You’ve successfully bred your prize buck and doe, provided a warm, cozy nestbox and safely made it through kindling. Your babies have safely transitioned from the nestbox and are now hopping around the cage and nibbling on their momma’s food. What’s next? It’s time to begin the process of weaning.
Around three to five weeks, baby rabbits begin to nurse less, and gobble down hay and pellets for the bulk of their sustenance. Once their bodies begin to depend on solid food, they no longer require their mother’s milk. Weaning is the process of ending the kits dependence on their mother for milk by separating the kits and the mother. Typically in the wild, as Karen Patry writes in the wonderful book “The Rabbit Raising Problem Solver,” baby bunnies are weaned by four weeks old, when the mother leaves her litter. In a rabbitry setting, the brood doe is not able to leave her babies whenever she feels like it (except in a colony set-up). The rabbit breeder must then use his or her best discernment to decide on timing and method to make the weaning process a smooth one and to prevent the kits from passing away because of diarrhea and the doe from developing mastitis.
The best weaning schedule is one that reduces stress for the mother and the babies. This simple sequence is an adapted version of Karen Patry’s method to help the weaning period to be a breeze.
The main principle is to divide the process into stages. Once the kits hit four to five weeks old, remove the mother from the cage along with any runts or weaker kits, allowing the largest and strongest kits of the litter to stay in the cage they were kindled in. This removes several possible stressors. By keeping the strongest kits in a familiar environment, they only have to adjust to one disruption: the removal of their mother. Additionally, by allowing the weaker kits to stay with their mother, even if they have to change environments, this allows them to beef up and prevents the added stress of competing with stronger siblings for food.
After anywhere from several days to two weeks, once the smaller kits have caught up to their siblings, remove the doe from these kits and allow them to adjust to life without her as a group. For the first set of stronger kits, if they seem to be developing and growing without any signs of stress (reduced water or food intake, runny stool, or lethargy), it’s time to separate them into cages based on gender: one cage for the bucks and one for the does. Once the kits hit eight to ten weeks, or they hit puberty, it’s time to move them into their own individual cages. By this point, they will have learned to adapt to new environments and should transition to being alone without great stress.
Throughout the process of weaning, it is important to monitor the body language and behavior of all the rabbits involved (to read more about what a healthy rabbit looks and acts like, check out this article). Some kits can handle a much faster weaning process, while other litters require more time between each of the steps. Read the signs, ask long-time rabbit breeders for advice, and play it safe to make the weaning process a stress-free period.
Have questions about weaning or need to trouble shoot any process of rabbit raising? Send us your questions here!