Post contains descriptions of rabbit sex and death. Proceed at your own risk.
You know, a great deal of cliches become firmly grounded in fact when you start sharing your life with livestock, particularly the chicken-based aphorisms. The ‘chickens come home to roost’ every evening, you ‘count your chickens’ frequently, hoping to hell that the neighborhood raccoon didn’t snack on one, and of course, at least one chicken at all times is definitely henpecked.
This led me to believe that our new rabbits would, as one might expect, f@#k like bunnies. To me, this meant they’d be willing to get it on at any moment, as frequently as we would like, and MOST IMPORTANTLY, the activity would result in baby rabbits.
This has not turned out to be the case.
We brought our first two does home December 9th, having picked them up at a local farm that was going out of rabbits. They’re American Blues, a breed that is well suited to our climate, theoretically easy to breed and care for, and sweet-natured. They’re on the Livestock Conservancy’s ‘threatened’ list as well as the Slow Food Arc of Taste. Since both of these things were true for our American Guinea Hog Acorn (who recently joined the gang at freezer camp), we were excited to have another easy, congenial livestock breed here at the Farmlet.
Unfortunately, the nice folks that hooked us up with the does had already sold all their males, so we picked up a stand-in buck from local folks who raise New Zealand rabbits (the most popular meat rabbit breed). We figured we’d breed Buck Rogers to the girls as a trial run, and then send him to camp once we’d located an American Blue buck to replace him. And then, we tried to mate the rabbits.
You’ll notice that the operative word here is TRIED.
We chucked Grace in with BR, to no avail. Well, that’s not entirely true. She humped HIM, quite a lot, but no baby bunnies comes of that. Nor does it come from rabbit 69, when BR finally got it up to hump Grace’s head. When we put Rhetta in with him, he nibbled her ears a bit, but she wasn’t having it, no matter what sweet words he whispered in Rabbit.
After 6 days of trying, with lots of research and a fair amount of checking the vulva color (yes, that’s a thing) of the girls, we finally managed to get a successful mating of Rhetta, and 4 days later, BR managed with Grace. You know it’s successful when the buck stiffens up and dramatically falls off the doe. Graceful dismount, no mating. Briefly passed out buck: mating success!
And then we waited. In the meantime, we located an American Blue male, so Buck Rogers became Christmas dinner (Southern Fried. He was delicious). Our new guy, Mr. Bigfoot, settled into the neighborhood, and the girls continued gestating (we hoped!). On the 28th day, we gave Rhetta her nest box, but by day 34 it was clear she hadn’t caught. We chalked it up to BR being too young, or maybe infertile, and re-bred both rabbits.
A few days later, I came out to 4 and a half dead baby bunnies on the floor of Grace’s cage. We’d made a classic beginner’s mistake: assuming that, since one of the girls hadn’t been pregnant, they both weren’t. Grace had kindled in the night, and we’ll never know whether the kits were born dead, or had died of exposure (rabbit mothers, despite being herbivores, eat their placentas and often any dead babies). Now, this is SUPER common with rabbits, which is why we’d gotten up in the middle of the night to check on Rhetta, thinking she was pregnant.
Of course we’d lost a few chickens in the past, but it was never MY FAULT the way the bunnies were, and I felt terrible. Plus, we’d just re-bred BOTH girls to Mr. Bigfoot a few days before, so again we had a rabbit that just gave birth but was also MAYBE pregnant again, SIMULTANEOUSLY, since rabbits have a bicornate duplex uterus, and can be pregnant in one or both horns. Crazy, right?
And we settled in to wait, again. This time, we gave both rabbits nest boxes on the 28th day, and vowed to LEAVE them there until there was no chance whatsoever that ANYONE was pregnant. And we waited. Day 31 was, of course, the coldest day of the year. So for the next 3 nights, one of us got up every two hours to check for rabbit labor.
Which never came.
So here we are again. In 26 more days (check out the fancy little ticker at the bottom of the page) we may or may not have baby bunnies. It’s like Schrodinger’s rabbits up in here.
(Shrodinger’s cat is a famous but twisted German thought experiment, in which a cat was put in box with a radioactive isotope that may or may not kill it, leading to a cat that is theoretically both dead AND alive at the same time, until you open the box).