I know that rabbits only have eight nipples and nurse once or twice a day for short periods, so I wasn’t surprised that even our best mums had only managed to raise nine to ten at best, to weaning age, per litter. Often they have more than that, so we’re used to losing a couple, always the smallest ones. I didn’t really have a problem with this, I check nests daily and count kits, removing any dead ones. Dog treats.
But now I think I have a better plan. I already know to breed more than one doe at a time (or within a few days) in order to give myself options. Since our latest trouble with Tuna’s first litter, I’ve developed a process for juggling foster kits. You don’t even really need two does with litters for this trick, but it helps.
Now, don’t let anyone tell you that rabbits will not take care of kits that smell different. Maybe some high-strung rabbits somewhere would kill foster kits, but in my experience does don’t even notice. As long as it’s her nest with her fur in it, the kits should be fine. Check daily and relax. Do not switch nests, just kits.
This method will allow you to raise more rabbits than you normally would with just two does. I consider 9 kits per doe to be more than average, but I think you could raise up to about 24 kits per two does, to weaning age.
1. Wait 24-48 hours after both litters have been born and have been fed at least once (it’s ok if some kits look underfed).
2. Start in the afternoon, as most rabbits nurse in the evenings. Remove the biggest kits from both litters and place in warm holding area for 24 hours. Choose only biggest, fattest kits. They should be obvious.
3. Place all smallest kits (up to 8) in nest box of largest, most capable or experienced doe. If kits are very small and thin, add only 6 of them.
4. Place all secondary, or mid-sized kits (up to 8) in nest box of lesser experienced/smaller doe.
1. Add fattest kits to smallest doe’s nest.
2. Put secondary kits in warm holding area for 24 hours.
3. Leave smallest kits with largest doe.
By now the smallest kits should be looking good and everyone should be alive, if not huge. If smaller kits are still struggling, repeat the juggling of the fattest and the secondary kits for another 2-3 days. Then use your best judgement and split the litters evenly between the two does. In the first two weeks you can always remove the largest kits and put them away for 24 hours (maximum) to allow malnourished kits to catch up.
Bunnies want to live, and they will if given a chance. They might not grow as fast but they should survive. Once they’re weaned they can eat to their heart’s content, so it’s really just about getting them to that point.