Some months back, we began raising Californian rabbits with the plan to replace the protein source we had been getting from our meat chickens.
We bought a great 3-cage hutch that a grandpa close by had made for his granddaughter’s pets. She had outgrown her interest and we were the fortunate beneficiaries. I found this treasure on Craigslist (and have found other great deals there also).
It is a sturdy thing, 12 feet long and about 5 feet high. Each cage is approximately 4 feet long and 2 feet deep. This is roomy enough to allow the rabbits 3 good hops across for some leg-stretching. (On hot days, they often truly are stretched to their full length to allow breezes through their fur, so I’m glad they have lots of space). We have the hutch positioned so it faces north on an outside wall of our henhouse with lots of huge shade trees providing protection.
We began by buying one doe and one buck and biding our time until they were mature enough to begin a family. That seemed to take a while since we purchased them at 3 months old and most books say to wait until the does are at least 6 (better if 8) months old. Hmmm… A slow start.
In the meantime, of course the children who were so eager to help and excited to play with baby bunnies completely lost interest and had to be reminded daily to feed their new responsibilities.
We purchased an additional doe and thought we would jumpstart this project. She was 18 months old and a proven mother. We moved her to the buck’s cage when he became old enough to do his part. He couldn’t seem to figure it out and she wasn’t interested in helping him.
(I should mention here that every book I’ve read stresses the importance of taking the doe to the buck’s cage and not vice versa. Does can be territorial and may attack a buck that enters her cage. And apparently, some bucks also get distracted from their task and spend their time touring the set-up and sampling the food instead).
Along about the time our buck seemed to have things figured out, terrible heat was upon us and the buck must have become temporarily infertile, which is known to happen.
For the next 6 weeks, I dutifully took one or the other doe for their conjugal visits in the buck’s cage, but most often, they both just stretched out and stared at each other until they dozed off.
One pairing must have been successful, though, because despite my not witnessing any success, our younger doe had 2 naked pink babies in her cage one morning. It was 100 degrees most days that week and they only survived a couple of days even though I carefully moved them into a nesting box. Sigh….
(Not how you had them pictured, huh?)
I decided to save myself the aggravation and wait until it got cooler to start the program again.
A New Plan
About a month ago, I began my daily transfer of the older doe to the buck’s cage. Rather than standing around feeling like a peeping tom, I decided to leave her there while I did other chores and then move her back afterward.
The change in procedure slipped my mind and I forgot about her until that afternoon. I went back out not sure what I would find. Would she have injured or killed the smaller but overeager suitor? The warnings I’d read about aggression towards bucks concerned me.
When I got out there, they were both stretched out at opposite ends ignoring each other, so I decided to try something new. Rather than this daily (some advise twice daily) cage switcheroo that caused the does stress from being handled and took extra time for me, what if I just left her there for several weeks? Then, surely she would have come “in season” during that time, a successful mating should have occurred, and I would have saved myself a lot of scratches. Would it work?
That day, I moved the doe’s food dish to her new residence. All week, I made sure to check on them frequently to be certain that there was no domestic violence occurring. They seemed fine. In fact, I would say that over the week, they became quite chummy and often stretched out side by side or facing each other and appeared to be having whispered conversations.
It dawned on me that they probably actually did like each other’s company. In the wild, rabbits live in social warrens, so maybe they had been lonely.
I gave the doe about 3 weeks with her new pal and then moved her to what is now our Maternity Ward a few days ago. Since I don’t know how long ago she may have been bred, I’ll just have to watch for signs of impending kindling (delivery). I’ll give more details in the future about that and the new hutch. Also, I will share the plan I have decided to try with regards to timing matings.