The Ideal Pregnancy

At birth (usually 30 days after breeding) the mother begins to make her nest in the nestbox you should provide her no later than the 27th day. It should be filled with either hay, straw, or shredded newspaper. I prefer hay. She should fix up the nest with fur from her belly and chest. If she hasn’t pulled out fur yet, she probably will when she is having the babies, or right afterwards. Some does will make a nest days in advanced (fur included) some burrow a hole, some ignore the nest completely until the time comes.

Does usually kindle in the wee hours of the morning and prefer darkness to light. You should take care not to disturb her until she hops out of the box, but sometimes if she is in there a long time you may have to urge her out to check and make sure everything is okay. (Such as if she is just sitting there staring at you for quite a while.)

If the doe seems to be doing well on her own, leave her be. Once she jumps out of the nest box (or is nudged aside) you can check the babies by removing the box from the cage. Remove any dead babies, or afterbirth that is in the box. Count them, so you know how many are there and put them back, close together and covered with fur. The mom may hop back in when you replace the box. Make note of any peanuts if you raise dwarf breeds. These are 1/3 the size of a normal kit with bulging eyes. They never put on weight and will not flourish. They usually pass away in a few days.

Keep checking the nestbox many times a day to make sure none have died, remove them and put the box back in with the mom. At about 7-10 days the eyes open. You should check each eye to make sure they don’t have a case of “nestbox eye.” If they do, their eye will be sealed shut and have white pus inside it. If they have this, open the eye with warm water and a cloth to clean out the pus.

Also keep an eye out that their genitals don’t get caked up with feces. This happens more often when they are trying to wean, I check this daily.

Between 2-3 weeks they should hop out of the nestbox in search of mom’s milk. They’ll also begin exploring and find the food and hay you provide to mom. This is when they’ll begin the weaning process and where you might see digestive issues. Supply lots of hay, water and oats when needed. You should be able to easily determine the gender of the babies at this time. Some breeders can do it within days of birth.

By 5-6 weeks they are nearly fully weaned. Some runts and larger breeds need more time. Babies will continue to nurse as long as the mom lets them. For Holland Lops, I start evaluating potential show rabbits at this age. Some will change into “the uglies” between 8-16 weeks and you may inadvertently sell an amazing rabbit as a pet or to another breeder by accident, keeping brood stock to yourself. It does happen to everyone from time to time. I’m always still proud of my accidental sales when I see them on the show table winning!

When they are 7-8 weeks old it’s time to separate them from mom. Sometimes boys can be housed together for another month, females a bit longer. It’s best to give everyone their own space if you can.

Things of Note
If a mom has babies on the cage floor or cannibalizes them, it’s usually because something set this into motion. Either illness, lack of proper nutrition, stress (rodents in the barn, or other animals or people.) Sometimes it’s nothing at all. Most breeders keep does to a “Third Strike” rule. Once a doe fails to breed, or does something that leads to the death of her babies that’s a strike. After 3 strikes she is usually sold as a pet, used for meat or simply put down. Some breeders may even sell this doe to an unsuspecting buyer with promises of her breeding habits. Be sure to ask specifically about does over 8 months of age about their breeding history. It’s also important to note that does over 1yr who haven’t been bred may have a difficult time getting pregnant.

When to rebreed?
It’s important to note that a doe is most fertile just after giving birth. If that litter was DOA it is best to rebreed her in the next couple of days. If she has just finished caring for a litter that is now weaned, providing she is completely healthy in good coat and flesh condition she can be rebred if willing. Light plays a huge factor in a does willingness to be bred. Make sure she is getting at least 14hrs of light a day. We use timers on our electric lights to keep the does willing year round.

If a doe is ever bony, loose in flesh, has signs of diarrhea, she should not be bred until brought back up to 100% health. Unhealthy does usually mean unhealthy kits if they are able to get pregnant at all and the cycle continues to no benefit.