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Reader's Stories



Countdown to Kindling: The Top Tips for Ensuring a Healthy Litter


The biggest excitement in a rabbitry is the time between when a doe is bred and when she kindles her litter. I think what makes the 31 days until kindling exciting is the uncertainty. Is the doe bred? How many babies will she produce when she kindles? Will the babies be all right or will there be problems? These are just some of the problems that can't be answered until kindling occurs.

How to Tell if the Doe Has Been Bred

I think it's the waiting that holds the suspense for a lot of rabbit people. This starts right after the buck and doe mate. A little thought starts nagging the rabbit raiser. Did the doe get bred by the buck? There are a variety of methods to use to see if this has happened. Some of these methods are more accurate than others. In my rabbitry I use about six different ways to tell if a doe is bred. Actually, it's seven if you want to wait until the kindling date.

Test Mating:
A common method people use is test mating. Test mating is when the doe is put back in the buck's hutch 15 days after being mating. If the doe is already bred, most times she will refuse the buck by growling at him or running around the cage. Rabbit raisers use test mating to save time. Instead of finding out in 31 days that doe is not bred, they find out in 15 days. Test mating, however, isn't highly accurate. A doe that's bred may let the buck breed her again. Or a doe that isn't bred may refuse the buck, giving the appearance she is bred. Also, test mating can be dangerous to the doe, buck, and the rabbit raiser. The doe and buck may fight one another and injure each other during test mating. The rabbit raiser may get bit when trying to break up the fighting rabbits. An angry doe may take her anger out on the hand of the rabbit raiser trying to help.

This is the most common method rabbit raisers use to see if the doe is bred. Palpating is usually done about two weeks after breeding. Basically, you try to feel the babies in the rabbit's abdominal region with your fingertips. At this stage, they will feel like marbles to your touch. If you never palpated a rabbit, get someone who is experienced to show you how or read a detailed book describing the method. You run the risk of hurting the babies if you do it wrong. For that reason, gently feel with your fingers and don't prod or poke the rabbit. As you get more experience, this method can be a very accurate tool to see if the doe is bred. I like to palpate just before putting the nestbox in the hutch. The doe may have lost her litter since I palpated her last.

Feed Intake:
Some does really increase their feed intake after they're bred. Remember, if the doe is bred, she's not only eating for herself but six to eight babies growing inside of her. Usually this method can be used only later in her gestation period-- about the last two weeks before kindling is when you often see the doe's feed intake really increase. However, you won't notice much a of difference in appetite for some does, so this method doesn't work every time. I have also found that some bred does like to dig the feed out of the feeder.

Abdominal Size:
This is another hit-and-miss method to tell if the doe is pregnant. If you have a lot of does that produce very large litters of babies, this can be a very accurate method of determining pregnancy. But if your breed of rabbit kindles a small number of babies, this method may be almost useless. A doe that's going to have 10 to 12 babies will have a very large abdominal size. But doe who has only three to four babies inside of her may not show much of a change in her abdominal size. Also, the size of the babies also has to be taken into account. A litter of large-size babies is going to produce a bigger abdominal than a litter of tiny ones.

Hay Test:
This test is done when the nestbox is put in the cage. Throw a handful of hay in the cage and watch what happens. If the doe is bred, she will pick the hay up in her mouth and start looking for a place to build a nest. Most of the time she'll carry it to the nestbox because that's where she'll create her nest for her babies. The hay test is very accurate in determining if the doe is going to become a mommy. The only drawback with the hay test it's only accurate just a few days before kindling.

Growling Test:
Some does get a major attitude towards everything once they're bred. If you have a bred doe that suddenly starts growling and complaining when you touch her, she may be bred. Some does can be real sweethearts but will start growling at their owner when touched. This can indicate the doe is going to have babies. A rabbit that growls at her owner when bred can be dangerous. If you try to handle her, she may bite you without meaning to. It's just her way of protecting the cargo of babies that are inside of her.

I have described six tests to determine if a doe is pregnant. By using all six you can pretty much tell if the doe is bred or not. Just remember that some tests are more accurate than others. Also some tests have drawbacks if you do them wrong. I always put the nestbox in the cage no matter the outcome of the tests. It's better to be safe than sorry. There is a seventh method to see if the doe is bred. Wait until she kindles! But that would be too nerve wracking. And remember some rabbits kindle earlier than their due date and some are later.

How to Prepare for Kindling

Being prepared for kindling is an important rule to follow in a rabbitry. Too many times people have let kindling sneak up on them without being ready. This is a big mistake.

Nestbox Preparation:
Preparing the nestbox before kindling is very important. First of all, disinfect your nestboxes before you put them in the hutch with the expectant mother. You don't want the new babies to be exposed to any harmful germs or bacteria. I disinfect my nestboxes with hot water and bleach and give them a good scrubbing with a wire brush to make sure I get them good and clean. I know a lot of people with weld wire nestboxes also sear them with a torch to destroy the germs. It's always a good idea to wash your nestbox down after you're done disinfecting. That way the rabbit can't lick the disinfectant off the nestbox. If you have weld wire nestboxes, now is a good time to replace the old cardboard nestbox liner with a new one.

Nestbox Introduction:
I like to put the nestbox in the cage with the doe four to five days before she kindles. If you put the nestbox in the cage too soon, the doe will use it as a toilet. A nestbox full of manure is the one of the results of a nestbox placed in a cage too soon. If you put the nestobx in the hutch too late, it can have bad results, too. A doe needs some time to get acquainted with the nestbox. She may not use it if you put it in her cage too close to kindling. I have always had good results with my rabbits putting the nestbox in four to five days before kindling.

Filling Nestboxes:
I always have hay for the nestboxes. Use good clean hay with no mold in it. Also, make sure the hay that you use is weed-free for the rabbit's safety. Check the hay to make sure there's no foreign objects in the hay that will harm the rabbit. I like using hay that is fine and very soft. My rabbits don't like hay that is very coarse or straw-like. When putting hay in the nestbox, I like to use a moderate amount. The rest I put in the cage on the floor. That way the rabbit can carry the hay to the nestbox and create the type of nests that she wants. Some rabbits hate it when you put the hay in the nestbox for them. They will sometimes take it out of the nestbox just to spite you.

No Strangers:
During the time before kindling, I don't like having strangers in my rabbitry. My rabbits know when there's a stranger in the rabbitry, and it makes them very nervous. When my rabbits hear a stranger's voice, they go into a panic. They race around their cages, looking for a way to get away from the unfamiliar sound. A doe carrying babies can do damage to her babies when she's in a panic. That's why the rabbits I have for sale are in an area away from the rabbitry. I like to keep my rabbits as calm as possible.

Rabbits like their peace and quiet. This is very true for does who are going to kindle. Inform anyone working around your rabbits to use a low, quiet voice and make slow, deliberate movements. A loud voice or a quick motion can startle a rabbit. You want to avoid this around a rabbit that's close to kindling. Also, try to avoid moving the expectant mother to a strange cage too close to kindling. This can be upsetting to the rabbit. When moved to a strange cage, a rabbit needs time to adjust. Being moved too close to kindling may not give her the time that she needs.

Hourly Kindling Checks:
Make sure you get plenty of sleep before kindling begins. You're going to need it! When kindling occurs in my rabbitry, I get very little sleep. A lot of problems during kindling can be avoided by hourly kindling checks. If you see a rabbit is really close to kindling, you may want to check her every 10 minutes until she kindles. Always make sure you don't have any social activities planned when the rabbits in your rabbitry start to kindle. Your rabbits are depending on you to help them if they have any problems with kindling, and you don't want to let them down. Hourly kindling checks can save babies kindled out of the nest. Or babies that are kindled on the floor of the hutch.

Kindling in your rabbitry can be as exciting as Christmas arriving if you put in a lot of effort getting prepared. But kindling can be your worst nightmare, if you do little to get prepared for it. You owe it to your rabbits to be there for them when kindling takes place. A lot of babies can be saved by being well-prepared for kindling.


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