We think it is important to cover this topic, at least breifly.
In-breeding is the direct breeding of directly related animals, such as sister/brother. There have been generations of in-breeding and many studies showing the risks of using this method of breeding. Very few will recommend it anymore. Health issues and defaults can go unnoticed for a length of time, but once they show up can be heart breaking. Usually, problems show up very quickly - low birth rates, low survival rates, and more.
Line breeding is breeding closely related animals, such as father/granddaughter, mother/grandson. Line breeding can be found in many animal species, especially in registered or pedigreed animals. Though this practice is quite common, the problems that will arise in a line can be seen in as early as eight generations. It is our advice that line breeding should not be used in your breeding program and we choose not to use it in ours. Breeds such as dogs, rabbits, etc. that have been doing 'it forever' are finding the difficulties in their lines, to the point that entire lines need to be destroyed. Unless you are WELL versed we don't recommend this type of breeding. Those saying that they have done this for over 20 years without problems are not willing to admit that most problems have been starting to show up now, regardless of their past experience. Culling percentages can be high, up to 75%.
Cross breeding is the method of breeding animals not related. This is the method we use. There are advantages and disadvantages to this. We have a large gene pool to choose from, defineately an advantage. The disadvantage is we are 'playing cards' and what the results are can be as varied as the weather. Culling is used to remove those 'hands' that aren't what we wanted, but culling is a difficult subject for anyone. The best advantage is when you get what you want and can continue to improve in your lines, having healthy stock to do so.
Stress and breeding
Rabbits have a ‘fear or flight’ mentality. Meaning that they hide illnesses very well due to the instinct of preservation. Does have been known to ‘save’ their kits by letting them die, or by killing and eating them, due to any stressful situation that can happen while they are pregnant or when they kindle. There is a 50% chance a first time doe will abandon her young; this is why it is recommended to breed a doe twice prior to making a call to cull or
maintain them as a breed doe. By forcing a doe to nurse, you can in advertently ruin her as a breeder. This is not specific to any one breed, so learn about your does. Some will be higher strung than others.
Triggering Heat Cycles in the Doe
Rabbits are one of the very few meat animals for which the heat cycles can be triggered for breeding. Keeping a buck within range of a doe (adjoining pen or cage) can also allow an easier time with breeding. Some does will be particular as to which buck they breed with. By placing the doe in with the buck , for a few minutes 1-2 days, you will trigger her breeding instincts.
Some recommend having the buck ‘cover’ the doe three days in a row; however, we have always allowed our bucks to cover the doe 2-3 times within a 5-10 minute period.
We find less frequent breeding to be more advantageous: your buck will last far longer as a breeder. One buck can service 10 does without any drop in health or production.
Your doe will give indications that she wishes to breed, buy hanging around the 'boys' side of her cage, some will be more aggressive, others more moody. So now it's time for the chase! Some does will run until she allows the buck to catch her. If you watch closely, you will see the doe raise her tail to allow the buck to cover her. Some will even raise their rump to do so. The buck will than cover the doe, proceeding to ‘fall’ after a successful covering (or breeding).
Kindling (the babies are here!)
A doe’s cycle can last for 14-16 days with 4-7 day breaks. It is best not to handle a pregnant doe; the risk to the kits is significant during the 30-31 day gestation period. Try to place the breed box (if your cages do not contain one) one week prior to them kindling. This will allow the mother instinct to kick in with minimal stress to those that are a little high strung.
In all our years with rabbits, we have never had a rabbit kindle during the day, though we have seen signs of labor. Usual kindling is done early morning. Rabbits are very consistent with the 31 day gestation period. If a doe does not kindle in the 30-31 day period, there could be a problem. Don't rush to 'look in', let a few days pass.
Does can, and have, absorbed the embryos (meaning that they were pregnant, but never kindle); it is unusual, but possible, especially if they do not ‘like the buck’. While some vets do not agree with this statement, quite a few vets (one with 40 years of rabbit knowledge) agree with my father’s experience. In all the years we have had rabbits, this has never happened. But I do remember my father having this happen a time or two. Switching the buck solved this for him.
Does can abandon their young if there are genetic issues as well, short of an ‘autopsy,’ natural instincts may have reasons you will never be able to find. Note the times that your doe will raise 6-7 kits successfully; however, one was half eaten in the box. Not a pleasant picture, but it is a fact when dealing with rabbits.
Kits! Can we see the babies?
Do not be tempted to check out the kits for the first week, especially with a new breeder doe, as most does do not like this intrusion. Look for increased signs of movement inside the box. As the days progress you will see more movement under all that fur and straw.
Yes, you will lose some kits, especially with a first time breeder, but it offsets any risk of ‘ruining’ the doe as a future breeder. Once
you are familiar with your does, then you know which one you can peak in on and which don’t care for it at all. Does will occasionally have a kit outside of the box, don’t panic, most likely one little kit decided breakfast WAS NOT OVER! Have gloves on hand to remove any possibility of your scent on the kit and slowly place them back in the box.
One or Two? Bucks that is.
Our reasoning of having two breed bucks is simple.
Avoid line-breeding: although this can continue a desired trait, it can also carry bad health traits and affect quality of the meat. When you find an exceptional doe line (Myshi again as our example giving us 8-10 kits a breeding), you can continue with her doe offspring, using the second buck for their breeding.
If your line reaches their limits as viable breeders, you can have does from one group and a buck from the second group and continue with your best line, thus giving you the potential of meat for up to 10-15 years or more. Quite remarkable when you consider it in this light.
Raising a Kit (baby without the Doe)
Now for the least favorite topic, trying to raise a kit. This is very difficult – athough we have successfully done this 3 times, it still doesn’t help those who lose them after trying so hard to raise them.
There is an important piece of information to note regarding hand raising baby rabbits: there is a window of ‘three weeks’. If you can get the kits beyond the three week period then you have accomplished what was needed.
The doe provides a ‘chain’, this is a tiny string of fecal pearls, and this is fed to her kits. This is as important to the kits, as colostrum is to kid goats. Without this ‘chain’ the kits digestive tract cannot develop correctly. This is the main cause of unsuccessful rearing of
There are a few things you can do if you find kits are now your responsibility. But nothing is better than the doe raising her own young.
First, probiotics, if the doe is not nursing or dries up, adding probiotics to the feeding schedule is an absolute must.
Colostrum is also a great substitute to the chain.
Take into consideration that rabbits can very easily aspirate fluids into their lungs. Feedings must be very carefully given to prevent this.
NEVER force a feeding to the kit, too much to fast will cause aspiration, feed drops at a time. Though the doe usually only feeds twice a day, we have had more frequent feedings (when hand raising) to limit the amount given at any one time.
Keep them in a contained environment, We have even carried the kits in a fanny pack lined with rabbit fur to work. Very much a sight to see, but very beneficial to the kits, mimicking the breed box.
What if you can't feed them? There is a second method, (not the best), is to breed two does at the same time. You can then substitute one doe for another. This is not as easy as it sounds though.
You must cover the scent of the kits, thereby confusing the doe by preventing her from distinguishing her kits from the new kits. Usually, something strong like Vicks on the tip of her nose.
Wear sterile gloves when placing the kits in with ‘mom’.
And yes, you can do all the ‘right’ things and still lose the adorable little kits. It is not an ‘exact’ science, but with more knowledge you are better able to deal with the times when they are needed.
Congratulations on surviving kits! Keeping those furry little sweeties can be very pleasurable. So do enjoy your time!