by Laurie Stroupe
I lost a kit yesterday. But don’t worry, I found it again. It was time to take out nest boxes yesterday for three of my litters. One litter had made a very cute tunnel in their nest material. They were adorable. So, I scooped them out and put them on the wire, placing their nest box on top of the cage. That’s when I noticed that there were only three kits. I thought, “Andrew has forgotten to tell me some bad news.”
You see, he has agreed not to give me bad news like that while I’m on the road. If a rabbit is dead, I can’t do anything about it anyway, so our plan is not to spoil my trips.
It used to be that there was at least one disaster every time I went out of town for more than overnight. I felt like it was a matter of which, and not whether. But for quite a long time now, Andrew’s had a perfect record of keeping the herd alive while I’m out of town. I figured the streak had snapped.
I got busy with feeding and working on websites. It was late afternoon when I finally asked Andrew about the kit. He had no deaths to report. For some reason, I let it slip my mind again. I figured that I must have left the kit in the nest box on top of the cages. Then I fell asleep.
I didn’t remember the kit when I woke up. Andrew went with me to the barn at about 7:00 p.m. to fill my feed can. When he stepped through the door, he froze and put his finger to his mouth, indicating that I should be quiet. He quietly said, “Do you see him over there?” Now, with all that has happened during the day – discovering that the kit was missing, asking Andrew if one had died, figuring that I had left the kit in the box – what do you think I thought he was pointing at?
I thought it was a snake. Boy, am I out of it. Finally, I saw the kit on the ground. Now Andrew obviously remembered a day when we spent 45 minutes chasing a kit around the barn. But this time, I walked up to him, he came right to me and I easily scooped him up and put him back with his litter. He was apparently quite happy about that.
The Sad Way to Lose Kits – Fader Babies
Unfortunately, most times when we lose a kit, we’re not talking about misplacing one. There’s no finding it again. I’m afraid that in that same litter, I will actually be losing one. It’s a fader. At nearly three weeks, it’s half the size of the others and has a very frail look to it.
What will I do for this kit? Nothing. I will let nature take its course.
In the past, I’ve fed these type kits by hand. I’ve babied them and worried over them. Sometimes, I got them to survive. But then they’d just die suddenly at 8 weeks. Or, if they made it longer, they ended up being about 2 lbs. as adults. Once babies get that far behind, they just don’t seem to catch up.
And it may be that some genetic weakness or birth defect is operating. It’s not just a matter of getting squeezed out at meal time. Perhaps something didn’t fully form. I think that in many cases, the digestive system fails to make all of the changes it needs to for the kit to go from an all-milk diet to hay and pellets.
Whatever the cause, I have never found it worthwhile to coax along a kit that doesn’t seem to be making it.
The good news is that, while I seemed to have many of those in the beginning, they are quite rare in my barn now. A breeder I know said that she had the same experience. She didn’t feel that she did things much differently now than she did in the beginning, but her survival rate is higher and her instance of problems is lower.
I think part of it is that we do get better at husbandry in many subtle ways. Our observations are keener and we have broader knowledge to apply to situations. Some of my practices are indeed different now than they used to be. These differences aren’t necessarily huge changes, either.
But I think that the biggest difference is that we cull according to which rabbits thrive on our practices. I’m building a herd that does well on a 17% extruded feed, no oats, in the humidity of my barn with the particular minerals that occur naturally in my water supply, and much more.
Sometimes, you will correct a huge problem and increase your survival rate all at once. I did that when I stopped giving oats to my rabbits. You may remember from previous BLOG posts that I was losing an older kit about once every few days. I stopped the oats and the deaths stopped immediately. But probably the little things have added up, too. For example, I always give a crock of water (away from the nest box) to nursing does. I’ve fine-tuned my feeding schedule for pregnant does, nursing does, litters beginning to eat, and weanlings.
So, if you are losing kits, I hope you find them.
If you are just getting started and you feel that too many kits are dying, go over your program with a more experienced breeder. And remember that chances are your survival rate will get better over time as you improve your husbandry skills and your herd is developed according to your practices.