Notes from Windward: #70


Rabbit Thoughts


     Assuming responsibility for the rabbits in February, I had 3 goals in mind. I wanted learn more about rabbit care, change the diversity of our stock and increase rabbit production to provide more meat. Learning is an ongoing process which started with reading books and observing the rabbits we had. Talking with professional rabbit breeders also provided additional info and view points on raising rabbits. Observing, working with and getting to know our expanding rabbit population continues to increase my knowledge base.

     Windward has raised rabbits for about 4 years. The rabbits are a cross of New Zealand and Californian breeds. The breeding population has been 6 females and 2 males. By adding diversity to the stock I hope to increase the size and productivity of the rabbits.

     A buck and doe were purchased this Spring from two different breeders. The buck, Orion, is a New Zealand x Californian x Satin breed. The doe, Peaches, is pure New Zealand breed. At 10 and 9 months respectively, these rabbits weigh 12 pounds each. Our other adult rabbits weigh between 7-10 pounds each.

mommy Peaches out for a hopabout

     In past years, rabbits were generally bred once in the Spring and one litter per female was raised over the Summer. Having larger rabbits and raising 2 or 3 litters per doe will significantly increase meat production.

     The rabbits were bred in February. The first kits were born at the end of March. The rabbit cages were located inside at that time. There was a high death rate among the litters. I attributed this to poor air circulation and build up of ammonia. Rabbits are very sensitive to ammonia. The cages were clean and I was unable to smell ammonia but the level may have been to great for the babies. A fan was brought in and doors were left open in the daytime. Baby rabbit deaths stopped when these measures were instituted.

two day old bunnies

     The cages were moved outside in May. Additional litters were born at the beginning and end of June. More cages were added to provide growing room for all of the young bunnies.

     Sam constructed a "playpen" for the rabbits. This area is a five foot by ten foot chicken wire enclosure. Rabbits are out to play on a rotating basis. This allows space for bunnies to run, play, climb and DIG. They love to dig and excavated a large burrow which was turning into a warren! Due to difficulty removing rabbits from the playpen, the burrow was filled in. Now, they can start excavating again. Thanks, Sam for the bunny playpen.

play time for bunnies

     Rabbit health is assessed through observation. Watching rabbit activity, eating, and elimination provides much information. Holding and petting of rabbits allows assessment of coat, skin and weight. Rabbits who enjoy (or at least tolerate) handling make care of them much easier. Regularly talking to rabbits while offering them treats of fresh veggies and petting them helps to keep them social.

     Socialization or taming of rabbits is easiest done when they are young. Holding and petting baby bunnies can begin when they have their eyes open. Thanks to Claire and Emily for spending time playing with baby bunnies during their visits. The bunnies which received "play time" with the girls are very friendly.

two week old bunnies

     A vision for raising rabbits at Windward will need to include increased capacity for young rabbits. Two more batteries of cages would be helpful. One of these could be four female cages and one could be three male and two female cages. This would provide additional growing room and the ability to separate young bucks as needed when they approach sexual maturity.

     A building to house all of the rabbits would be ideal. The structure could have removable or hinged sides to allow free air flow in the summer. Exhaust fans at ceiling level on either end would insure adequate winter ventilation. Cages mounted about three feet high would allow easy access to rabbits and aid in removal of waste from beneath the cages.

     The current rabbit area is a good location as it is protected from the full force of the wind and provides shade in the summer. Access to an outdoor area similar to the current playpen would allow rabbits to exercise, dig, do "binkies" and just do what rabbits naturally like to do.

[Sam described a "binkie" as when a rabbit jumps in midair and kicks its legs out to the side it is called a "binky" and is a sign that they are very happy and content. The rabbits are very funny when they do this. I would love to have a photo of this but the binky is quick and unpredictable. Not a move an amateur photographer like myself can catch!]
Notes From Windward - Index - Vol. 70