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Adapted from an article in Rare Breeds NewZ, Number 115, November 2016.

How to breed your Enderby Island Rabbit

By Sitereh Schouten

Here are a few tips from experienced breeders. Rabbits can breed very easily in the correct environment and surrounding, but there may be a few other elements that need to be considered to improve your chances of having a litter. If you want to become a breeder of this rare rabbit breed, the advice from other breeders can help you achieve your goal faster. You will not have to go through the same mistakes they did, and you will save yourself from a lot of stress and disappointments.

How do you start?

Buck and doe
Slate doe and crème buck
  • Find a breeder who has success breeding their stock.
  • Feed your rabbits good quality pellets. High in protein or substitute with lucerne hay. Breeding rabbits need around 16% protein in their diet. Overweight does are harder and sometimes impossible to get into kit, watch the number of treats you give your rabbits. You do not see any overweight ones in the wild.
  • Decide what colour you are interested in: Slate/Champagne or Crème.
  • Find stock as young as possible to breed with. The younger they are the longer they should stay healthy. Using an old buck with an old doe as a pair is discouraged. Younger stock produces healthier offspring.
  • You can use an older buck with a younger doe or vice versa. This is an acceptable pairing.
  • If the doe you have been given has not had a litter before it turned two years old, it may never have one. Always choose a doe around 5 months old or a proven doe.
  • Although bucks up to six or seven years old can produce litters, it is better to get a young buck or one who has previously produced.

What is a good age to start breeding?

Creme kit
Crème kit
  • The youngest age to start a doe is five months old or when she is fully silvered. Bucks can mate at around four months or younger, but they still need to silver up first to produce.
  • Always take the doe to the buck. Does are territorial, they can do a lot of damage to the buck in the short time they are together.
  • Remove bucks as soon as they silver up and mature to prevent them mating with mum or litter mates.
  • Lack of silvering until around five months usually means they will not be fertile.
  • Always check your buck has both testicles descended before you use him. He can still mount a doe and behave correctly, but if he is not entire, you will not have a litter.
  • Weather has a big influence on fertility. Too hot or too cold will decrease any chance of a litter – this will affect both the buck and the doe. Stable weather without severe changes in temperature will allow you to mate up most rabbits. Spring, late Summer, and early Autumn can be good breeding times. But you can try other time in the year and be successful too.
  • Enderby Island Rabbits tend not to get into kit when they are moulting. They put all their efforts into producing their new coat. This can also reduce your window for finding opportunities to produce litters.

Where is the best place to mate your doe?

  • Put the doe into a buck's cage. You can watch the buck and doe to see if they mate. If they do mate, remove the doe for 15 minutes. This will reduce tiredness in the buck. Put the buck and doe together two more times with breaks in between. Doing this you are helping to increase the number of kits each mate. Instead of two kits from one mate, you may get six.
  • You can leave the doe with the buck for a few days if the buck is trustworthy. Then nature will take its own course. But remember if the doe is not interested in the buck, or she feels she has been mated enough she will grunt at him, or chase or nip him. Always make sure you prevent anything aggressive from happening between the two.
  • If your doe has trouble getting in kit, she may prefer a different buck. If you don't have access to other bucks, table mating may be the only option. Or she could be overweight.
  • You can table mate if you have a buck that is too rough with a doe, and he has proven to nip or bite, or continually pluck the doe to cause wounds. Place the buck and doe on a non-slippery table. A large piece of carpet placed on the table works well. Let the buck approach the doe and if she tends to run away once mounted, hold her head and shoulder gently so the buck can complete his mission.
  • If you get a successful mate with any of the above methods, the buck will let out a short cry and fall off the doe. If you do not see or hear anything, the mating wasn't successful.

Nest Boxes

Building a nest
Rorippa building a nest
  • There are many different versions of a nest box for a doe to use. One of the simplest is a strong cardboard box. Give her a clean strong box, large enough to sit in, and also hold a litter. Some does sit with their babies, some don't. You can throw the box out two weeks after the birth, and replace it with a clean one.
  • When your doe is due to have her litter, she will start building a nest around eight to ten days before the due date. Make sure you give her plenty of hay/straw before this time. Over a few days she will pick up straw with her mouth to build her nest in a corner of her cage. If she builds a nest before you have put the box in, you can lift up the straw and put it into the clean box. If she rejects your box. Let her have her litter in the area she has chosen. Keep giving her hay/straw to build with. Blocks around the base of the nest will help keep it intact.
  • The doe will pull fur one to two days before she gives birth – each does has her preferred method of nest building.
  • Remove mum from the cage after the babies are born to check for dead babies and count how many there are. Always leave the nest as you find it. Rub your hands in the straw to remove any strange smells on your hands before handling babies.

Did you know?

You must remove the buck from the doe before she has her litter. If the buck is with the doe when she gives birth a few things can go wrong.

Week-old kits
Week-old kits
  • The buck will mate the doe again and she will have another litter in 31 days. Bucks find a doe very desirable after she gives birth. Although a doe can raise the next litter in four weeks' time, usually with no problems, our main aim when breeding an Enderby, is to produce quality stock and offer them a good life while they are in our care. Giving the doe a rest for six months to a year will provide you with many litters in the future. Remember you do have to find homes for your kits, or you will have to build more cages.
  • If the buck is still with the doe and you want to create a colony situation, the buck will constantly find ways to mate with her. If she is close to the nest there is a risk they can run through it and scatter the babies. Your colony needs to be large enough to keep the buck and doe away from the nest area, this way you will have more success with each litter born. Bucks do not kill their kits, they run through the nest to get to the doe. Even if you provide a box for the kits to be born in, the doe will jump in the box to get away from the buck and the buck will follow, just because he wants the doe.
  • Some does can be difficult to get in kit after they are vaccinated against RCD (Rabbit Calicivirus Disease). This may slow down the number of litters produced in the first year.
  • The youngest age to vaccinate is eight weeks then twelve weeks. If you live in an area with a high risk of RCD you may need to vaccinate every year.

Quick Check List Before putting a breeding pair together:

Blueberry and kits
Blueberry and kits
  • Correct age (not too old or too young);
  • Weather is stable;
  • Buck is entire;
  • Not moulting; fully silvered;
  • Record the date for mating, count 31 days from pairing to birth.
  • Sometimes it can be a good idea to have the litters born on a weekend when you are around. Or make sure they are born before you go on a holiday.
  • Check what age your buck and doe were vaccinated.

If there are any problems with your breeding pair, it is a good idea to contact the person who provided you with your stock to help you through any issues. Have fun with this rare and interesting rabbit breed, and thank you for helping to preserve a small piece of New Zealand's history.


 
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