It’s day 31 and we’re waiting on four litters to be born. And, of course, there’s a storm front moving in, which makes checking for new babies an hourly event!
All of this baby-waiting brought a question to mind, “How do we know when a mama rabbit is going to pop?!”
The easy but unsatisfying answer is that we just don’t know. Rabbits in general will have a month-long gestation period. I have noticed that our larger breed rabbits will frequently have a 34 day gestation period (which is totally normal for them but completely irritating to us, as we’re anxious to meet those new babies!)
We’ve come to terms with the realization that it might be anywhere from 31-35 days of gestation and still be considered normal, but I’ve become a little bit bitter over the fact that I can almost guarantee if there is a storm or cold weather that could endanger the lives of newborn, naked kits… those mamas will give birth around 2 am!
There are a few clues we’ve noticed in our rabbits regarding their birthing tendencies:
- Over the past several years I’ve made note of what time of day the initial breeding takes place. We have a fairly consistent pattern that our mama will give birth two-to–four hours after the initial breeding. It could be coincidence, but we typically breed our rabbits in the afternoon and almost always have babies born around dusk.
- Our mamas will usually go off food in the 24 hours prior to giving birth.
- If a doe poops in her nestbox she usually isn’t pregnant.
- When our does are in labor they usually hold their ears at a slightly different angle and their eyes are unfocused. If they were humans I’d describe it as a look that says, “I’m a little concerned about this… and I’m concentrating on my body right now… and I’m doing what I know I’m meant to do.”
- The vast majority of our does don’t start pulling hair until less than an hour before they give birth.
All of this is unproven and based on our observations, but our experience is that baby rabbits are almost never born in the middle of the day. Perhaps because they are more active at night, maybe because we tend to breed in the afternoons, but it seems that the rabbits will give birth at dusk or dawn. (The “earthy” part of me wonders if this has anything to do with the gravitational pull of the moon… but I honestly have no idea and haven’t kept strong enough records to be able to back this suspicion up scientifically.)
Most of our does are very predictable and pull tons of hair from their dewlaps and tummies; we can trust them to take excellent care of their babies outside even when the temperatures drop to the high teens. Between the shared body warmth of the litter and the insulating factor of the rabbit hair and hay, they can have quite a cozy little nest with temperatures in the 80s in the hole!
However, our first time mamas don’t get any free passes! If we have an unproven doe about to give birth and we have freezing weather we check the cages about every hour all night long to make sure those babies aren’t frozen just in case they’re born on the wire.
Now, back to baby watch… hoping for some new little munchkins by tomorrow morning!