Lunar and Dandelion’s First Litter – pure New Zealand White rabbits
Lunar gave birth on 29th December – so her babies are now just 3 weeks old. I think there are nine of them but I haven’t counted them yet – it’s best not to disturb them too much when they are tiny – and mum always pops her head round to keep an eye on them!
When they are born I check as best I can that there are no dead babies – they are normally left away from the others so it’s easy to remove them. Thankfully I rarely get babies born dead – but sometimes if it’s a big litter the tiniest might not survive.
I check them once or twice a day to make sure none have got separted – if they have I gently push them back to the others so they don’t get cold.
At ten days old their eyes open and at 3 weeks they start hopping around their pen – they are so cute – this is the best part of breeding rabbits – I can watch them for ages.
And these are all pure New Zealand Whites – no black noses and toes this time!
New Zealand White Rabbits – The Story of Keri and Lily
Last Spring I was contact by a lady via Facebook who had bought two rabbits at an auction and thought one of them might be pregnant. I explained that when does reach maturity (around 6 months old) if they haven’t mated they may still think they are pregnant and make a nest – they pick up hay in their mouths and carry it to their chosen site – and sometimes they will even go as far as pulling out their fur to line the nest.
I explained that there was nothing she needed to do except ensure the doe was making her nest in a safe place – sheltered from the weather. Both does had the run of her fairly small garden with a choice of several boxes to shelter in.
Does are generally very capable mothers and will just get on with it, have all their babies at one time, in one place and feed them until they are old enough to feed themselves.
So back to the story of Keri and Lily: Shortly afterwards, the lady came back to me and asked if I knew anyone who wanted to buy her two rabbits. I had lost both my does – I had been keeping them in runs outside in the summer – during the day – and something took both of them at different times – despite the fact that I was outside with them most of the time they were out. I was devastated – and couldn’t find any NZWhites to replace them – so straight away I said I would have them. She lived Devon way but we were visiting my sister who lives in Cornwall – so we arranged to collect them on the way back.
It was a boiling hot day – and we anticipated arriving around lunchtime – so I texted to ask if she had managed to catch both the does – she hadn’t! So when we arrived both does were happily running around the garden – and were both quite grubby. I ended up chasing them around the garden until I figured out a way to trap them. Eventually we got them both into cat baskets and headed for home.
Both does settled in well but one of them had ear mites – so I had to treat both of them. I mated Keri and she gave birth to 12 babies – although one of them died. Dandelion (my buck) is 4 years old so he’s doing really well siring such a big litter. It wasn’t until the babies were around three weeks old that I noticed some of them were getting black noses – and soon they had black ears, tails and toes – obviously Keri had some Californian blood in her. I then noticed that she did have slightly grey ears – but of course I hadn’t noticed that when she was running around the garden all dusty!
By this time, I had mated Lily and she had a litter of 3 kits. And I had mated Keri again because pure NZWhites are always in high demand – I’ve never had a problem selling them. But I did now have a problem with selling rabbits that were not pure breeds – which is why I have so many rabbits available. For breeding for meat these rabbits should be excellent, despite not being pure – they have enough NZW blood in them – and both breeds are large rabbits – and they are cheaper at £15 each than buying a pure breed.
Happily I have found new homes for both Keri and Lily but still have their babies to sell.
I have also found a pure NZWhite doe – Lunar – and she has just had a litter – so I will also have some pure NZWhites available around the middle of March.
Autumn – season of mists and mellow fruitfulness – perfectly described by John Keats
So much brighter – and warmer – today – tidied up the hen house – and found where the Spice Girls are laying their eggs. They have settled in much faster than the last lot and have calmed down – they don’t skitter away from me in panic any more. Still have difficulty getting them in at night – it’s almost like they are saying to me: “Just one more bit of grass first…” I tell them that they really will be let out again in the morning and there will be plenty more grass to eat!
Dillon crowed for the first time this week – I felt a thrill of excitement when I heard him – its ages since we had an adult cockerel. He has quite a deep crow (the bantam cockerel we had made a really shrill noise – much to the annoyance of the boys who were sleeping in the room nearest him!) Clearing up the garden it was so lovely to hear him crowing. Happy hens lay happy eggs!
Lit the fire the last few nights – my new herby firelighters work really well – just need to show husband how to use them instead of those smelly petrol ones – you just put them on top of screwed up newspaper and you need some really dry kindling or a dry log on top. Works like a dream!
My two new ‘NZW’ does must have some Californian blood in them. Half Keri’s babies now have black noses and tails – and ear tips! They will probably be much hardier – and make better rabbits to breed for meat – but they are definitely not pure bred NZWhites! Wonder how Lily’s babies will turn out! They will all make lovely house rabbits – they are really friendly and the Californians with their black noses and tails are really cute. They are ready for new homes now – £15 each – if you are looking for a pet that doesn’t need a walk every day.
Lily Rabbit has had her babies. Don’t know how many yet as I don’t like to disturb her. Relieved that she is fertile – as last time she was mated no babies appeared.
Collected some pondweed and duck weed out of the ornamental pond and gave it to the ducks. The ducks love rooting through it – and they greedily gobble up all the duck weed off the top of the water (hence its name I guess!).
I’ve decided to call the third duck Jasmine – I often change names as their personalities develop. So I have Desmond, Olivia (Oli) and Jasmine ducks, Dillon and Daisy the Dorkings, Doris Brown and Grace Grey. They are fascinating to watch. The ducks prefer the water bowl to the pond. In the morning they come rushing out – looking to see if there’s any snails in the water bowl.
Picked all the ripe tomatoes out of the polytunnel, and most of the basil and Thai basil. I will make tomato and basil soup for today, skin and chop the rest of the tomatoes and freeze them in tubs – some of them with chopped basil – for later use in curries and pasta dishes. The rest of the chopped basil I freeze in plastic bags, or ice cube trays (with a few drops of water) for adding to meals in the winter. The Thai basil I am drying – laying it on a baking tray in a very cool oven until it is dry, then picking off the leaves and chopping them in the chopper attachment of my mixer. The basil can then be stored in an airtight jar.
When you go out in the morning, you never know what you are going to find. Sadly, these few bits of white fur are all that is left of Holly rabbit and her six babies – just one week old. Something had got into her pen overnight and taken all Holly’s babies AND Holly rabbit! I am guessing it was a polecat as it had ripped a hole in the wire at the bottom of the pen. It might have been a fox but a fox would easily have jumped into the pen, not made a hole in the wire. We also heard an owl in the night which is quite unusual as we live so near a main road. Whatever, Holly has gone and so have her tiny babies.
Happily Eny rabbit and her kits are all OK – Eny is a more aggressive and protective rabbit – she gets really cross if the cats go anywhere near her and she runs at them. So Eny has to be shut in her hutch at night now which she doesn’t like at all – and tries to hide under the hutch – I keep telling her that won’t protect her and her babies from whatever got Holly but she’s not impressed.
It was so sad, Holly was my favourite rabbit and loved being cuddled. But there’s always something to cheer you up. Wandering around the field looking for clues as to what happened I came across these poppies growing in the ashes of last year’s bonfire night.
New Zealand White Rabbits – all Eny and Holly’s babies have new homes
I had the most wonderful day on Sunday. All 12 baby rabbits went to new homes and will become breeding rabbits. One breeding trio (one buck and two does) will be going to Portugal with their new owner in September. Brendon was telling me about his smallholding and how much he is looking forward to retiring there – and he will be taking Eny and Holly’s babies with him. He said he has had to build a really strong fence to protect his livestock – the foxes are bigger there – and there are golden eagles and otters that eat rabbits and poultry.
This is the first time I have had two litters from different parents so they can be sold as breeding pairs – but I discovered it’s quite complicated working out the best way to pair them off. It sounds simple but one breeder wanted one buck and one doe and Malcolm wanted two bucks and two does (from different litters) to increase the number of wild white rabbits that visit his Manor House garden. He realised that my rabbits would not be used to being outside so he has built a pen for them as an interim stage to ‘going wild’. It was so lovely to see them hopping about on the grass. My breeding bucks and does live in pens outside most of the time but it’s too dangerous for the babies. All sorts of things eat them – not least our cats – Lunar and Sooty – who are the same size as my bucks and eat wild rabbits for fun!
Eny and Holly are both due to have new litters next weekend. If everything goes as well as last time, I shall be delighted.
New Zealand White Rabbits – Holly’s litter at 3 weeks old
Both Holly and Eeny had litters this month – six babies each – and they are now 3 weeks old and hopping around their pens. It will be another 3 weeks before they are weaned and Mum can have a break. They will be ready for new homes when they are 10 weeks old – after 6th June. Won’t be able to tell what sex they are until then.
Now they are old enough to be picked up and cuddled – they are so cute – this is the best part about breeding rabbits.
Catalogue of catastrophies with Eny’s latest litter!
New Zealand White rabbits are beautiful, very tame and very friendly so they make excellent pets. They are good house rabbits as they are clean, usually using the same place as a toilet all the time. They also grow quite big, quite quickly which is why they are often bred as meat rabbits. Once they reach 3 months old they generally have very few health problems, BUT, until they get to ten weeks old they can be notoriously difficult to rear.
Eny had 6 babies, two of them died in the first few days – no idea why – it was just like she abandoned them. The other four were fine at 3 weeks old, then one of them mysteriously just flaked out and I found it cold as stone in the morning. And then there were three!
Next day I found one of the babies in the hen house, goodness knows how he got out but I managed to catch him and reinstall him safely with his mum. Checked everything but couldn’t figure out how he got out but added extra security just in case.
Two days later – he’s with the hens again – but this time something has attacked him and he’s looking very sorry for himself indeed, so I put him in a pen on his own, cleaned him up and covered him in Aloe Vera gel (works wonders on everything from rabbit scratches on me to hens attacked by foxes – and poorly rabbits).
The next day he looked a lot better, but the shock must have been too much because he was dead the next morning.
So now we are down to two – one of which is quite small and therefore not really suitable for breeding although she’s really sweet and would make an excellent pet. Often people who are looking for rabbits as pets want two of the same sex to keep each other company. Guess what – the other baby is a male. So I am looking for someone who would like a small NZ white doe as a pet and someone else who would like a buck as either a pet or for breeding.
Breeding NZ whites is never simple! (But never boring either!)
On a more positive note, for the first time I have kept one of my own does and one of my own bucks (different mothers and fathers) for breeding and they are just old enough now to breed. George is beautiful, he’s a really large buck and was the only baby Cowslip had in her last litter so he had the best possible attention. He’s just over 6 months old. Holly, my new doe, was one of Eny’s babies. She is now just over 5 months old. Alhough it’s still winter, the weather last weekend was quite mild so I thought I would see how they got on together.
I never leave a doe with a buck unattended as sometimes they can fight so I always keep an eye on them – there’s always lots of things I can get on with in the rabbit shed – cleaning up, washing food bowls, stroking the rabbits (my favourite task!). After 10 minutes of chasing each other round I put them back in their pens and tried again the next day – with no luck.
Holly really doesn’t like being kept in a cage – the other rabbits are fine but she absolutely loves being in the run outside so she gets to go out more often than the others. In the spring she will have a hutch outside but, for the moment, she’s safe in her cage. So I thought I might put a nest box in her cage to see if that changed her mind about mating. (Usually you put the nest box in a week before the babies are due because otherwise rabbits tend to make a mess in them and you have to keep cleaning them out.) Anyway, Holly loved her nest box and settled down happily in it. Next day when I introduced her to George again, she mated straight away, so I am hoping Holly and George will be parents for the first time in February.
Let’s hope the babies in this next litter are less problematic than Eny’s last litter.
Rats, they fought the dogs and killed the cats and bit the babies in the cradles, and ate the cheeses out of the vats and licked the soup from the cooks’ own ladles…
Shropshire might not be as bad as Hamelin, but we don’t have a Pied Piper to lure the rats away and, in the past, I have had problems with rats eating tiny baby rabbits. Finding half eaten babies in the morning is not one of my fonder memories! After persevering with rat traps for ages, we finally had to resort to rat poison – you can buy packets of liquorice smelling poison that you don’t have to open but just place in the boxes. The council used to come out but they don’t any more – although you can still get advice from your local council. They provided us with safe rat poison boxes which are placed along the rat runs. I keep an eye open for any rat droppings which act as a reminder to put poison down again. It doesn’t matter how careful you are with never leaving food lying around, rats always find a way – and they cause so much damage eating holes in everything too.
Looking up the spelling of Hamelin, I found the poem – I didn’t know that Robert Browning wrote it and it has a different ending to the fairy tale I knew. It’s one of the poems on this website if you want to read it for yourself.