They are growing quick! Remember what they looked like a week ago:
It is amazing how much they grow in such a short time. They are finally starting to look like rabbits.
Even at this age you should be evaluating your kits. This kit has a white foot which is a fault. While he will not be suitable for breeding, he can still be a nice wooler for someone.
The kits are growing and becoming more active. It took about two dozen pictures to get this one because the kits were in constant motion. There are one or two kits in each litter who are not getting fed as often as they should. This number is unusually high. I believe it is related to the constant below freezing temperatures. Water in these temperatures begins freezing instantly. Despite offering fresh water several times a day to the does, I think that not having water constantly available is affecting their milk production. To help catch the smallest kits up, I combined them (marking them to make sure they returned to the correct litter) and offered them to the doe who was producing the most milk. She immediately fed them and I returned them to their litters. This requires more effort but hopefully the extra feeding will strengthen them and prevent any losses.
These persistent freezing temperatures are abnormal for this area. Unfortunately you cannot predict extreme weather conditions a month ahead of time, but you need to be aware of the risks, and be willing to take steps to mitigate them. I stop breeding in April because the heat can kill the pregnant does, and the young kits. Here, the heat is more likely to kill than the cold so I prefer to risk the cold. If these weather conditions occur more often, I would either choose not to breed this time of year, or adjust my rabbitry to better accommodate breeding at these temperatures.
By now the does are getting comfortable with their role as mothers. Their milk should be coming in full force by now. You can feed them a supplement to support their milk needs – I use Calf Manna or Milk Pro (follow the instructions for lactating rabbits – they only need a small amount). I also start filling their feeders so they can eat their fill. Any extra weight now will not hurt the does – the kits milk requirements will increase exponentially and it will be hard to keep the does from losing weight. You need to watch for over-feeding now.
This kit has been overfed. You can see its bulging belly – if you turn it over the skin is so tight it looks like it will pop. Overfeeding can kill the kits. I see this problem most often in litters were the mother had a large number of kits and her milk was not initially sufficient for the numbers so the kits either died or needed to be fostered out. When the mothers milk does come in, it seems to come in sufficient quantities to support the original litter size. You can return some of her fostered kits or add some from another litter (remember to chose kits of similar size). You also can remove the nestbox to restrict the number of feedings. The mother’s milk production will adjust to the reduced demand after a couple of days.
It is day 4 and everyone is growing well. You should check the nestboxes daily – kits can get into all kinds of trouble. You need to count the kits to make sure that none of the kits has wandered into some corner of the box and gotten stuck. You also need to check to make sure that strings of wool have not wrapped around any body part – kits have died or had legs amputated when the wool matts into strings and becomes a tourniquet or noose.
When you check your kits you might find that your previously sweet doe starts charging you, maybe even trying to bite. This is her protective instincts kicking in. It is a good sign – this means her hormones levels are high. A mother who is protective is producing milk and caring for her kits. This is the only time aggression is acceptable for an angora rabbit, but don’t worry – your sweet doe will return after the litter is weaned and her hormones return to normal. In the meantime, to lower the does stress levels and prevent being bitten you need to either remove the doe or the nestbox from the cage when you check the babies. I find that the does are calmer when you remove the nestbox.
I use drop nestboxes (the does are less likely to have kits or the wire and any kits that accidently get out can crawl back in). I used to line my boxes with cardboard and throw away the liner after each litter but there was a number of problems with it – I could not remove the nestbox, the does did not like the cardboard and would constantly toss it out of the box, and it did not provide insulation. The final straw was when I lost an entire litter when the doe dug to the bottom of the box and had her litter on the wire at the bottom. This started my quest for the perfect system – it had to be useable with my drop boxes, reusable (and sterilizable), and provide both drainage and insulation.
This year I am using these plastic wash bins with slight modifications. I drilled many holes at the bottom to allow drainage. The lip of the basin is larger than the opening of my drop nestboxes but smaller than the wire box itself which allows me to fill in the gaps at the bottom and sides with hay – even if the doe has her litter at the bottom or against a side, the kits still have an inch of hay between them and the outside which gives me time to find them and move them to a better spot. They are easily removable and will be able to be sterilized. So far they are working out well. My only concern is that babies that get out of the nestbox might not figure out how to get over the half inch lip. I’ll have to watch and see.
By day three the kits are growing fast – they are double the size of when they were born. They have started “popping” when disturbed. They leap up as high as they can try to get to their mothers teat first. They are still blind so they react to the influx of air as if to their mother. It is highly competitive in the nestbox at this age. The mother only feeds them once or twice a day for a few minutes so they have to eat fast or lose a meal.
The kit on the left missed out during the last feeding. 24 hours ago he was the same size as the kit on the right but without food he will not grow. Since he is now weaker than the rest of his littermates he will have even less chance of nursing at the next mealtime. If this litter was born to a wild rabbit he would likely die – only the strongest kits can beat the competition for a teat. Since he was born in a rabbitry, I can intervene. I have had very limited luck with using bottles – I have not yet found a nipple that the babies can easily latch on to. Maybe one in ten will nurse from the bottle and that one will not remember how at its next feeding. I have had a lot more success fostering kits out to another mother. This kit needs a meal soon or it will die so I am placing it with a mother who is probably going to feed her kits soon to give it another chance to eat. It is hard to tell in the picture but the white kit is significantly larger than the rest of the littermates and is obviously getting more than his fair share of the milk. It is better to match kits by size to ensure a fair competition. I am going to foster him out to a litter of similarly robust kits to give his littermates a fighting chance. If I did not have a litter to move him to the best strategy would be remove him so he misses a feeding which will allow the other kits to catch up. It might sound counter-intuitive but if he stays, he will continue to out compete his littermates and the smallest will start dying while he become huge. (Update – the blue kit did get his meal and was returned to his original litter where he now has a fighting chance).
I brought the nestboxes inside overnight since temperatures are expected to drop into single digits. It might be hard to see but the kits are starting to grow fur – the sheen you are seeing is their equivalent of a five o’clock shadow. Full bellies let me know their mom is doing her job. It is rare to actually see a doe nurse. Rabbits only nurse once or twice a day and it only takes a couple of minutes. This chestnut kit has a nice plump belly.
Here in the south we are experiencing unseasonably cold spells. Most of our rabbitries are not designed for temperatures below freezing since our biggest climate troubles usually come during the heat of summer. A healthy angora rabbit can easily handle freezing temperatures as long as it is sheltered from the wind (rabbits sheared recently will require additional protection). Tarps make a good temporary wind break as long as they are attached to a sturdy frame. I like to use tarps around cages because I can control the airflow – tarps are rolled down during cold or rainy days and rolled up in the heat of the summer to allow a cooling breeze. If your rabbit has a nice spot to get out of the wind then the next most important thing is to keep water available. In these temperatures water can freeze in less then an hour. You need to provide fresh water several times a day. Provide warm water if possible to encourage them to drink more. If they do not drink enough, their digestive system will not work properly and they are more likely to get wool block. Watch any rabbit in full coat carefully for wool block in the weeks following a cold snap.
The first litters of 2014 are in the nestbox! The doe who produced the litter below had an amazing 14 healthy kits! This is the largest litter I have had. Unfortunately if I had left them all with their doe I doubt they all would have made it. I have had a doe raise 11 kits but it is hard on the doe and it takes a while for the kits to catch up in size to those of a more normal sized litter. This is why I usually breed two does at the same time. Since one doe had a smaller litter I just moved 5 kits to her nestbox. This first week a doe will readily adopt extra kits of a similar age. Redistributing kits to get more even litter sizes gives all the babies the best chance of survival.
If you are trying to figure out what colors you have in your nestbox – in the above picture the pink kits are REW, the darker kits are black and chestnut (kits with a pink belly and pink ears are agouti- a black agouti is chestnut), the two lighter grey kits to the left are opal and blue (the opal is the one with the pink ears, blue agouti is opal) and the two brown/grey kits at the bottom are likely chinchilla (chinchilla gene with agouti). So, clockwise from the REW kit at the top we have REW, Chestnut, REW, Black, Chestnut, Chinchilla, Chinchilla, Opal, REW, Chestnut and a Blue kit in the middle. As they develop and grow fur they will look very different.
The next ten days are the some of the most hazardous in their lives. Kits are born blind and hairless. These new moms have only instinct to guide them to nurse and care for their kits. Many new moms lose their first couple of litters due to inexperience. If the kits make it to ten days old their chances of survival increase significantly.
These kits are off to a good start – their mom created a good nest for them and had them in her nest. I am hoping to see full bellies tomorrow!
Now that you have your bunny and have learned how to shear what do you do with all the wonderful fiber that is piling up in your closet?
Carding/Blending and Spinning – Angora is very fine and likes to “fly” so it can be easier to sandwich it between the fiber you are blending it with when carding (i.e. a layer of wool, layer of angora, layer of wool). Even a small amount of angora adds a lot of softness when added to another fiber. Try blending it with sheep wool, alpaca or silk for different looks. You can also try plying it with one strand of angora and one of another fiber such as silk. I usually spin my fleece raw – or unpicked/unwashed. Unlike sheep wool, angora is not greasy nor is it usually dirty. If you do end up with dirty wool like around their tail region, you can toss it or separate it out to wash it. If you do wash it, be very careful not to agitate it since it felts so readily. Just soak it with a little wool detergent (adding the wool to the wash tub last so that the fibers are not agitated by pouring water) and rinse by placing the fiber in a tub without detergent and carefully draining. Make sure that the temperature of the rinse water is the same as the temperature of the wool. Do not wring dry – just set it on a mesh surface and let air dry. You can gently press it with a towel to remove excess water. If it is only slightly stained it might be easier to wash the yarn after spinning it – use the same technique.
If you are spinning angora you will probably find it a little slicker and more difficult to control than sheep wool. I usually recommend new spinners practice a little with sheep wool before moving on to angora since it is not as easy to learn how to spin on. I prefer to spin it using the long draw method or “woolen” technique. This not only creates a lofty yarn that accentuates the soft fuzzy nature of angora but it also is easier to control the slick angora since it allows twist in the draft area. If you are spinning pure colored angora wool keep in mind that there are slight variations in the color of the wool depending on which region in came from. If you want a consistent color in your yarn, you need to blend it by carding or you can embrace the color variations by picking out wool from the different areas as you spin to get a subtle striping effect.
Dyeing – Angora dyes well. You can use acid dyes to make very lovely colors. If you are dyeing naturally colored wool keep in mind that the original color with show through – i.e. dyeing a light grey wool with pink will give you more of a rose, or dyeing the same wool with cobalt will give you a midnight blue. Angora wool resists water so I treat it more like silk with longer (3-4 hour) pre-soak times, adding the acid to the soak about 30 minutes before it goes into the dye pot. Make sure that you allow the dye water to return to room temperature before removing the wool. I have not had good luck using the washing machine to spin out excess water – it is generally too rough and tends to felt it. You can hand spin out the excess water by swinging it in a mesh bag or using a salad spinner. I find that it is easier to dye finished yarn rather than raw fiber but that is just a personal preference – try it both ways and pick your favorite method.
Knitting/Crocheting – When you finish your yarn it will look fairly smooth, but as you work with it, it will start to “bloom” and get the characteristic halo. Depending on the fleece you will see more or less of a halo. Pick patterns that show off or are strong enough to stand up its fuzzy nature. With the unique halo, plain stitches take on elegance. It is a wonderful fiber for the beginning knitter since even simple items can look luxurious. You can still knit lace but choose a bold pattern rather than an intricate one since the halo tends to soften up crisp lines and a dainty pattern might be obscured. I have knit patterns such as Miss Doolittle by Anne Hanson http://www.ravelry.com/patterns/library/miss-doolittle to great effect. Also remember that angora wool is extremely warm – I would not recommend knitting a pull-over sweater with one. If you want a sweater, I would stick with cardigans that you can easily remove if you get overheated indoors.
Felting – I do not have much experience felting but I have heard from needle felters, nuno felters and wet felters that it is an excellent fiber to work with. I know from experience that it felts easily once you get it wet (it does resist water). This is a great way to use up “seconds” or shorter wool lengths.
Most of all remember to have fun and don’t be afraid to try new things! You might be surprised at how much you end up loving that “mistake.”