Sunday, March 30, 2008

Nestbox Behavior, etc.

I had all kinds of cute little baby pictures (and Sr. pics) to post tonight, but my camera suddenly went kaput on me and refused to download anything into my computer:(. I had meant to talk about current events in ADDITION to nestbox stuff, but it seems that that is not to be today because no one will know what I am talking about without the visual aids, and there is no sense in creating confusion, LOL.

Anyhow--just quickly--the litters are growing like crazy and the first 3 batches will be ready to go out with mom permanently next Wednesday. An interesting thing that is happening (that I should have posted pictures of, too:( ), is that there is a huge difference in size between the purebred litters and Echo's litter (the F2/NZ Cross doe). I don't mean the size of the litter itself, but the size of each individual baby within both groups. Hybrid vigor is an amazing thing and obviously increases size and weight of the offspring instantly. Babies in Echo/Pierre's litter are literally twice the size of Juno's simply because Juno's are so inbred. Genetically speaking her babies will be more uniform in type and wool due to a higher level of homozygosity, but as Echo's babies get bred and rebred within the same line a similar effect will take place with them too.

I took Devaki's coat off today also because she went off feed completely a short time ago (don't worry, I got great pics of her in full coat first that I will post ASAP, LOL). While I was hoping to enter her at Rhinebeck on April 19 there was no way she was going to hold out another 2 weeks, so I decided it was better to be safe than sorry. She has her haircut now and I will breed her sometime over the next few weeks.


The fun thing about litters (IMO) is that there are all kinds of interesting opportunities to observe nestbox behavior. I have found over the years that babies tend to follow predictable patterns before, during, and after being fed, and while this is something that I intend to get detailed pictures of in the future (I swear it!), for now I will just give a detailed verbal description:).

Step 1--Pre-Nursing:

Most, but not all, does feed their litters very early in the morning. Here in my rabbitry each doe feeds only once a day, each mealtime spaced approx. 24 hours apart. Right before nursing (up to an hour or so ahead of time), each litter works it's way up to the surface of the nest in order to take full advantage of the 5 min. feeding session. In wintertime especially, the litters bury themselves deep beneath the wool and hay to stay warm, but in the summer they tend to stay nearer to the surface, sometimes sleeping with no coverage at all. Baby rabbits are excellent thermal regulators when it comes right down to it. When I first began raising litters I used to fuss and cover everyone up when I felt they weren't doing it themselves, but I quickly realized that they monitor their temperatures 100% perfectly, and that nothing whatever needs to be done to help them out.

Right before feeding the babies are exposed and ready to nurse. In addition to this they often squeak and wiggle around vigorously to let the doe know they are hungry. Once the doe jumps into the box (which can be right away or after a dawdle and extended face/paw washing), she will nurse approx. 5-10 minutes. Once she is finished she will either turn around and jump out, or jump directly out from whatever position she happens to be in. It is better if she turns around before hopping out because there is less chance of dragging babies out that way, but it is good to be nearby to scoop babies up who have come out with the doe anyway. At this point, motherly attention is finished for the day and most does will behave from that point as though the litter did not even exist (until the next feeding time, of course:)).

Step 2--During Nursing:

During the nursing period the babies fuss about at first, kicking back and forth below the doe and changing nipples repeatedly. After the first minute or two has passed they settle in and begin nursing in earnest, which will continue determinedly until the doe jumps out and cuts off the supply:). It is actually critically important for the doe to this though it seems abrupt, because kits in general are feeding machines who will continue to nurse until they are literally forced to stop. If the doe did not put a quick end to the feeding at the appropriate time, the babies would engorge themselves without fail and die.
A very common belief in rabbits is that the doe must clean each kit individually after nursing in order for it to urinate. While it is important that the litter is stimulated to go to the bathroom (for lack of a better term), very, very few does actually take the time to clean their babies directly after feeding. According to the book 'Rabbit Production', the act of nursing itself provides more than enough moisture in the nest to stimulate urination from milk spilling as the babies feed. It is rarely necessary for the doe to do anything extra.

Step 3--Post Nursing:

After nursing, the litter is temporarily in a comatose state (LOL). For several seconds everyone seems to lack the energy to get up and roll around on their fat bellies, so they lay down for a moment and vegetate:). Then suddenly, everyone perks up and begins to dig and scratch frantically into the nesting material. What is happening now is that the litter is actively fluffing and drying out the nest after feeding and urinating. The nest must be as dry as possible before sleeping so that no one gets chilled, and once that is finished, everyone piles up to go to sleep. Again, if it is cold the litter will cover itself completely. If it is warm or hot they won't bother, but bunny babies will always sleep in a pile no matter what unless someone is about to fade, in which case the dying baby will work itself off into a corner of the nest to avoid chilling the rest of the litter.

Here a little bit about nestbox behavior, particularly up to the age of approx. 2 weeks. After the second week a litter tends to stay awake and move around a bit more, and by the time week 3 rolls around they are ready to leave the nestbox completely and go about the business of being real rabbits:).

More again next week (with pictures this time, I promise!), and I hope that Spring is turning up in every part of the country by now, with gardens growing and lots of bunnies breeding:).

Have a great week!

Sunday, March 23, 2008

More Babies and Misc.

This has been an insanely busy week so this will not be an involved post (Sorry, something much more interesting will be planned for next time, LOL:)). Last Thursday 2 new litters arrived out of Evariste and Morwenna. The sire of both litters was Dijon, and Eva gave birth to a litter of 9 while Morwenna had 10 in her bunch, the majority of whom were very healthy aside from 1-2 faders here and there:(.

Here is a picture of Eva's little group consisting of 1 Black, 1 Fawn and 7 REWs at 3 days old:

And here is a snapshot of Morwenna's bunch, composed of the usual same colors for her---Fawn, Tort, and REW:

The next planned breedings are of Nereida/Pierre and Devaki/Dijon sometime over the next couple of weeks. Nereida needs to be bred ASAP but Devaki has a fabulous show coat on her right now that I am loathe to take off until she can go to at least one show and make a spectacle of herself properly (LOL!). I will probably not breed her until after Rhinebeck on April 19, and I will wait with Nereida til then as well so that both can be bred together.
Also, (in addition to all the holiday stuff this week), we decided to take a trip down to NYC to see the Met museum again (the Metropolitan Museum of Art). For anyone who has never been to this amazing place, it is one of the most beautiful and famous museums in the world, containing works of art from every major civilization in history. We have been to this museum many times before but there is always something new to see on every trip. This time I found a WONDERFUL Samurai helmet with----guess what? A rabbit up on top! (take a look!:))

One of the major attractions of this museum for the boys is the Arms and Armor exhibit, containing armor and weapons from cultures throughout history. This is a top view of the main hall from the 2nd floor balcony:

And finally, here are the kids posing in front of the Bear statue in Central Park on the way back home:

More bunny stuff to come next week, especially nestbox and baby behavior, etc. Every time a new litter comes along here it seems that there is something new to be learned. One of my very favorite sports is sitting down on the floor watching babies in nestboxes before and after feeding. There are all kinds of things to be noticed about babies in general with this kind of observation. It is the best way to understand a herd:).
Anyway, have a wonderful week and most of all:

Give all those little Easter bunnies a great big hug:-):-)

Friday, March 14, 2008

Cool Links and Babies

I found some great links to sites with grooming equipment for sale recently, and I thought I would post them here today for anyone who might be interested (I posted these to the FA list awhile back, too). Most angora breeders use the Doggy Man slickers because they are good quality and gentle on angora wool, but as you will see from the links below there are COUNTLESS styles of slickers, combs, and other grooming aids available (geared mostly to dog breeders), and some can be found at very decent prices. Here's the list:

In other news around here also, there were 3 beautiful litters born this week!:-). I had hoped for 4 and had bred 4, but I was not altogether surprised that Neva missed because she is an older doe who hadn't been bred in almost a year:(. I will try her again in a week or so too, but for now there are enough babies to deal with and put smiles on our faces this Spring, LOL. Here are a couple of pictures:

First are the 3 litter boxes side by side on March 12th in the living room after I had cleaned them up, labeled them, checked/counted babies, and clipped wool. From the left are litters out of Echo and Pierre, Pascha and Dijon, and Juno and Dijon.

Juno had a beautiful litter of 7 (shown below at two days old). So far it looks like 2 Fawns, 2 Torts, 2 Pearls, and possibly a REW (or another Pearl depending on what happens over the next few days:)). I am positively thrilled about this bunch because Juno is one of the nicest does in the barn right now (her BIS picture is posted in the upper lefthand corner of this blog), and I bred her to Dijon, my best buck. We'll see how things go, but I have high hopes for these little ones:).

This here is a picture of Echo's litter of 9. Echo is my F2/NZ Cross doe who was bred to Dijon last Fall. The babies out of that particular breeding were not as impressive as they should have been, so I tried her with a different buck this time (not worrying overly much about compatible color combinations). In this little pile it looks to be 3 Blues (or possibly Smoke Pearls---I've got to research that color some more to see what produces it), a few more Pearls, and also some REW.

And last of all we have Pascha's litter of 6 (down from 8 originally with 2 stillborn), and in this case there are 2 Blacks, 1 Fawn, and 3 REWs. Pascha was the BIS winner of the second specialty show at the PA Convention last month (unfortunately, I do not have a good picture of her in coat:( ), but I bred her back to her son, Dijon, and am hoping for good results there too:).

So anyway, that is about all there is to report this week:). I have 2 litters due next week from Morwenna/Dijon and Evariste/Dijon, so we'll see how those come out (if they took), and then there will be more breeding a little later in the season. The weather is getting quite warm now at about 50 degrees during the day, and between the daffodils starting to grow and birds singing like crazy everyday, it seems Spring has finally sprung:).
There will be a few more adult pictures to post next week, and I've also got a trip to make with Sadako's babies to a friend of mine who raises Satins nearby. I was on the verge of culling the litter out at 12 weeks but then couldn't decide who to hold onto because they were all so similar. I decided at the last moment that I needed advice from a master of type:-):-).
Anyway, have a GREAT week and best of luck getting ready for the holidays!
Til next time.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Weather and Wool

After a few years of rabbit raising most people have figured out that grooming angoras is easier in certain types of weather than others. Of course, standing out in the rain blowing wool is impossible under any circumstances and should never be attempted (LOL), but it is definitely true that wool responds differently according to how much humidity is in the air, what the air temperature is, and many other factors.

When it is extremely humid out, wool tends to be limp and clumpy with very little 'body' to it. Like human hair, it also tends to snag more easily, making it harder to groom with the brush or comb without pulling unwanted fiber out. On days such as this, grooming should either be avoided altogether or the use of a brush or comb should be avoided and the blower should be the only thing used in it's place. Since clumping normally begins at the skin, the blower is the best tool for eliminating webbing, getting down to the base of the coat and working the tangles out from the inside up.

On cool, dry days there is usually the opposite problem to deal with from what occurs when it is damp. On days like this there is often static electricity in the wool, and it is nearly impossible to get the coat to lay properly in many cases, eliminating drape entirely on breeds like the SA and FA. The other problem with lack of humidity in the air is that it is easy to break fibers when they are in 'flyaway' mode by brushing or combing them, but the blower is not much better for days like this since it can make the problem worse also:(. The solution that many breeders employ to combat dry wool is to keep a spray bottle nearby and 'mist' the air directly above the rabbit as it sits on the grooming table. This lends enough moisture to the wool to enable you to groom it, but it does not add so much that the coat gets wet and becomes matted. Another solution that I have heard of to tame flyaway coats is to unscrew the back of the blower and insert a dryer sheet over the filter to diminish static electricity. Different methods can be used to fix these kinds of problems and each breeder has to decide for him/herself what will work in their particular climate.

Temperature can also have a dramatic impact on the quality and growth rate of an angora coat. In my area of the Northeast the wool quality is worst in the summertime, when heat and humidity work together to slow wool growth and make the resulting coat thinner and less even. Pregnancy and nursing will also take their toll on a doe's coat, impeding growth and density and often condition, especially in extreme weather when a doe is using all her resources to raise a litter in the heat or cold.

The best angora coats in my experience are those that have been grown in the depths of winter on does who have not been bred and who are eating and drinking well and regularly. Intensity of color also improves dramatically at this time of year making the overall effect even more impressive, but wool grows faster and holds longer in the winter as a general rule, and that is when we can expect our rabbits to be at their absolute peak in wool quality and production.

More next week as we wait for the rest of the snow to melt here (and the flood waters to go down) and hope for a beautiful Spring right around the corner:). I have several litters due next Wednesday though only 2 out of the 4 does are showing signs of nesting yet. A few weeks later there will be 2-3 more girls to kindle, and then I will breed another bunch again to launch the spring breeding season.

Have a wonderful and DRY week:-)

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Really Neat Cornstarch Dispenser

Lots of people already know this neat tip, but since it is so convenient it seems worthwhile to mention once again:).

Many of us use cornstarch as a means of dissolving difficult knots and matts, but unfortunately it also has the disadvantage of being extremely messy and difficult to apply. The genius of this simple substance on angora wool is that it literally dissolves knots (especially the ones found between the ears, over the shoulders, or in the armpits), by simply making them slip out and 'melt away'. Cornstarch is applied directly into a knot or over a problem area, and then a groomer rubs the knot and gently pulls it apart until it disappears. After the application of cornstarch (or baby powder, etc.), it is important to remove all the leftover residue with the blower or brush, because the rabbit should not have to ingest it and you do not want to be disqualified for having foreign substances in the coat if you are grooming for a show. The best time to use cornstarch is either several days before a show at home, OR, immediately before showing if it is a state or national convention and you will be arriving a day or two early.

Almost everyone has plastic dispensers at home in the spice cabinet that have shaker-type holes on the top of them. One of the best ways to store and dispense cornstarch is to thoroughly rinse a container like this out, fill it up with cornstarch, and then apply as needed by shaking it gently over the knotted area. Spice dispensers enable you to localize the application of powder so that you don't waste any more than necessary, you don't use too much on a given area, and you don't accidentally spill it all over the rabbit making it harder to remove completely. Here is a (less than perfect) picture of a dispenser I made last week out of an old garlic powder can (washed out REALLY well, LOL):

This is a large size container but there are certainly smaller ones available which might be ideal for carting back and forth to shows. Though substances like this are helpful for angoras, it is important to note that they are really rarely needed to begin with if a rabbit has been groomed on a regular basis (particularly in the case of an FA), and they can occasionally be used in conjunction with peroxide to remove stains from white coats as well. Since we all fall behind with grooming on occasion it is a good idea to have this on hand for emergencies, but it should always be used sparingly and blown out completely prior to showing.

In other news, I had a few bunnies out for grooming today (Sunday has become my regular, bonefide grooming day:)), so I posted a few pictures of Nereida and Devaki again, though they don't look a whole lot different than they did before, LOL. I took Lulu and Oomi out for a once-over and toenail clipping too, but since both are still in the early stages of wool growth there was nothing much to photograph, so I will wait a few more weeks until they are larger and more presentable:). We had another 2 snowstorms this past week but the next few days promise to be clear so that I can stick with my normal chore schedule. I am tired of digging out bunnies every other day ad infinitum, LOL.

Anyway, have a GREAT week and hope the signs of spring will be coming soon. Take good care of those buns!!:-)