Baby Bunnies and Loss

After months without any baby bunnies, we finally had our first 3 litters born here on the farm!  Our new Californian rabbit Ruby was first – she had her first litter with us, though she’d had a couple litters before.  I bought her from a breeder in Leicester, NC shortly after we moved here.  I bred her to our Crème D’Argent boy Timmy so these bunnies are going to grow up to be big and meaty.  For now, I will only be thinking about how cute they are and watching out for them.  Ruby is proving herself to be an excellent mother so far.  She made a good nest using lots of fur pulled from her own belly – essential for the survival of hairless newborn bunnies.  Baby bunnies really don’t have a chance if their mother doesn’t build a good nest.  Even in warm weather, newborn bunnies can die if born just on the floor of the cage or in a nest with hay only.  Mother rabbits (called does, like mother deer) instinctually gather materials and build a nest in a protected place and line the nest with fur to keep the newborns warm.  We did lose 2 of the original 8, but the remaining 6 seem strong and well-fed!  The babies are all solid black, though the doe is pointed black.  I really love the color genetics, but that’s a post for another day.  Yes, there is chicken poop on the top of that nest box.  I covered the top of Ruby’s cage after I discovered that!

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The next litter came two days later from our Dwarf/Dutch mix Robin.  Robin was purchased from a pet store in Columbus, GA when we still lived in Auburn.  HS had been asking for a pet rabbit for awhile, and we finally decided to get him one.   He picked out Robin immediately upon seeing her and they’ve been buddies ever since.  It was a few months later that I purchased our first meat rabbits and a few months after that I experimentally bred Robin to Timmy.  She was an excellent mother right away and has had a few more litters since then.  Most we have sold as pets and one we kept.  This current litter is a litter of 7 and all are doing well so far.  I don’t have a photo of the new ones yet, but this photo is of Robin during her nesting phase just before her first litter.  The hay in her mouth is what rabbit breeders refer to as a “hay-stash” and is something you only see when they are nesting.  You can also see all the bright colored fabric inside the cat carrier that was her nest box at that time.  At the time we were still living in the Auburn house where Robin’s cage was in our playroom/craft room so I used to throw fabric scraps to her which she would take and put in her nest.

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Robin has also raised a few bunnies not her own…I had a Crème D’Argent doe who was unfortunately a terrible mother.  Her first litter was lost when she had them during a cold night and did not build a nest or do anything for them.  For her second litter she built a nest, but then dumped the bunnies out and refused to care for them.  I tried hand-raising them – feeding them goat milk mixed with kitten-formula and keeping them warm.  That’s really all you can do for newborn bunnies without a mother to take care of them.  But unfortunately they each died one by one by the end of the second week.  It was heartbreaking.  Before completely removing the terrible-mother-rabbit from breeding rotation, I bred her once more about 2 days after Robin had been bred for her second litter.  When the Crème bunnies were born, I put them in Robin’s nest with her 2-day-old babies.  Mother rabbits easily accept foster babies if they are very close in age to their own litter.  (It’s actually common for rabbit breeders to breed a “proven” doe just before a first-timer so they have a foster doe if the first-timer fails).  Robin raised all 6 of her own litter along with the 3 surviving Crème babies – a total of 9 bunnies raised by a 3lb mom!  I am hoping to let her continue to have litters occasionally and raise other litters if needed as long as she is happy and healthy while doing so.  After that she will remain our pet as long as she lives.  We can never eat our Robin.

Our third litter of the week was our first litter of Angora bunnies.  It was our Angora doe Shelly’s first litter.  It’s unfortunately common for a doe’s first litter to be lost for one reason or another because of the doe’s inexperience.  I had pretty high hopes when Shelly built a great nest and all 5 were born in the nest and seemed to be doing great.  But just a couple days later she peed in the nest and they ended up freezing before I found them.  It’s heartbreaking to make that discovery.  I was just thinking if I’d gotten to them earlier I could have dried them off and split them between Robin and Ruby and they’d have been fine.  I actually would have done that just after they were born if I’d had any inkling that Shelly wasn’t doing things right.  But they were warm in their nest and being fed, so I had no reason to think Shelly wasn’t on top of things.  We will try breeding her again.  Most of the time they get it right the second time if not the first.

We have two more first-time does due in the next two weeks.  One of them is Robin’s daughter Lettuce.  I am hoping Lettuce inherited Robin’s excellent mothering instincts.  Our Crème D’Argent doe Sunshine is due the following week.  Her breeder said her mother was an excellent mother, so hopefully she will be too.  The last of our does to be bred is Pixie, who is the only surviving daughter of the terrible-mother-rabbit.  She was raised by Robin, but rabbit mothering instincts are born, not learned.  I am not planning to breed her til Robin and Ruby are ready for their next litters.  If Pixie is anything like her mom, I’ll need the back-ups ready.

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