Silver Fox Rabbits: First-Time Moms

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Exciting goings-on here at the farm: we have a group of five blue Silver Fox rabbit does that have either kindled or are expected to kindle their first litters soon!

One sweet doe, Sarah, kindled her first litter on 2/13. Sarah is a particularly friendly girl, likely due in part to an injury she suffered to her leg when she was a young kit: even though there is “baby saver” wire on the floors and up the sides of the kindling cages (our does are brought inside to kindle), she somehow got her foot stuck through the wire and twisted in a way that trapped it. As you can imagine, she was panicked and pulled frantically, causing a laceration all the way around her “ankle”.

We extricated her from the wire and began treating her wound with Vetericyn and, later, with coconut oil as the skin and fur seemed to be constricting at the wound site. As the wound healed, she dragged her toes a bit on that foot, rubbing the fur off. In time, the wounds healed completely and she regained normal function in her foot, but the fur on her toes came back partially white. All the extra handling – unfortunate circumstances notwithstanding – seemed to make her an even friendlier rabbit.

Sarah built a nice nest and had her babies in her nest box, covering them with a thick layer of her fur. She had 5 kits, but when we checked on them the next day, 1 was dead. There are a number of possible reasons for a newborn kit to die, including being stillborn. We try not to handle the kits immediately after kindling, so it’s a balance between checking the kits right away and being able to remove any if needed and risking disturbing the does and causing behavior that could be detrimental to the kits. Fortunately, our does are docile, friendly, and generally very good mothers, even as first-timers. Sarah’s surviving kits were two blue and two lilac – and we’ve been hoping to finally see some lilac kits!

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Sarah’s sister, Rachel, kindled four blue kits on 2/21. We were anxious about her imminent kindling because of her behavior: she didn’t really prepare her next box (she just tore everything out of it) and she’s a more “nervous” doe. When she kindled, she kindled on the wire and her kits were crawling around everywhere. Very little fur was pulled. When we collected the kits and some fur and put them all into the nest box, she showed no interest in them. The next day, it didn’t appear that she had nursed them, based on how wrinkly they looked (and the lack of “frog belly” – a belly full of milk). It’s not unheard of for first-time rabbit mothers to seemingly not know what to do with their kits.

Fortunately, another sister to these does, Alison, kindled yesterday. She’s another mellow doe, and she prepared a nice, deep nest in her nest box where she kindled four kits, two blue and two lilac. She covered them in a very plush layer of fur, too. When we realized Rachel hadn’t fed her kits, we made the decision to foster them to her sister, Alison, based on how close in age the kits were. We tried to get Rachel to nurse her kits, but she jumped away and we didn’t want to risk injury to them, so we moved on to another doe, Sarah. Sarah immediately began licking the kits and allowed them to nurse. Licking the kits stimulates them to urinate and defecate, which is critically important – they will die if they can’t eliminate, and when they’re this young, their mothers will prompt them to do it by licking them. When Sarah was done nursing them, she jumped away from the kits.

Alison is also an excellent mother and her kits, having been nursed yesterday, are already a bit larger than Rachel’s. In addition to Alison nursing the bunch once or twice a day, we’re going to see if Sarah will periodically nurse the smaller of Rachel’s kits. We’ll even try Rachel again; she may calm down and be willing to nurse her babies soon – sometimes a doe’s milk doesn’t come in right away. Hopefully, we soon won’t be able to tell the difference between the two groups.

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Are you wondering why we wouldn’t just leave the kits with Rachel and let “nature take its course”? The short answer is experience. We have had many litters born here, and have learned to spot the signs of first-time moms who are struggling…and their babies suffer the consequences. We always try to have at least two does kindle in the same timeframe in case fostering is necessary because, often, the kits’ survival will depend on it. We have attempted bottle feeding kits in very large litters where the smallest couldn’t compete and found that it’s extremely difficult to get the kits to nurse from a bottle. Rabbit milk is incredibly rich and nutritious: mothers will only feed their kits once or twice a day for a few minutes, so every meal is critical to their development, and kitten milk replacer or goat’s milk isn’t really equivalent to rabbit milk.

Lest you should be concerned about Rachel, we’ve found that even does who have a difficult time with their first litter often “figure it out” and do just fine with subsequent litters. We’d like Rachel to be able to care for her kits, herself, and we will likely try to reintroduce her kits soon, but if it doesn’t work out, Alison should be able to successfully raise all eight herself. Up to eight kits seems to be a manageable number – ten or more is more challenging for does to handle.

We’re expecting one more doe, Beth, to kindle soon. She’s also blue and sister to the other does. She’s more like Alison and Sarah in temperament, too, and she’s already made a nice nest in her nest box, so we think she’ll likely be a “natural” when it comes to kindling and caring for her babies. And if not, her sisters will be tapped to help care for her kits. Now that’s a family support network!

Do you think Beth will have blue kits, lilac kits, or both? Let us know what you think in the comments!

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