What have we here? Babies of course but some of you might still be wondering what kind. Well, my latest adventure in self-sufficiency, is rabbits of course. What can we most efficiently raise on our new small acreage has been on my mind. I inherited a buck and doe from the grandkids last fall. Mom thought the rabbits would teach the kids responsibly but since mom took no real interest in the rabbits the kids did not. Funny how those same kids who refused to do rabbit chores for mom have no problem doing them for me. There is a lesson there. The rabbits are not the teacher, they are the tool with which the lesson can be taught but if the teacher, a.k.a. mom, is playing hooky, the lesson will not be learned and the kids will not feel it is worth their time either.
I kept the rabbits for about 6 months and learned a thing or two about feeding them. What they can and can't eat and what is good for them but only in moderation. Then I decided that I kind of liked the rabbits though they weren't as friendly as I'd like. In other words they weren't following me everywhere like all the other animals do and could not be ordered here and there by pointing my arms.
I have a rule, " All animals have to have a function, no free loading pets. We have too many to feed and funds are low. All our animals are pet friendly anyway so we get the companionship others get with their pets only in larger numbers.
By summer I figured I had better get rid of them or start breeding them and produce meat for the table. My daughter had bred the rabbits twice but was scarce on information. I had little time to study but plunged right in. Mistake number 1, you do not put a buck in the does pen even though he is 10 times friendlier and easier to handle than the doe. It worked out okay but does are territorial and bucks not so much. I hear some does have beaten up a buck pretty badly over the issue. The facts are bucks are far too interested in one thing to be worried about territory. Yes, you women reading this know what I'm talking about. "Men have one thing on their minds!" I heard it from my mother and you probably heard it from yours. In the animal kingdom it is oh so true.
Second mistake, I took some poor advice on the gestation and did not check the nest until a week too late. One kit remained and it died.
Next breeding I had a little more knowledge and skipped using the cage where she had her babies in a walled off area. It was just too hard to check the babies and settled on a wire cage with a plastic tub for a nest. Oreo, our sole doe, had 8 and 4 died. 50% survival rate wasn't making me smile. Oreo was in excellent condition after weaning the 4 so thinking maybe I might of done something wrong or it was just the luck of the draw, I rebred her in a few weeks. You know, practice, practice until you get it right.
Weather being warm later than usual this fall I took my chances. We were fixing up a new chicken coop with insulation and electricity and I planned on putting the double cage in there anyway. Our original plan is for open wire cages off the ground up 3 cages high on each side of the door leaving the ground underneath for the chickens. There is plenty of room left for a roost and nests with this plan. I have read that this can work out nicely.
We can also let the rabbits out once in a while in the coop to run around as long as the door is shut. That is we can let Whitey, the buck, out since he is tame but unfortunately not the doe, Oreo. This plan we hope will allow us to kindle earlier and later in the fall. I will also set up cages meant for outdoors in an area of the garden. All those babies have to go somewhere. We will build an outdoor tractor enclosure next summer to allow the rabbits outdoor grazing time.
I know a gentleman where we use to live that has a barn of rabbits with heat and electricity and that is their main source of meat. He feeds mainly rabbit food from the store. He uses an air conditioner in summer and heat in the winter so many of my questions he probably won't be able to answer. I want to skip the use of heat and electricity for the most part and cut down on the amount of store rabbit food I buy. Air conditioning and heat allows you to kindle more months of the year but increases costs. I want to figure out a way to do this when TSHTF time comes.We live where winter lasts a lo.....ng time and so how many months can I kindle without too big of a risk? I would love to know. If any of you raise rabbits for me I would really, really like to talk with you especially if you live up north and are doing it like I have in mind. I have so...... many questions.
I have heard of people taking in their kittens at night when the temperatures are lowest and putting them back with mom in the daytime for her to feed. She only nurses them once or twice a day at most. This has to be with a tame rabbit though. This problem I am resolving with keeping 2 of the 4 kits which are all does. I handle them almost daily to make sure they are friendly and more manageable. With Oreo, our doe you make sure when handling you have a long sleeve shirt on and gloves.
Taking the babies indoors is an options but I want to keep the kittens with the doe as long as possible. This is where my brain is going right now. The addition of chickens at night will increase the temperature level. The cover I built for the 1 double cage set up when we had it outside upped the temperature considerably inside the cages but was a bit of a pain to put on in the wind. It was made out of old plastic feed sacks and a sheet of clear plastic for light in the front. The new one would have to open in the front and not slide on from the top like the last one and there lies the major part of the thought process on how to make it work.
I need something like this also for my grow light set up in the house too so one of these days I will get to experimenting.
Oreo's last litter a week and a half ago had 10 babies. I guess the old advice of putting your females on the gain just before breeding applies to rabbits also. It ups the number of offspring. Ten is probably too many kits for 1 doe to feed but Oreo refused to drink after she kindled. I tried a different water bottle - still she refused. I tried sugar water but to no avail. She would not drink more than a tiny bit. After a few days she had lost four kits and it was obvious she had also lost her milk as the remaining kits were thin. It was desperate time. I tried feeding the kits goat's milk twice a day while leaving them with Oreo but they were still going downhill.
I brought them in and put them in a plastic container with a plant starter pad underneath. It ups the ambient temperature by 10 to 20 degrees giving a little heat but not a lot like a heating pad. Even at 4 times a day feedings, they still were not putting on the weight they should and I lost the 2 weakest. I added an egg yolk and the kits began to gain weight. I feed 3 times a day but there is always 1 or 2 that don't eat much. I catch them on the next feeding where they eat a great deal more. They are growing nicely and today their eyes are starting to open. It is a couple days later than normal so I guess they are a bit behind. Maybe they were even born prematurely. Having 10 could do that.
One of the 4, the 1 pictured, has 3 legs that are goofy now. It is like baby chicks when they are piled on top of each other and 1 gets its leg bent wrong and there after it springs out crooked from its body. Normally they die. This little kit just keeps growing and is doing fine health wise but I fear he will be lost too.
Needless to say Oreo will soon be in the freezer as her performance is dismal for a meat rabbit. I have been studying conformation also and she pinches in the hips and V's outward from the shoulders to the hips, 2 no, no's. Whitey looks pretty good over all. See that nice rounded appearance? He is also quite even in width between his shoulders and hips. He is pictured here and is super sweet.
These 2 are the best of the 4 born to the second batch this summer. One in particular I like the confirmation on and is the friendliest by chance too. The dark rabbits gained weight faster than the broken (spotted) ones, and are thicker all over.
These 2 are going to teach me about meat rabbit flavor. They look like their mom in confirmation.
I am tempted to keep the all white kit I am eye dropper feeding. I believe it is a she and I kind of like her. She is built the thickest and is more rectangular than the other kits. She is the friendliest too.
So rabbit people pour on the advice. I am sourly in need of it.