Tag Archives: pregnancy

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!

When Your Rabbit Won’t Use a Nestbox

We stuffed the rabbit cages full of hay (like this) and let the mama build a nest.

We stuffed the rabbit cages full of hay (like this) and let the mama build a nest.

We’ve been busy this week at Mad Hatter Rabbits! Lots of new babies to first-time mamas.

 

Though we’ve had some great success stories, it hasn’t been without its stress. In particular I had two first-time mamas who were absolutely determined to build their nests outside of the nest box.

 

I sanitized the boxes in case they smelled like another rabbit and turned my mamas off, lined them with fresh hay, had a serious sit down talk with the rabbits and explained that in this weather, with temperatures dipping down into the teens at night, having babies outside the box simply won’t do. They’ll freeze!

 

My mamas didn’t care. They did not want to build their nest in the box.

 

Short of setting up a 24 hour watch outside their cage I wasn’t sure what to do about it. I consulted my Facebook group experts and decided to stuff the entire cages full of hay. This resulted in a big ‘ol mess but also a layer about 4 inches thick that the were able to us as burrows.

 

In my financial mind, an entire 3 string bale of hay is less than the price of one of those baby rabbits if we sold it. The mess is not fun to clean up in any way, but at least I’d have a little window of opportunity to catch the babies before they froze.

 

Mama rabbits were pleased as punch at the addition in their cages! They built their nests and I began my 45-minute interval check ups. (Switched to 20-minutes once I saw the mamas pulling hair.)

 

The first babies were born after midnight. The last doe delivered at 2 a.m.

 

Of course.

 

I do love my coffee for a reason!

 

Once they were born I plucked those little ones up and tucked them with their mama’s fur up into their nestboxes and brought them inside.

 

(Bringing the nestboxes inside is a controversial move. Some breeders say the shock between inside temperature and outside temperature is not safe for the babies. We’ve left babies outside and we’ve brought them back and forth. Can’t say which method we prefer yet.)

 

The next morning I took the nestboxes out to their mamas for feeding. The ones who had their babies in the nestboxes to begin with hopped right inside and fed those babies. The mamas who were determined to have their babies outside the nestbox… stayed outside.

 

Hungry babies.

 

Repeat at dusk.

 

I was beginning to get worried and wondered if I needed to foster the kits from the litters with mamas who wouldn’t feed. Since mama rabbits only feed once or twice a day and it can take as long as a day for their milk to come in, I knew we had sometime to play with… but not too much time. By 36 hours post-birth those babies needed a meal or a foster mom.

 

This morning I took the nestboxes outside again. And the same situation unfolded. Suddenly, a lightbulb went off…

 

If Mohammed won’t come to the mountain, the mountain must go to Mohammed.

 

I scooped those  babies out of the nestbox and put them in the holes their mamas delivered them in, in the hay outside the nestbox.

 

Mama rabbits immediately headed over to the babies and nursed and cleaned them! One of the does even covered them up and pulled more hair. After the mamas finished, scooped the babies up, put them in the nestboxes which are now acting as an RV, and carried them inside.

 

I feel quite brilliant right now. It only took me two days to figure it out!

Bad Timing

Rabbits! There are so many rabbits!

Rabbits! There are so many rabbits!

It’s been a busy weekend for us – three does from three different breeds gave birth! Our Champagne d’Argent, Silver Bell, Silver Fox, Ceres, and Silver Marten, Bonfire, all had large, healthy litters and we’re still waiting on one more mama to pop any time.

 

That’s a wonderful place to be because getting stock that produces and raises what they bear is quite nice and all of these does are proven and have our trust. They don’t typically lose any babies. Having all of this happen at once is also a bit scary because the size of our rabbitry doubled in a day! Whew! We’ll have babies for sale soon!

 

Silver Bell threw us a curve ball this time, however, and I thought it would be worth writing about as our friend Primrose the Holland Lop did something similar a few weeks ago.

 

While I was feeding and watering the rabbits yesterday morning I noticed Silver Bell looked… distressed. We had given her a hard time because she had taken all of the hay out of her nest box and put it in the corner of her cage on the wire. We called her crazy and put the hay back in the nest box, and she began to gather it in her mouth and start to move it out again. We decided to let her be and went on with our chores.

 

When I came back by in a few minutes I saw the hair around her eye brows was different and I just knew she was in labor. I put my water bottles down and sat still. Within a few minutes I watched Silver Bell deliver a kit, right in front of my eyes! She popped that baby out on the wire in the spot she had tried to make a nest before we took her hay away.

 

I didn’t want to disturb her, so we left for a bit. When we came back the kit was still alive but she had not pulled any hair. She was still rearranging her hay and didn’t give the impression she was finished delivering. My husband pulled her out and palpated her – her stomach was still hard as a rock and it seemed there were babies still to be had. We spread hay all over the wire of the cage and let her be.

 

We took her little kit, which was starting to get cold, and tucked it into a warm place for a few hours. When we checked her again mid-afternoon and there was still no hair pulled and no babies we identified the newborn singleton with sharpie marker and put it in with the silver fox litter that was born that morning.

 

Bed time came and we checked Silver Bell – this is a doe with a proven track record as a mom! She’s a great girl! She was pulling hair frantically and putting it in her hay nest on the wire. The nest box was right there, unused and full of hay. Very strange.

 

To make a long story short, when we came out this morning Silver Bell had a nice little nest of hay and hair set up in the corner of her cage and nine little babies tucked inside! She delivered the first kit and the other nine at least 14 hours apart from one another!

 

We got the original kit out of its foster nest and tucked it in with its siblings. Covered in marker but none the worse for the wear.

 

I mention this because I always expected a rabbit to deliver their babies on Day 31 within about 10 – 15 minutes. That’s what all the experts and books say… yet yesterday’s experience proved this isn’t always the case. Duchess, a Champagne d’Argent, always delivers on Day 33 or 34 (once even on Day 36!).

 

As another story of non-traditional rabbit birthing, our friend who has Holland lops noticed her first-time mom doe go into labor (displaying spots of blood and amniotic fluid) on Day 30, deliver one kit on Day 32 and another on Day 34. Sadly, both of those kits were born dead. But it was shocking to both of us that there could be a span of five days between the beginning of labor and the end. (And she did consult a veterinarian to ensure the best care for her rabbit… and was told to wait it out.)

 

I’ve read raspberry leaves can help when a doe is in labor. We don’t have a supply of those handy, so I’ve made Raspberry Zinger tea for our does. I can’t guarantee it’s helped them, but I do know it hasn’t hurt them at all! We also typically follow up the birth with a yummy treat like carrot, apple, banana, or celery and a couple of calcium-enriched antacid tablets.

 

Good luck with your litters – I’d love to hear your stories of non-traditional rabbit births!

 

 

 

Rabbit Watch, Day 3

Rabbit Pregnancy

We’re on rabbit watch, day 3.

I don’t mean to get so involved in Duchess’s birthing process, but it’s her first litter and, well, I get excited when there are baby bunnies floating around!

Duchess is not cooperating. I put more alfalfa hay on the floor of her cage in hopes she’d gather it up and put it in her nestbox… she didn’t.But she did enjoy her tasty snack!

I’ve spent the last two days searching the internet for information on how you can tell your rabbit is about to give birth. Here’s what I’ve learned:

1. Every rabbit has a different gestation length. The average length of a rabbit pregnancy is 31 days, although the range is 28-35 days. Let me tell you, the difference between 28 and 35 days is a l o n g time when you’re checking your rabbit every few hours!

2. Pulling hair is spontaneous. Some rabbits will pull their hair and prepare their nestbox several days in advance. This is a well-prepared, type-A rabbit. Then there are the free-wheeling, fun loving rabbits who pull their dewlap fur an hour before birth. Ellen of Sky Island Livestock told me she has does who will pull their hair as they are giving birth. Talk about procrastination!

3. I’ve got a bad attitude. Duchess is a sweet, shy rabbit. In the last week she’s been ridiculously jumpy and grumpy. When we put her next to a buck she began to growl and try to fight him through the cage wire (we quickly moved the buck to different quarters!). Today when I tried to give her our daily scratching she frantically hopping through her 4’x2.5′ cage like I was a demon after her soul. She is not herself. (Frankly, I’m not myself during the last bit of pregnancy, either!!)

4. Test mating might get you more than expected. We bred Duchess, then did a test breeding on day 12 to see if she was pregnant. Turns out the mating activity will stimulate one side of ovaries at a time – and the “test mating” recommended by so many people might actually trigger a second fertilization. Let me put it this way: a rabbit is capable of carrying two pregnancies, simultaneously! So there’s a chance Duchess is about to deliver a litter… and in two weeks she’ll deliver another! I’ll let you know how it goes.

5. When in doubt, send up a prayer and wait. The reality? I can do absolutely nothing to help Duchess right now. Once she births there’s a chance I can save the kits if she has them on the cage floor instead of the nestbox. Still, it’s a waiting game. Those babies will come when they want to come and I’m along for the ride. Patience, patience, patience. I’m developing this virtue!

Do you have any stories of first time rabbit deliveries?

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