For the most part I have been posting all of our news on our Facebook page but I want to update the blog with some of that news and a little more.
Early in the month I ordered our seed potatoes, quite a few fruit trees, and almost all of our seed order. I’m still on the fence about ordering some strawberry plants for the country garden or whether I should give myself another season to improve fertility and weed pressure before planting them.
The weather here has been incredibly mild. The past week has been in the 40s and almost 50s. The yard is very muddy and the rainy weather really revealed a weakness in our rabbitry: the scrap roof panels I was using to cover cages and the new hutches just isn’t good enough. I attempted to patch the holes in them but parts of the cages were constantly getting wet.
Last weekend Menards had roofing panels on sale so I bought enough to replace all the hutches and all the cages in use. I also took advantage of a mild Sunday morning before the awful Packers performance in the NFC Championship to built a fourth hutch. This one is a 3-hole version of the same design I’ve been using, which now houses our herd buck Stewie, our pet bunny Lion Turtle, and the third hole will house the black buck I’ll be saving out of our November litters.
I weighed those November growouts at eight weeks and only two make the cut I’ve established for our breeding progam (minimum weight 3.5lbs at 8 weeks, with good bodies), a black buck and a black doe. Our two REW bucks are very docile, so I’ve considered trying to sell them as pets, but not sure I want to go through the extra work when there’s not a lot of money to be made versus eating them.
Speaking of eating, I processed my first rabbit this month! One of our original “free” rabbits was a doe that never took in colony and never lifted in cage breeding. I decided it was finally time to cull her. I found parts of the process (removing the head and skinning mainly) to be harder than what it looks like in YouTube videos but 15 minutes or so for my first time wasn’t bad at all in my book. It will be interesting to compare butchering a mature rabbit with the growouts I’ll be harvesting in the next couple weeks.
Lastly, we had 7 little wrigglers born yesterday to our mutt doe Chocolate. There were two whites, two solids, and three brokens in the litter. There was also a learning experience for me that thankfully wasn’t too costly.
When I did morning check (5:30AM) on her I found a lone kit born dead on the wire. After a quick Facebook conversation with one of my rabbit mentors (the awesome Amy Gamble of Mountain Range Rabbitry) I learned that her nest was overstuffed with hay. I quickly went back out and removed about half of the nesting material and Chocolate was pulling fur again! An hour later I found 7 little babies born alive and well in the nest, just like they should be. Now I know to take action if I see an overstuffed nest box like that and I’m incredibly thankful we didn’t lose the entire litter!
The kits made it through the night last night but after our experiences with the November litters I am trying to have low expectations about the survival rate. I will, however, be curious to see their growth rates. Before we lost her colony litter to rats there was one kit that outgrew all of my purebred growouts by a decent margin.
There is another doe already past her day 30 but she has not shown any signs of pregnancy. I will give her until day 40 before rebreeding. In February we have our two purebred does due, including our first litter of purebred blue New Zealands.
The rabbit kits turned five weeks old yesterday. I weighed them and did a preliminary sexing too just to get some practice.
Blue Velvet has the following (consider the sexing very tentative): doe 2.0lb, buck 1.9lb, doe 1.75lb, and the runt (in picture above) is a doe 0.8lb. We’ll see if we get visited by what experienced rabbit folks call the “sex change fairy” later on.
The two surviving black kits of Oreo both showed snotty noses yesterday and one had audible wheezing to their breath. Despite both growing well I culled them first thing this morning to protect the herd. Her two REW (red-eyed white) kits are a little slower growing but seem healthy so far. One is a buck at 1.59lb and the other was hard to judge but probably also a buck at 1.6lb.
I will cull Oreo soon as the kits are at a weanable age. I placed an order for most of the supplies I will need to process her. Not sure if the kids will be willing to eat her. I will not force them. Once their mom is culled I will start a quarantine countdown for the two white kits and keep the best surviving one as I promised Maria we would keep an REW breeder if at all possible.
I love the ears on these rabbits. Both the black and the white kits are fascinating when backlit by the sunlight. The white ones were more cooperative so I managed a pretty good close up shot of its ear:
From last week there isn’t much of a change in appearance, just size. I’m starting to track the kit weights now. Blue Velvet’s 4 kits weigh 1.29 lb, 1.18, 1.09, and a runt weighs only 0.51. Oreo’s surviving 4 kits weigh 1.19, 1.15, 1.04, and 1.0. Not sure how this tracks with wanting them to be ~3.5lbs at 8 weeks for 5lbs by 12 weeks but we’ll see.
Weight gain in rabbits is affected by both genetics and feed program. I know our feed isn’t optimal as I have not found a brand of pellet available here that has the hallmark bright green color of a very fresh product.
I finished a second hutch yesterday and moved Blue Velvet and her litter into one of the compartments. They have more space than the cage they had been in and the top access design of my hutches makes it much easier to clean them. Between rabbits’ tendencies to poop on top of their hay and the poop being frozen (though not so much in the milder weather we’re getting this week) it often needs a little encouragement to fall through the bottom cage wire.
I’ve been attempting to breed this week too, to little avail. Stewie, our lone mature buck, lost his virginity quite quickly by getting one falloff but has not gotten any more. The does have not been lifting and most are growling at him. Being the winter solstice, it’s probably the worst time of year to try breeding because does are affected by hours of daylight. Not sure if I want to keep trying or give it a couple more weeks and try then.
It’s been fun seeing how active the little kits are. Until I moved Blue Velvet and her litter to her new hutch, they were right next to Stewie’s cage, so I could watch them while keeping an eye on the breeding sessions. One thing that particularly surprised me is that they can climb the cage wire and get to the top of the cage!
I hope everyone has a wonderful Christmas for those who celebrate it.
It’s been a rough week in the rabbitry. The litter I’ve been photographing is definitely sick, with snotty noses on at least one kit so far (I culled it this morning). So we’re no longer handling that one (except for me to check noses) to limit the risk of transferring disease back to the rest of the herd. After talking with my mentors, the goal is to hopefully get some healthy kits that are immune to whatever their mom has (probably bordatella).
Following that, yesterday I found all nine colony kits dead. Based on the damage (they were eviscerated and some eyes were eaten) I suspect rats got in and ate them. I had hoped with all of the modifications that the colony was rat proof, but it obviously isn’t. I am abandoning colony style raising for now. The location I picked up against our garage is proving very difficult to adequately seal against predators.
I was already planning on building some hutches to hold the growouts but with the deaths in the colony I will build more of them and transition back to all cages. Colony raising has a lot of pluses so I will possibly revisit it in the future. The hutch pictured above is 30″ deep and 96″ wide. Access will be from the top, which I’ve found much easier when needing to handle the rabbits. I thought about also installing a front door but I’m going to try top-only on this for simplicity’s sake. I can retrofit a front door later if I decide I want one.
So we’re down to 4 healthy kits and 5 maybe-healthy-maybe-not kits. Once the new hutches are complete and the colony does have a week to adjust back to cage life, I’m going to breed them.
Enjoy some more pictures of this litter as they turn 3 weeks old. These have an interesting size spread, one is over 400g, two are about 320g, and the last is barely over 200g.
Here is the same litter from last week, now two weeks old. It looks like all of these will end up as food for us if they survive that long. Their mom has been isolated from the rest of our rabbitry since they were born with signs of a respiratory infection (no visible snot, but regular sneezing). Most of the kits are sneezing too. I’m hoping to let them grow out to harvest size.
Respiratory illness in rabbits is something that’s not really treatable – if antibiotics work at all, they just knock it back and the animal is still going to be subpar. Ethical owners and breeders cull it out of their herds. Most rabbits are silent carriers of the various bacteria that can cause these symptoms, so signs of symptoms is a sign of a weak immune system – genetics you don’t want. According to one of my mentors, pregnancy and birth is one stressor that can bring it out.
I was hoping to be able to sell some breeding stock and may still be able to from the other litters but if we lose all six of these I will probably need to keep all of the good stock for ourselves.
As you can see from the main pictures, their eyes are open now. This litter opened their eyes a couple days before two weeks and likes to move around. Unlike my other cage litter, they were already out of the nest box by the time I tipped the nest box over today to encourage them to get out. We’re continually shocked by how fast they grow. But in our colony, their are at least two kits bigger than these are despite being 4 days younger.
Even if we don’t eat all of the kits, this one is for sure to be eaten if he reaches size. His back leg (on the left in the picture above) was either injured or malformed, so he’s a three-legged rabbit. We will keep an eye on it and euthanize earlier if there’s evidence of low quality of life.
Lastly, I took a video to give you a sense of how they look in motion. These are hard to photograph, so video in a lot of ways captures them better than a still image.
These are not our first baby farm animals (we had one-day old chicks this summer) but these are the first animals born on our little homestead. Our 2 caged New Zealand does both delivered kits today, one had 4 and the other had 7. This is a very exciting development for us!
Assuming they survive we’ll see if, in truth, we have the heart to harvest the ones we don’t sell or keep as additional breeding stock but for now it’s a wonderful shot of new life as we head into the dead times of winter.