Breeding bunnies is very exciting. However, it brings with it a lot of responsibility. Many of us read the books "What to Expect..." when we had children of our own, and this article is along those same lines.
The first thing to get is a confirmation of the doe's pregnancy. This should be done between 10-12 days after breeding. There are several methods of accomplishing this task, none of which involve going to the local pharmacy and getting an EPT test.
One option is to take your bunny to the vet. If you only plan on breeding once or twice the cost of the visit may be worth it. If you plan on breeding your bunnies often, then it would be more time saving and cost efficient for you to learn to determine if your doe is pregnant.
The best method we've found is to palpitate the doe. This method takes some practice, and should be taught to you by an experienced breeder. Once you have mastered this method, you will have no need for any other method. Pick up the doe and place her on a solid surface in front of you. A grooming table is perfect place to perform the palpitation. Have the does head nearest you, and her hindquarters away from you. Firmly hold the doe near the base of the ears with your left hand. Place your right hand palm up under the doe near the pelvic away. The goal is to feel for the marble sized kits between your thumb and forefinger. Slide your fingers along the pelvic area starting near the back and working your way towards the front of the doe. Be careful not to apply too much pressure or the kits may be injured. Palpitation should not be done after the 14th day from breeding. If no kits are found during the palpitation the doe should be rebred immediately.
After the second week you may notice the doe getting a little uncomfortable. She will typically spend more time resting on her side. After all she has some babies moving around on her underside. The doe should be gaining a small amount weight. Her feed should continue to be regular amounts, and water should be checked frequently.
After the third week, its time for you to start making some preparations. The doe will need a nest box. Nest boxes can be made or purchased. If your bunny is housed outside and it is extremely cold you may consider moving her inside to help keep babies warm. The gestation period for rabbits ranges from 28 days for smaller breeds to 32 days for larger breeds. During this time your doe may get a little moody, and grunt at you.
The nestbox should be placed in with the doe at day 27. Place some absorbent materials such as wood shavings in the bottom of the nestbox. Place several handfuls of good clean straw in the cage and nestbox. At some point before her delivery the doe will begin to build a nest with the straw. Typically she will stuff the nestbox with straw and hollow out a sport for the kits.
A couple of day to just hours before kindling, the doe will begin to remove fur from her back and underside. This is normal activity. Each doe is different. Some will pull small amounts of fur for a week, and others will frantically pull large amounts of fur just minutes or hours before kindling. The kits are born without fur and this will be needed to keep them warm. The doe will line the nestbox with the fur, and when she kindles will cover the kits with the fur. Sometimes the doe will not pull her own fur. There are products that you can substitute for the mother's fur. Litter Saver from KW Cages works well. Once kits have been removed from the nestbox, the fur can be saved for future litters of that same doe.
During this time pay close attention to where the doe is placing pulled fur. Some does will try to build a nest outside the nestbox. You want to discourage this by placing the nesting materials in the nestbox. You don't want the doe to kindle the litter on the bottom of the wire cage. If she insists on building her nest in the wrong place, put down some wood or cardboard on the area where she is building the nest.
Generally, the doe's trips into the nestbox will be very brief. When she kindles, she could be in the box from five minutes to half an hour. Do not disturb the doe during this time. Starting on day 28, check the nestbox first thing in the morning to see if she has kindled. Check periodically throughout the day. Once she has kindled, remove the nestbox and count and check the kits. Any stillborn kits should be removed. Cold kits can be revived. The kits will not look all cute like a bunny, but will have no hair and their eyes will not be open. They can and should be handled. Now there are kits. What happens next? We hope to have an article soon called, What to Expect the First Month!