Monday, June 11, 2012

Keeping Rabbits: Our First Litter

Just A Handful Of Bunny

We've been keeping rabbits for about 6 months now, and just got our first litter 2 weeks ago. Baby bunnies, adorable little things, are called kittens. When they're first born they look neither like kittens nor like rabbits. In their first days they look something like tailless newborn mice, then they progress to looking like miniscule, furred baby hippos. At last, after a couple weeks, you see the rabbit in them. They don't open their eyes for almost 2 weeks, and are born hairless but super soft.

A Healthy Kitten At Ten Days Old
We've all heard the myth that you can't touch baby rabbits or the mom will abandon them, but fortunately a friend of mine refuted that one, letting me know that she makes it a point to handle her kittens from the beginning so that they are always comfortable with people. 

Now, like all myths, there might be some truth to this one. I would not let anyone handle kittens that the mama rabbit is not super comfortable with. If the mother trusts you, she will not consider your smell strange even on her babies. Rabbits can be very feisty though, and mother rabbits that have just kindled are especially protective and suspicious of activity around their babies. Azula is such a good mother; even though she is friendly with us, she did actually bite Nik once when he pulled his arm out of the nest too fast. We learned it's best to be slow and calm around a new mother!

Azula, looking out for her babies- or maybe just waiting for some fresh greens.

Since kindling, Azula is always ready to eat, so whenever we want to check on the babies we give her a bunch of fresh, wild greens to distract her. While she calmly nibbles, we can reach into the nest box to count the babies and check how they are doing. One thing that must be checked for is dead babies, or babies that are separate from the rest because, especially before their fur comes in, they need to be close to each other to stay warm.

One day Nik discovered that the tiny runt of the litter was cold and stiff. We had naively thought that since he had made it to 10 days old, he would be OK, but all of his brothers and sisters were 3 or 4 times his size, and he was just not keeping pace! Nik thought this baby, who we called Runty, was dead, but as he carried him, Runty moved his head very slowly. Nik tenderly brought him in and we cuddled him and gave him drops of warm goat milk. 

Many gentle hands cradled Runty.
He responded well to the food, at first eating very slowly and eventually eating more and more quickly. He revived, warmed up, and had quite an appetite! To keep him warm and still have my hands free, I carried him around inside my shelf bra. He slept quite comfortably there.

I noticed he never went potty, so I did some research and found that a mother rabbit licks the genitals of her babies after they nurse, to get them to urinate. An adoptive caregiver can use a warm washcloth or even a wet finger. When I tried this, nothing happened. Later, Nik tried it and got Runty to poop, the teeniest, tiniest rabbit poops ever.
 
We could only love him.
I put him back in my shirt, where he slept and occasionally wiggled against me, like a baby in the womb. Baby rabbits nurse only once or twice a day. I cannot even imagine how this gives them enough nutrition to survive and thrive, or why it's biologically advantageous for the mother to feed them so infrequently, but apparently that's all they need and all their moms will abide. We fed Runty more often than this; he was, after all, so very small. He had a lot of catching up to do.

Feeding him was a two person job. Nik would hold him in position, with Runty's mouth to the sky, while I controlled the milk flow from a needle-less syringe. It would have been easier with a simple eyedropper, but the syringe was all we had. It was hard to control how much milk came out. While I tried to feed him only a drop at a time, more than once I got him with a big spurt as the plunger jumped inside the syringe. We wiped him clean, and he seemed unfazed. It was glorious to watch him eat, to feel his tiny belly filling out.

With Runty being so very, very tiny we were at a loss for where he should spend the night. He seemed to need more warmth than his own fragile body could produce. If he were anywhere near the size of the rest of his littermates, we would have returned him to his family in the nest for the night, but we knew he'd just get pushed out again. Maybe rabbit moms know more than we do about what it takes to survive in this world.

He was too small to co-sleep with us giants, though I wanted to try. Nik set up a heating pad on the lowest possible setting, in a cozy nook on our floor. Runty did not survive the night. At least, I believe, he died warm, well fed, and feeling loved.

We knew his chance of survival was slim, small as he was, and nearly dead already when we found him. We buried him next to the garden, and the children placed some of their treasured safety glass fragments on his eyes, because they heard how in some cultures people send loved ones off with coins on their eyes. Little Runty never even opened those tiny eyes.


Odin & I hold one of our remaining 9 kittens.
Two weeks old now, the rest of the litter is hopping around their nest box, eyes open to the world, even nibbling on things here and there, like the burlap lining their nest, the wood frame, and the occasional leaf of wild greens. Their intrinsic need to chew is apparent. One brave little bunny frequently leaves the nest box to find his mother in the outer cage. When he finds her and tries to nurse, she hops away to the top of the nest box, her private area. Momma bunnies need their space. The baby doesn't seem to get his feelings hurt. He nibbles on things on his way back to his buddies in the nest.

Two weeks ago, we could barely see the babies under all their mother's fluff.
Does that are about to kindle will line the nest box with fur from their bellies. In the first days, we had to strain to see them as they slept under all their mother's protective fluff. After 2 weeks the babies have pushed the fluff out of the box and are hopping around the box, spending most of their time sleeping right near the opening of the nest. They are not hiding anymore! By 16 days, they have all ventured out of the nest, and the mom gets no peace unless she's up on top of the nest box. Soon they'll be eating solid food and she might catch a break.

Azula & Katara in their carefree, pre-pregnancy days.


Shared at Pretty & Delish, Pity Party, Tuesday's Table, Greens, Weekly Creative, TGIF, Pennywise, Fabulously Frugal, ReTreat, Tuned In, Terrific, Project Inspired, Mostly Homemade, Full Plate, Natural Living, Eco Kids, Love It, Simple Meals, Fluster, Craftionary, Showcase, What I Am Eating, Small Footprint, Thriving, Wildcrafting, Your Great Idea, Pin Me, Mix It Up, Clever Chicks, Riverton, Waste Not, Backyard Farming, Heart & Home, Extravaganza, Domestically Divine, Pintastic, Adorned From Above, Farmer's Daughter, Eat Make Grow, Home Is Where The Heart Is, I Did It, LHITS, Hearth & Soul, Freaky Friday, Thrifty Thursday, Once Upon A Weekend, Time Out, Seasonal Inspiration, Teach Me, Country Garden Showcase, Confessional, Show & Tell, Strut Your Stuff, Traditional Tuesdays, Anti-Procrastination, Morris Tribe, Weekend Wander, Frugally Sustainable, Homestead Barn Hop, Country Mama Cooks, Frugal Friday, Country Homemaker, Fun Party, Pennywise, Green Resource, Rural Thursday, Simple Lives, Frugal Food, Frugal Days, Garden Party, Living Green, and Fat Tuesday.

49 comments:

  1. Beautiful writing Mellow.

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  2. Baby rabbits are called kits, not kittens. We raised rabbits for many years and numerous litters. They are adorable!

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  3. That was very interesting. With no predators in our area, the cottontails are multiplying like mad. I try to think of them as cute cuddly bunnies like yours but when they're eating all my flowers it's kind of hard to think happy thoughts.

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    1. Oh I am so glad we don't have rabbits eating the garden. The slugs are bad enough!

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  4. Life with rabbits--very interesting! I once spent a happy hour in fourth grade feeding clover to a friendly pet rabbit--they are pretty hilarious to watch when they are eating.

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  5. aww poor little runty! Only the strong survive! Nice post...very informative!

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  6. A lovely, bittersweet story.

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  7. Oh dear ~ I nearly cried for Runty and all of you ~ such a wonderful story and photos are awesome ~~ thanks, ^_^ (A Creative Harbor)

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  8. I learned so much from your narrative. Thanks so much for sharing it with us. I thought it was cute that a mother kindles, maybe because I'm considering purchasing a kindle. ~smile~

    Blessings to you from Harvest Lane Cottage!
    Laura

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  9. Congratulations on your first litter!!! We have been keeping rabbits for about a year and half now. We LOVE it!!

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  10. Are you raising them to eat them? I am a vegetarian,so it's hard to wrap my head around raising things just to kill them and give yourself cancer from eating dead carcasses.

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    1. I think you migth be scaremongering here a little bit 'anonymous' by saying that you give yourself cancer by eating 'dead carcasses'! You should be careful of those healthy vegetables that you eat as they will be covered in toxic chemicals - in the flesh of the vegetable itself and sprayed on the outside of it. Also the soya products that you probably eat as a protein source is helping to strip the world of its rainforests... That's why some of us try to raise everything we eat ourselves whether it be animal or vegetable, then you know exactly where and how it's been grown and that if it's an animal that it has had the best life possible.

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    2. Like you, Anonymous, I am not interested in getting cancer. I was a vegetarian for over half my life, but in all the reading I have done on nutrition over the years, I have come to the conclusion that it's not necessarily the best way to eat. I used to think that eating meat was what made Americans fat and lead to heart attacks, now I'm pretty sure it's processed foods that lead to all these health problems that weigh so many people down.
      Rather than support the conventional meat industry, we choose to raise our own. Rabbits are about the most sustainable meat animals you can raise, since they thrive on kitchen scraps and garden weeds. I have had both carnivores & vegetarians alike raise eyebrows, or express downright scorn, at our ability to raise animals for meat, but the fact is that we are unwilling to buy factory meat, and this is the healthiest, most sustainable meat that we can afford.

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    3. Kudos to you. I am just starting out raising rabbits for meat, and like many in my rural community I grew up in 4H and FFA with the livestock clubs raising hogs, steers, lambs and goats. I really wish we had also raised meat rabbits, as well. Oh well, live and learn, and now I'll raise rabbits for myself as well as a few dairy goats.

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  11. What pretty rabbits! Congrats on your first litter!

    Thanks for letting me know the linky on the Carnival of Home Preserving had closed. I accidentally put the wrong code in. It's fixed now.

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  12. I know this comment has nothing to do with this post, but I couldn't figure out how to locate your email address to ask you this question: I'm on day #2 of fermenting some ginger ale. I used whey, and not a ginger bug since I already had some in the fridge. It looks like there is a very very thin film of some sort of splotchy scoby-like thing growing on the top --- is that normal? When I went to stir it, part of my spoon felt slimy from it. Should I try to remove it once it's done fermenting? Or just leave it in there? You can email me at: downeyfresh07@yahoo.com --- Thanks!

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  13. Awe rabbits are so cute! I want to raise rabbits for meat but we would run into a problem. I can do every thing from skinning to cooking but the killing part... well I can't seem to do that (growing up, that was my brother's job). The reason it's a problem, is I don't think my hubby would be able to either :(
    Found you at Saturday link and greet and am following via GFC now :)

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    1. We researched different methods, for which one would be easiest, most humane, and quickest. Killing is not easy, and butchering is definitely gruesome... enough to make me wonder if we weren't meant to be vegetarians ;) If you ever do raise meat rabbits, or chickens, you could find a friend who would be willing to do the kill & help with butchering for a share of the meat.
      We are committed to factory-free meat. I could personally just go meat-free, but 3/4 of my family loves meat, so I want to help make sure they get the best, cleanest meat we can get. Raising our own is how we can afford that!

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  14. Awwww so sad! Rest assured you did very well for the little guy, and God bless you for trying. We rescued a wild kit once, eyes not open. We gave him to our nursing mama cat (after rubbing it all over her for the scent) and she nursed it along with her babies. We didn't handle it, and when it grew up it hopped away and re-entered the wild.

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  15. How sweet. I love rabbits.

    I support your decision to raise your own meat. If Hubs and I were in a position where we could have a farm and raise all of our own meat, we totally would. I've told him before that I would learn how to slaughter and butcher it myself (although he already knows how)...what better way to connect to your food? I think people express scorn for raising your own meat because they are so detached from where their food comes from now. They go to the grocery store and buy their hamburger or steak or whatever and all they see is its packaging. Its like they don't realize it was an animal some time before that and they don't see the factory farm it came from or the inhumane, and quite possibly unsanitary conditions its slaughtered and butchered in. They only know it as the name of the cut of meat and the price.

    Fortunately, there is a local farm where we live and they have their own shop and that's where we get our meat. They are completely transparent...you can go see their farm, you can see where they butcher, you can ask questions. Its as close to doing it ourselves as we can get. And surprisingly, its not really any more expensive than grocery store, anonymous "meat" and we know what we are getting and supporting local food.

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  16. Is rabbit meat the only meat you eat ? I was under the impression that if you only ate rabbit meat exclusively it could cause health issues?

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    1. We haven't yet started eating the rabbits; our first litter is less than 2 months old. For now, we still have nitrate-free bacon & sausages in our freezer, and some organic ground beef. We also get given roosters when others don't want them, and just ate a rooster who was waking me up at 4 in the morning.
      I've read about rabbit starvation as well. I don't think rabbit is the ideal meat, nutritionally, because it's just too lean. Rabbits are super easy to keep sustainably, so in that sense they're great. However, while rabbit may become our only source of meat eventually, I have a hard time picturing it as our only source of fat. We use coconut oil, olive oil, butter, and heavy cream regularly. I think it would be hard on your body if you were basically living on rabbit & vegetables alone, but that's not to say that rabbit is bad for you, just too low-fat.

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  17. Is rabbit meat the only meat you eat ? I was under the impression that if you only ate rabbit meat exclusively it could cause health issues?

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    1. We still eat occasional roosters that friends give us, and are still going through some frozen sausages from when we used to buy meat... Rabbit meat alone is not bad for you, the only problem with it is that it doesn't provide enough fat to sustain health. We do have other fat sources though- coconut oil, olive oil, butter, cream, and goat milk. If we were literally living on rabbit & vegetables, we could be in for health issues, but they are a great source of high quality protein when you have other fats in your diet.

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  18. I'm so sorry Runty didn't survive; you definitely did your best for him. Thank you for sharing this well-written post with us at the Hearth & Soul hop.

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  19. OMG They are beautiful!!!
    I am your newest follower :) i've always wanted to live pretty much self sufficient but never really knew how.
    What a great BlogI would love it if you would drop past our blog and share this with us
    http://live-love-laugh-interiordesign.blogspot.com.au/

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    1. Thank you! It's hard to imagine living fully self-sufficiently, but we're working on it little by little!

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  20. I just started with my first 2 rabbits. Do they get any kind of shots or vaccines? How do you know how much to feed them? I have to get a book next time I get to the library, but thought maybe you could help me.

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    1. Ours don't get shots, I don't know if it's normal to, but since we eat them, the less chemicals in their meat, the better. I read Storey's Guide to Rabbits, but it really wasn't about keeping rabbits in a natural and sustainable way, which is how we prefer to do things. I don't think there is a natural rabbit care book out there yet. We are still really learning, but I can tell you how we do things.
      Our rabbits, after about a year of keeping them, are healthy and beautiful. I feed each rabbit a handful of sprouted grains for breakfast: http://alifeunprocessed.blogspot.com/2012/01/sprouted-grains-for-chickens.html The growing or pregnant rabbits get more, the males and non-pregnant does just get a small handful. Then later in the day we give them edible yard waste, woody fruit tree clippings or pine branches and blackberry brambles or ivy, and more leafy weeds: http://alifeunprocessed.blogspot.com/2012/06/identifying-and-harvesting-weeds-in.html Basically, I try to give them something to chew on all the time, because I think it's good for their teeth; they need to chew! You can also buy hay, which they can have all day long. We give ours alfalfa pellets as well, which the growing and pregnant rabbits can have unlimited access to. They should also always have access to clean water.

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  21. Your Runty the rabbit to our John the chicken. He was very ill and even after treatment and lots of help I too found a stiff cold and presumably dead body. I was faced witht he hard decision of what to do for the poor fellow and made the hard choice of keeping him with his nest mates as he wasn't expected to survive. In the morning we found him dead and flattened under the sawdust litter. :( Poor John. As our kids had become a little attached (me too) we gave him a funeral and his cross says "Little and loved". It was a great lesson for the kids and the start of the toughening up process for me (I sobbed like a baby - so emotional).

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    1. That is so sweet. My kids always handle it better than I do when an animal dies. I just always feel like I could have done more!

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  22. My daughter and I were looking at your adorable bunnies. I think they are some of the cutest creations God has made....!

    Congrats on a healthy litter!

    hugs x
    Crystelle
    Crystelle Boutique

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  23. Great post! Sorry about little Runty :( but all those other babies sure are cute :)

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  24. So cute, and so sorry about little Runty. We had kittens once that we had to feed and teach to poop when their mother rejected them, we rubbed their bums with wet paper towels. Thanks so much for sharing this on Waste Not Want Not Wednesday, I’ve pinned it.

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  25. So sorry about Runty. Thanks for sharing such an interesting first hand story - we're hoping to breed our rabbits in a few months.

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  26. Interesting post- sorry to hear the tiniest bunny did not survive, but it looks like the others are thriving. I'd never heard the term 'kindle' before.Visiting from the chicken chick blog party- have a great week. :)

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  27. Thank you for sharing with the Clever Chicks Blog Hop this week; I hope you’ll join us again!


    Cheers,
    Kathy Shea Mormino

    The Chicken Chick

    http://www.The-Chicken-Chick.com


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  28. So very cute!! I have been thinking about getting some bunnies and chickens, but I am not quite ready to the commitment. Thanks for sharing!
    Amber @ Tales of Domestica

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  29. Oh my. I could have written this post down to losing the little runt. We have had rabbits for about 4 years and I can confirm everything you said about litters. It looks like you have a Standard Chinchilla there; is that right? We raise Californians, Silver MArtens, and Golden PAlamino's. Have 4 little ones now and 3 litters expected in about 2 weeks.
    Jennifer

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    1. These are American Chinchillas- is that the same as a Standard? I don't know much about other breeds ;)

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  30. Oh and thanks for sharing at Wildcrafting Wednesday.
    Jennifer

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  31. I love bunnies Mellow! We have them all over our neighborhood. Max keeps them out of the backyard but I love seeing them sunning themselves in the front :-)Thanks for sharing them at the party this week! I am featuring it on my Facebook page later today as well as pinning it to the You're Gonna Love It board on Pinterest :-)

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  32. Precious! Thank you so much for sharing with Full Plate Thursday. Hope you are having a great summer weekend and come back to see me real soon!
    Miz Helen

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  33. Happy Friday! My Friday Flash Blog linky party is live @ The Jenny Evolution – a flash mob of blogs where you share your favorite posts of the week. Hope to see you there -- you may just get highlighted next week!

    Jennifer
    thejennyevolution.com

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  34. So sorry that you lost Runty. At least he spent the last day being loved. Thanks for sharing on Tuesday Greens!

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