Anyone who breeds rabbits currently has a welcome change from the “everyday coronavirus”: spring is the time of the young animals! Our author, an experienced breeder, describes how young rabbits grow up – day by day.
Towards the end of February, I carried out several targeted matings with my Saxon gold rabbits. After short approaches, the effective mating act lasted only a few seconds. Now the long wait began. Were the pairings successful? When the goats rummaged through the litter a few days later, I took that as a good sign. After 14 days I determined by careful palpation that the females were indeed pregnant.
Two weeks before the birth, I put the pregnant rabbits in one compartment of the double pen, so that they could get used to their new surroundings. I darkened this part of the coop with a cover, making sure to leave an opening for air circulation. The does soon carried straw into the box and began building their nests. Every now and then they ignore the offered nesting opportunity and build the nest to their liking. Just before giving birth, the rabbits lined their nests with hair that they had plucked from their chests and stomachs. The gestation period usually lasts 31 days, deviations of one to three days are possible.
The Offspring is Here
31 days are up. During the morning inspection, I discover hairs in the whelping box of one doe. Some straws move. After I know the dam is in the other compartment of the stall, I carry out a first nest check. My joy is great when I find five naked and blind young animals that are snuggling up close to each other and warming each other. Her tummy is round – a good sign. In small breeds such as the Sachsengold, newborns weigh between 45 and 50 grams. I am amazed once again at the independence of the mother animals, who give birth to their young unobserved and clean them of the afterbirth.
When I feed them in the morning, I see that the young animals have survived the first cold night unscathed. When feeding in the evening I notice another nest on the floor below. The eight young animals are all lying next to it and are already quite hypothermic. To save them, I carefully place the tiny ones in the cloth-covered lid of a cardboard box, which I put in the oven at home. At a temperature of 30 to 35 degrees, I watch through the slightly open door how the animals are slowly moving again. After what appears to have been a successful attempt at resuscitation, I lay her gently in the nest that I cover with hair and straw.
When checking the nest of the eight throws, the tension is high. To my delight, seven young animals are lying in the nest, well-fed and calm – unfortunately, I find one dead. I decided to relocate one of the young to the nest of the litter of five. I mark it so that I can distinguish it from the others. After some time, I allow the mother animal, which was separated for a short time, to return to the nest, which now also contains six young animals. The happiest young already weighs 100 grams, so it has doubled its birth weight within a short time.
In the morning I discover that the “foster child” has been well received, as his tummy is full. Adoption is successful!
Fortunately nothing new! The fine fur hairs are now easily recognizable in the rabbit offspring. The heaviest young animal weighs 140 grams. The mother rabbit has a greater need for water than before.
The two mother animals take good care of their offspring. In the morning I find a lot of straw stacked over the nests. Underneath, the young animals remain well protected even on cold nights with sub-zero temperatures.
The weight of the heaviest cub has increased to 175 grams – the littermates are only slightly lighter. The fine fur hairs have continued to grow.
The eyes of the six young rabbits are open, the heaviest of them now weighs 200 grams. It has already quadrupled its birth weight.
The young rabbits are still lying snuggled together in the nest and hardly move.
Every now and then I can observe a young one on a short «trip». The daily weight gain is now lower than on the first few days.
The rabbits are getting more and more curious. They often go on short exploratory tours outside the nest. However, they quickly withdraw when disturbed. They nibble on the hay that is placed on their nest. In the fourth week, the cheekiest of the little hoppers dare to go to the mother animal’s feeding bowl and eat solid food there. They become more independent and eat and drink from the food bowl. The transition from breast milk feeding to a mixed diet is delicate and should be done carefully. Every now and then a “dessert” in the form of green fodder is welcome, but only in small quantities. It is a must for the breeder to check the quality of the young animal’s droppings on a daily basis.
The young animals continue to grow and like to romp around in the barn before they are regularly found at the containers with feed and water or at the hay that is available. Often they look for the teats of the mother animal. This often “saves” itself on the higher level in the stable to escape the impetuous pressure of the young.
Young animals also eat from the caecal feces of the mother animal. This builds up a healthy intestinal flora. The young can usually be weaned after eight weeks. However, if they behave calmly, they can stay with their mother for a few more days or even weeks. As a rule, the young bucks are separated first and the growing females are left as long as they remain calm. Later, the mother animal is housed in a new barn. In this way, the young females can stay in their familiar surroundings for some time.
During all these weeks, special attention must be paid to hygiene. It is advisable to clean the dunging area frequently and muck out the stable regularly to prevent diseases.