Birthing woes

Discussion in 'Rabbits' started by metadrjay, Dec 28, 2003.

  1. metadrjay

    metadrjay Member

    Nov 10, 2003
    Ok, Bunnies are new to me. I had a lionhead doe give birth Christmas day to 6 babies. They were all perfect, except dead. I have the rabbits all housed in a heated building with lights and music. There appeared to be nothing wrong with them except chilled [?]. The mother had build a nest in the box I provided; she is an experienced mom. So what should I do in the future? I am ordering a nest box heater, is that the answer? I'm stumped. Suggestions please.
    Janet Tallon
  2. AndreaR

    AndreaR Well-Known Member

    Aug 6, 2003
    Alberta, Canada
    Janet, so sorry to hear your doe losing her babies. I had the same thing happen to my NZ doe on Christmas Day as well. She was in heavy labour for 1.5 days, then gave birth to 8 babies, all dead and on the wire. The babies were small...maybe died inside earlier? She is an experienced mom. She had pulled her fur in her nest as usual but the labouring was not right. My daughter & I stayed with her during the kindling and removed the dead ones as they came, hoping for a live one. We checked her for dehydration, retained babies, to make sure she would survive this. She is eating and drinking a bit but looks so sad.

    Why these things happen, I don't know. Was your doe under any stress during her late pregnancy? like new people, change in her living quarters, animals making noise, lightning/thunder? I'm relatively new to the rabbits...3 months..and I often have questions too. Andrea

  3. Buffy in Dallas

    Buffy in Dallas Well-Known Member Supporter

    May 10, 2002
    I had something similar happen to me. A first time mom had her babies on Christmas day. She had them on the wire instead of her box. :mad: I was lucky in that I found them just after they were born and saved 6. One had been trampled. I gathered up all the fur that she had pulled (and not put in the box) and warmed them up. When I put the box back in the cage she tried to turn it over so I had to wire it to the cage. One died that night. :confused: Then two days later I discovered that she had somehow chewed a hole in the nest box corner (wood) and all of the babies had crawled out at night and died in the cold. :waa: Stupid Rabbit!!!! :no: sigh

    Nest box heaters would be a good idea if you can afford them and live in a cold climate. I am thinking about getting them. I worry about the babies constantly when they are so little and out in the cold!
  4. SueD

    SueD Well-Known Member

    Aug 1, 2002
    Several questions, since no one with more experience seems to be on the board lately...

    1) what kind of wood is the box built out of?

    2) what are the dimensions of the box

    3) was the straw you filled it with perhaps moldy?

    I've had rabbits for three years, and I'm really not sure just what you are going through. I will tell you what I do, and perhaps we can figure this out till someone with more knowledge gets here...

    First off... Don't bother with nest box heaters - they are a money maker for their inventor and wholly unnecessary. I've bred and kindled does outside on my porch in both the mountains of Idaho, and in the far northern burbs of Chicago, where I am now. Don't waste your money. Besides - if the box is too warm, it will also kill the kits.

    At present I have dutch crosses - I have raised both Californians and NZ Whites as well as purebred dutch. None of my rabbits have ever been inside a fully enclosed building. They were on the porch in Idaho, in all-wire cages, and now are in an addition we built on our shed, which means a roof, two doors (one on each end) a solid back wall and a half-height wall with screened openings in the front. NO heat, one shop light (only for winter evenings and early winter mornings - unless I'm breeding heavily). Cold temps do not bother any breed of rabbit that I know of. What bothers them is being too warm. It will kill them.

    (Just so you know - a minus 20 windchill with temps at 3 below woke them up and made them start playing, while a 94 degree day requires an ice bottle and light water mist to keep them healthy here.)

    Nest boxes are really simple to make. The box should be (for dutch and slightly larger does) 18" - 20" long, about 12" wide, 6" tall at the front, slanting up to a flat roof at about 12" at the back. Pine is fine, as are the wire boxes - but I'd rather use the wood in winter. NO TREATED LUMBER (not that I thought you would). NO walnut, cherry, mahogany (DH is in lumber and gets lots of scraps, sorry!) also no cedar. The oils in these woods must be processed out or they can be poisonous - to humans as well as rabbits!!!

    I fill my boxes loosely with good dry straw and set them in about 5 - 7 days before the does are due to kindle (most folks say 2 - 3, but my bunnies seem to love tearing them apart for a few days before they pull fur.)

    That's it. Nothing fancy, nothing expensive. I have never ever lost an entire litter in three years... I've also lined boxes with the black and white shredded newspapers when I didn't have access to good straw.

    Will post another message with some other ideas, as this is getting REALLY long...

  5. SueD

    SueD Well-Known Member

    Aug 1, 2002
    A few things from several of the posts:

    I know how sad it is to walk out in the morning and find any animal sick, hurt or dead - and you all have my full sympathy and empathy. Been there, done it - and REALLY don't want the T-shirt! That said....

    If a doe is kindling 'on the wire' there is something wrong with the box. You've got two choices. Either you can disinfect it thoroughly, or you can burn it and start over. I would, however, burn the contents at the very least. First timers might do this just because they haven't figured it out, but not many will do this even their first time, normally not with an entire litter, either. Also, be sure not to over-fill the box with straw or shredded paper... Just pack it in loose, and let her figure out how much mess she wants to give you.

    Just for posterity - I did have one doe that kindled most of her litter on the wire, in November, 2000. Why? Because I was nuts... I forgot to put in the nest box - she didn't have a choice... BOY WAS SHE MAD!!!! She yelled at me about half way through - and boy did I hop to it (pardon the pun)!!! Ever hear a rabbit scream??? It ain't pretty!! Side note - everyone is still alive, three years later - even me.

    Most times, unbirthed kits will be re-absorbed... So, when the doe is done, she's done... There is nothing else to 'get out' of her.

    Does will eat any kits that are born dead, injured, diseased, or whatever. Because I make it a point NOT to be around for the kindling (they will also kill and/or eat the kits if they don't want the added outside attention - and this could also be the problem with the 'difficult' labor), I usually find out the next morning, and remove parts (Also very carefully disinfect just that part of the cage). While in the case of wire births, I can lose some, I don't lose healthy babies to obstinate mothers that way. Some loss is always expected, though none lost is always a very pleasant surprise. Most times, I'm surprised.

    I've had a few does deliver on the wire one or two kits before they realized that they were delivering. Usually this is first-timers, and if they get the chance, and the kits are worth saving, they are in the box before morning when I check. If they weren't worth saving to begin with, I pull them when I get out in the morning.

    If its cold, like here right now, the doe will 'set' in the nest if she feels the kits won't be warm enough. (She's going to be in there pretty often anyway) If she's not setting, don't add heat! If she is, then move the water and feed closer - even if it means putting in seperate dishes. No need for expensive heaters that are more trouble than they are worth. Yesterday, it was -3 with a
    -20 windchill when I went out to check - everyone is healthy and fine.

    Make sure there is extra food and water - goes without saying - throughout the pregnancy, and even more after kindling, and perhaps a salt lick. She'll know if she needs it or not.

    I check my rabbits twice a day, usually about 7 am and 4 - 5 pm, UNLESS the water is freezing fast, or they are drinking a lot. Invariably I miss nursing, because it is done normally once per day - in the middle of the night. I've got better things to do =) like sleep.

    I don't handle kits until they are at least 2 - 3 days old, and if its cold, not until their eyes are open and they have hair. A sudden chill to a naked kit can kill it. And, if I've forgotten to wash my hands and mama doesn't like whatever smell, (I use lots of garlic and onions in the kitchen!) I've killed a kit as well. Better for me if I just don't do it in the first place. Curiosity kills more rabbits than cats. Just as there is little reason for anyone other than parents or doctor to hold our own children during their first day or so of life, there is none for holding a kit either.

    While I do wholeheartedly understand the excitement and curiosity behind the thought of being present for the births, especially for newer rabbit owners, without other cause this is probably the biggest problem. We all love all our animals!!! And yes, I love holding mamas and babies just as much as anyone. But... Spoiling them won't make them healthier - or wiser. They NEED air circulation (no drafts, though - breezes are fine), they NEED sunlight, and they NEED 'privacy' (read as non-interference). They are NOT furry little people, folks... Helping them could be the worst thing you could do. Also, last thing you want to do is to train the rabbit to behave this way!!! And that CAN and DOES happen. They are very eager to please their humans, (especially if they think they will get petted or treats or some other special treatment) - and if it happens more than once - cull them, or don't breed them again.

    If it is absolutely that imperative to be watching the births, I would do it with a remote camera. Rabbits have been successfully kindling for thousands of years. THey don't need our approval for their methods, and our children can watch from the warmth and distance of the home computer. They've also been cleaning up their 'mistakes' for as long. It is NOT imperative to watch the birth, clean up immediately or otherwise disturb the process.

    One final thought... These are pet rabbits??? I have a few of those, too! But if not - Certainly there are things which are not cost/labor-effective for either the pet store market or the freezer going on here... Not trying to be mean. Just figuring that on a homesteading forum, there is a reason those rabbits are with you, and its not just cause they are so adorable (though they really are, aren't they?!)