breeding and reproduction
Sexing young rabbits can be difficult, and even experienced breeders can make mistakes. Sexing older (greater than two months of age) rabbits is easier. A buck's head is more blocky than that of a doe. His testicles are also visible, especially on warm days. The doe has a larger dewlap, a fold of skin under her chin. Genitalia can be examined by carefully placing the rabbit on its back and gently pressing on either side using two fingers.
Rabbits can begin reproducing at a tender young age of 3-4 months, however it is best to not begin a breeding program until they are atleast 6 months, for large breeds it is recommended waiting until 8 months. Rabbits are induced ovulators which means they do not release eggs until after breeding. Thus they show no signs of estrous (heat) as do most
other animals. Once mating occurs she will release eggs approximately 10-12 hours after the mating has taken place. Often breeders will put the doe back in with the male 10-12 hours after the initial mating session.
Always take the doe to the buck cage and put her in with him. They are territorial and if you put him in with her she is likely to try to defend her territory and attack him and he will be more nosy rather than frisky and just do a thorough checking out of her cage. Once you put the doe into the cage, the buck should attempt breeding within moments. Always
keep an eye on them during the mating in case fighting breaks out and you need to rescue one or the other rabbit. Once a pair has been known to mate with no problems, they can usually be left in the cage together for 12 - 24 hours with out any issues.
If the doe is ready then she will allow the male to mount her (this is called "standing") and do his deed. She will sort of raise her hindquarters to him in an effort to show she is ready. The male generally will squeal a bit a slide of t her backside if a mating has occurred. If the doe is ready yet she will most likely run around acting like an idiot. If she does this remove her and attempt again a while later.
The gestation period of a rabbit is 31 days (+/-2). As a doe prepares to kindle (give birth) she may seem more nervous and restless than at other times. Try to keep noises and other undue stress away from her at this point. (things she is not accustomed to). She should also begin to nest as her birthing time comes near. She will need a nest box in her cage for when the babes are born. ( the easiest way to make a nest box is out of
plywood.It it simply to provide a warm safe, cozy spot for her to have her babies in and care for them) . Place the nest box in her pen in the last week of gestation. Provide some nesting materials that she can use to build with (straw, shavings, cardboard pieces, shredded news paper). Some rabbits will begin the building process immediately and others may wait until the last minute in her preparations. As her delivery time nears you will
notice that the does begins pulling her fur from her belly as well as her dewlap(usuallywithin twelve hours before birth process). The fur provides warmth in the nest and the points where she pulls from is to expose her nipples so that babies can nurse. The last couple of days of gestation the doe may go off feed( slow down intake or quit eating), this is normal..
Soon after kindling, check on the doe, and make sure she is doing well, that she is drinking and eating etc. After 24 hours carefully and gently remove kits from nest box one at a time and count them. Check each kit's condition, see that it has been fed (it should have a large belly, if it is mostly shriveled or sickly looking chances are that the kit has not been nursed and will probably die soon). Look for stray kits away from main nest. Sometimes a doe will make two nests. If this is found, consolidate them.It is important to
make sure that there is fur pulled from mamas belly.If there isn't, you must pull some. This will not hurt her. Make sure there are no babies on the wire, and if there are, slip them into your shirt up against your skin to warm them. Then return them to the nest. Each time you are in the rabbitry, watch for bunnies out of the nest box , sometimes a doe will jump out of the box with a bunny still attached.
Babies do not open there eyes immediately. On average it takes about ten days for the eyes to open. At about three weeks of age the youngsters will begin coming out of there nest box and begin eating normal foods. Once they are all out and eating it is ok to pull the nest box out and shortly thereafter the babies can be weaned.This generally takes place somewhere between 6 and 8 weeks of age. Does can be bred back at 5-6 weeks post delivery
however, i tend to always give animals no matter what they are a little extra time to recover from the birth and delivery processes.( Perhaps it is because i would not enjoy being pregnant again after 6 short weeks)
to wean simply remove the babies from moms cage and reduce her feed slightly over a few days to encourage her to "dry up".
Reproduction issues and troubles
Sometimes rabbits as in other animals have what is called a pseudo pregnancy, meaning it is a false pregnancy and only in the mind of the animal and thus the animal truly thinks she is pregnant. This happens when a young doe is sexually stimulated or has an infertile mating. She may appear to be bred, even to the point of producing milk and pulling fur to line her nest. Following stimulation, the doe releases egg cells, which cause the uterus to
swell, which, in turn, activates the mammary glands. Ovulation cannot take place until seventeen days after the initial stimulation which caused the pseudo pregnancy. After the seventeen days are up, put the doe (if she's to be bred) in with the buck, as this will be the point at which her fertility is highest. Once a doe has had her first litter, she is less likely to undergo another pseudo pregnancy.
Just like any other animal out there, sometimes things do not go as planned and we have a herd of baby bunnies without a mama to tend to them. If this happens and you have another doe that has just kindled ,rub the surrogate doe's nose in vanilla extract and put the bunnies in the nest. Usually, the doe will not notice anything amiss, but if she does, she may try to kill the bunnies or just refuse to feed them. If this happens, remove the bunnies immediately, and feed them by hand.
A recipe for "milk"
1 pint skim milk
2 egg yolks
2 tbsp Karo syrup
one tbsp bone meal
½ C. evaporated milk,
1 egg yolk,
1 Tbsp. corn syrup.
Feed this to the bunnies with an eyedropper until they are full (usually they eat 5-7 ccs). This is not an easy task and failure rate is often high unless you have experience in doing this.
On occasion a mother especially first timers may eat there babies or parts of them. Yes its gross and kind of nasty, but most often this can be attributed to bad nutrition or undue amounts of stress. If a young first time doe does this, it doesnt necessarily mean dinner for you. Rabbits are simply not as instinctual in raising families as say a dog or cat is. (although any animal will kill its young if it is deemed unfit for survival) . Sometimes they believe in there heads that wild animals are coming to get her out her hind
end and eat them as they are born much like afterbirth.. If this occurs with her first litter dont fret, just attmept the mating process again. This is generally a first birth occurrence. However if this happens a second time i would cull her and she would become stew.There is no reason to keep feeding something that is supposed to provide you food and doesnt..
Illnesses and other issues
Prevention is integral when raising any animals. Keeping good clean dry quarters and clean food and water etc should prevent most diseases from ever becoming an issue . Disinfection of animal living quarters and supplies is needed on a regular basis.Stress on any animal causes more sickness than any other one thing. Keep this in mind when dealing with any animal..The calmer you are and the surroundings the calmer your critters will be.
However we all know at times things do happen here is a good resource for medicating if the need arises.
Drug use should be kept at a minimum to keep drug-resistant organisms from developing.Very few drugs have actually been approved for use in rabbits, information on how to treat any given ailment is often oral tradition.
Record keeping is also important. Not only for identification purposes but to keep an idea on who has what illnesses, breeding records, performance records as well as other reasons. This doesnt mean you have to use a data based software system, a simple recipe or index card will do the trick ..