Feeding the Weakest of Litter w/photo

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KelleyBee

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I’ve tried hand feeding the littlest ones. I found it mostly ineffective. Then I stumbled upon this excellent approach, and with so many questions popping up about unfed babies, I thought I’d share what I’ve learned to be most effective:

Because rabbits feed only once or twice a day, it is safe to keep nest out of mom’s cage and in a safe location within your home, thus keep the new nest box in a safe place indoors and away from mom. Each morning, bring mom in, and while holding her on her back, place one or two of the absolute littlest kits on her tummy. They instinctively know exactly what to do. I allow them to feed this way until their little tummies swell, put them back in the nest, put mom back in her cage, put nest back in the cage with mom, she happily hops in and feeds everyone and your littlest ones had a head start in feeding so it won’t matter so much that they can’t compete during regular feedings.

To avoid accidents, I recommend no more than 2 babies on mom at one time because they squirm and slip. The babies will root around from one nipple to another, sometimes quite frantically. I’ve come to realize this helps stimulate a milk letdown in mom (letdown is when the tiny milk sacs in her breasts contract to allow the milk to go to the nipple). in this regard, sometimes when I have only one struggling kit, I’ll add the second smallest kit from the litter just to have this stimulating activity. but not alway…you kind of learn the more you do this.

Until this method, I kept losing my smallest kits from each litter, through starvation, even with my attempts to feed them by hand. This mama fed method has been a life saver for those ones. You’ll need to help them this way for about 2 to 3 days. That seems to be enough good feedings to get them thru that critical period just after birth.

Now, some cautions to keep in mind with this method:

Putting mom on her back in your lap can work, but I found it to be cumbersome and very dangerous for the kits. If mom decides the jerk or kick, kits can go flying. My remedy is using a dishpan on a counter height table (see attached photo). I place the dishpan on the table with the shortest sides parallel to my stomach. Gently lay mom in, with her head up on the short edge furthest away from me, so mom and I can see each other. A lot of familiar soothing talk and sounds from me helps to keep mom relaxed. But she will be tense at first until she gets used to helping you help her babies this way.

BTW, prior to bringing mom in, the babies needing fed have already been moved out of the nest box and placed into a little cardboard box lined with straw, which is then placed within safe arm’s reach on or next to the table where I am putting mom. I have found having the kits on my right works best because I am right handed.

Also, as I position mom in the dishpan, I have found if I place her so that the length of her body is against the length of the right side of the dishpan, it frees up my right hand for petting and soothing her and for getting the kits safely onto her and keeping them there and putting them safely back into the box when finished feeding or if mom starts trying to get off of her back. My left hand is always cradling moms head and neck and often I use the thumb of that hand hooked around her nearest front paw to give her more stability.

In addition to supporting mom and allowing me to use my dominant hand to work with mom and the kits, the dishpan serves as a catch basin for when kits slide off of mom, and they will even if mom is laying perfectly still. I use my left forearm and the right side of the pan to create a sort of cradle along the sides of moms belly (see photo), but you never know when one will slip through because they are squirmy, bouncing from one nipple to another and back again and all of this frenzied feeding activity upon a furred belly makes for a slippery situation.

I’ve tried placing 3 kits on mom’s belly this way and found it to be too dangerous for all involved. Mom gets edgy from the amount of activity and it’s just harder to keep everyone safe. So I have found it best to do this with only one or two of the smallest kits from each litter.

In the photo I’ve attached, there is only one kit and the situation was very different. They were born Monday and on the 6th day I found this kit out of the nest box crouching in the corner of the cage. I don‘t know how long it was there because I had neglected to check on this litter on the 5th day to be sure all were present, but it had obviously missed at least one feeding (perhaps that morning’s feeding), so I brought mom in for this feed to be sure.

As a side note, some moms are more cooperative than others. because of this, I have at times used a more willing mom to feed wee kits from a different mom. The mom in this photo is a star mom at doing this and I think it’s because her first litter came only after I learned this method, thus, she has been doing this ever since her first litter and so the behavior is totally normal to her. My other does who did not experience this intervention in prior litters find it a bit more troublesome to do, so the sooner you can train a doe to become accustomed to this, the better.
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marshaclark52

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WOW. That is so helpful. I've tried taking the little kit out of the box and giving it alone time with mom but mom always seemed empty. I was unaware that the milk would drop as described. Thank you so much.
 

KelleyBee

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WOW. That is so helpful. I've tried taking the little kit out of the box and giving it alone time with mom but mom always seemed empty. I was unaware that the milk would drop as described. Thank you so much.
NP. Also, take note that you need to pull the nest box the day before and feed the littlest ones upon mom first so they get the most milk possible.
 
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