I had a fellow breeder ask me the other day “when do you decide to sell your breeding rabbits”? When someone suggested a post on over the hill bunnies that conversation came to mind.
Through keeping records and paying attention, I generally know what’s going on with my bunnies. Twice a year, I give my rabbits a good hard look. Who will stay, and who will go? My thoughts concern age, reproductive rates, temperament, number of bunnies raised to sell to pet/breeding homes, and peculiar traits.
I used to have a hard and fast rule. My bunnies start to breed at five months normally (some are slower some insist on earlier) but the average is five months. Therefore once they hit a year I’d have gotten two litters at least out of them. These litters told me alot about the quality of the doe and what type of offspring she would throw. Every year I would rehome any rabbit over 14 months old. It meant that I changed my herd over almost yearly.
I changed to a three strike rule, as it seemed a better approach than looking at age alone. Three strikes…. move the bunny out. So if ALL my other rabbits are raising kits and one doe isn’t. She gets a strike. If all my other rabbits are raising healthy kits and one isn’t… she gets a strike. If all my other male rabbits were doing their job and one isn’t. He gets a strike.
Once you reach three strikes, you are on my “sell list”. Age is no longer my primary reason to sell, it’s now just one of many factors.
As part of what I do is breeding rabbits for the pet market, rabbits that get pregnant and raise their kits is part of my business. My approach is different for a first time mom having a singleton, versus an experienced doe giving me a singleton. The first might be first time mom jitters, the later is a sign of a doe aging out. Now, if all my other first time does aren’t having problems and just one doe.. that doe will get a strike against her.
Did you know that rabbits are as individual as people? It’s surprising eh? You have dominant and submissive personalities, bunnies that are hard to read, and bunnies that will surprise you.
I’ve had hormonal young does chase my hand when I go to feed them. The odd one nip me unexpectedly. This isn’t a strike against them, it’s just a young rabbit telling me she’s growing up. I give her a couple of days to settle down and then introduce her to one of my boys. But a doe biting me just because? Well different story. A doe lunging out of the corner of her cage to bite will get a strike against her. A doe being a goof because of hormones… different story.
I recently had a doe who was “tetchy”. I thought her a wonderful rabbit overall, just didn’t like people messing with her. Having one rabbit out of 15 like that isn’t a bother. Then she had kits. She was okay but nervy, actually settled a bit. Her kits acted scared all the time once they got out of the nestbox and I was curious as to why. I stood quiet in the rabbitry and watched and speedily learned why. This doe would randomly nip her kits. EVEN IF they weren’t in her space, she’d just go over and nip them. That behaviour was an immediate three strikes. A doe attacking her own kits… I can’t have that. Not good for the kits to be bullied by their own mom when they were still dependent on her. As soon as they were old enough to hold their own, that doe was culled. She didn’t have the temperament for a pet home and I wouldn’t pass a doe like that on to someone else.
Kits raised to 8 weeks
Occasionally you’ll get a doe that despite everything can’t raise her kits to eight weeks of age. It can be hard to track down why most of the time, but some reasons are: failure to thrive, digestive issues, nestbox eye and what not.
Failure to thrive happens in holland lops… where a kit is doing well, then hits four weeks when they are transitioning to solid food as the bulk of their diet. Some kits simply can’t make the transition. Supportive care can help them pull through. When a doe has a litter where she has kits like this she gets a strike, and then if it happens again… another strike. Often times if I change the buck she is bred to, it solves the problem, but occasionally it’s just the doe. Her genetics passed on to kits just don’t work.
Digestive issues where kits get poopy butt. This happens when kits are learning to take care of their own elimination clean up. Sometime they are lazy, other times it’s environment (no longer needing the nestbox), other times it’s just too much fur getting in the way. Trims help, removing nestboxes early, and bathing the lazy kits helps. Too many lazy kits earns doe a strike. I don’t keep poopy butt kits as I don’t want to breed it in.
I used to get nestbox eye (when kits have eyes stuck together with pus while still in the nestbox) in most of my litters. Rabbit folks tend to blame a dirty nestbox. My own research disputes this, and since breeding against it, my numbers dropped radically. Ergo I don’t keep kits who get it, and I don’t keep does that throw it in more than one litter. If I could totally eradicate it, I would. Perhaps one day my numbers will be only one a year! 🙂
Since rabbits are so unique from each other it funny to see how they turn out at times. I have one doe who loves her babies. She’ll be seen licking them, and snuggling into them. She’s a love you-love me bunny. BUT once her kits hit three weeks she won’t feed them. A fantastic doe in many ways, but not one I will keep in my herd, despite the ease of fostering older kits to her.
Then I have another doe, whose not keen on being picked up, though loves the odd ear rub and head pat. Young, small doe who had eight kits in her first litter and fed them until I took them away from her. Her second litter she’s doing the same. Fat, sassy, sweet kits. I adore does like this.
I have another doe who EVERY Tuesday takes the door of her cage off. She makes me laugh. I’ll come in and she’ll be hanging her head out waiting for me. I don’t know why she does it, but there she’ll be. This girlie will also stomp her feet at me if I don’t feed her first… ONLY on Tuesdays, go figure eh? She’s a silly old thing. If I could get kits from her I’d be delighted, but, as a predominately pet rabbit it’s not an issue. She’s my “make me laugh” doe. 🙂 The best pet rabbit ever!
Since going to a three strike rule I sometimes have rabbits stay in my herd until they are three years old. Many leave by the time they are a year old. Temperament and health play a huge role, and now, as my rabbits are getting better, their type comes into play as well. I consider rabbits a wonderful animal to raise and I want to give people the best pet I can. That means finding my “over the hill” bunnies the best way I can.