When many people think of Spring, chicks come to mind… Bunnies aren’t too far behind in that train of thought… So (even though it is currently snowing here in the beautiful hills of Polyface Farm) I’ve decided to move from chicks to the next logical thing in hopes that Spring will get the idea. That’s right, I’m going to be writing about rabbits over the next several weeks.
When I first came to Polyface as an intern in June 2013, rabbits were a mystery to me. I knew that we raised them mostly in the “Racken House”, but that the young rabbits were put out in our “hare-pens” so that they could freely eat as much grass as they wanted. (“Racken” is a word the Salatin’s made up combining the words ‘rabbit’ and ‘chicken’. So the ‘Racken’ is where rabbits and chickens work together in a symbiotic relationship and both are happy… More on that at a later date.) But I didn’t know much more than that. Over the past several months I’ve gotten to take an active part in the rabbit care here at Polyface and have grown to really enjoy working with these furry little animals.
So, I guess I should probably begin at the beginning: birth. When rabbits give birth we call it kindling. When a doe is almost ready to kindle we give her a kindling box filled with clean hay so that she can make a nest for her new babies. She will burrow down into the hay and make what looks a lot like a bird’s nest. Then she’ll pull hair from her chest and belly to line her new nest and make it soft. Rabbits usually kindle during the night with no help. The “perfect” litter is 8, but bunnies usually range from 5 – 10, though I’ve seen as many as 15!
Every morning, besides feeding and watering all the rabbits, their caretaker also needs to check on the does he/she knows are about to kindle. This is important for record purposes, and also to make sure that there’s not any afterbirth left in the nest and no bunnies that were stillborn. We take each bunny out of their little hole just long enough to count them and make sure they’re all healthy looking. Then back in they go and are re-covered by their mom’s very warm fur.
Bunnies are born with no hair and their eyes closed, but they grow fast!
Check back in following weeks for more on rabbits!