Sunday, December 27, 2009

Nestbox Talk

-another post from the old blog

There are several kinds of nestboxes available for use with bunny litters, and all have their benefits and drawbacks according to purpose, season, and management style. Here are a few basic types that are easy to find, though there are other choices and a few models that are actually improvised with found materials, etc.

In my barn I use stainless steel nestboxes because I have access to some that are really well made from my meat processor, but I also keep them indoors 24/7 except for bringing them out for feedings, so temperature considerations are not an issue.
The first kind of nestbox that you ordinarily think of when breeding bunnies is all wooden. Years ago these were made of solid wood, but nowadays they are often constructed of plywood, and are easily made at home. The benefit of a wooden nestbox is that it is extremely warm for fall and winter litters, and quite durable if well made. They are relatively inexpensive, especially if made of plywood, and are heavy enough to stay in one place. The disadvantages of wooden boxes is that they are sometimes too hot in the summer (not as practical in warmer areas), and they are difficult to clean thoroughly after litters have lived in them for 3 weeks. The belief used to be that wood did not sanitize as easily as metal, but articles I have read recently indicate that wood DOES perform fairly well in that area, as long as it is cleaned thoroughly in all the nooks and crannies, disinfected, rinsed clean, and left to bleach in the sun whenever possible. Another downside to wood is that many rabbits find it irresistibly chewable, and a box that started out with nice smooth edges in the beginning may end up very jagged and splintery----a potential problem for wool coats.

If you decide to go with wooden nestboxes when first starting to breed, always make sure that the floor is either removable for easy cleaning OR there are good sized holes drilled into the bottom for drainage. One of the biggest dangers to newborn litters is the buildup of bacteria in a nestbox that does not get cleaned often enough and remains damp and moist for days or weeks at a time.

The second most popular type of nestbox is the stainless steel box. Steel boxes are useful in hot climates because they tend to be cooler, and they are extremely easy to clean and disinfect when a litter is finished with them. Most metal nestboxes come with removable floors which makes them easy to disassemble and scrub out, and they also tend to weigh less, which is an issue if you have a large breed with many babies per litter or you move your boxes in and out of the house.

Removable floors tend to be made out of a variety of materials, and there is one company that even sells them with solid metal floors, but that is a poor option because there is no drainage in a situation like that, and the use of it is asking for an immediate buildup of dangerous bacteria. I used to use layers of cardboard and newspaper, etc, in my nestboxes (after removing the original floors first), but the boxes I currently use have pegboard floors, which work wonderfully in terms of staying clean and keeping litters healthy. I used to get crusty eyes now and again with cardboard and other materials, but at this point I put a thick layer of hay on top of the pegboard and that is usually enough to keep everyone clean for 2 weeks along with wool that the doe pulled, and then a clean layer of bedding is added for week 3 which lasts until the box is removed altogether. Eyes are always open all by themselves by day 12, and there is never any dampness in the nest.

Another type of nestbox that is often used is called a 'drop box'. A drop box is a nestbox made of wire that is literally built into the floor of a large doe cage. The biggest advantage to a drop box is that it mimics the natural nesting conditions for a rabbit in the wild (which are underground), and it provides greater than average protection for kits who get pulled out of the nest after feeding because they simply crawl around the wire until they 'drop' back into the box. The disadvantage to this type of nestbox is that it is a permanent feature of the cage, and is thus unremovable without cutting up the floor and patching or replacing it. Another problem is that it cannot usually be used with stacking cages unless there is a wider than average space between each cage and the pan rests lower down beneath it. The best rabbitry setup for drop boxes is the single line of suspended cages such as one would find in a meat operation where does are bred almost constantly and there is no interference with any cages located below or above them.

Other options that people use when expecting litters consist of heavy cardboard boxes (which need to be secured because they tip easily though they can be discarded later), cat boxes and plastic tote boxes (which also need to be secured with wire and tend to retain alot of moisture), and homemade 'above' floor wire boxes. The primary considerations for any nestbox are that it be solid, heavy enough so that the doe cannot tip or flip it over while nesting or jumping in and out, it has excellent drainage, and it is easy to clean. Some boxes have metal or wooden lids on top that partially cover the box for greater privacy and protection from drafts, and others are completely open. Does sometimes have a greater preference for one over the other, so you have to watch your herd and experiment.

So this is a bit about nestbox 'pros and cons' (LOL). If you leave your litters outside all the time and breed over the winter, a wooden box may be the best choice. If you breed for meat and have a large herd operation, a drop box may be ideal. If you keep your boxes inside all the time except for nursing, metal may be the best choice for ease of transport and cleanliness, but everything depends on what your goals are and the kinds of management techniques you employ

Monday, December 21, 2009

Bunny Stuff

After getting some much needed grooming in today between all the baking, cooking, decorating, gingerbread house building, and normal daytime school stuff (LOL!), I snapped pictures of a couple of buns who are busy growing coats.

This first shot is one that was taken of Anton (a Sable Pearl buck) months ago when he was just a baby. The second is how he looks today, a whole lot bigger and growing in his very first Senior coat:).

These next two pics are of the best baby that was born here during the Fall breeding season. She is a little Tort doe that I will probably name Nadia if she ends up keeping all her great qualities:). She is 5 months old today and came out of a breeding between Margaux and Giacomo.

Btw, there were also two more litters born this week for a total of four boxes now sitting in my living room! Margaux had a litter of 7, and Yvonne (my F3 NZ/FA cross doe) delivered a litter of 8 REWs with Akeno as the sire.

More again next week, but until then have a wonderful, WONDERFUL holiday and may all your bunny wishes come true for the New Year!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

'Testing Your Stock'

---This is another post from the old blog. Sorry about all the older posts lately, but December is a busy month and I do want to get all the old posts transferred so that they will be readily available in the archives. Have a great week and stay warm!:-).

The best way to know what your rabbits carry genetically is by looking at what they produce in the nestbox. Of course, it is a great help to know what colors the parents were because alot can be ascertained that way, but breeding a rabbit several times and recording the colors that result can make it much easier to formulate a genotype for the sire and dam.

The basic rule of genetics is that a rabbit can only pass on what it carries or expresses to it's offspring, and since each offspring inherits half of each pair of genes from it's dam and the other half from it's sire, the colors that result will depend on how those genes interact with each other.

Some genes are dominant, which means that they will always express themselves first if the other half of the gene pair is recessive. In order to express itself (be visible in the nestbox) a recessive gene has to be paired with another recessive gene. If a certain recessive is always paired with a dominant gene in a particular herd it may never have the chance to express itself, which is why some colors can 'hide' themselves for many, many generations before finding like recessives to pair with and reproduce themselves.

A good example to use in describing how genes get passed on is the color White (or REW). White in rabbits is represented by a lower case 'c', and it takes 2 lower case 'c's to make a white rabbit in a litter. Since 'c' is a purely recessive gene, it is entirely possible for a Colored rabbit (such as a Chestnut or Self, for ex.) to be carrying it with no surface evidence whatsoever. If you were to breed that 'c' carrying rabbit to another rabbit though (White or Colored) that also carried a recessive 'c', then the result will be at least a few REW babies in the nestbox. There is a great deal of White in the majority of the Angora breeds because REW is a very competitive color in Angoras, but some non-wool breeds consider the gene a serious liability because White is not a recognized color in every type of rabbit.
If two colored parents are bred and REW babies appear in the litter (even just one), then you can be 100% certain that both parents carry the 'c' gene. Similarly, if both parents are Selfs (or one is even a REW) but you get one of the 'ee' colors in the nestbox (that would be Fawn, Red, Cream, Pearl, Tort, or Ermine) then you know that each parent must carry a recessive 'e', and so on.

To determine what color a REW really is under the white 'sheet' (because there is always a different, 'real' color in those rabbits), the best thing to do is breed it to a Self and examine what comes up in the litter. If you find Agouti babies in a nestbox out of a Self/REW breeding then you can be certain that the REW parent must be an Agouti under the White because the Agouti gene is dominant and could never have come from a Self (which is recessive too). Conversely, if you get nothing but Selfs in a good sized litter then you can be fairly certain that the REW must be Self underneath too, and you can use that information in future breedings to produce fewer unrecognized colors.

Why is it important to know what a REW is underneath in the first place? Well, the worst color combination that can be performed in rabbits is usually the Agouti/Shaded combination. Babies out of these pairings will often be a complete mishmash of color and can be so jumbled phenotypically that they cannot even be identified. They can never be shown, registered, or even sold very often because the majority of breeders will not accept unrecognized varieties into their gene pools. Even if they could be sold as pets or woolers there is always the chance that someone will take it upon themselves to experiment and breed 2 rabbits together just to 'see what happens' and end up producing an even larger cache of unrecognized colors that are unshowable, unregisterable, and unsellable.

Testing a REW first to know what color truly lies beneath the blanket allows you to use that rabbit according to it's real color in future breedings. If a White rabbit is genetically an Agouti, then you know that you can use this rabbit only with other Agoutis or Selfs, and should never use it with a Shaded. If your REW is genetically a Self then you have greater flexibility and can use it with other groups without fear of strange colors turning up. Combining 2 REWs can ONLY result in an all-White litter so you would not know what either parent carried in that case, but since REWs cannot carry Shaded genes (the 'c' being completely recessive) you would not be adding those genes to your pot to begin with.

Note: Breeders of other breeds are often mortified at the rate at which Angora breeders mix colors, and IMO they have a very legitimate point. The best and truest color comes from breeding pairs of the same variety together over several consecutive generations, and we in the Angora world would do well to imitate that policy if we want to weed out most of the color issues that plague our breed. Since wool animals are often raised by spinners as well as showpeople the desire for variety in color is strong, but the best way to achieve both variety and quality is to focus on each color separately and improve it slowly over time.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Baby Time Again

Two litters were born this week to Spang's Natalya and Spang's Kimba:). Juno's breeding did not take which wasn't a surprise given her age, and Althea (my Black 'plucking' doe:)) was not pregnant either, which will earn her a trip to the 'retirement' home of my local friend who has a fiber business and uses angora in her products exhaustively:). Given the fact that Althea is young and could not conceive twice under normal conditions means that she will not be fertile/ dependable enough to stick around here, especially if she is not a show rabbit and cannot earn her keep some other way. She will now live the rest of her life at a 'luxury' bunny house where her new owner will use her wool and happily keep an FA who molts on a regular basis:).

Margaux will be due in approx. a week and half and is definitely prego (carrying hay around like there's no tomorrow:))----and Yvonne is due around the same time, though it is harder to tell what is happening with her because she never carries hay or begins building nests until the Day Of, LOL.

Below are two pics of the new litters snapped earlier today (at 2 days of age). The first is of Natalya's litter with 3 REWs and 2 Blacks, and the second is of Kimba's bunch consisting of Black, REW, Tort, and Sable. Kimba is a Sable F4 FA/NZ cross and this was her first litter. She kindled a day early with 11 kits so all her Sable babies (the little Blue looking things in the first picture:)) were promptly moved to Natalya's box because Natalya had only 5 and I wanted to be extra sure that the Sables survived. Kimba was bred to Giacomo (a Tort) since he was the best choice at the time to produce more Sables, but next Spring she will be bred to Anton (a Sable Pearl buck) which will definitely produce more Sables and Pearls to get my Sable/Pearl line off the ground:).

Other than this not a whole lot is happening at this time of year with cold weather and the holidays:). Since there are no shows at the moment there is nothing to do but breed and gear up for the PA Convention in Feb, along with growing out coats for the 2010 Spring Season, which looks as though it is going to be nice with a great selection of buns.

Btw, for those of you who don't know (and I will be posting about it again in a few weeks:)) the United Angora Club (UARC) will be hosting TWO Specialties at the PA Convention this year on Feb. 6 & 7---a Saturday and Sunday. This year's PaSRBA show is expected to bring in over 12,000 rabbits, which is only 1,000 shy of the entry at this year's ARBA Convention in San Diego! The official catalog for the PA Convention is not available yet, but it will be posted mid-December on the PaSRBA Website at

More again next week, and hopefully everyone is fully winterized and holed up for the coming winter!:-)