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Doe Mistreating and Eating Kits  RSS feed

 
Nikki Thompson
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Special Note: We know very little (almost nothing) about rabbits.

Slight back story:
We were given two rabbits a few months ago because a lady was moving and had heard we were interested in raising rabbits. This is true but we wanted meat rabbits and we also did not want any yet because we didn't feel that we were prepared. Well the lady was persistent so we said okay and if it doesn't work out, we'll eat them. Anyhow,  this is what the lady told us: they are Holland Lops, one is a male and the other female, they are probably siblings, they are about two years old, and that the doe had not had any bunnies.

Current Situation:
The doe has had 4 litters so far with the most recent one being 03/06/2016. Yeah, that's THIS MONDAY! Of all 4 litters, we've had one kit (bunny) to live and we gave it away around Christmas. Each litter has been at least 4 kits, I actually believe her smallest was 5, but just incase...
Longer story shorter, she doesn't care for the bunnies at all! She pulls her fur for them, but that's it! No other warmth, milk, nothing! As a matter of fact, not only does she ignore them, she abuses them! She bounces on top of them, scratches them, shoves them around and essentially, I believe she actually kills them! EEEEEK! Oh this is so upsetting too! Horrifying! AGH! Brandon saw them being born and she was being rough with them, but he said he thought she was just cleaning them up and getting the sack off (and other motherly stuff). Okay so when I got home that night, I checked on them and one wasn't moving but the others were. Okay so I thought it was a stillborn. It was super small and bony. Alright then the next morning Brandon said they appeared to all be there and moving so that was good. I got home that night (last night) and I only saw one bunny! I didn't want my scent to get anywhere so I took a tiny stick and moved it around a little bit and found a body buried so I just assumed the rest were too. Poor lonely bunny. I thought well maybe she's doing a survival of the fittest-type thing and the others couldn't make it so she'd give all her attention to this one. Oh I was so upset though. I just knew it'd die too. I wanted to go ahead and cull it so it didn't have to keep suffering, but I figured I'd give it a chance with her. I was relieved to see her jump into the next though! She jumped in and started shifting the bedding around like she was making room for the kit to nurse so I got excited. She'd shove her hands out and the kit would whimper. I thought well maybe its nursing when she brings her hands in and then it can't nurse when she shoves her hands out. Okay I said well at least it's getting some nutrients. Well then she jumped out of her nesting box and I realized something was moving in the corner. She had been shoving the kit into the corner the whole time and it was whimpering because she was hurting it!!! So sad! I wanted to ring her neck so bad!!! I couldn't handle it so I left and ended up telling Brandon. The next morning (this morning) I checked on them and gave her some fresh leaves from the garden. I went to put the ducks up and when I came back she was eating in her box. I thought okay well at least she's eating while the little one is nursing. I heard her crunch something that sounded stiffer than leaves and when she moved, I saw that she had been EATING HER BABY!!! Oh my goodness gracious! Oh it was horrifying just so horrifying! I wanted to cry and just give the 2 rabbits away. I just....ugh! SMH, it's just so horrible! *sigh* On a break today at work, I called the local vets office. They basically said that it sounded like we were doing everything we should be doing, but sometimes does are just not suited to be moms. They suggested spaying her, but I figured we'd make rabbit stew and tan her hide instead.

Sorry, I'm not good at summarizing.

Question: Is there something that we could do to help her become a better mother?
 
Liz Hoxie
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This is what I remember from my uncle raising rabbits. Is the buck anywhere near her? If she smells him, she may kill the kits. He also kept a quilt over the cage from the time she started pulling fur until the kits were going in and out of the box on their own. He would only move the covering enough to feed and water them. We were not allowed to play on that side of the yard until the quilt was removed. She sounds like she's very insecure.  She needs to feel safe. If this doesn't work, cull her.
BTW, don't touch the babies until they start leaving the box, and ALWAYS rub the mother real well first to get her scent on you THEN you can hold the babies.
 
Travis Johnson
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How much room do they have?

Generally animals are pretty simplistic. If they do not have enough room, they get stressed, and if they are stressed they find ways to relieve that stress. Often it is in removing weaker animals of their own species so they can thrive. It happens with sheep, with coyotes, and even rabbits. It is actually worse with rabbits because...well...they breed like rabbits. She has had a few litters and is doing the same thing because her condition has not changed.

It is possible that she is just a stressed out type rabbit and that culling her with one that is not, might stop the issue. But you could try giving her more room. When we saw our female rabbit pulling fur and nesting (and knew she was about to drop some bunnies), we pulled the male rabbit out which gave her more room (less adult rabbit per square inch of hutch space in other words). She already had a big hutch so it seemed to be enough to lower her stress levels. But if you have a tiny hutch, she just may need more room.

Now the disclaimer: I only have had pet rabbits so people who raise commercial, meat rabbits would be a better people to glean information from. I am only relating MY experience. It may be just a fluke that what I am suggesting worked at stopping our Doe from eating her bunnies.
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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It's a lot of stress on a rabbit, to have an apex predator poking her nest box with a stick. If an apex predator can see into the nesting box, then the rabbit can see the apex predator watching her care for her babies. That creates a lot of stress.

On my farm, the does had a nesting box which was completely enclosed and dark, with just a small hole between the lounging cage and the nesting box. We never opened the nesting box until the babies were weaned. If I had a word of advice, it would be to give her a dark nesting box, and then leave her alone to raise her babies how she wants to raise them.



 
Guerric Kendall
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Sorry if this isn't helpful towards your question, but I definitely agree with rabbit stew.

I've had rabbits that needed to be adopted by another mother(that had kits too) after theirs died after/during birth. Also, dead/stillborn kits needing to be removed from the nest box(that's often what starts the kit-eating habit).

And there have been other occasions which are not so life/death, such as moving the entire family since a rabbit in a cage nearby had mites, cleaning dirty/wet bedding, or needing to sex them at a young age.


I've told this to a few friends who raise rabbits too, and they were shocked. None of the instances caused any issues though. A lot of people may not agree with this, but they can stand it- and need to, for the health of the kits.

I've never agreed with the notion of not interfering with farm animals. They're domesticated, bred in captivity, and require care.

If a mother has a bad habit, then she needs to go. It's the same for any other animal, such as chickens who eat eggs.
 
James Landreth
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Joseph, I was wondering as an aside, did that work well for you? I raise rabbits and one of the things I absolutely dread is "having" to go into the nest to remove dead young. Is it ok to just not interfere?
 
Ferne Reid
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We've been raising both meat and pet rabbits for about 15 years.

The short answer is that, if the doe were mine, she would never have another litter.

It can actually be fairly common for a doe to lose her first litter, either by neglecting them or killing them. Rabbits are kinda weird, and I think some just need a litter to figure it out. The common wisdom is that you get the first litter out of the way, because you're probably going to lose it, and then you get on with raising rabbits. However, our experience is that losing the first litter seems to be a genetic trait. Our current line of does have all successfully raised their first and subsequent litters.

When a doe has lost her first litter, our response is to give her more space and free choice food when she has her second litter. If she cannot/will not raise her second litter, we cull the doe.

We handle all of our litters from day one. When it's obvious the doe has kindled, we check to make sure all of the babies are alive and seem warm. We do that every day from there on out. Despite popular belief, a doe will not reject her litter just because you have handled them, especially if you are the one who brings food and water. She is already used to your scent, and if you are providing for her, she doesn't see you as a predator. We take whole nests apart when necessary, clean them out, and pile fresh hay, the pulled fur, and the babies all back in again with absolutely no issues. We have never lost babies because we have handled them. I totally agree with Guerric ... farm animals need care, and we refuse to have livestock that we can't handle.

James ... I'm not Joseph , but in our experience, some does will kick dead kits out of the nest, and some won't. That's the main reason we check them daily.
 
James Landreth
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Thanks Ferne I appreciate hearing your experience. My hunch is that it's probably best to pull the dead. My first doe kindled eight babies twice but only two survived both times, so I've wondered since if I interfered too much. I only checked the nest once a day
 
Ferne Reid
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Nope. She should've been able to deal with a once a day check. Not a doe you want to keep breeding.

Remember that temperament is inherited just like everything else, and we select for that as much as for size, etc. We can easily hold all of our rabbits, flip them over on their backs, check their ears, and probably hang them upside down by their back legs (haven't tried that one LOL). We don't keep the ones that go nuts with that kind of handling. We flat out refuse to get torn up because we have to treat the odd case of ear mites or whatever.

Of course the downside of that is that you go in the pen and they all run over and sit on your feet. Makes feeding kinda challenging.
 
Nikki Thompson
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Travis Johnson wrote:How much room do they have?


Thanks for responding, Travis. I don't know the exact dimensions, but roughly I'd say it's about 2 ft wide, 4 ft long, and 2.5-3 ft tall. She shares it with the Buck until she's about to birth babies. Then we give her extra feed, water, and "treats" for added mommy nutrients. The treats consist of sticks and pine cones, which she LOVES, to fresh garden veggies and some fruits along with additional Timothy hay. She likes all that stuff and we do feed it to both of them every now and again, but I'm more consistent around her pregnancy.
 
Nikki Thompson
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Liz Hoxie wrote:This is what I remember from my uncle raising rabbits. Is the buck anywhere near her? If she smells him, she may kill the kits. He also kept a quilt over the cage from the time she started pulling fur until the kits were going in and out of the box on their own. He would only move the covering enough to feed and water them. We were not allowed to play on that side of the yard until the quilt was removed. She sounds like she's very insecure.  She needs to feel safe. If this doesn't work, cull her.
BTW, don't touch the babies until they start leaving the box, and ALWAYS rub the mother real well first to get her scent on you THEN you can hold the babies.



Thanks for responding, Liz. She shares her hutch with the Buck until she's about to birth babies. Then we put him in a wire cage next to hers. We tried separating them before and they both went nuts for each other so we hooked his wire cage to hers so they could be close to one another. That seemed to help, but not enough. Then we cut an eye hole about 2" x 4" so they could see each other. That helped too. We've never darkened her area though. And there have been mixed suggestions about touching the kits. We tend to leave well enough alone other than for feeding and cleaning her area, but as far as messing with the babies, that is only if necessary. Even then, I'm sure to get my scent on her nose before and after touching the kits or bedding. I only touch the bedding when it is soiled, when I'm placing the kits into the bedding, or removing corpses. I only touch the kits if they're dead and need removing, if they obviously need help,  or one time when we found that they had fallen through a space that we didn't realize was an issue and had to put them back into the nest. We took precautions with the space after that and haven't had an issue since then though.
 
Nikki Thompson
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Joseph Lofthouse wrote:
It's a lot of stress on a rabbit, to have an apex predator poking her nest box with a stick. If an apex predator can see into the nesting box, then the rabbit can see the apex predator watching her care for her babies. That creates a lot of stress.

On my farm, the does had a nesting box which was completely enclosed and dark, with just a small hole between the lounging cage and the nesting box. We never opened the nesting box until the babies were weaned. If I had a word of advice, it would be to give her a dark nesting box, and then leave her alone to raise her babies how she wants to raise them.


Thanks for responding, Joseph. I never thought of myself as a predator, but I do understand how I, as an apex predator, could be a stressor. Thank you for pointing that out. These are a breed of show rabbits and I know that they've had lots of handling prior to us so I don't think that they would see us as harmful, especially when we're the ones who care for them. I also don't handle them much at all really. I gently pet their heads to make them move so that I can access what I need to inside of their home and the other occasion is when we move them to the wire cage every so often to "deep clean" their hutch, but that's really it. For future reference though, I think I'll make the nesting box so that it can be independent of the main area and so that it can be covered too. Thanks for the advice. It's definitely gotten my gears turning.
 
Nikki Thompson
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Guerric Kendall wrote:Sorry if this isn't helpful towards your question, but I definitely agree with rabbit stew.
I've had rabbits that needed to be adopted by another mother(that had kits too) after theirs died after/during birth. Also, dead/stillborn kits needing to be removed from the nest box(that's often what starts the kit-eating habit).
And there have been other occasions which are not so life/death, such as moving the entire family since a rabbit in a cage nearby had mites, cleaning dirty/wet bedding, or needing to sex them at a young age.
I've told this to a few friends who raise rabbits too, and they were shocked. None of the instances caused any issues though. A lot of people may not agree with this, but they can stand it- and need to, for the health of the kits.
I've never agreed with the notion of not interfering with farm animals. They're domesticated, bred in captivity, and require care.
If a mother has a bad habit, then she needs to go. It's the same for any other animal, such as chickens who eat eggs.


Thanks for responding, Guerric. People around our spot don't really do animals, but especially not rabbits so having another mom foster the kits isn't an option for us and I'm not willing to get any more rabbits right now either. Rabbit stew is looking more and more like the solution until we can get better prepared and select the types of rabbits that we actually want. I know that some people are all for handling rabbits where as others are not, I guess we haven't found the sweet spot that works for our situation quite yet though. We're thinking rabbits would be a nice addition to our Easter menu, but I'm still in limbo so I guess we'll know in about a month!
 
Nikki Thompson
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Ferne Reid wrote:We've been raising both meat and pet rabbits for about 15 years.
The short answer is that, if the doe were mine, she would never have another litter.
When a doe has lost her first litter, our response is to give her more space and free choice food when she has her second litter. If she cannot/will not raise her second litter, we cull the doe.
We handle all of our litters from day one. Despite popular belief, a doe will not reject her litter just because you have handled them


Thanks for responding, Ferne. That's a long time of handling and learning the ins and outs of rabbits. That's awesome! I believe she has plenty of space and I do understand that some people handle kits where as others forbid it for a time, but we're still figuring it out. I'm leaning towards repurposing her, but I haven't made up my mind. If/when that happens, I don't want to have any more rabbits until we can actually read up on it all and select the breed(s) that we want. I just think we could be better prepared. Thank you, again. It's definitely made me feel better, thank you.
 
Jon Wisnoski
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I have not read through this entire thread, so forgive me if I am retreading ground here.
Feed the rabbit some ground beef. Probably as much as she will eat, which probably is not much. I have been told this is because of iron deficiencies, so the right minerals might solve it as well, but the idea is if she is craving meat, feed her meat.

But then she might be killing the kits just to kill them, and "cleaning up" the dead kits because that is what a good mother does. In that case she is probably just ill suited to motherhood.
 
Nikki Thompson
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Jon Wisnoski wrote:I have not read through this entire thread, so forgive me if I am retreading ground here.
Feed the rabbit some ground beef. Probably as much as she will eat, which probably is not much. I have been told this is because of iron deficiencies, so the right minerals might solve it as well, but the idea is if she is craving meat, feed her meat.

But then she might be killing the kits just to kill them, and "cleaning up" the dead kits because that is what a good mother does. In that case she is probably just ill suited to motherhood.


Thanks for the input, Jon. We decided to give her another try so I guess we will find out how she does in a couple of weeks!
 
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