Mating the doe:The smaller the size of the doe, the earlier that most does will sexually mature. It is not uncommon for the small type rabbit to become sexually mature somewhere between five and six months of age, while your medium sized breeds will become sexually mature somewhere between six and eight months of age and the giant breeds at a little later stage of life.
There are several mating practices that one can practice; but by far the most common type of mating practice for beginners is to hand mate the does. This is where the does should be taken to the male's cage and allow the male to service the doe. After several seconds of copulatory motion, the female animal will raise her hindquarters (Lordocis position) and the male will mate the animal by falling off backwards or to the side after the copulatory act.
It is a good management practice to always examine the external genitals of both the male and female animal prior to the mating act for any type of abnormalities or infections.
If the female is not receptive, then she should be removed from the cage and placed with the male again in two to four days. When the female does accept the male and the mating act is completed, it is a good management practice to remate the female eight to twelve hours after the first successful mating. Studies have shown that this will increase the litter size and the conception rate. Studies have further shown that mating the animal more than one time at a sitting will fail to increase the conception rate or the litter size.
Most males will become sexually mature about thirty to sixty days after females of the same age. One mature male rabbit will be able to serve from ten to twenty does over a period of time. Mature males can be mated to four to six females per day but then they should be allowed a period of five to seven days to recuperate before mating again. If the male is to be used only once or twice per day, they can be used on a daily basis for several days in succession.
Breeding Problems:This seems to be a common complaint in the late fall and early winter months. It must be remembered that this is the normal sexually inactive period for rabbits.
These problems can be characterized in two basic categories. One where the female refuses to accept service and two where she accepts service but fails to litter.
Correcting the problem of does refusing to accept service totally will probably be impossible. A good selective culling of breeding stock, keeping only replacement stock from does that are sexually active the year round is the first logical step. Feeding all animals a good balanced feed that has ample vitamin A, D, and E, making sure the does are not overly fat and sluggish, use young agressive bucks, house the does in the lightest area in the rabbitry or use artificial light to extend the daylight hours (fourteen to sixteen hours total) and the addition of fifty-fifty mixture of wheat germ oil and pure peanut oil in the amount of four to six large drops on the feed at each feeding.
There can be several causes for failure to conceive after mating; the most common of all is probably excess fat which retards the passage of the egg in the normal reproduction path, blockage of the reproductive tract due to injury, or infection in the uterus, sterile or infertile males during the late summer due to excessive heat.
Special care during the late summer helps alleviate the possibility of temporary sterility in the herd bucks and brightens the chance of more bunnies per litter at kindling.
It is said that the bucks are not actually sterile but that the bucks fail in sperm quality lessening the conception rate. This is due in part to the moulting season where much of the animal's intake is going to reproduce fur. The most common cause is exposure of the males to temperatures over eighty-five degrees. Five days in succession of exposure to eighty-five degree temperatures will render the male sterile for sixty to ninety days.
Bucks should be kept in the coolest portion of the rabbitry, keep them in wire bottom cages next to the ground, be sure they are not overly fat, clip the fur from the crotch area as this helps lower the temperature of the scrotum. Temperature has less effect upon young males, therefore one should practice using five to seven month old males in the fall and winter.
While the above is not a cure-all if practiced as suggested the rabbit person can overcome much of the problems in their breeding programs.
Care of the Gestating Doe:When the does have been palpated pregnant at twelve to fourteen days of pregnancy, the feed to these animals should be gradually increased until approximately forty-eight hours prior to the kindling date. (If the doe is not pregnant, she should be mated again and kept on a maintenance ration.) At this time (forty-eight hours prior to the kindling) the feed should be gradually decreased. The latter stages of the gestation period is a time when the energy content of the feed as well as the protein should be increased if at all possible.
Preparation for Kindling:The nest box is an extremely important management area of the reproduction of rabbits. The nest boxes should always be thoroughly sanitized before placing with a doe to kindle. There are many good methods of sanitizing the nest boxes, either with chemical disinfectants or through the use of allowing the boxes to set in the sun for extended periods of time. Whatever method used to sanitize the nest boxes, one should always be sure that the nest boxes are free of all organic debris, and that the disinfectant used is thoroughly rinsed from the nest box before being place with the doe. One should always remember that the effectiveness of the disinfectant is directly related in proportion to the time that the disinfecting agent is in contact with the nest box.
The material used to make the nest box can be of a variety of materials. Of more importance is that the nest box be of the proper size. It is the tendency of most rabbit breeders to use the nest boxes that are entirely too large. If the nest boxes are too large, this will encourage the doe to sit in the nest box and "foul" the box with fecal material and urine. The proper size nest box should be about two inches longer than the doe is in sitting position and about two inches wider than the doe when in the same position.
Special procedures are oftentimes needed when kindling during the cold winter months of the year.
The nest box should be prepared by placing some type of absorbant material in the bottom of the nest to absorb any excess moisture and then the nest should be filled with some type of bedding material. This material can be a variety of substances from straw, hay, excelsior or shredded newspaper. During the winter months, there should be an abundance of the nesting material in the boxes for warmth and insulation, while during the summer months, the nesting material should be used sparingly and oftentimes it is necessary to remove a portion of the pulled hair after kindling so that the litter does not get excessively warm.
The nest box should be placed with the doe twenty-four to forty-eight hours prior to the kindling date. If one should put the nest box in too far in advance, this will encourage the doe to rest in the nest box and oftentimes she will "foul" the box with fecal material and urine. Any dampness in the nest box is not conducive to raising young kits; therefore, some very small holes in the bottom of the nest box are essential for drainage and ventilation.
Kindling Process:The kindling process in most does will take only a very short period of time. The normal process is that the doe will either pull hair just prior to, or just after the kindling process. The young are usually all delivered within a very short period of time.
The doe, during the kindling process, will assist the parturation of the young with her mouth. During this process, and particularly in young does, a doe may either injure or amputate an appendage. This process will sometimes cause the doe to cannabalize the young. Again, this is by far most common in very young does. If one has repeated problem with cannabalism in the rabbitry, one should check the rabbitry very closely for rodents and predators. This will oftentimes frighten the doe and cause her to cannabalize her young.
Care of the Lactation Doe:Lactation is a very demanding process upon the doe's physical system and causes the doe a great deal of stress. After the doe is on full feed, this will follow very closely the animal's milk production. If the doe is in extremely fat condition and is placed on full feed immediately after kindling, oftentimes one has problems with the doe having "caked breast" and this is often a precursor of mastitis.
Other problems that can occur from increasing the feed too rapidly after kindling is that the doe will milk in abundance and cause the young to either have a condition of "Milk entertoxemia" or the excessive amount of milk can cause the young to develop an enteritis problem. The doe will gradually increase her lactation for about twenty to twenty-five days after kindling and then after a short period of time, the total milk production of the doe gradually decreases. During the early stages of lactation, the doe will feed the young only one to two times per day.
Milk production is a highly inherited factor and one of the factors that one should use to select breeding stock for replacement animals. However, one can usually stimulate the doe to produce an extra amount of milk by increasing the total energy content of the feed. The most common procedure to do the above is to add approximately one teaspoonful of Calf Manna to the diet per day. This should be used only on those does that do not produce sufficient amounts of milk.
During the lactation period, the nest box should be removed from the young at approximately twelve to eighteen days after the kindling process. If one prolongs the nest box removal, an increase in the incidence of many diseases as well as increase in the incidence of eye problems of the young may develop. The nest box acts as an incubator for bacteria and increases the exposure to many of our bacterial diseases. Once the young rabbit has reached approximately ten days of age, the eyes will open and if they do not open within forty-eight hours of this period of time, it is usually an indication that there is pathology or disease in the eye, usually as a result of bacterial infection.
Lactation is very stressful on the doe and if one does not use adequate nutrition at this time of a doe's life, it will oftentimes curtail the number of litters per year that the rabbit person can garner from this doe.
The Weaning Process:Young kits may be weaned from the doe from four weeks post-kindling until approximately eight weeks post-kindling. The weaning age will depend upon the use of the rabbit and the number of litters that the rabbit producer desires to have the doe kindle per year.
In most commercial breeding operations, it is highly recommended that the doe be rebred approximately two weeks prior to the weaning of the young kits at four to six weeks of age. This will allow the doe to nurse the kits approximately two weeks before they are removed and it will allow the doe a two week period of time to recuperate from the lactating process before she is ready to kindle again.
Weaning can be very stressful to the doe as well as to the young and there are some management practices that should be followed to reduce the amount of stress on each.
Twenty-four to forty-eight hours prior to the weaning of the young, the total amount of food intake by the doe and litter should be reduced to a bare minimum. This will allow for the doe to decrease in the amount of milk that she lactates and will prevent the occurrence of "caked breast" and lower the incidence of mastitis. This will also lower the intake of the total nutrients to the young kits and will assist in lowering the incidence of enteritis in the young.
One can either remove the young from the doe or remove the doe from the cage and place her in another cage in the weaning process. The method of weaning does not appear to alter the successfulness of the weaning in any way. The feed given to the doe should be restricted for about seventy-two hours post-weaning, giving the doe only about fifty percent of the regular amount, and the feed on the young should be restricted for about forty-eight hours post-weaning. Within forty-eight hours after weaning the kits, the young can be placed on full feed. From many studies, it has proven that the amount of stress on the young post-weaning is much less if they are allowed to be together as a litter for approximately one week before they are separated into groups of males and females or into individual pens.
This is a very critical time for enteritis in the young, weaned animals and is oftentimes imperative that the fiber content of the feed be increased or that there be fiber fed to the young at this time in order to assist in controlling many of the enteritis complexes. This is also a time that many rabbit persons use the management practice of worming the animals for internal parasites and coccidiosis. When the litter is weaned is the ideal time to tattoo the young and to make sure that one has efficient records.
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