Having experimented with many does, and breeding, the amount of kits is quite impressive. Five does can provide from 35 to 50 kits, the average being 7 kits per doe. I think five does is enough for the homestead to handle unless you are interested in commercial rabbit rising with four or five breeding a year with the same doe. I breed only once, usually in the first of March as the sun angle is ideal for the pituitary gland in the rabbit’s head to induce cooperative mating.
To mate the doe you always take her to the buck-not the other way around. The doe is receptive if her tail is up, sometimes displaying agitation. Once placed with the buck he goes to work. I just leave the doe and buck together overnight, and by morning it is “Ho-Hum.” Commercial growers lean towards short time mating. Sometimes forced mating is employed if she is not interested. Hold the tail up with an underbelly hand, and then fork your fingers to make the penetration easy for the buck is often employed if you are in a rush.
Young eager bucks sometimes start at the wrong end, but a lot of this is pre-coital arousal, and let’s face it, rabbits know more about rabbits than we do. He will bring her around. A point to understand is that doe is always producing eggs, and the arousal state is cyclical.
About 25 to 28 days later the doe, back in her house will start to rebuild her nest box. She will require hay several inches thick. This will be chewed down and smoothed. I often, in this cooler season of spring, place a 5″ X 10″ board at the bottom of the nest box so the hay is not pushed through the plastic grate.
You may notice that under the doe’s house rabbit fur clumps will appear in the bunny berry-fertilizer piles. This indicates she is pulling her stomach hair out to make her milk teats more accessible, and she makes a hairball nest of downy soft hair. In making the ultra soft hair nest she also licks some hair and makes a cocoon that the tiny kits are deposited in for warmth. Sometimes a kit is born dead and she may eat the kit and/or drag it out of the nest. Commercial growers are told to birth the kits in a metal pan and probe about for dead kits. I leave her alone and do not bother her for a few days.
The mother rabbit hunches over the kits, they roll on their backs, kicking away and nurse. Rabbit milk is very, very rich and it is important to ensure she has good feed.
Lest we forget the buck, he is back on his perch awaiting a new visit, sometimes thumping his foot, calling forlornly for company. He also needs quality feed for mating.
Soon the inquisitive kits scamper out of the nest. Usually it is the males. If it is very cold, I make an effort to collect them up and put them back in the nest box for warmth and nursing. If the weather is warm I place a separate small bowl of rabbit pellets under the large 5 lb. feeder attached to the wall, which is at an adult chest height. I also place a small bowl of water on the floor, as the kits are too small to reach the higher hanging water sources of the electric heated bowl and/or sipper. I might add at this time it is important to remove the electric cords-if detachable-or the electric bowls, as the rabbits will chew on the wire.
When they are about softball size and not nursing anymore it is time to sex them and place them in their respective separate pens.
To sex a rabbit you pick the rabbit up with your right hand about the neck. Rotating the rabbit upside down with the head in the crook of your left arm. You pull the rabbit up into your arm pit and slide the left hand down the back to hold the hind quarters and using the index finger to pull the tail away. It is more simple than you think. Once the rabbit is in this position you can relax the rabbit by rubbing his/her tummy-which they love.
Now using your right hand thumb and forefinger to gently inspect the vent, not the anus, reveals the mystery. If you squeeze ever so gently the anus you will be rewarded with a bunny berry. By gently squeezing the vent area a tiny penis will emerge, as the rabbit becomes sexual it is larger, but with tiny kits it is there, and with practice you can see it emerge. This is of course the male.
So the bucks go in one pen, and the does in the other. If you make an error, in a few weeks you will have a male chasing the female around the pen and vice versa in the other pen. This is usually indicated by much noise and squeaking.
Once in the pens I continue to free choice the rabbits with hay and rabbit high protein 16% feed. When they are fryer stage, perhaps 3 to 4 lbs I discontinue the 16% and drop to a 15% feed. Sometimes I just continue hay, as there is no butchering until fall.
Rabbits require you to visit them each and every day for fresh food and water. Fresh garden treats are savored and recommended. Sugar beets in the winter are a big hit.
Alas, sometimes you will have a dead rabbit-perhaps a breeder. Too much fat from overeating will cause a heart attack and they are stiff as a board when you check in the morning. I free choice the mother rabbits with 16% feed and hay but after they are done nursing until next winter they are cut back.
I may sound callous, but at that risk, the question arises: “what do you do with a dead rabbit?” Some place them in the compost pile, some provide a “Wakan”, a selected place for the raccoons, possums and other predators. I feed then to my outside barn cats, which surround the rabbitry, and keep the dreaded mice away. Cats are very important in a Back2theLand scenario.
Sometimes in breeding you will develop longhaired rabbits. Soon the hair will become tangled, collect dirt and the miserable rabbit will pull out great chunks of fur. You are advised to eliminate this genetic line unless you have the time to brush them every day. Shorthaired rabbits are the best.
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COPYRIGHT: Back2theLand, Mark Steel, 2008.