We raise Flemish Giant New Zealand cross meat rabbits (along with Navajo Churro Sheep, Nigerian Dwarf diary goats, Alpaca, Quarter Horses, Chickens, Great Pyrenees Livestock Guardian Dogs, Honey Bees and Red Wiggler Composting Worms). But on the subject of rabbits, most rabbit breeders have had the experiences of babies being born when the weather is just darned terrible. Here we had freezing rain and snow for the last two days and very cold conditions. My maiden doe who we weren’t aware was bred, delivered babies this morning. She was in with her pen mates and low and behold there were four baby rabbits.
Maiden does often do not know much about mothering. As an example, there was no fur or den created for the babies to be born into to keep them warm. Rabbit does who have had litters do this as the tell tale sign of imminent delivery. This morning however, there were simply four hairless babies barely moving in freezing conditions (approx. 29 degrees outside).
So, what do you do to keep them alive? That is the question all farmers ask and learn when they raise livestock and the animals birth during a cold spell. Farmers quickly learn they can not control the weather, nor often predict it. Some city folks, uninformed about farm life, seem to think animals being born in the cold is cruel. Farmers like ourselves try to explain through education that you can no easier predict birthing times than you can time perfectly when your spouse is going to conceive. Nice thought…but not realistic. Farmers manage when the boys and girls ‘run’ together, but to have finite control is a fantasy. Additionally, in warmer climates where it’s the ‘surprise storm’ that sweeps through, no farmer can predict it.
With the babies’ body temperatures too low and their bodies turning blue with breathing impaired, this is what we did this morning and we saved three.
- I rushed the mama into a traveling bunny cage and put the babies inside my inner shirt for body warmth and rushed them up to the house via UTV.
- I immediately put warm water into a bowl and placed all four bunnies into the bowl with their heads out of the water. This raised their body temperature. While several didn’t appear to be breathing, at this point I began to palpultate their backs and indeed got all four babies breathing again.
- I took them out of the water and then put them back into my shirt and ran upstairs with them and plugged in a heating pad. This is them all on the heating pad. At this point three were breathing better and one was breathing but very sluggishly.
- I then got a hair dryer and blew the warm air on top of them but not directly on them. Rather, I projected the hairdryer up into the towel so as not to dehydrate the babies.
- Then, once they were all breathing well, I moved them as quickly as possible back with their mothers. At this point one did not make it (the littliest one in the front), but the other three were breathing well and moving around. You can see here that they are breathing and moving around.
- We introduced them back in with their maiden mother as soon as possible so she does not ‘reject’ them. I place cardboard around the edge of the pen so that the little babies can not move out through the openings in the cage. It’s hard to imagine they can squirm through such small openings, but indeed they can.
- Now the things to watch for is if the mother will actually accept them and mother them/nurse them. I have many maiden mothers who simply don’t know what to do and they just do not nurse their young. It seems upon the second or third litter they figure it out. Right now as I am watching her it seems she is more interested in moving around and eating and is stressed due to her new environment. She appears to also be stepping on her young. This is very common and there is not much we can do about it. First, when they nurse their young it does look like they are stepping on them. And, if they are doing it, due to the fact they do not know what they are doing, they do infact squish some. But, you can not intervene in the process. If you handle the babies too much, the mother may well reject them. So, you hope for the best.
The next phase of the ‘keeping the babies alive’ process is really up to the maiden mother: will she figure it out or won’t she? Will she nurse her young and not squish her young? That is what we will learn over the next 48 hours. If tonight the babies have full bellies then all is well, if their bellies are shrunken and their skin is wrinkly, then this maiden mother does not yet know what to do to be a mamma. And that, friends….is the hard cold truth about farming and livestock/wildlife. Not all things are ‘humanly fixable’. Not all things are cured by drugs and human intervention. And indeed, sometimes on a farm or in the wild, young die. It is this realization, being on a farm, that makes us truly appreciate that beautiful reality about life and why it is so worth living. Living is a struggle. Enjoy the journey!
And on that note, why do we do all this farming and sustainable living? Well, as parents and grandparents we want to share this way of life with our kids and grandkids. And, below is a picture taken over our wonderful holiday season, with some of our wonderful kids (our own litter of kits if you will) having a blast while visiting and touring the area. This picture of course was after much moonshining and thus our family all now simply says “SHINE ON!” We love our kids and love farm life, and while they are all living in cities all over the country, when they can come with the grandkids and just ‘shine on!’ at the farm, it makes grandpa and grandma darned happy….and our little critters too!! And, they help us mill lumber, haul and store hay, feed the critters, pick the stalls, love on the babies….and all that good stuff that goes along with farm life!
This is part of our crazy gaggle of kids and they sure do make us shine!! Shine ON!!
God Bless! L. Davis