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

Time to make some baby bunnies!

New Zealand White rabbitWe started with our first rabbit, a New Zealand White, sometime during the late spring.  (He's the one in the picture to the right relaxing on a bottle of ice water during our summer heat.)  He was a young male that was purchased from a local feed store and was the only meat rabbit they had left. 

While we were searching out other available rabbits in the local area, our new neighbors who had just moved in offered us a pair of New Zealand Whites.  The rabbits were apparently a gift for their son but they weren't too keen on keeping them around.  The rabbits were both a bit older than our first rabbit, and I'd estimate they had a full 6-8 weeks in age on our young buck.  This turn of events is how we ended up with two males and one female.  Obviously not the ideal mix of male-to-female ratio, but hey... two of them were free.  

When we discussed breeding, we considered the possibility that the free pair from our neighbors were likely closely related and possibly siblings.  Some literature Dawn read from the library actually encourages inbreeding of rabbits, but that seems so counter to everything we have learned in the past that we will likely shy away from that.  So, we decided we'd breed the storebought male with the donated female.  Later we'll find another female (possibly a Californian) to breed with our other male.  That will give us a 50/50 mix and two breeding pairs.

Rabbit feederSometime in the last month or two our purchased male finally reached maturity, so the question became when did we want to breed them and have our first litter arrive?  Ideally, we'd have the arrival timed when we are both around.  I travel a bit for work, and we didn't want to time it for when I'd be gone.  Also, we wouldn't want to time it during potential holidays or vacation time (like our recent NC & VA trip when we visited Anna & Mark).  So, this past weekend ended up being the "big date" for our rabbit pair, constrained by our schedules.

If all goes well, our doe will have a litter sometime around December 10th.  I'm hoping that the entire process will be uneventful and require little from us other than providing some bedding and cleaning of the hutch.  Cold weather might be a concern, but we'll see how it goes.  Winters are typically pretty mild around here and if we have to we can insulate or heat the hutch.  If we're lucky, the weather will be fine and temperature will not be a concern. 

Breeding rabbitsThe process of breeding was fairly uneventful.  We rounded up the female, removed the box from the male's hutch so that there'd be more room, and then placed the female on his side.  Generally, the female should always be brought to the male.  The other way around apparently can turn violent as the female will often defend her turf.

Female rabbits are reflexive ovulators and some of the reading that Dawn has done suggests that they should be bred multiple times in the course of a day or two.  We tried this, but "date #2" didn't go as well as the first time around.  She wasn't having any of it the second day, so we will see if this was a successful pairing or not.  When we first placed the female in the male's hutch, there was a bit of chasing, but there was no fighting.  We were a bit concerned about whether or not there would be a battle but they seemed to be pretty well behaved as they did what comes naturally.

One thing we will have to do to prepare over the next couple of weeks is to modify the nesting box so that it has a hinged top allowing access to the litter.  Dawn is the expert here as she's done all the reading on the topic.  She's also the one who built the boxes for our rabbits and probably will be the one to modify the female's nesting box.

Rabbit nesting materialsWe'll need to decide quickly what kind of nesting material we will place in the hutch.  There are several options; some are readily available materials (hay, grass, leaves), while others are available commercially (bagged cellulose, etc.)  The literature claims that when she is preparing to have a litter, the doe will use available nesting material and combine that with fur which she pulls out of her coat.  When cleaning the netsting box they say to change the hay (or other material) and put the fur back with new nesting material.

Shannon and DawnI'm sure we'll make some discoveries along the way and will learn in the process.  With any luck, we'll have some cute bunny pictures to share soon.  We've just got to stay unattached to the cute fuzzballs so that we cannot feel bad when it comes time to put them in the oven!

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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