Bunnies and Baby Bunnies – A Crash Course in Raising Rabbits
By Candi Johns
I never wanted to raise rabbits. Some things just happen whether you plan on them or not.
When you get a call from your husband notifying you that he just agreed to take three rabbits and they will be showing up at 6 p.m., you just roll with the punches. At least, that’s what I do.
My four children were beyond ecstatic about the new additions to our homestead. I tend to get more excited about animals who are more of “contributors” to the farm. I suppose there are folks out there who consider rabbit meat a nice contribution, but I am not one of those people. Our bunnies are definitely pets, not food.
The bunny ownership has been exciting, interesting and has thrown us a couple of curve balls. I am a newbie rabbit owner, but have learned much in the last several months. Welcome to my crash course in rabbit ownership.
No. 1: The Basics
Food, water, shelter. This is the easy part.
In June a very, very thankful man gave us three rabbits. Go hereto read about that. They came fully equipped with:
• Scoops, treats, hay, and anything else any bunny could ever want.
He wanted a good home for his rabbits. We (my children) were happy to oblige.
The three bunnies were affectionately named: Lola, Bama and Ike.
Since they arrived:
• There has been plenty of confusion as to who’s a girl and who’s a boy, which was shockingly cleared up on my back porch one day when we witnessed some live birds-and-bees action. We have learned that Ike is a girl, Lola is a dude, and Bama is a girl. If you’re completely confused, you are not alone, so are we. Go herefor some cloudy (and entertaining) explanations.
• Ike decided to die. The cause of death is a mystery. He (I mean she) was only at our place for a week before he (I mean she) moved on. It appears Ike was unwell when he she came to us and we are chalking this one up to “who knows” and moving forward. Two rabbits is a good number.
• I have had rabbits on my porch, in my garden, and hopping around the cow barn for months. I don’t mind having rabbits around. They’re cute.
• My daughter has been taking care of the rabbits each day. She is a fabulous bunny owner and gives them plenty of good food, water, treats and love.
If you have a he-rabbit and a she-rabbit it is probably just a matter of time before you have more rabbits. Duh, right?
Our baby bunnies did come as a bit of a surprise for a few reasons:
1. We were given the rabbits without much information
2. For two months, we didn’t know if we had he-rabbits or she-rabbits
3. We were told the rabbits were not old enough to reproduce
On a recent Friday morning my daughter came running out to the pigs (which is where I was since they always need water) with a panicked look on her face. I thought another bunny had died.
Nope. No one died.
Instead of two, there were eight rabbits in the hutch. There was also bunny fur everywhere. You could have stuffed a pillow with it. I’m not sure how Bama has any fur left on her. She should be bald.
Have you ever seen a newborn bunny? No? Well, it’s your lucky day!
Baby bunnies look like naked moles. They are bald. They are the size of a big toe. They’re eyes are closed. They are not very cute. I have learned that technically, baby bunnies are called “kits.” Oh, and the mom is a “doe” and the dad is a “buck” by the way.
But … the word, “kit” is currently not in my working vocabulary, so they are baby bunnies to me.
No. 2: Separate the Buck (the Male)
First order of business once you stumble upon a bunny hutch filled with baby bunnies is to move papa-rabbit. The male will kill the babies so he can mate with the mama. Apparently, daddy rabbits don’t like to share.
There is a second reason to separate the male. The female may chew off his no-no-zone to prevent him from attempting to make more baby rabbits. What? Yup, it’s true. Sorry. Seems as though a little space is good for both mom and dad at this juncture.
We now have “his” and “hers” rabbit condos. Everyone is safe and sound. See No. 7 for another wrinkle on this topic.
No. 3: Rabbit Fur
It is snowing rabbit fur. The morning we found the baby bunnies there was fluffy, white fuzz flying everywhere. It was around the hutch, in the dropping pan, in the grass around the rabbit habitat, everywhere.
I learned that mamma rabbits pull all their fur out to make a nest for the babies. We didn’t know we were having babies; therefore, we didn’t have a nesting box, board or area prepared. This is where all the rabbit fluff should have gone. Since there was nothing to catch all the rabbit fluff, it was everywhere.
No. 4: Don’t Touch the Babies
No matter how adorable, how helpless, and how uncomfortable the little ones appear, don’t touch them unless it is absolutely necessary (and I’m going to tell you how to do it in just a sec).
If you hold, pet, touch or handle the baby rabbits, it is possible and likely the mama will reject them. They are supposed to be living in a nest of mamma-bunny fur and smelling like mamma. When the babies are handled by outsiders they lose the mama-bunny scent and will smell like whoever was handling them. I have a friend who lost an entire litter of baby bunnies because they handled the babies. The mama rejected every one.
No. 5: Build a Burrow
The nesting box they sell at farm supply stores may not be exactly what the mama bunny had in mind, but I’m going to say it’s better than a metal grate.
Now about touching those babies: We washed our hands three times (to remove our scent) and rubbed them all over mama-bunny (to pick up her scent) before salvaging all the fur we could from the pee-pee tray. We stuffed her shiny, new, bunny-nesting box with all the fur we collected. Then we washed our hands three more times, rubbed mamma again and carefully placed each naked bunny baby into the nesting box.
No. 6: Help Mama
Our doe is a first-time mamma so she needed a little help knowing what to do with the naked babies she delivered. To help her, we put her into the nesting box with the babies and gently held her there.
Rabbits do not lay down to nurse their young like cats or dogs. The mother stands over the kits (baby bunnies) in a “hunch” stance.
While she hunches, all the kits will squirm underneath her, flip over on their backs and kick their feet like mad while they nurse. It’s adorable!
Overview of feeding:
• Mama rabbits typically nurse the babies early in the morning and late in the evening
• They only nurse 2 minutes each feeding
• The mama bunny stands over the babies while they nurse
• The milk is so rich that it sustains the babies until the next feeding
When you consider the life of a rabbit living in the wild, the quick, late-night, hovering feedings make sense. There are so many predators hoping for a rabbit-dinner. If the mamma bunny made too many trips to the burrow, it could lead Mr. Fox, Mr. Racoon, Mr. Cat, Mr. Hound, Mr. Opossum, and Mr. Coyote right to her precious babies. Two trips in the middle of the night keeps the babies safer.
No. 7: When Did You Separate the Buck?
In addition to milking a cow, raising pigs, keeping chickens (the redneck way) and caring for rabbits, I also work at a pawnshop. My husband and I own it. It makes for an interesting life. It also makes for an interesting homestead. We are always meeting great people and are sometimes given free animals. This is how we became bunny owners in the first place.
Yesterday Mr. Friend came by the pawnshop (Go here to meet him). When we mentioned that we just had a litter of baby bunnies he said, “Did you separate the buck?”
I said, “Yes.”
Then he said, “When did you get him out of the cage?”
I said, “The morning we found the baby bunnies.”
Then he said, “She’s already bred back.” (“Bred back” means she is pregnant again.)
I just looked dazed and confused I suppose, because he continued, “Rabbits can conceive their next litter three to four days before they deliver.”
Then he said, “Mark your calendar. You’ll have another litter of bunnies in 25 days.”
No. 8: The last tip I have for any bunny enthusiast out there is this: Enjoy them while it lasts. In one week, they will open their eyes. In two weeks, they will be out of the nesting box and hopping everywhere. In three weeks, they will be unbelievably huge.
They may be ugly, naked moles when they are born, but they will be adorable and growing like weeds in no time.
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