You’re probably wondering what vanilla extract has to do with rabbits. I’ll get to that later. First I want to discuss how we breed our rabbits here. We’ve developed a technique that has worked rather well for us to increase litter size. This isn’t the only way to breed, of course, but having tried several ways here this is what we do.
Never breed rabbits younger than 6 months old. The common rule to breeding is that you always take the doe to the buck. Does can be very territorial so taking a buck to the doe can cause a fight. Also a buck can get preoccupied checking out a new space and not end up getting around to doing the deed. You also want to be there to supervise. You want to make sure they actually connect and you don’t want a fight. Sometimes a buck will mount the doe backwards which can sometimes result in the doe biting off his….Yeah. Supervise them.
We place the doe in with the buck in the morning and let them breed three times. You’ll know it was a successful connection when the buck throws his back legs in front of him in the air and he rolls off the doe. It’s kind of hard to explain but when you see it you’ll know what I mean. It’s rather hilarious. 8 hours later we put the doe back in with the buck and let them breed again. Sometimes the doe isn’t down with 3 more times so we just go for 1-3 times. A doe, especially a virgin doe, will sometimes keep her butt down so you have to patient with them.
Rabbits don’t have a ovulation cycle like a lot of other mammals. Sexual activity is what stimulates does to ovulate, which can be several hours after the first encounter, which is why you want to do a second breeding to increase litter size.
After breeding a doe will kindle (give birth) in 28-35 days. On the 27th day we give the doe a nest box filled with orchard grass for bedding. We find the orchard grass is softer and more absorbent than straw. When the doe is getting close to kindling she’ll start making a nest in the box. Right before kindling she’ll start pulling fur to add to the next. We know she kindled when we see a nice pile of fur in a mass in the back of the nest box. We will usually do a quick check for the kits to make sure they are all alive. If there are any dead ones we’ll immediately remove them.
You’re probably still wondering about the vanilla extract. When we have first time mothers or rabbits that are ornery we will breed them at the same time as a rabbit we know is a good mother. If the inexperienced doe abandons her kits we can then give them to our good mother. To make sure she doesn’t reject them we dab a bit of vanilla extract on her nose. This masks the scent of the new kits just long enough for them to pick up the scent of her kits. Of course this isn’t fool proof but it does give the orphans a fighting chance.
When the kits reach about 8 weeks old we’ll begin to remove them from the doe. We don’t remove them all at once because we want to dry her milk off slowly to reduce any discomfort. We usually start with the boys and remove one every 3-4 days. If we’re not planning on rebreeding soon we will leave the daughters with mom for awhile longer.