There is truth to what people say about rabbits and their reproductive prowess. They certainly do know how to get things done in that department. I know this full well now. I've got 18 rabbits now. I started with 3.
For those of you who haven't been following the frequent rabbit posts, this summer I started keeping a few at Jewel Street Paradise after attending a workshop at the homestead of the amazing Jenna Woginrich of Cold Antler Farm. I went in with a basic understanding of rabbits and left with a brain brimming over with information and a breeding trio in my back seat. A buck and two does. Ghost, and his ladies Salad and Hazel.
As far as breeding specimens go, they were pretty fine rabbits. They seemed robust and healthy to my novice eye. The only issue I had was with a little splaying on Sal's front legs which could have been a result of being a singleton or a slippery nesting box or poor genetics. That aside, she's such a wonderfully friendly, engaging critter that I thought she'd be perfect for handling demos one day when I feel comfortable enough teaching the basics of rabbit husbandry. Hazel would be the main lady I'd use for breeding. Her body is dense and round, with compact muscle mass and bright clear eyes and clean fur. She seemed to be the kind of rabbit that breeders would want to propagate more of. When I was ready, I'd mate her with Ghost and see how things went from there. Salad would assist me in teaching. I had it all figured out.
She's a funny lady though, Nature. I was busy cleaning cages outside one day and Salad was running around in the raised beds, kicking and jumping and having a grand time. Somehow Ghost managed to get out of his cage. When I noticed him (he couldn't have been out long) I grabbed him and put him back. He was no where near Sal when I spotted him so it didn't even occur to me that we'd have a litter on the way.
28 days later I was still ignorant to the fact that my favorite girl was expecting. She hadn't put on much weight and she wasn't carrying around straw in her mouth like a crazed bird. It was business as usual here, until one morning exactly one month ago I went down to feed the gang and found a pile of grey fluff in the back of Sal's lair. There were 7 little jellybeans in there, blind, deaf and helpless...but Salad turned out to be a wonderful mother. She's attentive, gentle and pretty much did everything right the first time. I'm proud of her. She's a good rabbit. All the instincts are there.
(Sal's big healthy buns snicker)
I wish I could say the same for Hazel. For all of her physical attributes, she's not the most motherly it seems. Yesterday, she kindled and is now mother to 8 speckled kits. Unlike Salad, she did gain a bit of weight and demonstrated some of the behavior of an expecting doe. One thing she did not do is pull fur for her nest.
(Hazel acting WAY preggers)
I attempted to put a nesting box into the cage when I saw her carrying around straw, but she ignored it and began nesting in another corner. I removed it while I waited for the kits to come. One they were born I placed a cloth-lined nesting box in the cage and gently laid the tiny kits together in the center, piling hay around them and what little fur I could pull from Hazel. She was very spooked and I decided that leaving her alone was the the better choice. I pulled some fur from Salad, and she was happy to just lie there and let me take what was needed. I also pulled apart a little dryer lint to cushion the nest and keep the vulnerable kits cozy. I gave Hazel some collard greens to distract her, but she was very aware of my presence and did not seem to care for it.
It's hard to say how this litter will do. Dams (a mother rabbit) don't sit on the nest the way hens or other animals might. They go to the nest at night, feed the kits briefly and then leave them again, covered and protected. I'll only know if they've been tended to if they are warm each morning, bellies round with milk.
I'll let you all know how it goes.