You finally get live babies, and then they die. It’s so frustrating.
Baby Rabbits Freezing to Death
One of the early causes of death is chilling. It’s not unusual for a first or even second time doe to have her kits on the wire or in the front of her nest box out in the open.
There may be little you can do about that except give your doe time to learn. But you can check her nest box to make sure she hasn’t dug a hole that goes all of the way to the bottom. I’ve had kits well covered and snuggled together, only to die from exposure to cold air on the bottom wire of the nest box.
If the kits are very valuable to you, you might bring the doe inside to kindle, giving you a little extra time to find the kits alive and snuggle them into their nest boxes. I have also used a nest box warmer, that could give slightly scattered babies the time they need to get snuggled together or to save a singleton that would otherwise chill and die.
Make sure that you are using a nest box the appropriate size for Hollands. Mine are just about the biggest you would want to use. With them, I make sure that there is plenty of hay stuff in so that there is only a small pocket for the kits to be placed into–just about the size of my fist.
If you find cold babies on the wire or scattered in the nest box (and even sometimes well nestled, but still chilled), don’t assume they are dead. By briskly, but gently rubbing the kits, you might find that one or more is alive. If you see any movement after a couple of minutes, then take the kits into the house. Throw a towel into the dryer and fill a large zipper-type freezer back half full of very warm, but not hot water. Squeeze out the air and close, making a warm water bed for the kits. Cover them with the warmed towel. Make sure the kits are well warmed, for two to four hours, before you take them back to the barn. If you are concerned about the dam’s ability to care for the kits, you may want to foster them.
Still In A Sac
Very occasionally, you may find a baby on the wire still warm, but covered in the sac. You must remove this film from the face. It’s can be a bit difficult to do. If the kit begins breathing, great! But if not, place it between your hands, hold firmly without squeezing, and jerk your hands down several times to get the kit breathing. If that doesn’t work, swing your arm in a very large arc a couple of time. Briskly rub the kit (under a heat lamp, if the weather is cold) to see if that brings the kit around. If you feel the flaccid body firm up, you are achieving success. Keep working on the kit for a few more minutes.
Mother Rabbit Not Producing Milk
Another problem you may have concerns doe’s milk. Most does make sufficient milk and nurse their kits with no problem. But every now and then, a doe will have little milk, no milk or very late milk. I had a doe that didn’t seem to get milk after 36 hours, so I always fostered her kits. But once, none of the other does kindled with her and she had seven kits. I thought that I would just lose them all. On the third day, however, two of the kits looked well fed. The next day, a couple more looked chubby. By the fifth day, all of them were quite fat and doing well. From that litter on, I always let her nurse her babies and don’t stress if they don’t look good the first couple of days.
If the doe doesn’t seem to have milk at all, you might try tandem nursing for a few days just to be on the safe side. You can give the nest box to one doe for the morning and to the other in the evening. Once you are sure that the nursing routine is established and milk is plentiful, you can give the litter to a single doe. If the doe you had doubts about never develops milk, then the other doe has kept her milk supply going and can nurse the litter.
[Editor's Note: Many first-time rabbit breeders are afraid that their doe is not producing enough milk to feed her newborn babies. However, it is very important to realize that a doe naturally does not produce much milk the first few days after giving birth. This is normal and healthy, as it protects her from getting mastitis in case that the litter should die. She will produce enough to keep the kits alive until day 3-5 when her milk comes in fully. Hand-raised kits most often die, so it is very important to be patient with your doe. According to the American Rabbit Breeders' Association's manual, baby rabbits can live for 72 hours without being fed! Many times I have been afraid that my doe was not producing milk, but she finally came through and raised fat litters.]
Kit Deaths At Weaning
The last period of time when I have lost a lot of kits in the past is sometime between five and eight weeks of age. I was getting a lot of weaning enteritis, sometimes losing 2/3 of a litter. At one point, I was losing a kit about every three days. While talking with a more experienced breeder, I began to realize that I had started feeding more and more oats to my herd and had even lost a few adults bunnies during that period. I stopped giving oats to kits at about four weeks old (and do not restart until they are about 3 1/2 months old). The deaths stopped instantly. It is possible that when the doe weans the kits, they no longer have the protection provided by her milk. The extra carbohydrates cause an imbalance or other problem for the kits and enteritis, quickly followed by death resulted. However it works, I found that eliminating oats for that group of kits made a huge difference for me. (By the way, I now limit the older rabbits to one teaspoon of oats, strictly measured, and have not had an enteritis death since.)
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