Yes, that’s a strange title. Yes, it’s because we’re strange people. And yes, it’s a long story.
I had a post all prepared to put up for today. All I had to do was add a few pictures. But, as with what happened with Rachel’s homeschooling posts, more pressing matters came up.
A little while back I mentioned that two of our French Angora rabbits were due to deliver soon. Elinor presumably never took, but Hester delivered nine kits overnight on Monday. And that’s a problem.
Those of you familiar with rabbit anatomy and physiology might know that does (female rabbits) only have eight teats. Do the math: it means one loses out during feedings. Now, rabbits can rear larger litters than eight. Marianne and Elinor are sisters from a litter of ten in which all survived and none needed assistance. I was hoping that would be the case here, but it wasn’t to be so. Rachel noticed last night one of the black kits seemed a bit smaller than the others, and during this afternoon’s wellness check we found that it had become skinny, wrinkled and frantic. Meanwhile, its siblings were bloated, smooth and after-Thanksgiving-dinner snoozy.
1. This is nature’s way of making sure only the strong survive. If it can’t win in the fight for the nipple, let it die.
2. Mix up a rabbit formula, which (from our readings) has a success rate somewhere around 0.00001%.
3. Call in the Rabbit La Leche League. Oh wait, I guess that has to be us.
If you’re thinking we took option 3, you’d be correct. Funny, as this isn’t just one of those things that I could never have seen myself doing 10 years ago – this is one of those things that I couldn’t have even fathomed needing to be done. So, here we go.
How To Help Weak Kits Nurse
1. Identify the weak kit. This isn’t hard. The weak kit will look really skinny and wrinkly. Strong kits will look bloated. Their stomachs are located more towards their hips, so they’re pear-shaped.
2. Get the doe. This can be the hard part. Hester is very -ahem- defensive of her brood. Late pregnancy through weaning is often not the best time to be handling the doe, as she may bite, claw and growl. Some does make for complacent mothers. Hester is not one of them.
3. Flip the doe onto her back. Rabbits freeze when held on their backs (as I am holding her above) so she won’t give you any issue at this point.
4. Place the kit on one of her teats and let it latch. If its siblings have just nursed, you may have to alternate teats to make sure that the kit is getting its fill of milk. The doe pulls out her wool (or fur, depending on the breed) from her stomach before delivering her litter. This has a two fold purpose: firstly, the wool is used to make a nest to keep her kits warm. Secondly, it leaves her stomach bare and makes it easier for her kits to find where to nurse. Conveniently, it also helps rabbit raisers who need to help a weak kit.
5. Make sure to hold the kit in a way to keep it warm!
This is a two person job, as it takes one to hold the doe and one to keep the kit steady on her abdomen. Especially if it’s a kit weak from hunger, it will probably need some guidance. I suppose one person could do it, but with a larger breed like French Angoras it really takes two hands to hold the mother in such a way to keep her still while the kit feeds.
Some people may scoff at us for doing this, as they would have found themselves under ‘option 1’ of letting the kit die if it is not strong enough. I am not of this philosophy. I feel that we are stewards of the earth and its creatures. Even if the rabbits are intended for meat, this is a needless waste. Dispatching quickly and humanely is very different from letting an animal starve to death when a simple intervention could have prevented it. Additionally, this kit nursed like a champ when latched on and its belly ballooned right up. It wasn’t weak, it’s just one of nine and logistically speaking things hadn’t been working out for it. Now, it probably would be unwise to use this kit as a breeder just in case it winds up producing weak kits. I’ll probably use some of the tattoo ink to mark it so that I can take that into consideration when deciding whether this kit will be a ‘breeder,’ ‘show animal’ or ‘wool producer.’
Will it make it? I hope so. As I said, it was pretty eager and had no problem with nursing. Fortunately, rabbits only need to feed their young once or twice a day, so we won’t having to run to the barn at 2 am for a feeding.
That’ll be for when we have goat kids. I’m sure we’re in for more ‘Things I Can’t Even Fathom.’
*****Disclaimer: what works for us won’t necessarily work for everybody. We’re homesteaders, not medical professionals, and this is the internet. Please take any testimony here with a grain of salt. If you have questions regarding the welfare of your own animals, consult a veterinarian.