Rabbits breed like…well….rabbits, implying that breeding rabbits isn’t all that hard. Rabbits should just do it all themselves and if you have a boy and a girl in the same rabbit hutch sooner or later, usually sooner, you will have some cute little baby rabbits running around. Or maybe not just some. Maybe lots. Given that Mark and I have played a role in breeding Alpacas, Jersey Cows, Sheep, Ducks, Chickens, Turkeys, Peacocks and Goats you would assume that, by this time, animal husbandry would come naturally. In fact the generally held consensus is that anyone can breed rabbits because rabbits breed very well. Which is actually true with a few exceptions. First time mums don’t always get it right. And dads, first time or otherwise, aren’t exactly helpful when the babies came along. And this is the journey that our rabbits took us on.
To begin with we tried to name our rabbits gender neutral names because we really weren’t sure if they were two boys, two girls or a boy and a girl. So we named them Pepper and Nutmeg. There was certainly some dominant behaviour going on but experience has taught us that dominant behaviour does not necessarily indicate the gender of an animal. For example; our female donkey Violet is by far more dominant than her brother J.R, which often leads to our guests thinking that Violet is male and J.R is female.
So we watched and waited and we became convinced that we had two rabbits that were of the same gender, until one morning we came out to the petting pen and discovered three absolutely gorgeous, naked little babies that looked a little bit like miniature pink hippopotamuses. They were also dead. Stone cold. Very sad.
Now we knew that we had a boy and a girl bunny but we still couldn’t work out which was which because by the time we found the newborns, mum had already abandoned them and dad wasn’t even interested at all. So who was the mum and who was the dad? With some assistance from a friend we managed to survey the baby making equipment of both of rabbits and we determined that Pepper was our mum and Nutmeg was our dad. Glad we had that sorted out. Then we rearranged the cage to ensure that there was an appropriate nesting box so the next lot of babies could be kept warm.
But that’s not the only thing we had to take care of. After a little bit of research we discovered, firstly, that rabbits will often lose their first litter, which made us feel a little bit better about our three dead baby bunnies. Secondly, we discovered that dad doesn’t take too kindly to competition and will often kill and eat newborn kits (babies). Charming. Not. At this stage we were unsure as to whether the babies had gotten too cold (the weather at the time was really awful) or whether dad (Nutmeg) had intervened and taken out the competition.
Not long after – rabbits really don’t muck around when it comes to making babies – we had another litter of kits. Four this time. We immediately removed Nutmeg but Pepper wasn’t exactly the smartest of new mums. She hadn’t used the nesting box, but rather had squished her babies down beside the nesting box and up against the back of the cage. Sadly with all the rain, water had soaked into the straw and once again we had lost a full litter of kits.
It was starting to get a little bit depressing. How can breeding rabbits be this hard? Back to the drawing board. This time we used an old cat cage as a nesting box and wired it hard up against the cage so Pepper couldn’t squeeze down the side. The cat cage had a completely enclosed bottom half so water couldn’t get in and we stuffed it full of fresh straw.
Three or so weeks later….you guessed it….we had another litter. Nutmeg was moved out immediately and third time lucky, Pepper seemed to have it all under control. We tried to interfere as little as possible but we did have a little feel amongst the straw and we were pretty sure we had three alive and kicking little kits. Each day I would just lay my hand on top of them to make sure they were still warm and wriggling. When they finally emerged- it seemed like it took ages but it was actually only two weeks- we discovered that we didn’t have three little rabbits at all. We had five!
Six weeks on our little baby bunnies are all nice and healthy and soon we will be looking for new homes for at least three of them. I will be sad to see them go given the effort that we, and Pepper, had to put in just to get them this far. I think we have the rabbit breeding thing under control but I’m not sure that we will go down that road again for a while. If Pepper can have five kits or so every three to four weeks we could end up with an awful lot of rabbits!