by Laurie Stroupe
I become a mom on November 9, 1989. My husband Andrew and I had traveled to a foster home in Jesus-Maria near Lima, Peru, to meet our daughter. After many years and many struggles, the moment had finally arrived! It was everything I had hoped it would be and more. The foster mother carried Sarah down a set of long, curving steps, making a grand entrance.
After visiting with Sarah for a few minutes, it was time for me to perform my first duties as a first-time mom. I had to change her diaper and her clothes so that the foster mother could keep the clothing she was wearing. Even though I had babysat extensively as a teen and had been around babies as much as possible, I was very nervous and suddenly didn’t feel up to the job. After all, the foster parents, social worker, and Andrew were all staring at me!
I started by trying to put the diaper on backwards and was baffled by the task of getting that tiny arm through the sleeve of the undershirt. I’d never handled a 5 lb. baby before! She was so tiny.
I think that rabbit mamas often feel the same way. They didn’t have a chance to babysit, but they do have instincts to help guide them. However, a little experience really does help them put those instincts to their best use.
A long-time breeder with a huge herd once told me that you can expect live babies only about half of the time with new mothers. That seemed to be my experience, too, so I just adopted that as a rule of thumb.
But today, I decided to see if my own experiences really do support that idea. So, I evaluated the data for 78 Holland Lop does that I had bred for the very first time.
The first finding is that I average 1.56 live kits with new mothers. However, I also average 0.53 kit deaths, so the yield is only one surviving offspring (0.93) per new-mom litter.
It’s too bad my rabbits don’t “breed like rabbits!”
My first-timers also average 0.99 stillborn kits per litter.
These numbers average in those mothers that miss altogether, which was 27 of 78 or nearly 29%.
If we take out the ones that missed, we find that I had an average of 2.29 live kits per litter, 1.51 stillborn kits, and 0.82 nest box deaths for a yield of 1.41 kits surviving in each litter.
But what about my odds of getting live kits from a first-time mom? In my study, I found that only 25 does had surviving offspring. That’s 31%. So, about 1/3 had surviving babies, 1/3 missed, and 1/3 had kits that ultimately did not survive, either being stillborn or dying in the nest.
So I have a new rule of thumb. I’ll only be expecting live babies 1/3 of the time with new moms. That information just might come in handy sometime.