The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Our doe becomes a mother rabbit

Newborn rabbits

When we last made a rabbit post, we were anxiously awaiting a litter of rabbits while mother rabbit was preparing a nest in her nesting box.  Sometime the night of the post, our doe delivered her first litter.  The litter was 11 kits, one of which we lost the first morning.  She delivered on a night that was pretty cold and we surmised that the kit had wandered away from the huddled litter and died of exposure.  We had wrapped the hutch in plastic and provided a incandescent lamp as a heat source, but it wasn't enough.  We later swapped out the lamp for a space heater... probably throwing our cost per pound of rabbit equation off due to electricity consumption.  We had planned the timing of the litter based on Easter though, so we had anticipated the possible issues with the cold.

Since that first night we lost another kit at about 4 days old, we think because it was accidentally suffocated.  It was away from the group and under the hay, and we think the doe inadvertantly rested on it while tending to the rest of the young.

Week old bunnies

Turns out our speculation in the last post about the "bird's nest" depression in the hay was correct.  She had the litter exactly where we thought she might.  The kits were also a bit larger than we had expected at about 4-5 inches long at birth.  I think we both expected them to be about half that size.  They have also grown phenomenally fast!  At less than a week, they had beginnings of fur.  At about 10 days, their eyes began opening.  At two weeks, they had a full coat of fur.  At less than one month old, they are several times the size they were at delivery and are weaning themselves by eating hay and rabbit food.  They have also started learning how to drink from the chicken waterer nipple, which is quite a feat when one considers that they can barely reach it!  Next time around, I think the nursery hutch will have a lower nipple for the young.

Rabbit nipple

Rabbit drinkerDawn also discovered it's quite difficult to count the number of kits in the litter since when they hear activity in the nest box they start jumping around like crazy.  They won't stop moving enough to be counted since they think that activity means nursing time and they start actively search out a mother and a teat.

I'm concerned about the fact that these things are so cute that it's going to be tough when it comes time to butcher.  I guess time will tell how well we are able to deal with that process.  For now, we're just learning about what it takes to have a litter of rabbits to care for, especially in the cold.

Baby bunnies

Dawn also discovered rather disconcertingly that once they were out of the nesting box that they could easily fall out of the hutch.  After a nerve wracking chase of one little fella around the yard, she added a "rabbit retaining wall" to the door of the hutch to help retain the frisky kits.  Mom can be seen with three of the kits along with the retaining wall in the photo above.

Shannon and Dawn will be sharing their experiences with raising meat rabbits on Tuesday afternoons. They homestead on three acres in Louisiana when time off from life and working as a sys admin permits.

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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11 bunnys is a lot for 1 mother to feed and care for. She is an excellent mother if she has only lost 2 out of 11. If possible you may want to breed 2 does at the same time. Then if one has an overly large litter, you can add 1 or 2 bunnys to the other litter.

Good luck with your bunnys. You're gonna love the meat.

Comment by mona Tue Jan 8 16:08:18 2013

My late Labrador retriever had her first and only litter back in 2002. It was on a brutally cold night and she had the litter under my shed. Her first litter was 11 pups, and we didn't lose any of them.

Fast forward 10 years and our doe had her first litter on an unusually cold night... and her first litter was 11 kits.

Random chance?

Anyway, she has definitely been a good mother. Both Dawn and I have been impressed with how attentive she seemed to be when we would check in on them. We just separated the kits from her last night so that she could have some breathing room. They had pretty well weaned themselves already anyway, either at her insistence or their own initiative. I think it was earlier than Dawn's read that they should be weaned, but it was time. She was starting to thump the cage and telling the kits it's time to go make their own homes...

Comment by Shannon Fri Jan 11 23:51:03 2013
Hi there, thanks so much for documenting the things that you do. We have chickens and rabbits as well, each with automatic watering systems that work fairly well, although I have some changes in mind for the rabbits. I don't care for the plastic tubing and metal rabbit nipple and have been interested in using pvc pipe, which is how I found your site. I had never considered using my chicken nipples in the way you have but would much prefer that. My question is, have you ever had trouble with the rabbits chewing on the plastic part of the nipple or on the pvc? That has been my primary concern. Thanks so much for your time.
Comment by Michael Sun Mar 23 11:46:25 2014
Michael --- Good question! Shannon, who wrote this guest post, has since moved and had to sell his rabbits, so I don't have a definitive answer for you. He never mentioned rabbits chewing on the plastic, but that may be because he had it raised up quite a bit as you can see in the photos. I hope that helps!
Comment by anna Sun Mar 23 19:28:02 2014

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