Friday, July 10, 2015

Weaning Rabbit Kits- Our Process

If you follow us on our Facebook page, then you already know that we sold most of the farm just before Thanksgiving last year.  My health continued to decline after the issues last February and sadly it became too much for me to keep up with. 

The blessing of it all is that we were able to find a home very close to family, that cut my husband's commute by over an hour, and allowed us to continue showing and breeding our beloved rabbits.  The Egg Basket has become Four Corners Rabbitry and we are enjoying the new journey immensely.  Without the farm to care for, we have been able to travel to shows for the past couple of months, I can focus my energy on my family and home and we are finding the rabbits to be a great joy and full family hobby (yes, even my dear husband has a few!)

I've been missing in my blogging because we have had so much going on- all good but I did want to get back to it.  The rabbitry has been more challenged than I ever anticipated- in a great way!  There has been so much more to learn in husbandry, genetics, showing- the rabbit shows are miles different from the poultry shows we use to attend.  It's hustle and bustle and fun competition in a much faster pace! 

I wanted to go over our process in weaning kits today, handling their weaning properly is so important for their overall health and even future potential.  There's an old saying that, "A show winner starts in the nestbox!"

I'll discuss pregnancy and nestboxes in another post, today I wanted to start with what happens once the babies ar active and moving around and how to gently wean them.  The gentler you handle weaning, the less stress on them and the less chance of dealing with weaning enteritis.

Nestbox removal- We remove the nestbox as soon as we see the first kit "escape" out into the cage.  Once they can hop out on their own, it's time to rid the cage of the nestbox.  Whether they make it out or not, we generally remove it by day 18 -21 to prevent nestbox eye and other unsanitary things we want to avoid.  It's healthier for the kits to remove it as soon as it's safe for them.  Some breeders prefer to leave the nestbox at first and simply turn it on it's side.  We have friends that have had does jump off of the top and land on kits this way so we choose to just remove it.  We do fill a cardboard box (old oatmeal box, coke box, etc.) with hay so the kits have a hideaway spot to make them more comfortable.  The first day or two they will run into this often but they become brave quickly.  Their feet are tiny and they will have to learn to walk on the wire.  All of our rabbits have wooden resting pads in their cages and we make certain to add another small one or swap out for a larger one for the does that have kits coming out of the box.

Continue handling your kits daily and be sure to check their bottoms to ensure they're clean and free of any build up of feces or issues.

Weaning from Mom- We remove the dam from the cage instead of removing the kits.  This makes it much less stressful for the kits by allowing them to stay in a known environment.  If it is a very large litter and necessary to help mom dry up her milk, you can leave the smallest 1-2 kits with Mom.  Since we try not to wean the kits until at least 6-7 weeks of age, this isn't normally needed here.  However, if you do need to do this, remove those 1-2 kits from the dam and return them to their littermates in 1-2 days. 

Once removed from mom we leave them together for 2-4 days and make no other changes other than flushing them with lots of hay.  Anytime a rabbit is stressed, we've found it helpful to provide them with free choice hay to prevent any enteritis from stress. 

Tatooing- When we wean the kits from Mom is about the time we also tattoo the kits.  Usually around 7-9 weeks old.  I tattoo all kits that we're keeping in their left to identify them and enter their official name and ear number into our rabbitry software.   If the rabbits are culls (in our case being sold as pets) then we either do not tattoo them or tattoo them in their right ear.  This prevents them from being shown and hopefully bred as I don't sell our pets with pedigrees.  More later on my reasoning for this.

Weaning from Littermates- If your rabbits are sold, the kits need to be move to their own cage (without their littermates) for a minimum of 2-4 days before sending them off to their new home.  We give them at least a week.  There's a lot of stress in being moved from their littermates and then more stress in moving to an entirely new home.  We wait so as not to overload them.  We want our kits to be healthy and happy in their new home so we try to do everything we can to help achieve that. 

For the kits remaining at the rabbitry, we give them another week as well before separating them, if the mom weaned them on the younger side, we may not separate them by gender for another week. If they're closer to the preferred/older age, we separate them into their own cage at this point.  I try to rearrange the cages so that they can see a sibling.  The general rule of thumb is that by 9-11 weeks old, each kit should have its own cage.  This can be particularly important with lionheads as they may begin to chew on their mates' manes. 

Most of our kits still get to play together during "free play time" if I'm around to watch them.  They seem to enjoy playing with kits in similar age and as long as they're getting along and playing nicely we try to do this for a few weeks until they're of breeding age.