You are probably familiar with the expression “multiply like rabbits.” Before I got married, I raised rabbits for several years. I had no fancy shelters, we had packs of wild dogs that would come and torment the rabbits, and I had a lot of homemade cages. Sure enough, they multiplied as fast as I would let them. I never had a problem, and never lost one, with the exception of one doe who wound up being a lousy mother. I just quit using her.
When we decided to start out with some rabbits this summer to raise for meat, I expected similiar results. Originally, I couldn’t find the breed I wanted, so I settled for some smaller lop-eared rabbits. It meant less meat, but they were still suitable. The breeder and I both agreed we had 2 does and a buck, though the age I got them is one of the most difficult for sexing. One of the does had something up with her, but we couldn’t tell what, so she actually threw the little buck in for free. As it turned out, the doe had a dislocated and fused knee, so as she matured, the leg just continually got in her way. We decided to end her misery and any possible suffering. We were Ok with the idea, though, as we were sure we still had a buck and doe to work with. Finally, after a few months, they were old enough to breed. Yet, despite the advances of the buck, they wouldn’t do the job. I was puzzled. Finally, one day, I took the “doe” out and examined her more closely than I had in the past. Sure enough, “she” was a buck, but his, um, parts were not normal, and therefore had been easily misidentified. So, now we had 2 bucks, and no promise of meat.
Shortly thereafter, I had a perfect opportunity to get the breed I wanted–the American Chinchilla rabbit. With the kids agreement, we jumped at the chance, humanely enjoyed our little bucks, and purchased 2 gorgeous, breed-standard Chinchilla rabbits to start our little meat supply with–a buck and a doe. You can bet I checked and re-checked the gender this time to ensure, but I actually had their pedigree as well, so that helped ensure accuracy. At just 4 months old, they already weighed about 8 pounds. It meant we had to wait a few months for them to mature to breeding age, but we were OK with that.
In the mean time, we had a lot of fun with the bunnies. “Peter,” the buck, was a bigtime people-rabbit, and loved attention. He was friendly and cheerful, and a little too hyper. We took him out of his cage almost daily to exercise him. He also fell in love with our dog, Will. I couldn’t tell if the feeling was mutual, but Will was a good sport about it anyway!
The doe, “La-la,” looked almost identical to Peter, and I never got a good pic of her. She tended to be more standoff-ish than Peter, and would rather be left alone. Nonetheless, we still tried to entice her with the occasional treat and regular exercise–either freely in the garage, or on a leash outside in the grass. She eventually came around to where we could pet her, though she never really liked it.
One day, a few weeks before I had planned to breed them, M accidentally let both bunnies out of their cages at the same time while feeding them. It was only for a moment before S walked out, discovered the oops, and put them back in their cages. We weren’t sure if anything had “happened,” so I jotted it on my calendar just in case. The unfortunate thing was that the timing put her due date the same day we were scheduled to leave on our trip! I worked it out with the friend planning to care for them to let me drop the bunnies off early, just in case. That way, the doe could adjust to her surroundings, and deliver uneventfully. We prepared the nest box, got everything ready, just in case, and tried to check for pregnancy a few times. Unfortunately, I have never been very good at palpating, so I just couldn’t tell either way.
A week before she was due, I decided to try a re-breed. That way, if she wasn’t pregnant, we could hopefully have a litter after we returned, but if she was, she likely wouldn’t accept the buck anyway. So that’s what I did, and everything seemed to work as it was supposed to. Around this time, a young boy was over at the house, and picked up Peter without permission. When Peter jumped, he dropped him on the concrete garage floor. It scared us at first, as Peter wound up with a slightly cocked head, but otherwise seemed OK. I gave him some time to recover, keeping a close check on him. I noticed as the days progressed his little eye started twitching a bit, but he was still eating and drinking fine, and otherwise acting normally.
Long story a little shorter, we left as scheduled on our trip, La-la wound up NOT delivering a litter, and a week after we left, Peter died. We can only figure there was an internal brain injury, though we have no way to be certain. Now, here we are, down to one doe. I am hoping she is pregnant after that one service, but based on my calendar, she would be due to deliver next week, and I don’t think she has gained an ounce. I am not hopeful. So now I have a doe. If she delivers, we will be thrilled, but if she doesn’t, we must decide what the next step is. S is pretty set on just acquiring another large breed buck and cross-breeding, with the aim strictly being harvesting the kits for meat. Then, hopefully one day, we can get another set of the American Chinchillas. We’ll see what happens. This go around though, our rabbits seem to be doing the opposite of multiplying!