This is what a nest should look like and you can see the kits are totally furless.
Of course the rabbits that have a problem always have their litters in the afternoon before I am home from work. Our little Californian, Pocket was due on 3/27/13 with her first litter. My other two first timers had no problems, they kindled at night and pulled a good amount of fur. When I went to check on the nest box, from afar I there were no signs of kindling- like pulled fur or blood below the cage. Upon closer examination I saw a black kit in front of the nest box crying and rolling around. Baby rabbits, known as kits, are born blind and without fur. So they rely on their mothers to make a nice nest of pulled fur for them and the movement and warmth of multiple kits to generate heat. To the right there was another baby on the wire. Aahh. So I grabbed both, thinking it was a bummer there are only 2 kits...that will be harder for them to keep each other warm. Small litters of 1 and 2 have a harder time and often don't survive. Both were cool to the touch but still moving good. I ran inside with them, turned on our seed warmer mat and tried rubbing them with a fluffy hand towel. This wasn't get them toasted enough. I wrapped them up in a spare piece of alpaca fur that I had lying around (from an old fur rug/blanket). Then I took the 2 back out to see if Pocket had pulled any fur yet. To my surprise, there were 6 more kits that had fallen out behind the cage that I hadn't noticed. Chicken wire is not good for making rabbit cages but we were still retrofitting the cages that someone had given us and making new ones, so I hadn't moved her yet...thinking she would use the nest box and there wouldn't be a problem. I had to pull the cage forward and hope that they didn't roll down the ramp. I forgot to mention that Pocket has in a cage in the upper tier of our mini-barn. These 6 kits were colder than the other 2, so I needed to warm them fast. The other 2 weren't really warming either just not getting any colder.
Back inside, I lined a gallon ziplock bag with a cloth napkin. Then filled the sink with hot water. I dunked the bag about halfway deep into the water so the kits were fully being warmed on both sides but not get wet and still able to breath. Remember to hold the bag open, the opening is a great handle spot. I turned the water back on the ran the hot water on the outside of the bag (kind of like a reverse hot water bottle). I did this until they all felt warm to the touch. I didn't want to cook them though. Back to the heat pad they went with the fluffy hand towel as a barrier so they weren't too warm. I checked on the mama and still no fur. She was hopping around and looking very confused. I stole the nest box and took it to where the babies were. I sniped the alpaca fur off the blanket, put it in the nest box with the straw, piled the babies in and put more alpaca on top of them. I put the nest box back in with the Pocket and hoped for the best. The alpaca fur might confuse her but it is an herbivore and not another rabbit so I figured it was better than just straw. She never tried to hurt any of them earlier so I figured they were at least safer than in the house with my 3 cats.
The next day she pulled fur, which I put in the nest. Later I saw here climb into the box and hang out for 5-10 minutes, I am pretty sure she was nursing them. The following morning I checked and all the kits were warm and popping around with full bellies. I think her instincts kicked in, just a bit late. Thankfully I came home in time to warm them up for her and get them in the nest. It is not uncommon for first time mama rabbits to have small litters, kill their young or abandon them altogether. Either their instincts haven't kicked in yet or they get nervous and think there is possible danger; in that case they may even eat their young as a form of protect. Gross, I know, but in nature it would keep predators away and provide the rabbit with nutrients lost in giving birth. There are the cases of plain bad rabbits that aren't good mothers but the rule is to give them 3 chances. Thankfully it worked out for us to put the babies back with her.
Failure of a back up plan
I did have a back up plan which failed. We usually breed 2 does at the same time so that one can foster some or all of the others litters, if needed. That would have worked, if the other does pregnancy had taken. So even the best laid plans need a back up to the back up, which was know what to do when there is trauma in the rabbitry. I would have wasted valuable time looking up what to do in the moment. I had previously read about babies born on the wire and how to deal with them, the rest was a matter of using my best judgement.
We built our first coop four years ago. It was made out of 100% re-purposes materials that we either had from previous projects or that people had given us. So instead of spending $300-$500 for a fancy coop we built our own funky coop for free. With re-purposing and “funky” sometimes comes the compromise of ideal design and problems can arise. Plus we were really just winging it from our concepts and the recommendations from one of our raising chickens books.
We chose a contained coop with a run below it for shade and an outside fenced pen for chickens to get some outside time. The outside pen consisted of chicken wire buried 1 foot down and roof of chicken wire, plus an outer layer of dog fencing for extra security. The contained coop had screened windows/holes for ventilation and 2 barn style cabinet doors that opened out for us to have access for water, food and cleaning. It also had a door that closed of the outside pen that we thought we would use every night. But since the whole coop is so well fenced, even nicknamed “fort clucks” we no longer have to rush home to close our chickens in and some of them roost at night in the outdoor enclosure.
The whole coop with outside pen. Our coop is currently in the middle of the garden, but the new location will be on the outside edge. To the far right, where the Ancona is stand, is the baby coop where we start our chicks.
We ran into a few difficulties and we love to problem solve.
First issue- The water was heavy to lift in and out of the coop and needed to be filled every other day during the summer. We sometimes forgot if it was yesterday or 2 days ago that is was done. Our water can never went bone dry but often hardly had any water left. So we got an automatic waterer that we placed in the outside pen. This has freed up more space inside the coop, as well as removed our water worries.
We love this automatic waterer and would highly recommend using one. It does take a few adjustment to find the right level and it does need rinsed and cleaned, as you can see, but that is easy. This has been such a relief to our list of daily chores.
Second issue- We had only one roost and as we became more chicken crazed, going from 12 chickens to 20, the chickens were not kind and sharing. We were running out of roost room. We moved one of the roosts and added another, making sure that the distance between them was enough and considering that the first one should be 18 inches from the ground (I think that is the right number). Simple but necessary. Now there is more than enough room for all of them, even our giant rooster, Elvis who is double the size of our biggest hen.
Third issue- The space under the coop has being modified by the chickens. Chickens like to move earth around and they had filled in some of the space with dirt and created holes, actually craters, in other spot. So now we really can’t clean that area and if a renegade chicken lays outside instead of the nest boxes we have a difficult task to get it. Solution- we are building a more ergonomic coop that is both people friendly and chicken friendly.
This is the inside of the coop with 2 roosts and the water outside. More functional space for the ladies.
The ultimate fix for all of the coop/run related problem was to build a bigger and better coop with research of other coop designs and our past experience of what problems we found.
We again are using more re-purpose materials of the blue fence panels that a local company had ripped out. A friends green house made up the roof frame and roof (painted the greenhouse panels white to block the heat. Hopefully it works, or we might have to repaint it black to block all light and then white to keep it light. The specs are with idea that any of us can walk around and cleaning will be less strain on the back. I have pictures of the rough space/design. Once it is finished I will do part 2 of this post and include information on what we did, why and how it is working out. Here is what it looks in the first stage of basic structure.