Rabbit Care and Breeding for 2011


     6 does were bred with 3 bucks: Scorpio w/ Muffin, Orion w/ Virgo, and Biscuit w/ Nina on March 5, and Scorpio w/ Peaches, Orion w/ Paris, and Biscuit w/ Roma on 3/10.

     The mothers delivered their litters between 4/5 and 4/11, all with good results in the short term except for Virgo, who has failed to produce a surviving litter three pregnancies in a row. A few weeks after birthing, however, many of the babies contracted conjunctivitis, commonly known as pink eye. On 4/28, Nicole began treating the infected eyes twice daily with oxytetracycline hydrochloride, a prescription antibiotic cream from the vet in Goldendale. Each time the cream was applied, the infected eyes, as well as nose and paws, were wiped with a soft rag soaked in a mild vinegar water solution. This treatment is supposed to last 10 days and most of the babies responded well, but several of them required a second round of treatment and two were never fully healed. All infected bunnies were quarantined together.

Sarah holds one of Roma's grey babies

     Bunnies/cages were moved outside to their warm weather pen on 5/13. (Conjunctivitis treatment continued where applicable). This first round of breeding raised 25 or 26 rabbits to adulthood, including 15 boys and 10 or 11 girls. Two of them retained some degree of conjunctivitis in their eyes throughout the season and remained quarantined together, but the infection never appeared to spread to the lungs. On a lighter note, the mating of Roma with Biscuit produced the darkest all-over grey tinge that I have ever seen in our rabbits. As usual, it faded as the babies grew, but even now there are traces of it if you look closely. Everyone seems to think the grey ones are extra cute, and I'd have to agree.

     Because the first round of breeding had such high survival rates (thanks mainly to Nicole's early nursing of the conjunctivitis outbreak), I only bred two of the does for the second round of breeding. On 6/10 Muffin was mated with Biscuit and Roma with Scorpio. I chose Roma and Muffin because they are probably our best mommas, though this is only Muffin's first season. They both keep a tight nest and raise large, healthy litters.

Sarah carries babies to the playpen in a bucket--a more efficient transfer

     Both Roma and Muffin delivered on 7/12, Roma with 7 babies and Muffin with 10. Muffin lost one baby, but otherwise all went well. Nest boxes were removed on 7/30. There were some maggots in the bottom of Muffin's nest box, so this might be something to watch out for, especially with the moms who put a lot of hay and fur in their box. Over time it tends to get matted down and moistened with urine and blood from the birthing, which might be inviting for flies in the summer time.

     On 8/19 Muffin and Roma's babies were removed from their mothers and grouped in other cages. Throughout late summer, much of our bunny energy is given to refilling water bottles. This is a critical need for the rabbits, especially when we have lots of young ones sharing cages.

     Butchering of the young rabbits from the first round of mating began. As cages opened up, I sanitized them with bleach water and/or a torch to make them available for the quickly-growing summer babies. This sanitation process is especially critical after this year's conjunctivitis outbreak.

The aforementioned grey fur fading as the babies grow

     Butchering of the first round of babies is done. Nicole discovers why Orion (one of the breeding males) has not been eating off and on: he has ridiculously long teeth! Unfortunately for him, his malformed teeth were curling around inside his mouth, rather than poking out where we could see them. Nicole trimmed his teeth with nail clippers, and I have been continuing the process every two weeks because they grow quickly. One of the babies (not sired by Orion) has this problem as well and also gets trimmed. This is not a sustainable practice, nor is it a trait we want to keep in our rabbit population. However, Orion was the rabbit that Mary Lou purchased last year to bring some outside genetics into the herd, so I am planning on keeping him around long enough to breed once more, so that I can keep one of his baby boys (with normal teeth) for future breeding. Orion is also an enormous rabbit, which is good for a meat-production herd and part of why I think his genes are worth keeping. These malformed teeth are something we will have to be on the lookout for these next several seasons.

     This was a big month for medical problems, because Roma also started losing fur and on further inspection had a large sore on her rear end. Nicole's best guess was ringworm, so we started treating with clotrimazole, an over-the-counter antifungal. After a few weeks that wasn't helping much, so Nicole made a tea tree oil concoction, which seemed to help even less. Shortly after Nicole left for Antarctica, I started treating with Miconazole, another anti-fungal, and wiping the sore with betadine solution before each application. All of these treatments were happening twice a day.

Bunnies like to get on top of things and under things. They are easily entertained by an upside-down crate

     Roma's treatments have continued, but she shows little sign of improvement. Her fur is growing back in the sore spot, but the skin looks scaly and the swelling remains. I am starting to think that our diagnosis of ringworm was incorrect, but I am at a loss as to what else it could be. She also contracted conjuctivitis in her right eye during this process, which I treated with antibiotics but seems to be returning again. It would be a great shame to lose Roma as she is one of our most reliable mothers, but I am starting to think we may need to say goodbye.

     On Nov. 5th we moved most of the rabbits into Vermidise for the winter, following an extensive sanitization of all cages, mainly because of fear that Roma is harboring something contagious. Roma still lives outside in her quarantine pen, as well as the baby boys who are growing out in the tractor. This last crop of babies will be officially full-grown by mid-December, but we may start butchering before then because winter is already upon us.

Bunnies explore the playpen, a luxury they miss in the wet/cold seasons

     This month I also took inventory of the water bottle collection, as having a double set of bottles is helpful in the winter when bottles tend to freeze overnight. This enables us to keep a second warm set waiting in the kitchen, so we can just exchange them during the morning feeding. It looks like we're short on bottles at the moment, but when the babies are butchered we should have plenty for a double set for the breeders.

     I will likely be saving two females from this batch of babies, one to replace Virgo, who was culled for failing to produce a viable litter, and one to replace Roma if she does not recover.

Other notes:

     I have established a general practice of raking the hay out from under the cages every two weeks, at the end of the week. This is easy to do alone, and then about once a month I ask for help in hauling the hay/poop from its "local" pile to wherever Lindsay wants it in the garden/orchard area. I plan to continue this 2-week clean-up pattern in the winter, as ventilation is poor in Vermidise.

     We have been experimenting with feeding homemade pellets (see Andrew's article), and so far this has caused no upset among the rabbits. We have also set up a spot in Vermidise for more hay storage during the winter, which will make winter feeding much easier, as wheel-barrowing up from the hay barn is no fun in snow and ice.

     The rabbits, especially the babies, have also continued to enjoy the playpen (built by Sam last year) in the warm/dry months. However, in terms of people-labor, I find the playpen is best utilized when we have interns around to help with the rabbits, because putting them out in the playpen means catching them and putting them away every evening. Also, Kotomi did some nice work reinforcing the holes where the little buggers had been working to dig out, which is an on-going problem to be on the look-out for whenever they are free to play on the ground in an enclosure that seems secure for, say, a chicken.

     A few of my goals for next year:

  1. To keep Vermidise clean enough (i.e. poop removal) that we can breed babies there in the spring without suffering conjuctivitis or sudden "mystery" deaths.

  2. Sanitize, sanitize, sanitize. The more time I spend with the rabbits, the more I realize how important this is.

  3. Locate an ILLUSTRATED veterinary manual for rabbits. I often consult the Merck Veterinary Manual for its excellent technical background on the relevant zoonoses (infectious diseases that affect non-human animals), but if we're talking about something like ringworm, I also need pictures! I should also note that one of my great joys in working with the rabbits this year has been in being able to understand texts like the Merck Manual after my recent pre-nursing studies, mainly microbiology. Anyway...

  4. Support Andrew and Ruben in polishing the pelletizing process so we can stop buying commercial feed.

  5. Set up the new rabbit quarters inside and outside of Chick Run. But that's another story altogether....

     Many thanks to Ruben and Nicole for their invaluable help with the daily rabbit chores this year, and to the others who have filled in as needed and helped with cleaning parties and moving poop!

Notes From Windward - Index - Vol. 71