by Laurie Stroupe
Newborn baby rabbits are amazingly mobile. I found one newborn had crawled about 16 feet from the cage when we had our very first litters. I didn’t realize that having a ridge around the nest box to keep babies in was important. Boy, is it!
When there is an adequate nest and functional nest box, most newborns are happy to curl up and sleep – if they are warm and if they are fed.
If you have newborns wandering around, check to make sure the nest is adequate. If so, then check the dam. Chances are, she’s dry.
It can take 72 hours for milk to come in. And kits can last that long, believe it or not. No, not every kit will last, but most can. It’s not optimal, but I’ve had it happen.
I have fostered kits for a day or so when I’ve had the spare doe to do so. That works best. Making sure the dam is hydrated helps. Some breeders recommend various herbs and teas. I’m not really up on all of that. I think massaging the teats could help because of the feedback loop involved in milk production. A massage may simulate nursing which triggers milk production.
After the newborn stage, the next time I see kits wandering around is when I change the nest box material at nine or ten days. The new nest is not nearly as comfortable as the old one. That’s a time when I often lose a kit when it gets out of the box and gets chilled. I try to watch the kits for awhile after I’ve changed the nest box material to be sure they settle back down into their refurbished home. I’ve caught several who landed on the wire and returned them safely to their nests. I recently missed one, though, and wouldn’t you know it was black, my favorite.
Babies raised on the shelf are also prone to wandering from the box. You may have your kits on either a 12- or 24-hour schedule. If they were with their dam, she might feed them as soon as they start squirming and indicating that they are hungry. On the shelf, they may become hungry and start wandering around in search of a meal. I like to keep a piece of hardware cloth over the top of nest boxes when I raise babies on the shelf. That way, if my schedule is 30 minutes late according to their tummies, I won’t find a baby on the floor.
By two or three weeks, the kits pop out of the nest box and onto the wire, sometimes for good. It amazes me how several litters all over the barn will pick the exact same day to emerge. When the weather is mild, this generally just signals the time to remove the nest box. But when the days are mild and the nights are cold, I want to make sure those kits are able to get back into the nest box as easily as they got out. I like them in the nest box, at least at night, until they are three weeks old, during the winter (two weeks for summer). I pile hay in front of the nest box as a sort of ladder to make sure they are able to climb back in when the temperature starts to drop.
All of this baby rabbit talk makes me want to go breed bunnies. See you later – I’m off to the barn!