Need help from colony keepers. How to deal with winter litters?

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dlynn

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First year with rabbits. Have a trio in a 4x10 revamped " tractor" has undergone many remodels. Den boxes inside a 4x4 insulated box (2" foam) all stuffed with hay. Rest is also roofed, 1/2" mesh wire on walls. Windows put over wire for winter. Small door is opened daily to allow free access to 20x30 yard with brush piles to chew on and play in. Closed in at night. They are 9 months old, silver fox. The breeder I bought from said start breeding at 4 months. I allow them to live together so don't control breeding. After expecting babies for months, wondered if he was infertile ( he sure tried)and was thinking new buck come spring. Then they had first litter during that last artic blast. Finding a cold, dead kit 5' from insulated box was the first I realized there were babies. Thought opening the insulated section in -15* would do more harm than good and decided to let nature take it's course and hoped for the best. When it warmed to 20* a week later opened and found 8 more kits frozen in a den box. The adults actually seem to like the cold and were out running even in that -15* I coax them in at night with a handful of sunflower seeds. I do not supplement light in rabbit hutch. But there is light in yard from quail aviary. Assumed they would take a break from breeding in cold. Didn't realize Bluebell was pregnant. Her first litter. 9 frozen kits. I feel terrible. Thought about putting a heat plate in box but worried that may cause other problems or make the adults shed or less cold hardy. How do you handle your winter colonies??
 
I general wait til 6 months to start breeding does.
Not necessarily helpful but this kind of thing is why I keep buck(s) caged and can bring does to him and know when they are bred and due. I did have a small colony and let the buck stay in. For me rodents were a problem more than anything. See my posts for more on that.

If you're going to breed in winter (or leave the buck in) then you really need to have nests that will be insulated. Either well built insulated boxes or bury them in hay/straw etc to insulate them. If they make nests in dumb places it's just something you have to select for, don't keep does who don't nest.. don't birth in a nest.. nest in stupid places that get disturbed and don't work.. etc.

Don't put out heat. Firstly, fire hazard. Second, animals don't handle big temperature changes and they get sick from it so you end up more downside trying to help. Giving them places to hunker down is the way to go. There are lots of good ones on the forum. I really like Maggie's posts from her colony and using wood storage chest for nests. Easy access and pretty easy to build or find one second hand.

If the buck is with the does then assume they are breeding. Especially when it's inconvenient timing, that's how it goes! Lol.
 
I’m not sure I visualize your setup so this advice may not help but I’ll tell you our experience anyway. For us, we gave our doe a wood nest box about 16 inches by 16 inches by 16 inches with a tunnel for an opening, stuffed to the roof with hay, and then piled hay all around the outside of the box. A huge pile, fluffed up to give about 10 or more additional inches of insulation around the whole nest box. It smelled like a hay loft in a barn. Wonderful! This is inside our 8*10 rabbit house, which is backed into a hillside which I think provides some insulation value, and the rabbits are on the ground and the earth has warmth compared to rabbits being suspended in cages. We had no mortalities down to about zero when the kits were in their first week. We had no mortalities later either :) We have an experienced doe. That was her 4th or 5th litter. Otherwise, we don’t like winter breeding because it is more work but this breeding fit in with other schedules of ours and we’ve made it work.
 
I’m not sure I visualize your setup so this advice may not help but I’ll tell you our experience anyway. For us, we gave our doe a wood nest box about 16 inches by 16 inches by 16 inches with a tunnel for an opening, stuffed to the roof with hay, and then piled hay all around the outside of the box. A huge pile, fluffed up to give about 10 or more additional inches of insulation around the whole nest box. It smelled like a hay loft in a barn. Wonderful! This is inside our 8*10 rabbit house, which is backed into a hillside which I think provides some insulation value, and the rabbits are on the ground and the earth has warmth compared to rabbits being suspended in cages. We had no mortalities down to about zero when the kits were in their first week. We had no mortalities later either :) We have an experienced doe. That was her 4th or 5th litter. Otherwise, we don’t like winter breeding because it is more work but this breeding fit in with other schedules of ours and we’ve made it work.
Thanks. Your set up sounds like what I had originally planned. Then sister in law donated her chicken tractor which I remodeled and I built an aviary for quail. I had hoped the wooden den boxes, lined with cardboard and stuffed with hay, inside an insulated box (top, bottom, sides 2" foam) would work. There was a lot of fur in den. Looked like a good nest to me. There is a foot of hay in rest (over wire floor, on ground) wire parts have windows over for winter. When it got real cold blocked some vents too. Roofs are covered with carpet and tarp. They use the top of dens for lounging. Your suggestion to bury the boxes with extra hay will be used. IMG_20221211_103941880~2.jpgIMG_20221229_165341199.jpgIMG_20230104_080337895.jpgIMG_20230104_075359721.jpg
 

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I’m not sure I visualize your setup so this advice may not help but I’ll tell you our experience anyway. For us, we gave our doe a wood nest box about 16 inches by 16 inches by 16 inches with a tunnel for an opening, stuffed to the roof with hay, and then piled hay all around the outside of the box. A huge pile, fluffed up to give about 10 or more additional inches of insulation around the whole nest box. It smelled like a hay loft in a barn. Wonderful! This is inside our 8*10 rabbit house, which is backed into a hillside which I think provides some insulation value, and the rabbits are on the ground and the earth has warmth compared to rabbits being suspended in cages. We had no mortalities down to about zero when the kits were in their first week. We had no mortalities later either :) We have an experienced doe. That was her 4th or 5th litter. Otherwise, we don’t like winter breeding because it is more work but this breeding fit in with other schedules of ours and we’ve made it work.
Thanks. Your set up sounds like what I had originally planned. Then sister in law donated her chicken tractor which I remodeled and I built an aviary for quail. I had hoped the wooden den boxes, lined with cardboard and stuffed with hay, inside an insulated box (top, bottom, sides 2" foam
I general wait til 6 months to start breeding does.
Not necessarily helpful but this kind of thing is why I keep buck(s) caged and can bring does to him and know when they are bred and due. I did have a small colony and let the buck stay in. For me rodents were a problem more than anything. See my posts for more on that.

If you're going to breed in winter (or leave the buck in) then you really need to have nests that will be insulated. Either well built insulated boxes or bury them in hay/straw etc to insulate them. If they make nests in dumb places it's just something you have to select for, don't keep does who don't nest.. don't birth in a nest.. nest in stupid places that get disturbed and don't work.. etc.

Don't put out heat. Firstly, fire hazard. Second, animals don't handle big temperature changes and they get sick from it so you end up more downside trying to help. Giving them places to hunker down is the way to go. There are lots of good ones on the forum. I really like Maggie's posts from her colony and using wood storage chest for nests. Easy access and pretty easy to build or find one second hand.

If the buck is with the does then assume they are breeding. Especially when it's inconvenient timing, that's how it goes! Lol.
Thank you for your input
would work. There was a lot of fur in den. Looked like a good nest to me. There is a foot of hay in rest (over wire floor, on ground) wire parts have windows over for winter. When it got real cold blocked some vents too. Roofs are covered with carpet and tarp. They use the top of dens for lounging. Your suggestion to bury the boxes with extra hay will be used. View attachment 33521View attachment 33520View attachment 33519View attachment 33518
I general wait til 6 months to start breeding does.
Not necessarily helpful but this kind of thing is why I keep buck(s) caged and can bring does to him and know when they are bred and due. I did have a small colony and let the buck stay in. For me rodents were a problem more than anything. See my posts for more on that.

If you're going to breed in winter (or leave the buck in) then you really need to have nests that will be insulated. Either well built insulated boxes or bury them in hay/straw etc to insulate them. If they make nests in dumb places it's just something you have to select for, don't keep does who don't nest.. don't birth in a nest.. nest in stupid places that get disturbed and don't work.. etc.

Don't put out heat. Firstly, fire hazard. Second, animals don't handle big temperature changes and they get sick from it so you end up more downside trying to help. Giving them places to hunker down is the way to go. There are lots of good ones on the forum. I really like Maggie's posts from her colony and using wood storage chest for nests. Easy access and pretty easy to build or find one second hand.

If the buck is with the does then assume they are breeding. Especially when it's inconvenient timing, that's how it goes! Lol.
Thanks for input. Only have trio hated having him alone, especially with the cold winters. Then tried partitioning off one end so they could be separate but still interact. Mice started burrowing under. So when I added 1/2" coated wire to floor, took out partition. They now have daily access to yard with brush piles to chew and play. Hoped that would give my bratty boy something else to do besides pester the girls. And them more places to hide. Thought they would naturally take a brake with the short days and cold.
 
Here is a photo of our rabbit house with the nest box buried in hay in the right corner. This was taken when the kits were a lot older, obviously. I don’t know if this would have worked down to -15, like the temperasures you had at kindling, but it did work down to zero. We have a lot more snow now and everything is such a pain, LOL! We won’t be doing fall or winter breeding in the future.

DD88CE11-A9D8-4FEE-A150-7F1CBCE93BC8.jpeg
 
I general wait til 6 months to start breeding does.
Not necessarily helpful but this kind of thing is why I keep buck(s) caged and can bring does to him and know when they are bred and due. I did have a small colony and let the buck stay in. For me rodents were a problem more than anything. See my posts for more on that.

If you're going to breed in winter (or leave the buck in) then you really need to have nests that will be insulated. Either well built insulated boxes or bury them in hay/straw etc to insulate them. If they make nests in dumb places it's just something you have to select for, don't keep does who don't nest.. don't birth in a nest.. nest in stupid places that get disturbed and don't work.. etc.

Don't put out heat. Firstly, fire hazard. Second, animals don't handle big temperature changes and they get sick from it so you end up more downside trying to help. Giving them places to hunker down is the way to go. There are lots of good ones on the forum. I really like Maggie's posts from her colony and using wood storage chest for nests. Easy access and pretty easy to build or find one second hand.

If the buck is with the does then assume they are breeding. Especially when it's inconvenient timing, that's how it goes! Lol.
Thanks to everyone who offered advice. Update. I did add even more insulation to their set up stuffed more hay, an old wool carpet pad under tarp, shoveled snow up sides. They had another litter of 9 just in time for the next deep freeze. This one even colder, think thermometer on back porch said -26* one morning. After 2 weeks of xtra cold we had +23* today. We opened up the sheltered end to check. So happy to find 9 healthy, frisky fuzzy butts. Hard to get an all together picture. They kept jumping out. Nest was very clean. So happy. 2 brown, 3 grey, 4 black
 

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Thanks to everyone who offered advice. Update. I did add even more insulation to their set up stuffed more hay, an old wool carpet pad under tarp, shoveled snow up sides. They had another litter of 9 just in time for the next deep freeze. This one even colder, think thermometer on back porch said -26* one morning. After 2 weeks of xtra cold we had +23* today. We opened up the sheltered end to check. So happy to find 9 healthy, frisky fuzzy butts. Hard to get an all together picture. They kept jumping out. Nest was very clean. So happy. 2 brown, 3 grey, 4 black
They kinda look like guinea pigs lol
 
If the kits are in a good nest and it looks like it was just the extreme cold spell then I wouldn't hold it against the doe. But I'd keep note of it if she keeps losing winter litters in the future.
Happy to report both does have now raised healthy litters. I have 16 pretty kits! Even 2 "lilac" so have all the colors of silver fox. Black, "blue", chocolate, and lilac. So much fun.
 

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