The Tail of Two Virgins, Part 2

My last blog was about trying to get two virgin rabbits bred to each other by using a next cage over rabbit mating exhibition to show them how making babies is done, and the difference when another virgin doe is bred to an experienced buck. If you missed this post, back up and read it before continuing since this is the results 30 days later!

If anyone ever tells you that breeding rabbits is easy and monotonous, they are liars of the worst sort, the type your grandma warned you about. I was asked at work a few weeks ago how many babies I thought the three does would have. I replied, “Anywhere from two to thirty.” One never knows with rabbits.

This past weekend all three of those does were to kindle, since breeding occurred all on the same day for them, so by Thursday we’d moved all the cages into Winter Quarters. On Friday I gave all the does a fruit Tums tablet in their food in case they needed extra calcium for delivery.

Saturday rolled around and I saw Mossy in pre-labor; she was fussy, so I gave her peace and quiet, a little dried willow for pain, and kept a general kept a low profile while in Winter Quarters. Mossy was pulling hair to the point where it look like another rabbit exploded in the cage, but she’d layered the nest box with bunches of hair. Nice nest, well lined so far, all things are going pretty good for her. Cinderella, the red doe, just sat there looking at me from her cage with a fearful look in her eye, watching Mossy on the tier below her just making a mess of her cage, like a neat sibling who has to share a bedroom with their messy sister.

Cinderella by her nest box
The casual observer to her cousin’s hair pulling antics the tier below.

The day progressed and nothing really happened, but there are a few days of leeway involved, so I figured the hormones had hit and now there was massive housekeeping to be done by Mossy who kept adding hair to the nest box. Cinderella just eyed the whole show and I think Rose, Mossy’s mom, was just laughing her head off at the crazy going on.

As I turned to leave, I noticed one very small clump of 15? 20? hairs by Cinderella’s feeder. I gave Cinderella the eye, looked at the nest box which was unremarkable, and decided to dig my hand into the nest, just in case. Oh my! Tucked away at the bottom of the box was a huge pile of kits!!! Cinderella had her babies and tucked them away so neatly you’d never know they were there! I gave Cinderella a lot of willow, sunflower seeds, and oats as standard postpartum rabbit dinner which she began to inhale. I then took the nest box from Cinderella’s cage to check the babies, determined there was a whole pile of them in there, but wouldn’t disturb them til tomorrow to count them out.

Before I went to work a few hours later, I checked on Mossy again and she was humped up in the nest box looking busy (yay!). Rose had made a nice nest in the straw but hadn’t pulled a single bit of fur, and then I noted that Cinderella had merely moved to the other side of the cage.

Doe in nest box
Mossy in her nest box while in labor.

Late that night/very early Sunday morning when I came home and checked on the rabbits, what I saw broke my heart. Mossy had delivered three babies on the wire, not in the nest, and they were definitely dead. Two broken colored kits and one of indeterminable color. They were big, as kits in a small litter can be, and I think that they’d died before birth, seeing how Mossy was having problems with delivering. The mere fact she’d delivered them on the wire and not in the nest box she set up is indicative of her first time mom status. (That is why it’s really important that multiple does be bred at the same time for fostering needs.) She was very protective of her dead babies, constantly checking on them, and wasn’t very pleased when I removed their remains. I gave her some more willow and sunflower seeds to distract her and cleaned up her cage. Mossy only had two other siblings, so I chalked it up to small litters running on her mother’s side of the family. Cinderella was still huddled in a corner of her cage and Rose was sprawled out like the loose woman she is. All was well enough for 2:30 am on a Sunday morning. I was going to bed.

Twelve hours later after sleep and church, I check on the rabbits again. I pulled Cinderella’s nest box to examine the babies to make sure they’d been fed. Right as I put my hand in the nest, a kit popped up and chomped down on my finger, which is a really bad sign. They hadn’t been fed yet and were coming up on almost a day old. Counting out those kits as they jumped around in hungry desperation was a challenge and there were TEN babies. One of them was really thin and runty and I worried about it since that one really needed to eat, pronto! No wonder Cinderella had a scared look–she’d had her babies spectacularly and camouflaged them expertly, but had no idea she needed to nurse them. Starting to panic, I checked Rose’s nest box since I needed her to potentially expertly foster some kits, and it was still empty. Rabbits only have 8 nipples and 10 kits are too many, particularly with a small weak kit involved.

So I was now in a really precarious position–I had one first time mother who done 95% of everything right but too many babies and didn’t know about nursing. I had another first time mother who’d done great making nests and pulling fur, but who’d lost all her babies and was still confused as to where her kits were and what to do next. My professional mother was running a day or so behind the others in kindling. So, divide and conquer was going to be the plan, with an eye on Rose in hopes that when she kindled, I could save some of these living kits from these first time moms.

I put five of the babies in a blanket on my lap and placed Cinderella over them, holding her gently and petting her in a relaxing way. I could tell the moment kits latched on because her eyes widened in surprise, but she let down her milk really quick and began to drowse on my lap. Those babies figured out nursing and chugged away, relieving Cinderella from what was a definite case of overfull boobies. I pulled the kits from under her, checking that they had full bellies (and the ones that didn’t got put back under her), and when they did, I transferred them to a secondary holding nest box.

With five more mouths to feed, I grabbed up Mossy, who I figured would have had her milk come in by then, and put her over the babies in the lap blanket. She was rather bewildered by these wriggly things under her, but three of the kits latched on and got a good feeding. Of the other two, one got an okay dinner, not as much as it’s siblings. The small weak one didn’t hardly get any after 30 more minutes of me trying all the ways I know to get a kit to nurse. That left just one option–extra formula feedings until it got it’s strength back. However, the clock showed I needed to leave for work in 15 minutes by then.

I salvaged what clean fur I could from Mossy’s cage and her prodigiously lined nest and put those last five babies in it, placing it in Mossy’s cage. Perhaps her mom’s brain would kick in when she saw wriggly live babies in her carefully prepared nest. She did go over and check the nest out, so that was a positive sign. I double checked Cinderella’s nest box and the five kit in there as I started to return it to her cage–and that’s when I noticed she hadn’t pulled hardly any fur for her nest and those first five babies weren’t going to be warm enough to digest the first dinner they’d just gotten.

It was enough to make me cry right there and I almost did. Except I didn’t because that would have gotten some fur in my eyes and I don’t cry and I don’t quit and THANK GOD I’D SAVED ALL THAT FUR THE RABBITS HAD BLOWN RIGHT BEFORE THEIR LAST SHOW IN OCTOBER (which I had gotten points docked for their bad coats). I had a pretzel bucket half full of red and black rabbit fur for just a scenario I now found myself in. I liberally applied this fur to the nest, covered the babies in it, and left Cinderella staring into that crazy multi-colored baby bed. I hoped she wouldn’t tear it (and the babies) apart while I was gone since that had liberal amounts of Mini Rex buck fur in it. I had to leave since work pays the rabbit feed bill and whatever happened would happen.

When I came back from work five hours later at 2:30am Monday morning, I saw dead babies lying on the wire of Mossy’s cage. Had she accidentally killed the foster babies? Taking a closer look, I see it is NOT the fosters from Cinderella, but two more dead kits that had been retained by Mossy. One was a large red kit and I think the other was a broken red. I am upset since I no longer have Coppertop, the virgin buck I bred her to last month, so that rabbit genetics experiment failed. I am relieved, since I’m sure that the hormones from nursing the kits earlier in the day had helped expel the last remaining stuck kits. Mossy could have died of sepsis from retained kits or become sterile, neither situation I want. She was much calmer and ate her willow and sunflower seeds with gusto, only slightly boxing at me when I remove the dead kits from her cage and clean it for the second time in 24 hours. Everything looked alright, I was very tired from work, anything else could wait til the morning. Rose has still not delivered any kits, so there goes my fostering plan with her.

This blog post is going to end soon, right? Not yet. It’s only Monday afternoon, 48 hours after the kits started to arrive.

Monday early afternoon. I pull both boxes and check on the kits–Cinderella has fed her babies hours ago and covered them over, marking the end of needing to guide her way into motherhood. Mossy’s nest box has hungry, unfed kits in it. Switching it up again, I put these hungry kits in the blanket on my lap and use Cinderella to feed them, since her milk has come in. They feed in a few minutes, except for two of the smallest kits, even after flipping the doe. That means I need to make kit formula up when I go in the house. Cinderella’s fed kits I put to Mossy, whose milk amount is just so-so, but that is okay since those kits ate earlier in the day and they are professional eaters at this point! Nursing takes less time than on Sunday. When they are finished, I take the two hungriest kits into the house with me and make up the goat’s milk formula, which I managed to spill half of during preparation, and am truly grateful that my husband found the spare bag of frozen goat milk cubes in the freezer. (Love you, honey! Can you tell it’s been a crazy rabbit weekend?) Formula finally concocted and warmed up, my daughter and I sit down to feed the two kits, which the stronger of the two chugs. I can barely get any down the starving one, so I don’t think it’ll survive another day, but I leave it with Cinderella since she’s actually feeding her kits. Give life a chance, right? After that I went to my herb garden and harvested fresh growing parsley, which promotes milk production, and give it to all does, including Rose, who hasn’t kindled yet. Time to go to work.

Tuesday, November 21. Cinderella’s brood doing ok, everyone is still living. She has added freshly pulled fur to her nest to accommodate the colder night. Mossy’s bunch need to eat, but when I blanket nurse those kits, their bellies are HUGE. The parsley has done its job.

Wednesday, November 22. Spent the day with the kids and checked on the rabbits late in the eve. The small hungry one, left with Cinderella in hopes of attaining life, has died. That leaves nine kits between the two moms and Rose is not pregnant at all.

So what could have been 30 or more kits from three different bucks has turned into 9 kits from one buck. Since Mossy is being a surrogate mom to her half-siblings, I won’t re-breed her, but may breed Rose back to Hammer. I’ve been inquiring from the local 30 year Red breeder for a new buck for the next generation, and eventually it will be Mossy’s beaux. I had pinned so many hopes on this trifecta of does and now I must re-figure my plans and priorities for the spring.

For those who are breeding rabbits for their homestead or farm, be aware that you may be needed to manage inexperienced does (and bucks)! http://www.rabbittalk.com is a great website with tons of information regarding all that can and does go awry in a breeding operation with plenty of active members to assist with questions. Your planned kits do not have to be inadvertant fatal statistics!

Ah, those rabbits! I don’t think I’d do this if it were boring!!!

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