Mar 19, 2014

Getting Ready for Kits

Nest box after 1 day with expecting doe. 
If you've been following this blog, you may remember that about a month ago, we got a few does bred.  Rabbit gestation is normally anywhere between 28 and 33 days, with days 31 and 32 being the most common.  However, I've had litters born as early as day 25, and as late as day 35.  I've heard of others who've had litters born on day 40!

It is my policy to give nest boxes to the does 27 days after they've been bred.  Some hutches have built-in nesting areas, so they don't have to worry about when to put in a nest box.  Once upon a time, I used to put boxes in at 2 weeks.  The reason I wait until day 27 anymore is for cost-control and sanitation.  Putting the nest in early often means that the doe will consume or waste more of the nesting material.  Also, does may often choose to use the nest box as a potty box, instead, if given it too early.  Besides that, in my experience, any doe that starts nesting before day 16 is most likely experiencing a false pregnancy.  (A false pregnancy is when the pregnancy hormones are all there, so the doe thinks that she's pregnant, when in fact she is not.)  But, if you feed hay (I don't do it often, myself), and a doe starts nesting after day 16, go ahead and give her a box to put it all in.

Doe scattered nesting material over her cage.
I prefer to use metal nest boxes with removable wooden floors.  Metal boxes are easier to sanitize than wooden boxes, which makes for healthier kits.  The downside is that metal boxes can be deadly in winter, if you don't prepare them right.  When I'm doing winter litters, I line the inner walls of the nest box with corrugated cardboard, which keeps the kits away from the cold metal.  The removable wooden floor allows for drainage around the edges of the flooring, and makes it easier to scrape out leftover nesting material after removing the box.

Another nesting option is all-wire nests, which are particularly good for hot-weather litters, since it avoids trapping heat in.  The flip side to that is that they don't work very well for winter litters, because of an increased likelihood of draft, and less heat being kept by the kits.  Some people like to use wire floors in wooden nest boxes simply because the drainage is the best you can get (no trapped urine), which means less chance of nest box eye.  In a pinch, you can use an empty case of soda or beer, but keep in mind that the urine will eventually break the box down.

Doe collecting straw for her nest.
More important than the material which the nest is made out of is how big the nest is.  A nest box should be only a couple inches wider and longer than the doe.  A nest box which is too big will encourage the doe to hang out in the nest, which puts the kits at risk for being trampled.  Does that hang out in the nest box are also more likely to potty in the nest, which can make sick kits.

You also want to make sure that the nest is deep enough.  In particular, the lowest part of the wall (where the doe will be hopping in and out of the nest) should be no lower than 4 inches.  Six inches may be better.  If the lowest wall is too low, young kits will be more likely to accidentally hop out on their own, and likely catch chill and die.  Some nests are made with an extra lip on the entrance wall, the purpose of which is to scrape off any kits that don't detach from the nipple when the doe decides she's done feeding.  I've never found it necessary to have the scraper lip, and have only lost a couple kits to being dragged out, in all the years I've raised rabbits.

Does will sometimes put anything they can lift into the nest.
My nesting material of choice is plain old straw.  I've tried using hay, but my does always ate all of the hay (even though I always stuff past the brim) within a couple of days.  Some people use wood shavings, but I generally advise against it.  Cedar shavings are an absolute no-no; cedar oil causes serious respiratory issues in rabbits, especially young ones.  Pine shavings are probably the most commonly used, but still puts the kits at an increased risk for nest box eye, because of the oils. (I don't know how many times I've heard people mention that they used to have issues in every litter with nest box eye, until they switched away from using pine shavings).  If you really want to use shavings, I suggest using hardwood shavings, such as aspen.  In a pinch, you can use black-and-white newspaper shreds, but the paper gets soaked quickly, rather than wicking it away, so you should plan on changing out the paper every couple of days after the kits are born.

Doe stuffing her nest with straw.
Always stuff the box as full of nesting material as you possibly can.  The doe will rearrange it as she sees fit. Usually, during summer, a doe will pull most of the nesting material out, but there's no harm in having it scattered across her cage.  If the doe pulls all of the nesting material out, just restuff with a couple more handfuls.

Pay attention to which corner of the cage the doe uses for her potty.  When you put the nest box in, put it in a different corner.  If you put the nest box in the same corner she uses for her potty, chances are that the nest box will become a potty box, which puts the kits at risk for nest box eye and other infections, and will mean that you will have to change out the nesting material frequently.

Tufts of fur added in the first day of having the nest.
Some does will start nesting as soon as they have a nest box, and may even pull a few tufts of fur.  Many does, though, won't start nesting until they're in full labor, and may not pull fur until after the kits have all been born.  Each doe is different.