yesterday Dawn's first litter was born! I didn't go into much detail about what was going on with them, and didn't have much in the way of good pictures. Today I hope to remedy those two lacks. Yesterday at about 9:55 AM I got home from bringing the Lady of the House to work and found that there were noises coming from the private section of Dawn's hutch, which she nearly never uses. I went to check, and found her hovering over the nest. By petting her and putting out hay for her I got her to let me see the babies. I took out and counted all 8 of the babies at that point, and got pictures of her cleaning herself off. There was a fair amount of blood on her, which I'm assuming is normal for giving birth. She efficiently cleaned it off which I'm guessing means I arrived JUST as she finished giving birth. The babies at that point were completely naked, and very warm. When I weighed one a little later that one ended up being 66 grams, which is quite large for just born baby rabbits, even meat breed rabbits apparently tend to start off in the 45 gram range. Dawn has been very accommodating to let us look at and handle the babies without issue. She also appears to have been feeding them.
To the Left you can see Dawn accepting her morning bribe of alfalfa hay with pleasure. She seems to be perfectly happy to let us look at her babies. To outward appearance her behavior hasn't changed much at all, other than the fact that she's moved her poop spot from her private space to out near where she eats. One of our major worries was that she would continue to soil the nest when she made it, but that ended up being unfounded.
On the Left you can see that baby rabbits move in very very strange ways. They flop around and sometimes end up in these very strange positions. On the Right you can see this baby rabbit preparing to try to dig into my hand.
I was surprised to see how fast they changed, even having helped raise baby rats from pinkies. Yesterday they were utterly naked, and could wobble but didn't have much motive power. Today they have peach fuzz fur, and the beginnings of the rather formidable rabbit claws. Despite their rapid changes, rabbit kittens remain fully reliant on the mother for some time, and wean at about 6 weeks of age. In fact it will be day 14 before their eyes are open.
To the Left you can see me holding that same baby upside down to show the lighter colored belly. It looks like the whole litter is either black, or dark blue agouti. The Lady of the House will be doing posts on genetics which will explain why we also expect them to be silvered based on Dawn being their mother.
This morning in addition to counting the babies and ensuring all 8 were still alive, warm, and fed, I also weighed them. Some places recommend not weighing babies until at least a week old, others weigh them every day from birth. For this litter at least I am going to be doing fairly regular weight checks. We had a fairly narrow range of weights in the babies, all of them seeming to have been fed though.
Weights in grams.
Expectations vs. Reality
The expectation given for new rabbit mothers is that they will have a small first litter, and that many if not all of the first litter won't survive long. This isn't a reason to discount the new mother as a potential brood mother because they often have issues with first litters. We also were expecting the babies to come out some time on the 1st of May given that the reproductive cycle of a rabbit is fairly predictable.
The births were actually on the 2nd obviously. We also as is clear have a large litter on our hands that Dawn seems to be feeding all of. This doesn't mean that all of them are going to make it, but it is a sight better than the expectations indicated by most of the books I've read. I wonder how much of that is due to the good breeding in Dawn coming from Michelle Chandler's strict breeding program and good husbandry.
Things We Have Learned So Far
With dark colored babies it is hard to tell if they have been fed milk via visual inspection. To cope with this we have been checking temperature since if they are warm they have most likely been fed. We also were reminded that just because something is the norm doesn't mean that it is what always happens, so be prepared. Fortunately we were, but it was still startling.
The Near Future
I am going to continue measuring weights on Dawn's litter, and if the smaller ones continue to be significantly smaller, or anyone starts to lose ground the Lady of the House and I are going to be supplementing with kitten formula. While this isn't a requirement, we would like to try to give the best care we can to this litter, and indeed all of the litters we have in the future. My biggest concern is the baby that is 49 grams getting enough food given how much smaller it is. That said, even our smallest baby is bigger than the average expected size according to the books I've read on meat rabbits.
We are expecting Sunny to have a litter on or around the 12th, and will be putting the nesting box in on the evening of the 9th. We are hoping that we have a similar easy first litter, but can't expect that. The Lady of the House and I realize we are spoiled by this easy birth on Dawn's part. Encouragingly the Californian breed is often bred into other rabbit breeds specifically because they are good breeders and good mothers, so perhaps we will have a second easy birth? We will see what actually happens as it comes and keep people updated on the growth of the babies as it occurs.