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  • Writer's pictureKatheryn

Rabbits: Breeding, Birth, and Weaning

Updated: Jul 29, 2021



If you put a mature buck and mature doe in an enclosure together, you're more than likely going to end up with a litter in a few short weeks. But, to be successful, you'll want to get a few thing straight first. So I wanted to share a few tips to make your rabbitry as successful as possible. I'll share with you what to do each step of the way and some tips to avoid common mistakes.


Never bring the buck to the doe:

When your rabbits are old enough (oh, about 6 months or older) and you're ready to breed them, always bring the doe to the buck. Does are very territorial and will not look kindly on intruders, male or female. Does can become very aggressive and in some cases even damage the male anatomy of your buck and render him rabbit stew. Besides, the buck works so hard on making his bachelor pad good and smelly for his female company, we wouldn't want all his effort to go to waste.



Watch for success:

If you want to ensure your doe has been bred, watch the pair to make sure they are successful. The whole act should take less than five minutes. Once the buck gains access, he'll give it one good thrust and fall head over heels in love. No, Really, he will literally fall over. The deed itself is so fast you could miss it if you sneeze. So, keep those eyes peeled and don't turn your back and walk away. If the buck wasn't successful after at most ten minutes of chasing tail, then take the doe away and try again the next day. Young inexperienced bucks will benefit from breeding with experienced does, it'll give him the experience and confidence boost he needs to breed first time does.


Do not re-breed a Doe:

let me specify here: do not re-breed the doe after 24 hours of her first breeding. Doing so could cause the doe to abort her litter. Then you wont have any babies. Wait the four weeks to her kinddling date plus a few days to re-breed if the pair were unsuccessful.


Calculate the due date:

Gestation takes about 31 days plus or minus a few days. All my bunny mommas usually gestate 29-30 days. So I count 4 weeks on my calendar and mark that date down as the due date. I re-breed if she hasn't kindled by 35 days. You can try to feel the does abdomen around the three week mark for any little bunny beans. However, unless you are experienced at doing this, it'll really just disturb momma-to-be. When I was preggers, I sure didn't want random hands reaching for my belly to confirm there was a baby in there. Okay I'm not a rabbit, but really just give her the extra 10 days and keep your paws off the belly! (besides as mentioned above, re-breeding too soon can cause a doe to abort if you happen to be wrong.)


Make her nest box nice 'n cozy:

Whatever you choose to use as a nest box, make sure you give your doe plenty of privacy. She also needs room to turn around so as to avoid stepping on her babes while she nurses. The sides need to be tall enough to keep those active little jumping beans in the nest until they're eyes are open and are ready to wander. While the doe will pull her hair to make a warm cozy nest for kinddling (a sign babies are eminent), I recommend fine aspen shavings or another soft material to fill the nest box with. I prefer aspen or that shredded paper animal bedding. Both are soft and absorbent. I feel as though hay is really pokey on that tender naked new skin so I don't recommend it as nesting material. For the actual nest box we use a plastic storage container with the bottom and side cut out like this:

Plastic it easy to clean and won't absorb all that waste your adorable little bunnies will produce. I've also noticed the doe will move the nest box around to get it situated how she likes and even nudge the box away from me if she feels Iv'e been admiring her babies a little too long.



Put the nice cozy nest box in the enclosure:

On day 25 of gestation, place the nest box in with your doe. Placing it in with her a few days prior to her due date gives her time to get used to the box and make it perfect. If you happen to be too late with the box she will kindle directly on the wire, and the baby buns will likely freeze to death unless you're there in time to warm them up and place them in the box. Its also important not to put the box in too soon because your doe can decide to use it as a litter box, making the box less desirable than the corner of her wire cage (at which point you run into the freezing kit problem again).


Discretely spy on your doe:

Starting on day 28, I check my does several times a day for signs they are about to kindle. When the doe starts to pull her hair out and place it in the next box, you'll more than likely have baby buns within hours. Occasionally I have a doe that will pull her hair for days prior to kinddling, but most of the time they'll pull their hair and have their babies between me checking on them. The reason I'm a bit obsessive about checking on my does frequently is because I hate loosing little ones. If momma bunny does decide to have her litter on the wire and I don't catch it in time, I will likely loose the whole litter. If, however, I do catch it in time, I can bring the baby buns in and warm them up so they have a chance at surviving. We actually breed two or more does at the same time in case of scenarios like this. The best way to warm a chilled kit is to place it in another nest of warm kits(just be sure you can tell it apart from the others).



Snuggle and stare in amazement:

Check you litter daily to make sure the kits are all growing and developing. The sad truth is: not all the little babes survive the first day or two. You're not always going to loose kits, but it does happen, especially with new moms or very large litters. Remove any dead kits promptly so the doe will continue to nurse the rest of the litter. I hold each and every kit in each litter we get twice a day almost until the day they're weaned. I check that they all seem to be gaining weight, if any suffered a trauma (i.e. mom stepped on one) that they are healing properly. I also let the kids help me out with this chore (side note: bunny snuggles happen to be a great way to calm an hysterical two year old). The more your rabbits are handled, the more docile and easy to work with they become. Easy going rabbits are much easier to sell as pets or to prospective breeders.



This snuggle time is also when I begin to look at prospective hold backs for our herd. Currently we are breeding to gain size back into our herd, so any quick growers that outpace and outweigh their siblings will be separated at weaning so they don't mistakenly get sent to freezer camp. This is also the time I look for any traits that I don't want to be passed on, such as bad temperament. If I have a bunny that is difficult to handle or acts aggressively, I make sure to put it on the cull list, no matter how desirable its other traits might be.



Let momma bunny do her thing:

As you check your litters daily, its important to note that any intervention on your part should be unnecessary. A good doe will raise her litter just fine without help from us. That being said, sometimes new moms don't have it all figured out yet. If your/her first litter doesn't make it, don't panic. Just re-breed the doe and have her try again. Its a tough thing to have happen, especially the first time. If after three attempts, the doe still doesn't have a single motherly bone in her body, then we cull her.



Other times you may need to step in include injuries or if there are too many kits for the doe to handle. Sometimes a doe will accidentally step on a kit and the kit becomes lacerated. I've only had this happen a few times, generally when a kit pops out of the nest box or the doe gets startled. Most of the time the cuts or lacerations heal just fine with the aid of some antibacterial cream. This is also why it is so important to keep those nails trimmed regularly. You should, however, use your best judgement. If an injury is too great, then its probably best to make the end as brief and painless as possible.


The other scenario in which to intervene is when a doe has too may kits to care for. In this case, I will take the smallest one or two kits and foster them onto another doe who has kinddled around the same time as long as her litter is small enough to handle the foster bunnies. If I don't have a doe to foster them on, then I just hope for the best and that they make it to solid foods, at which point they can easily catch up.


Time to cut ties:

We wean our bunnies at 35 days old or 5 weeks. If you're more comfortable weaning at 6 weeks, then you can absolutely wait. Your little baby bunnies should be much larger now and eating solid food and drinking water. They really aren't getting much nutrients from the doe and she's probably trying desperately to escape the toothy clutches of her dear children. So do her a favor, and wean those babes by separating them into grow out pens. On weaning day we also separate the bucks from the does and any hold backs into separate pens. I'll also post any ads if I'm wanting to sell any kits as pets a few days prior to weaning so I can begin scheduling pick up dates.



All about that food:

The does are fed their regular ration of 4oz by weight of pelleted feed from the time they are bred until about 7 days after kinddling. At day 7 she gets double rations. At day 14 she and the kits get full feed. After the kits are weaned, the doe goes back to her 4oz ration.


From day 14 to the day we cull (usually around 12-14 weeks) bunnies are fed "full feed". Which basically means they have an unlimited supply of pelleted feed and hay.


That pretty much sums up how we breed our rabbits here on Sugar Hill Homestead. If you're looking for a more detailed account of breeding for meat, I can't recommend THIS book enough. Its available on kindle and in paperback.


Until next time, sweet homesteading.

Katheryn Williams




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