Need cold weather kindling advice

Discussion in 'Rabbits' started by Elizabeth, Feb 26, 2005.

  1. Elizabeth

    Elizabeth Well-Known Member Supporter

    Jun 4, 2002
    West Central Minnesota
    Well, I feel like a real jerk this morning- we lost our first litter last night and we should have known better, sigh.

    Last month a neighbor gave DH 16 NZW rabbits because he no longer wanted them. Of the 16, he told us to cull 4, which we did. That left 1 buck and 11 does. We got very little info, no breeding records, etc., but figured we could muddle our way through the learning curve. We bred four of the does, all seemed well- they are all healthy, they eat and drink well- we have them on an 18% pelleted ration which we supplement with timothy/grass hay (18% because that is what is cheapest for us to buy, so we keep them all on that). The first doe was due this past Wed, but she did not deliver then. We were not too worried- we put the nest boxes in 5 days before their due dates and gave them planty of hay- the first doe started pulling fur yesterday (Friday) morning, so we figured her gestation was just taking a little bit longer. Our only real concern was the weather, as it has been in the teens here at night. The rabbits are housed in wire cages inside an old railroad boxcar- one of the doors is propped open for ventilation. It is COLD in there- the water is frozen every morning when we go out to feed. So, we wondered if it would be too cold, but then, we figured, the doe had plenty of hay for a nest, she had pulled what "seemed" to be plenty of fur to cover the babies, so we decided she would probably be ok.
    Doh! We blew it- she kindled last night and this morning by the time we got out to the rabbitry, the babies had frozen to death (or so we assume). We are shattered- the doe did a good job- threw 7 HUGE babies- hard to imagine that she was carrying them all- it appears to my untrained eye that they probably nursed, but through no fault of the doe's, they did not survive. So, now we need advice as we have three more does due to kindle over the next week to ten days-

    1. First priority is to make the new mother comfortable. With no babies to nurse, how should we care for her? My first thought is to see if the next bred doe kindles tonight, then take some of her babies and give them to the first doe. If Doe #1 kindled last night (we do not know what time), and nursed, would it be advisable to try foster babies on her tonight or tomorrow morning? Or would too much time have elapsed since her own litter nursed for this to be viable? If not, what happens to her between now and the time she dries out? And, finally, when should we attempt to re-breed doe #1?
    ***WE are assuming that the babies froze because we saw no signs of trauma or injury, but maybe we are wrong- is this a reasonable assumption, or are we jumping to conclusions here? How could we tell if the mother smothered them by laying on them in the nest box? and, is that more or less likely than their freezing?

    2. In order to avoid a repeat tragedy, should we
    a. Move doe #2 into the basement this morning and hope that she gets settled in ok before kindling? (which could be tonight, or sometime during the next two days). This move would be a little awkward, since she is in a three-hole cage. We would have to swap cages with another doe, put the pregnant doe in a single-hole cage, then move that cage into the basement- we are afraid this might be too stressful for the doe at this late stage.
    b. Go out every hour during the night to check on the doe and remove the nest box to the house after she kindles and nurses? We understand that the doe only nurses once a day and that the nest box can be kept in the house, then taken out so the babies can nurse. We had been checking on the first doe more frequently than usual before she kindled, but we had also read that it is better not to disturb the does, so in the end we opted to leave her alone. Now we are afraid that even if we do go out every hour it might not be enough- we do not know how long the first litter survived before they died, so unless we are standing by when she kindles our effort might be in vain in the end anyway. And, we do not want to disturb the doe any more than absolutely necessary.
    c. Try to rig a heat lamp above the cage over the nestbox? Would this likely be enough additional heat to make a difference? Would it be too intrusive/disturbing for the doe(s) about to kindle?

    Any and all advice would be greatly appreciated. Thanks for reading.
  2. dugan

    dugan Well-Known Member

    Sep 1, 2004
    n.w. ohio
    i lost a litter of 9 that froze in a well built nest last month it was 6 degrees.i ordered a couple of nest box warmers from bass equip.and have had 5 litters since with no problems.they go inside of box smaller size worked for me

  3. birdie_poo

    birdie_poo Well-Known Member

    May 10, 2002

    I like to offer nest boxes that are prelined with bermuda. That way, then just need to line it with fur, and they stay toastie. I live in SoCal, so it doesn't get that cold, but it can did into the low 20's.
  4. Rosarybeads

    Rosarybeads Well-Known Member

    Oct 21, 2004
    Just make sure you limit her feed, like you would on a normal rabbit, and if she looks like she has a ton of milk, feed her half amounts for a few days. Otherwise, she is okay, and will be good to breed as quickly as you want, right away if you prefer. Skip on the fostering unless you need to for another, then you can try it, but it sounds like an uneeded headache to me. Could you see milk in the babie's tummies? If so, they nursed. Or if their tummies are real fat and round. Did they look smashed, or just dead?

    Question 2: Nestbox warmer recommended above works good, but not always good enough. You could move the box in and out until the babies get fur, that is definitely an option. You could move the doe too. Has she made a nest yet?
    There is a chance of her not making a good nest then, or being a bad mother when you move her so soon, but I don't believe it would harm her. If you have the choice between frozen babies & possibly not being good mother, I would go with the second! :) Heat lamps are very expensive, and also don't always do the trick, but would not be intruding. I would really try moving her, trying to keep everything the same as her old cage, so she doesn't notice it as much.