7-21-2006 Breeding Like Rabbits

breeding like rabbits! (a little graphic)
Argh! Last month, while getting ready for the scheduled kindling (giving birth) of one of our does (female rabbits), one of the young does still in the cage with her dam and sibs had apparently become “old enough”- because she gave birth. Guess we left her in with her brothers too long. So we quickly removed mother and sibs to the main RRE (Rabbits-ready-to-eat) cage so she could have a cage alone with her kids. To our relief, when the scheduled rabbit kindled- she only had two kits. Two HUGE kits- they were born at nearly the same size as the 5 day olds in the other does cage. So we weren’t ahead. I told my self I should remember to eat the RREs soon- but roofing chaos ensued, and I never felt I had time to do butchering.
Fast forward to Wednesday, and Kat and I were getting the few herbs I’d bought this year into the garden, and I sent her to the RRE cage with the weeds we’d pulled to make room. She came back to report that it had happened again! Apparently as soon as we put them together we had mating pairs- I guess before they’d been all bucks or all does- I hadn’t checked because I was planning to eat them soon. So suddenly we had the same scramble to find nesting boxes again. This time the answer was easy- butcher out the others and leave her the cage with the surviving kits- having a bunch of other adults in the cage, and no nesting box, some of kits had died. I collected about 8 warm wiggly ones, and tucked another four or so cold ones under the bushes for the local fauna to take care of. The live ones I put temporarily in the house in an old cage the bottom had rusted out on we found in the cellar, while I “emptied the other cage”. I put the rabbit who seemed most stressed and had observable nipples in with them. She was exhibiting “nesting” behavior- a broom was within reach of the cage and she was trying to pull straws from it. (If you toss a handful of hay into the cage with a doe about to kindle, she tries to pick it all up in her mouth rather than eating it.) so I figured we’d gotten the right rabbit. (None of them was hovering protectively over the babies. Making a nest is apparently instinctive, sitting on the babies isn’t.
Found a rabbit with a penis, killed him, then I was grabbing another when Kat and I simultaneously noticed this one had red around her tail- a good sign that she was the one who’d just given birth- so we set her aside too. The last rabbit definitely was male, so off with his head too. Now we have two possible mothers (so that’s why there were so many) and which babies belong with which? I’d put them all in one pile, so we just put the bottom on the other cage, built another nesting box (cage floors and nesting boxes have wire with quarter inch holes, cages walls and tops have one inch by two inch holes- which is fine for big rabbits, but newborns will wiggle right through. They may have no hair, have their eyes shut, and be pretty ugly, but boy can those suckers move! That’s why we need the boxes.
Two hours later, I divided the kits randomly between the two boxes of hay, and put one in each cage with a doe- and hoped they’d accept whichever they got. Usually you get the nesting boxes in a day in advance and they line them with fur pulled from their own chests. I’d noticed a lot of fur in the RRE cage, but figured they were shedding because of the heat. While they were in the old cage together, the nester did something I’d never seen before- she kept grabbing fur from the other does ruff. At one point she pulled her about a foot across the floor by her fur. Maybe that’s why every doe gets her own cage.
In the morning I went out to discover if they’d actually had the right instincts to nurse the babies during the night, and they were alive. The one with the brown spots had pulled a trifle more fur, but the kits had all wiggled away from it to the edge of the box. It was like last month when all the bald little kits got to the edge of the box and lined up along the wire where the fan could play over them. Of course, we don’t have a fan outside as we do in the barn, but they get natural breeze.
I guess it was warm enough even for newborns. Luckily. Because, in the other cage the nester had taken every piece of straw out of the box and built a nest in the back of the cage- very well lined with her own fur. I reached in to check, and yes, there was a batch of 7-8 MORE rabbits in her nest. This had left the kits I’d left in her care, naked on the floor of the wire cage. All of them were still alive, so I put them in with the other doe- and hope for the best. Last night it was cooler and they were all burrowed into the hay, so I didn’t do a body count. (This morning 7 live kits per cage)
Usually I plan to breed one doe every other six weeks, so we get 8-12 rabbits to eat over that period, one or two a week. With this vollunteer birthing, if they do manage to survive, looks like I will have to plan a way to get rid of about 12-16 around the end of October. Shema had suggested that they would be interested in a class in butchering and it might be more appropriate around Samhain. Maybe we can schedule one then- I can show everyone on one, then give each person his or her own rabbit to try it on while I walk around and advise. Then we can eat them all for the feast. Rabbit pie, rabbit stew, roast rabbit… it could work.
If not, I guess I’m looking at a marathon rabbit butchering and a freezer full, which wouldn’t really be bad either.
Sigh- it’s never dull around here.

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