(c) Gryph- if you repost this article, please post with a link back to my website.
Shelving kits is to separate kits from the mother doe at all times except for during feeding time. The term "shelving" comes from "putting the nest on the shelf."
Shelving can be useful for many reasons, for example if you have a bad pest problem (such as rats), if the weather is extreme (hot or cold), if you have a doe that's reluctant to nurse her litter, or if you need to foster kits to uncooperative does. Some breeders swear that shelving makes for friendlier kits, and cleaner nests (resulting in fewer problems with nest box eye).
If you're interested in shelving your kits, here are some general guidelines:
Bring your kits to the doe twice a daily, aiming for about 12 hours apart. 9 am and 9 pm works well, but choose a timespan that works for your schedule. Feeding typically takes about 15-30 minutes and you can do multiple litters at the same time.
Commitment & Is Shelving Right For You? The first 4-5 weeks of the kit's lives you can expect to be working with them for approximately 15-30 minutes, twice daily, for 1-2 litters. Schedule cleaning once a week. The last 5-8 weeks will include once a day feedings, grooming and cage cleaning. It may not sound like much now but after a long day of work it may be the last thing you want to do. Those tiny helpless babies will be relying on you to bring them their food source and provide a safe, clean environment from you around the clock. Vacations and weekend getaways? Maybe you can find a trusted pet sitter or family member but we ended up traveling with our entire shelving set up of 4 does and 30+ babies. The shelving process takes commitment. If you start the litter off by shelving you will have the most success seeing it through to the end.
Other tips If you have a momma that is prone to biting/eating or crushing the kits, you can hold them by the head gently to prevent them from biting, or control where they sit to nurse We use paper bedding as it is more insulating than hay, more absorbent than hay, and helps to prevent nest box eye from developing. Keep the bedding clean to ensure healthy kits throughout the process. If you have any other questions, please find us on Facebook. Timeline Prior to birth
Place 4-5 inches of paper bedding into small animal carrier
Pull kits from nest box and place in the animal carrier.
Attempt the first nursing session at the 12 hour mark of your choosing. If they are born in the morning but they look full and healthy then begin the nursing schedule at the evening time you have set for them. 9:00PM work for us. The second feeding will come at 9:00AM and repeat feedings every 12 hours.
The momma bunny may not get her milk in for a full 24 hours. Don't freak out! This is totally normal. To get her milk to come in faster, do not miss a single feeding. Keeping a very consistent schedule will be your best friend.
Handle the babies as little as possible during their first few days on earth. They generate heat by wiggling around in a cluster with their siblings. Pulling them out several times a day (other than for feedings) will make them burn calories a lot faster as they try to stay warm. This will give them a weak start to life and we want them to be strong!
Feed kits twice daily for 10 minutes each, roughly 12 hours apart. Lean your ear down to the nest box. You should hear the kits suckling!
Remove kits from the carrier and place in a nest box
Add the dam(momma doe) to the nest box
After 10 minutes the kits should have very full bellies. If you hold the kit on its back with your left hand you should see a milk spot near your ring finger in the belly. Use this method of making sure the kit ate with smaller babies that aren't getting the obvious beach ball shape.
Put the dam back in her cage and place kits back in the carrier
Change out bedding
Continue the same feeding habits, but begin to introduce hay to the animal carrier.
You should notice the kits begin to take interest in the hay.
The kits will being to urinate more heavily, so change bedding as needed. Typically every 3-5 days
Eyes will begin to open!!!
Ear canals have opened around the beginning of week 2!!!
Week 3 -6 - *Varies on size and breed*
If you didn't change the bedding out last week, change it out at the beginning of week 3
Continue the same feeding habits, but add more hay
Change bedding as needed. Clean bedding means healthy kits!
As the kits begin to grow, you will need to move them to a larger cage.
Do this at your discretion. We typically make the transition during week 3
Kits should have eyes open, and be active.
We like to use small rabbit cages to grow them out
Fill the cage with a few inches of fresh paper bedding and introduce water and pellets along with unlimited hay
We use porcelain bowls for water and pellets, but also add a hay feeder and water bottle
The kits should now be eating the pellets and hay, and drinking the water. Be sure to keep everything topped off.
We move our kits to a wire bottom cage at the beginning of this week
Begin to ween the kits by feeding once daily.
It is important to watch the kits weight during this process. If any of the kits are struggling to maintain a healthy weight, change the nursing schedule to 2 feedings every other day, with 1 feeding on the days in between.
Change bedding to keep clean
The kits should be weened! YAY!
If you made it this far, congrats on successfully shelving your first litter!
Small cage - https://www.chewy.com/ware-home-sweet-home-plastic-small/dp/128652
Raising Rabbit Kits "On The Shelf"On Wednesday January 16th, I had a maiden doe deliver 6 kits. She had them all on the cage floor, despite a nest box ready to go, and made no attempt to clean them up after birth. Thankfully I happened to go out to feed animals RIGHT when she was finishing up. The weather had just turned cold and she had not pulled any hair out to line the nest, and was obviously going to abandon these kits.
I am usually of the "let nature take its course" mentality, especially with meat producing livestock, but, 6 kits is almost $100 worth of rabbit meat, and I would love to be able to keep them alive.
So I brought the kits inside, and placed two very hot water bottles wrapped in washcloths inside the nest box, and covered the box with a towel to keep in any heat. They quickly warmed up and became content to sleep.
Now about feeding them. I knew from having a human baby of my own that mammal babies can survive nearly 3 days post birth with almost no food or water. A tummy full of amniotic fluid and then teaspoons of colostrum are all a human baby lives off of for up to week after birth until a mothers real milk comes in! Rabbits are a touchy animal though, the mother doe's milk is AMAZING, and to this day has NOT been replicated. Does will only nurse kits once to twice a day and if you've seen the amazing growth rate of rabbit kits, you've done the math already. That has to be the RICHEST milk ever.
I decided on taking the kits to the doe twice a day in hopes that I could at least get her to sit over them long enough to nurse them. If you go this route, you will need to bring the kits back in and use a cotton ball warmed with warm water to rub their genitals to make them urinate. The GOOD mother does this to her kits while they nurse. This is natures way of keeping their home clean. Rub down the kit gently until they urinate, it does sometimes take some coaxing, but usually after a minute or two of rubbing, you will see beads of urine begin to come out. Sometimes...a lot!
Its now Sunday, and the kits are alive, and seem content, but they are getting skinnier and skinnier. All of them have pretty nasty cuts and gouges on their little frail bodies where moms razor sharp nails have stomped them. She has to be held down, and I can hear nursing sounds occuring, but again, their bellies are never rounded, and they just seem to be getting smaller and smaller.
I've decided to improvise. I will still continue to force mom to sit over them once a day, but at this point, I'm not sure she's even lactating, and a stressed mother probably isnt letting-down anyways. So I doubt they are getting much of anything from her.
I've concoted my own rabbit milk replacement. It wont be perfect, and it may not even be enough to keep them alive, but after 4 days, the husband and I have become pretty attached to them, and I cant just let them die without trying. Anyways the milk replacement we are currently trying after doing some reasearch on the internet is: 2 Cups Cows Milk ( I suggest whole milk, but we used 1% because its all I had) 3 egg yolks 2tsps sugar 2tblsp Ground Flax ( This is mainly for the calories and calcium, it wont dissolve in the liquid) 1 tblspn Poly Vi Sol multivitamin (the kind for babies)
Just keep it in the fridge and use as needed. We'll probably need to shake it each time as it will probably separate.
Since they have made it this long, I'm using the eye dropper that came in the poly vi sol. I've heard for newborns you can and probably will drown the kits this way, but like I said this is what we had. I place one drop on the outside of the mouth and wait for the kit to suck or lick it in. When its done Another drop. Wait. Another Drop. Wait. Etc etc until the kit stops licking and seems more content. Try not to force the kit. You will cause it to aspirate the liquid.
We've already decided because mothering abilites are hereditary, we will not be keeping any of these kits for own rabbitry, and mother doe wont last long either. She will be dinner. I have too many amazing mothers to keep a bad one, and potentially spoil our breeding stock. The kits will be sold, after all this work, I wont be able to eat them.