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Whether you are a rabbit raiser or this is your first time experiencing a rabbit having babies, your rabbit giving birth for the first time can not always go as expected.
The person who coined the term “breeds like rabbits” never tried raising domestic ones. Just know that no matter what happens you did the best you can and that is ok.
I am going to cover some issues you might run into with your first-time rabbit momma as well as some tips to recognize when your doe is going into labor so you can be ready.
First Time Mother Rabbit Issues
Not all rabbits know what to do with their first litter. You might have everything set up for them but they get something in their head that doesn’t sit right and they may even decide not to take care of the rabbits or even kill them.
Rabbit Not Using The Nest Box For The Litter Of Kits
Your baby rabbits HAVE TO be in a nest box for things to go well. It’s for their own safety. The nest box helps keep them warm as well as contained so they don’t get lost or stepped on and killed.
A proper nest box is made of wood with all four sides closed in. You can have a top on 1/3rd of the box but that is not necessary. Cardboard boxes are not strong enough to handle the does nesting behavior.
If your doe is not building her nest in the nest box or has already had babies outside the nest box take the nest that she is making and keep putting it back in the box.
Note: If you raise rabbits in your house and she normally has free roam you should also not be letting your rabbit lose in a large living area. She should be in a cage of some kind. This will keep her options limited and help force her to use the nest box given.
If you are keeping your female rabbit in a smaller area then try switching the box to the other side of the cage and see if she is willing to use the box. You can also change the box out completely if you have a spare nest box. (I have three main nest boxes on hand)
If you get to the point of her giving birth it is ok to have a handmade nest by you and you can place her kits inside the nest.
Your Doe Is Not Feeding Her Newborn Rabbits
This is a big one for many first-time breeding rabbits. Most times the doe has no idea what she is doing and doesn’t feed them.
You can encourage her to feed her bits by placing her on a table then holding the kit up to a nipple and letting it suck for a few moments. Look to see if the mouth is slightly wet or watch the kit’s belly to see if it is getting full. If you want to learn more about feeding kits either by hand or getting the mom to feed her babies then you can find out more here.
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What to do when my rabbit has her first baby?
When your doe is giving birth if she has the kit in the nest box then leave it where it is. She will likely clean it off and leave the box for a few minutes.
If the kit is on the cage floor or not in a safe space in the nesting box then it is safe to move the newborn baby rabbit off to the side and place it in the small nest hole that the doe has made.
You will not cause the doe to kill her kit by touching it but during the birthing process, the goal is to keep the doe calm and not to disturb her if at all possible.
How many babies do rabbits have the first time?
This has nothing to do with the first time or not. This has everything to do with the breeding as well as the standard number of kits for the breed itself.
A meat production breed like a New Zealand rabbit or Californian can gift birth to as many as 12-15 kits. – Keep in mind that this does not mean they will all make it.
A giant breed like flemish giants or french lops is more likely to have 6-8 kits in their litter of rabbits.
Small breeds like holland lops are likely to have around 3-4 kits.
Now, as far as the breeding itself goes that is a whole other story. It depends on the viability of the buck and how many “fall offs” he was able to do. You can learn everything you need to know about how to breed rabbits here.
If the buck only did one fall off then the litter is likely to be smaller than if he was able to “do the deed” two or three times.
Some breeders will take the doe back to the buck later in the same day to increase litter size because this will increase the number of eggs the doe releases.
How do rabbits act right before giving birth?
If your doe is within 24hrs of giving birth you can expect to see these signs.
Her belly has “dropped” it almost becomes a separate entity of her body because her muscles are relaxing and preparing for birth.
She will likely have eaten about half of her usual amount of food.
If she is less than a few hours away from giving birth she will likely be rustling around in the box you gave her and start nest building and pulling fur to line the nest she is making with the fur she has pulled.
She will likely be breathing heavily and looking agitated. This is normal.
If she is literally giving birth she will be licking her underside (hopefully sitting in the nest box) and even baring down like she is pooping.
How long does it take for a rabbit to give birth?
From the time she has her first kit ideally you would like to see all of the kits born within about 5hrs of each other. But if the doe has a kit that gets stuck it is possible for the litter to take 12-24 hrs. Just be prepared that if it takes longer you are likely to find dead kits.
Do rabbits give birth to all the babies at once?
No, she will give birth to one kit at a time and hopefully have the next kit each within 15-20 minutes of each other. But she will have all the kits she is going to have in one “labor session” if you want to call it that. She won’t go into labor again a few days later and have more.
How To Set Up A Nest Box
Like I said before the box needs to be strong so being maid of wood is ideal. I don’t like using a plastic tub because it can cause the doe to slip in the box and possibly step on the babies.
If your rabbitry is outside I like to spray the nest box with water-based fly spray before adding the natural bedding material to it. This will help repel flies from the poo and birthing material after the doe has given birth.
Then fill the box about halfway with clean bedding. I like straw the best because the doe can use it to build a nest better than using pine shavings or some kind of small material. That kind of stuff just doesn’t hold together.
Then place the nest box in with the doe around day 29 of her pregnancy.
Do the best you can with what you know. Some breedings don’t go perfectly and that’s ok.
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