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Category Archives: Health

Researching Raising Rabbits

More and more we are contacted by people who are interested in beginning their rabbit raising adventures! This is a huge kick for us, as we have found raising rabbits to be affordable, entertaining, and nutritious!

 

There are a few basic resources we recommend to anyone getting started in rabbits; ways to research the breeds and learn best practices from those who have been there, done that. Here are our favorites:

 

This is a first stop resource for beginning rabbit breeders.

This is a first stop resource for beginning rabbit breeders.

Read Storey’s Guide to Raising Rabbits by Bob Bennett from cover to cover. This is a great resource! We found our copy at CalRanch but it’s also available on Amazon. His perspective helped us decide what design to use for our rabbit hutches, and gave us practical information on basic rabbit husbandry items. While it doesn’t go into great detail about every single aspect of rabbits, it does provide plenty of information to get you started well and understand what you’re doing and how to purchase your initial stock.

 

A subscription to the Domestic Rabbits magazine comes with your ARBA membership.

A subscription to the Domestic Rabbits magazine comes with your ARBA membership.

Join ARBA (the American Rabbit Breeders Association). Not only will being a member of ARBA give you access to their publication, Raising Better Rabbits and Cavies, you will also receive the Domestic Rabbit magazine! Every issue provides articles, district reports, veterinarian tips, and listings of individual rabbit raisers who are setting the bar high. This is a great resource for finding breeders who are showing, registering, and granding their rabbits – find the people who are serious about their rabbitry and you’ll find people who will help you get started well. The articles are top notch and relevant.

 

The ARBA Standard of Perfection gives the details of each breed.

The ARBA Standard of Perfection gives the details of each breed.

Purchase the Standard of Perfection. This is an ARBA publication that is invaluable to the new breeder. The SOP has vocabulary and definitions of different rabbit body parts, diseases, breeds, etc. Each recognized breed is listed in the SOP along with the expectations for weights and how the rabbit should look. If you want to raise rabbits that promote the breed well – and be reputable, you need to know what’s in the Standard of Perfection.

 

Rabbit Production is a comprehensive manual and excellent resource.

Rabbit Production is a comprehensive manual and excellent resource.

Consider Rabbit Production. Once you’ve fallen in love with rabbit breeding and you’re looking for a much more detailed explanation of best practices, diseases, etc., you will want to spring for Rabbit Production. This comprehensive guide is amazing in its scope! It’s a true asset to have in your library, although it does run on the pricier side.

 

Domestic Rabbits and Their Histories can give you great insight into the work needed to establish rabbit breeds.

Domestic Rabbits and Their Histories can give you great insight into the work needed to establish rabbit breeds.

Learn the History. Each of the breeds recognized by ARBA has a long and interesting history. While you might be most interested in your specific breed, it’s still interesting to learn the stories of how breeds came to be. The book, Domestic Rabbits and Their Histories by Bob Whitman is a beautiful book with really interesting stories. While it may not be on your “urgent” purchases, it’s definitely worth the read as you become more knowledgable about rabbits in general.

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When do Rabbits Give Birth?

Babies bunnies are just as unpredictable as human babies in their arrival times!

Babies bunnies are just as unpredictable as human babies in their arrival times!

It’s day 31 and we’re waiting on four litters to be born. And, of course, there’s a storm front moving in, which makes checking for new babies an hourly event!

 

All of this baby-waiting brought a question to mind, “How do we know when a mama rabbit is going to pop?!”

 

The easy but unsatisfying answer is that we just don’t know. Rabbits in general will have a month-long gestation period. I have noticed that our larger breed rabbits will frequently have a 34 day gestation period (which is totally normal for them but completely irritating to us, as we’re anxious to meet those new babies!)

 

We’ve come to terms with the realization that it might be anywhere from 31-35 days of gestation and still be considered normal, but I’ve become a little bit bitter over the fact that I can almost guarantee if there is a storm or cold weather that could endanger the lives of newborn, naked kits… those mamas will give birth around 2 am!

 

There are a few clues we’ve noticed in our rabbits regarding their birthing tendencies:

 

  • Over the past several years I’ve made note of what time of day the initial breeding takes place. We have a fairly consistent pattern that our mama will give birth two-to–four hours after the initial breeding. It could be coincidence, but we typically breed our rabbits in the afternoon and almost always have babies born around dusk.
  • Our mamas will usually go off food in the 24 hours prior to giving birth.
  • If a doe poops in her nestbox she usually isn’t pregnant.
  • When our does are in labor they usually hold their ears at a slightly different angle and their eyes are unfocused. If they were humans I’d describe it as a look that says, “I’m a little concerned about this… and I’m concentrating on my body right now… and I’m doing what I know I’m meant to do.”
  • The vast majority of our does don’t start pulling hair until less than an hour before they give birth.

 

All of this is unproven and based on our observations, but our experience is that baby rabbits are almost never born in the middle of the day. Perhaps because they are more active at night, maybe because we tend to breed in the afternoons, but it seems that the rabbits will give birth at dusk or dawn. (The “earthy” part of me wonders if this has anything to do with the gravitational pull of the moon… but I honestly have no idea and haven’t kept strong enough records to be able to back this suspicion up scientifically.)

 

Most of our does are very predictable and pull tons of hair from their dewlaps and tummies; we can trust them to take excellent care of their babies outside even when the temperatures drop to the high teens. Between the shared body warmth of the litter and the insulating factor of the rabbit hair and hay, they can have quite a cozy little nest with temperatures in the 80s in the hole!

 

However, our first time mamas don’t get any free passes! If we have an unproven doe about to give birth and we have freezing weather we check the cages about every hour all night long to make sure those babies aren’t frozen just in case they’re born on the wire.

 

Now, back to baby watch… hoping for some new little munchkins by tomorrow morning!

The Rabbit With No Ears and Big Teeth

It was a rough day around the rabbitry for No Ears.

 

If you’ve been following our blog for awhile, you’ll remember that back in February we had a litter of Cinnamon born where their first-time mother got over zealous in her cleaning at birth and ate the ears of several of her kits! Most were damaged only a little bit, but one poor rabbit had his ears bitten right down to the ear base.

 

No Ears' baby photo. He's ... the one with no ears.

No Ears’ baby photo. He’s … the one with no ears.

 

This little buddy has been known as “No Ears” since then. I wasn’t sure he’d make it through the summer, as rabbit ears are important for a rabbits body temperature regulation and our rabbitry is outside in Arizona! (It’s a mountain town but it can still get hot here!) He made it through the summer just fine but this afternoon… he’s hit a spot he probably won’t make it through.

 

We have children here. Our children get rabbits out and play with them almost every day. Our rabbits are loved, harrassed, and spend time hanging out on a trampoline with kiddos regularly.

 

When you have children and animals, there’s a special level of kindness necessary on the part of both the children and the animal. We think of it kind of like this – the children have to treat the animals in a way that will engender trust… and the animals have to not bite the children.

 

We’ve only had two biters around here and both found their way to the slow cooker almost immediately. Today, No Ears made the unfortunate choice of unleashing his teeth on my arm.

 

At this moment, he’s still breathing, but he signed his death warrant with that decision. Some might say we’re harsh to have such  black & white stance on the subject, especially since No Ears is the last of his line and has a pretty nice body type. I’m tempted to breed him before he hits the road… but we’re also firm believers that personality is a genetic trait as much as body type.

 

No Ears is a satinized Cinnamon, which I was looking to use to work with a torted Satin project. This photo was taken just minutes before "the incident."

No Ears is a satinized Cinnamon, which I was looking to use to work with a torted Satin project. This photo was taken just minutes before “the incident.”

No Ears has proven his mama was a biter and he’s a biter – I’m a little concerned about any animals produced out of him and their demeanor.

 

Do any of you have experience with this? Can you confirm or deny the biting tendency and whether it is passed down from generation to generation?

 

Feed Changes and Such

This summer has brought a few changes about in our rabbitry. I thought it might be interesting to give a “state of affairs” of the rabbitry.

 

We finished our permanent area and now have a set number of holes to work with, with the cages we prefer! This is several years in the making, so we’re pretty excited. We have upgraded our spaces so every single rabbit has a space larger than the recommended size for their weight.

 

We have used several different cage manufacturers. The majority of our cages are made by KW Cages. We find them easy to clean, sturdy, and I particularly like their door latching system. However, we also have several cages made by Klubertanz. Our Blanc de Hotot seem to have a streak of magic in them – they can be serious little escape artists! For awhile we simply put a carabiner on their door to keep them put, but we’ve learned that the Klubertanz latch system can defy even the most determined rabbit Houdini!

 

Earlier this summer we ran into a bad batch of food, which wiped out many of our rabbits. It was an incredibly painful experience for us. We buy our food in bulk and have used it successfully, so suspecting our food was not our first choice and we had a significant amount of finances invested in food NOT being the issue. In fact, I see so many posts on facebook blaming food for gut issues (that aren’t gut issues!) that I put a food change at the bottom of the list of possible problems.

 

We tried many different treatment options before making a switch but the very day we switched food — I mean, within an hour! — there was a noticeable difference in the atmosphere of the rabbitry and, from that moment forward, we’ve had no problems! We have watched for several weeks since then and have had no issues at all – as my friend told me, “You’ve experienced the pain of natural selection based on a hearty gastrointestinal tract.” Sigh. The good news is that we now can assume our remaining rabbits have stomachs of steel!

 

I am not a veterinarian and cannot promise results to anyone else, but here is the formula of what we did. We switched to Manna Pro feed, Pro formula, and also administered Rabbit Nutri-Drops via their water.

We switched to Manna Pro, Pro formula this summer.

We switched to Manna Pro, Pro formula this summer.

Rabbit NutriDrops

Rabbit NutriDrops

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This combination had immediate results for our rabbits! We will stick with Manna Pro food for the foreseeable future, although we will only use NutriDrops in specific situations.

 

The NutriDrops came from a longtime breeder in the MidWest. He shared that he hasn’t lost a kit at weaning since he started giving them NutriDrops. It’s used by others as a stress fighter for shows. We simply put it in their water at home for three days. It smells exactly like the Poli-Vi-Sol vitamins that I have given my children when they are too young to have a chewable multi-vitamin. I can’t say the rabbits looked forward to drinking it… but it certainly perked them up!

 

The food issue hit our nursing mothers very hard. We had huge litters this summer in general – I need to double check if that had to do with moon breeding – but we had to do a lot of fostering in the end. Several of our rabbits had litters of 10+ babies when it was all said and done… and they raised them! Those mamas are getting a break from breeding for awhile, but we supplemented their food with Calf Manna while they were nursing.

 

 

Our rabbits LOVE Calf Manna!

Our rabbits LOVE Calf Manna!

 

Now, this is something the rabbits went crazy about! One mama actually knocked the cup out of my hand she was so eager to get to her Calf Manna! Calf Manna isn’t a supplement you’d want to use regularly, but it is useful for nursing does, weaning babies, and animals that need a little perking up.

 

We also fed hay until the world looked level! Our rabbits are very full of fiber… and they really seem to like it that way! I’ve discovered our Timothy hay has a different look depending on the time of year – it’s been fascinating to learn about the farming processes that go in to feed and hay and such!

 

We cannot express how grateful we are for the breeders who helped us do the sleuth work of figuring out what was going on! I researched rabbit gut issues probably close to a hundred hours without any success – and then a simple conversation with a breeder who has been in rabbits for decades solved the problem overnight. I truly regret not talking to a human being much sooner, as the internet (facebook included!) is not as useful as a real, live person. Having a rabbit community is so important!

 

We’re a few months out from the changes and I can confidently say our rabbits are doing great! They are thriving… and we’re learned another lesson for our rabbit tool bag!

 

Now… what will the fall bring us?!

Using Essential Oils on Your Bunny

So… we’re slowly becoming an “oily” family. We’ve been doing research on Essential Oils, the different companies, and how they work. We haven’t committed to any particular brand or theme as we go about our lives, but every night the kids get their “mellow mix” essential oil on their wrists and we use a mix of tea tree, lavender and chamomile on rabbit scratches all the time. Takes the sting out right away!

 

Because we’re so interested in this right now, I was super excited to see these infographics released! I have heard they need to be read carefully (for example, frankincense is allegedly poisonous to rabbits!). Here’s the upshot, this is not an endorsement of any particular essential oils company. Double check with an expert before you use any essential oils on your animals.

 

And… here they are! The infographics!

 

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Six Questions to Ask Before Starting Your Rabbitry

rabbit-are-you-aceo

Sometimes you just need to know how to begin!

I had a great conversation tonight with a friend who is seriously considering raising rabbits. We went around and around about what type of rabbits he should get, what supplies he needed before his initial purchase, what his rabbitry goals would be. The reality is that we can’t answer any of these questions for him – he needs to spend time thinking about what will be the best fit for his purposes. However, we can ask him some questions to get his creative juices going… here are the few he left tonight pondering:

 

1. How many? The number of rabbits you choose as an initial investment depends on your purposes for your rabbitry. If you are looking to show, you’ll likely want to consider three does and two bucks per breed. You’ll want some options for genetic strength, plus it’s not as much fun to take a single rabbit to a show. Set yourself up for success by giving yourself some options.

If you are specifically breeding for meat, a trio of two does and a buck will be a strong start, even closely related rabbits would be fine to start as long as you have a plan for infusing new blood sometime in the next year or so. Ask yourself how often you’re hoping to have rabbit on the menu? How many mouths are you feeding?

 

2. What’s your Budget? Your purposes for your rabbitry must inform your anticipated budget.

Are you planning to keep rabbits only for your own consumption? Then an unpedigreed meat mutt might be a good start as they are typically as much as 50% cheaper in initial investment. The downside to an unpedigreed rabbit is you don’t have an idea of the size or colors in the background of the rabbit – of course, if your main goal is for meat… those are considerations that really don’t matter! In this area meat rabbits are sold for around $25 per rabbit (I’ve heard people quote a range from $5 to $35 for a meat mutt around the country).

Are you hoping to sell the babies of your rabbits to offset other rabbitry expenses? Then you’d better be willing to spend a little more for a pedigreed rabbit as your initial purpose – a registered rabbit is even better if you can find one. The pedigreed rabbits I’ve seen advertised are anywhere from $45 to $150+ per rabbit, depending on your lines, the show worthiness, proven or unproven, registered, etc.

Obviously, with that much of a price range, it makes sense to consider your intended outcomes before you make your first stock purchases. I will suggest to purchase the best quality rabbit you can find in your price range. Don’t go simply off of slick websites or advertisements, instead contact several breeders and ask for recommendations.

Facebook is a good way to connect with other rabbit breeders, although be cautious – sometimes the people who post the most and sound the most knowledgable are the same ones you should avoid at all costs. Particularly on Facebook, once you’re in the group for your rabbit breed, spend time reading through the archives of comments and posts. Over time you’ll get a sense of those breeders who have a similar value system to your own… contact them and see what can come from that!

 

3. What will you Feed? Are you planning on feeding your rabbits pellets or letting them range and eat grasses? A smart buyer will purchase their initial stock from a breeder who is set up similar to what they want to do.

We feed pellets and hay and can give someone a pretty good idea of what weights to expect at which ages in our lines. However, if someone took our rabbit and switched it on to a fodder system I can almost guarantee it would not hit the same weight gains in the same period of time. If someone approaches us wanting meat rabbits for fodder I’m going to encourage them to check in with a few other breeders as our rabbits will likely not perform as well for them. (The caveat to this is that it only takes a few generations of careful culling to transition a rabbit from the desired growth rates on fodder. So the question is how long you’re willing to wait!)

 

4. Where will they be Housed? Similar to the advice on feed, consider whether the rabbits will have a similar environment to what they have been used to when they come to your home. Our rabbits are outdoors 100% of the time – and they don’t all transition with excellence to an indoor garage rabbitry! On the other hand, we’ve purchased rabbits coming from a garage rabbitry and there’s been a significant adjustment season for them to enjoy life in their new outdoor space with a view!

On the same lines, consider temperatures. A rabbit used to Phoenix temperatures will likely not fare very well in, say, Minnesota if it goes to it’s new home in January! Try to either purchase your stock from a rabbitry in a similar climate to your own or in a “shoulder season” so the rabbit has time to transition to the new season with as little stress as possible.

 

5. What breed? Do you want a 13+ lbs Flemish Giant rabbit? Is a mini Satin going to be just the right fit on your lap for a snuggle? When you look at your rabbitry, which rabbit is going to take your breath away just by looking at it? Start browsing photos of the different rabbit breeds. Educate yourself on the pros and cons of each breed – they all have both!

Ask yourself again what your goals are for your rabbitry, and what gives you joy. There is a great deal of poop cleaning, water bottle scrubbing, consistent feeding, etc. necessary to care for your rabbit – so whatever you do, get a breed you enjoy watching move! Learn about their personalities and make an educated decision. Genuine pleasure in being around the animal makes the endless hours of husbandry less daunting.

 

6. What breeder? Do you want a simple transactional purchase of livestock? Do you want to develop a relationship with a breeder? Do you want someone you can contact months after the sale and ask questions about raising your animals? What is the breeder’s philosophy about rabbit raising? Take your time in selecting a breeder.

Some people will be attractive to you right off the bat and you just know they’re the right fit for your first rabbit purchase. Others are the exact opposite and you’ll know you don’t want to work with them right away. Occasionally you’ll work with someone you don’t particularly like because you’re terribly interested in their specific stock!

Challenge yourself to think through some of these questions as you start your search so that you’ll recognize a good fit for a breeder quickly.

 

Finally,

Relax! Regardless of anything else, relax! It’s a rabbit! We’re over the top crazy about these little critters, but they still are just that… critters! There is not a thing in this hobby/lifestyle that can’t be adjusted or fixed, so try not to freak yourself out with all the options. Just relax, have fun, and be intentional about your rabbitry!

Natural Fly Repellent

It's the FlyFlySwat!

It’s the FlyFlySwat!

It’s starting to look like summer has arrived and with it… the flies.

 

An absolute fact of animal husbandry is that flies are attracted to animals, specifically to their poop! We do our best to keep the bunny berries to a minimum under the cages around here, but the reality is that as soon as the weather starts to warm up, we start to see unwelcome visitors in the air all around the rabbitry.

 

Last summer we used the fly-catcher gallons of water, 2 liter bottle tricks. We were able to get these at our local feed store and —based on the fact the bottles were filled with dead fly bodies — they work.

 

They also smell. Decomposing fly bodies is not my favorite scent in a season where we’re already battling so many other… succulent… scents.

 

So, while we will likely be hanging fly strips around and utilizing the stinky bottles as fly catchers, we decided to also plant mint around the bases of all of our hutches. I’m sincerely hoping this natural fly deterrent will cut down on the winged pests around here as well as release a pleasing scent as we walk by and brush it.

 

We chose to plant at the bases of the hutches because that also gives the mint access to the yummy nutrients the rabbit poop provides for soil. (Did you read about the benefits of using bunny berries in your garden? They’re phenomenal!) We’ll be able to water the plants as we water the rabbits, stir up the scent as we brush by, and hopefully! see less flies in the air.

 

Mint isn’t the only natural fly repellent and we’ll be planting these others (especially the basil!) around our backyard to see if we can get more traction on a fly-free environment!

 

Natural Fly Repellents:

  • Basil
  • Bay Leaf
  • Cedar
  • Citronella
  • Citrus
  • Cloves
  • Cucumber Peelings
  • Essential Oils
  • Lavender
  • Mint
  • Oranges that have been Juiced and Salted
  • Peppermint
  • Pine
  • Rosemary
  • Sweet Woodruff
  • Tansy
  • Vanilla Air Fresheners

I also found this link helpful, as it breaks down the different types of pests and how you can combat them naturally: http://eartheasy.com/live_natpest_control.htm

This article gives practical examples of how to use these herbs around your house as repellents: http://home.howstuffworks.com/green-living/herbs-deter-flies-naturally.htm

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