Ok, so I mentioned that this week we found out that I had made a boo-boo last fall. It happens.
We raise Flemish Giant Rabbits. They’re not ordinary rabbits, these are one of the largest rabbit breeds in the world. You can read a bit about one vying for the World Record of longest rabbit here. Longest Rabbit Contender
Benny, above, is that contender. Flemish routinely weigh up to or over 20 pounds and are bred for show, pet, meat, and fur, usually in that order. They can be over two and half feet (30 inches) long, and when they stand up on their hind legs, are really impressive. Below is our doe, Big Mama, sitting on T’s lap.
Most of our buns go to 4-H or pet homes. I can’t bring myself to eat one, although we do eat rabbit, just not ours. The remainder usually go to auction, where again, the show or pet buyers will drive the price up beyond what the meat buyers are willing to pay. Even so, I refuse to offer rabbits for sale in the spring before Easter. This prevents impulsive “pet” home purchasers from showing back up on my doorstep with the “I didn’t know what I was getting into’s.”
They eat. Like furry ravenous Vikings after a ten day sail…it’s astounding how much they eat. So, as a rule, we will winter ONE buck, and several does. Last year, we pared down so we kept one of each. And last week at auction, T picked up another doe.
So the annual bunny breeding festivities began this week. Rabbits were removed from winter quarters in the barn, and put out in a row of Great Dane sized kennels on the lawn to graze grass and sniff test one another. (rabbits are “forced ovulators”…meaning the does release an egg when stimulated to do so by the presence of a buck.) We put them out 12-24 hours ahead of time for a little “Getting to know you / rabbit speed dating / hormone havoc.” This pumps them up like frat boys and sorority girls at last call and generally prevents any indecision. Then, like the above human creatures, ANYONE looks good at last call. After breeding, the expecting does get moved to rabbit tractors like the one below, out on grass. This is good for both Mom and my feed bill.
We take the doe to the buck, then supervise to make sure she’s receptive and breeding takes place, and to insure that no injuries occur if she’s less than willing. You can generally tell that breeding has been successful by what we call the “DFO” factor. This is a highly scientific (no, not really) thing imparted to us by a very experienced lady breeder of Flemish show quality rabbits. DFO is what happens when the buck has done his job correctly. He will visibly “Done Fell Over”. (Yes, really.) The entire breeding process is like 4 literal seconds, after which papa rabbit will (if he’s been successful) stiffen, sometimes squeak, and then fall over sideways, usually bonking his rabbit noggin in the process. Don’t expect any reaction out of the doe other than eyes cutting to the side or a “Wait, that’s it? You’re done? Really? I can move on?” attitude. I’m dead serious, this is the rabbit way of things. There are probably a ton of youtube videos available if you’re a nonbeliever.
We normally let this process occur minimum of twice each “meeting” for two days straight. Then you wait. 30 days later, ideally, mama has lined her nest box with fur and popped out 6-12 naked rabbit kits. There are people who can examine a doe during this period and determine if she’s bred. I am not one of those people. So we wait 33 days, and of there are no kits, we try again. Here are pics of one kit from one of our litters. .
So morning, we put Doe #1 in with Papa , job was completed with minimal protesting on behalf of either participant. Afternoon, Papa was joined by Doe # 2. In the five minutes that followed, there was chasing and squeaking, several bouts of awkward attempts at copulating with the wrong end on behalf of both participants, and then some nippy scratchy wrestling and squalling that induced an emergency breaking up of the combatants by Tony, the rabbit bouncer. An undignified inspection of the removed “doe’s” nether regions revealed a scratch injury to some very non-girly parts.
Oops. My bad. Rabbit sexing epic fail.
You see, sexing juvenile rabbits is not an easy task. I’ve really not perfected it yet. My batting average is pretty darn good, since this is only my second epic failure. Mostly it involves turning a squirmy, slippery, kicking, sharp clawed, uncooperative rabbit on its back, prodding at the business end of things until what is in peeks out, and there is a SLIGHT difference in the shape and mechanics of the peeking parts. Snap judgements are made, so you don’t get scratched to ribbons by surprisingly strong back feet. Apparently last year, during the annual separation of the remaining rabbits, I spoke too soon.
Sigh, so we have overwintered an extra buck. I am still getting over being sick and took an out of character afternoon nap in my despondency about only having one doe and one possible spring litter (which won’t even cover the feed bill). While I did that, T posted a for sale ad and sold the spare buck with the now slightly scratched and dented male parts for 25$. In like 5 minutes of posting, because they don’t sell for that price unless you’re pissed enough to price them that low. Considering the roughly 175$ in feed and hay that misidentified beast has likely hoovered up over the winter, I’d call that a loss.
Oh, well…we’re expecting extra chicks this year, which should make up the difference. Sometimes raising livestock is more like forced savings than a profitable venture.
We’re expecting Flemish kits the last week of April.