I've really been struggling to toilet train Sherwood our newest addition, which is not that unusual and something that I regularly get asked about. However the whole concept got me thinking about the origins of rabbit toilet behaviour, it is probably best to get a better understanding of this before attempting to modify it to suit our own ideas of cleanliness.
Rabbits are usually very tidy with their wee, they will choose a toilet area (a latrine) near to their warren and preferred grazing areas and this is where they will go when they need to wee. Latrine sites near to warren entrances are usually covered over with dirt to help mask the scent. Rabbits rarely use urine to mark their territory (instead preferring to leave dropping piles and using the scent gland on their chin), this makes it relatively easy to get your rabbit to use a litter tray to wee in, simply place the tray over their chosen toilet area. Urine can vary in colour (especially in rabbits who eat a wide range of different fresh food), it can be pale yellow, thick and creamy, orange or even blood-red.
'Spray' is very thick urine - usually white - that is highly concentrated. Rabbits (mainly bucks, but dominant does can also spray) flick their rear end and shoot this spray. If there are lots of 'rival' rabbits (from other social groups) in the area rabbits will spray more often as a territory marking. Bucks often spray does during courtship in an attempt to make them receptive to their advances (the does rarely seem impressed by this - I can't think why). Some rabbits are natural sprayers while others never are inclined, the only way to curtail spraying behaviour (in either bucks or does) is through neutering.
Rabbits can produce up to 300 poops a day, these are hard round balls. The size colour and texture of these will vary depending on the rabbits diet (very pale to a rabbit that eats mainly hay and dried feed, to darker to rabbits that eat mainly fresh feed). You can tell a lot about your rabbit's health by checking it's poos - I'll revisit this topic in another article. Most of these 300 poos will be deposited in the latrine areas or toilet scraps as discussed above, so these are again very easy to litter train, lower ranking rabbits in a colony will only use latrine areas and will not territory mark. Rabbits naturally like to keep their toilet away from their main living/sleeping area, so if your rabbit has permanent access to an outdoor run you will probably find their chosen toilet area will be outside.
Rabbits will also use these hard poops to create territory markers, often on top of mounds of earth, tree stumps or other prominent places towards the perimeter of their territory (or enclosure), they will place small piles of droppings to show other rabbits where their area is. It is impossible to get a rabbit to place these markers into a litter tray and is simply easier to clean them up as you find them. Neutered rabbits are less likely to mark their territory in this way, but it does still happen from time to time.
A rabbit's digestive tract is in constant motion, this means that while they are eating they are producing droppings. While some rabbits will break frequently to visit a latrine, many others simply poop while they graze. It has been suggested that this help to fertilise the grazing land to ensure continual production of quality feed (rabbit droppings are indeed a first class fertiliser), however this can be problematic in a domestic setting. If your rabbit is a poop grazer, the only way really around this is to place a litter tray where you feed them. Several companies now produce hay racks with built in litter trays for this purpose. If like me you prefer to scatter feed, you may just have to accept that you won't have your rabbits 100% litter trained.
These are the dark, soft poos that rabbits produce - usually over night and in their sleeping areas. In a normal healthy rabbit these should be eaten straight as they pass them. However on occasion they may become tangled in the fur or left in the bedding. If you are finding a lot of these poos you may need to reconsider your diet, or check your bunny - rabbits that are overweight or older rabbits that are having trouble reaching their bottoms will no longer eat their own caecotrophs. Mother rabbits will feed their own caecotrophs to their kits for the first 6-8 weeks of their life, these are full of the bacteria and gut flora a young rabbit needs to help them digest the foods found in the mother's diet.
On July 15th Thor was diagnosed with advanced pancreatic cancer following rapid weight loss, it was not expected that he would live to the end of the week. We moved Thor and his companion Bluebell into the group colony, so that he could enjoy access to the outdoor run for his last few days and so Bluebell would not be alone when he passed. Thor's mum Minerva, sister Pandora and daughter Tessa, all rushed to greet him and made sure he was never alone. Thor surprised us all by loving life and living another 6 weeks before passing away this week. He was an amazing boy and will always be missed, here are some photos of his life with us.
Based on the slow of activity here lately i'm sure many of you will not be surprised by this announcement. I've been taking a lot of time lately thinking about my rabbits and their involvement.
First let me say NO I am not giving up my rabbits, or giving up breeding. I am however down-scaling massively.
I have decided not to keep any babies back from our current litters and to rehome my adult rex breeding pair. I am not however rehoming any of my adult smoke pearls.
You will probably notice on the 'our bunny family' page that I have provisionally retired several extra rabbits (although they have not yet been speyed/neutered, this will happen over the next few months) these now include Thor, Bluebell and Sassy. Additionally I have no plans to breed from Tessa but I am keeping her in tact for the foreseeable future in case the unthinkable should happen to Duke.
This leaves me with an active breeding Trio of Duke, Catkin & Snowdrop. I plan to only have around one litter a year and to keep back a single young doe to show and then join the colony and contribute to the next generation This should mean that over the next few years the number of rabbits I keep naturally drops slightly. I still hope to try to get a litter from Catkin and Duke later this year.
At present tho I am very disillusioned with the show world, I've not been enjoying exhibiting lately, and although i'm passionate about the breed I keep, just honestly can't care enough about where I place at the end of the day (I never have in the past either so nothing new there.). The difference now is that my time is more precious, i'm working longer and investing more of myself into my business and obviously my daughter, which means that free time is more precious and we'd often rather spend it at home with the rabbits themselves rather than at a show. Many of the things that kept me showing (such as the Smoke Pearl club and fancies) are not the friendly, happy places they once were, everything seems filled by gossip, backstabbing and needless drama - Oh how I don't miss facebook.
I am not planning on giving up showing altogether, however do not expect to see us out often. I'm planning to attend perhaps 3 or 4 shows a year rather than 3 or 4 a month, i'm not putting any pressure on myself or my rabbits to get to shows, win awards or anything else. I have already achieved everything I wanted to with my smoke pearls from a show point of view (cc, best fur, stock show winner, london and bradford bob winner, best in show winner, club champion, brc champion). I feel that for the next few years we will be better served as a family by taking a step back and some time to enjoy the present, we will continue to work with our rabbits and develop the next generation focusing on preserve the genetic variability of this beautiful breed, however it means that I won't worry about whether my rabbits are dirtying their feet by enjoying time to be rabbits.
So i'm going to try to get back into blogging, so thought this was an ideal opportunity to start.
Yesterday I judged a members young stock show at one of our local clubs. Meaning a show held alongside a normal BRC show, open only to members of the club and for rabbits under 5 months of age. I was very excited to be asked to do this show as I was judging all 4 sections (fancy, fur, lop and rex) - normally for BRC shows I only get the opportunity to judge fur & rex breeds. I really hope to eventually become a all-round judge, but as my speciality is with fur rabbits I'll have to work harder with the fancy breeds.
The show was overwhelmingly filled with dutch, there was a dutch stock show being held at the same venue, so lots of rabbits out. I had 26 dutch in total - which was rather daunting. I managed to go over them all and pick out my winners in each colour class. My overall BOB dutch was a beautiful little brown-grey (who I would happily have taken home), followed by a black then a blue. The brown-grey dutch also was my best fancy exhibit beating out the silvers, a belgian hare, english. Only 2 lops entered but there was a really gorgeous baby mini lop, a little stunner who easily won best lop, best junior and was my eventual reserve best in show.
Only 3 rex but they were headed up by a super ermine, with a gorgeous coat, which went on to take best in show. In the fur section I got to enjoy some very nice showy sables, some baby continental giants, an alaska, vienna and some satins.
All in all a really enjoyable day with some super rabbits on show. I was very proud of my dutch judging when I compared my placings with the stock show placings - all of my top 3 were cc winners under the specialist judge, and I picked out the same BOB (who was also out for the best in show challenge in the open show.).
As I forgot to do one of these last year I thought it was about time to get some goals set for 2017
UPDATE RABBIT HOUSING
Yes i'm always wanting to do something, this year i'd like to:
- get the shed all re-painted
- set up the paved aviary for Lizzie's pets
- get a woodland aviary attached to the does colony
- Produce the next generation of smoke pearls
- Breed a litter of standard rex
- Breed a litter completely pellet free
- Finish Duke & Catkin's Championship
- Finish a home-bred rex Championship
- Achieve a Best Fur
- Build new tortoise habitat
- Plant betta tank
- Get goldfish again
- blog regulary
- keep up regular instagram posts
- reach 1k subs on instagram
- restart youtube channel
- finish natural feeding ebook
Skye's babies are growing well and are now nearly 4 weeks old, we have 1 marten smoke pearl buck (Duke), 2 marten smoke pearl does (Holly & Willow) and 2 marten slate bucks (Prince and Earl). At the moment I'm planning on running on Duke, Holly and Willow to see how they develop. Bonus points to anyone who can identify the litter theme.
But the really big news is that all the babies and Skye are now back into the main colony enclosure, Skye just popped out at feeding time one night and went to eat with the other girls. I spent the next day closely observing them together and all seems well. Which is great news because those bouncy babies certainly need the extra space.
It's been a difficult week in the colony, some days had me questioning my decision to keep my girls in a colony at all, but I have to keep reminding myself that the ups most defiantly out way the downs.
It all started well, with Skye kindling a nice healthy litter in one of the ground level nesting cages (huge plus as the last litter was kindled upstairs). Unfortunately it was a rather large litter, 9 kits in total and they were all rather small, I like my does to raise smaller numbers as it means bigger, chunkier, healthier babies in the long run. A quick call to my breeding partner Ann and I discovered that one of her new moms had lost her litter in a tragic accident., so the 4 smallest babies were pulled out, snuggled up in a make shift nest and off I popped in the car. It looked to go well at first as the foster doe came over and fed the babies, but sadly it was not meant to be as I'm told the following morning there was no trace of the babies at all. A sad end but at least here we have 5 beautiful healthy babies now looking much stronger and growing well.
Then things started to get worse. Sadly Zyanya, my beautiful sable doe and the current dominant doe in my group, fell ill. She came down with a sudden and unexplained case of gastro-intestinal stasis, I still can't pin point the cause, she was 4 years old and had just finished raising her final litter, she had looked so fit and well. At first Zy had just slowed down and wouldn't eat the dried food, however she was still passing droppings (albeit misshapen) and eating fresh greens, especially dandelions, parsley and strawberry leaves. This went on for a couple of days, with me providing pain relief and hand feeding her, but sadly after 3 days she stopped eating altogether, no amount of coxing or syringe feeding would help, I made the decision to remove her from the colony to bring her indoors, but she passed away the same evening.
This left a huge and sudden gaping hole in the hierarchy of the colony. The group structure completely dissolved, it may not have been so bad if I hadn't only recently (2 weeks prior) introduced bluebell to the group, or if Skye hadn't only just kindled (her babies were just 4 days old), meaning her hormones were rampant. But if truth be told I'll never know. In theory Skye should have taken command of the group, as she was 2nd behind Zyanya, but I guess she was torn between asserting her dominance and protecting her new litter. Minerva (who has recently been speyed) is the group matriarch and former dominant doe, Zy always left her pretty much alone and she slotted in without any arguments. However the order was not resolved peaceably as I had hoped and there was a fair bit of fur pulling, this is not something that normally bothers me as it is a normal part of dominance behaviour, however the next day, things still hadn't settled back down and the girls were not sitting together, or eating together (a sure sign of discourse), and then Skye got a bite on her nose. I assume this happened during a dominance display - a dominant rabbit will often approach a more submissive rabbit with their head low to the ground and push it under the other rabbits face, if this animal submits they will groom the dominants rabbit's head - however in this case it looks like she got a nip for her efforts. If I had to guess which doe did it I'd say Minnie, as all the others would normally submit to Skye without any quarrels. While this injury may just have been a one off, and everything settled, I made the decision to split Skye from the group to protect her kits from getting caught up in the hubbub.
Skye is now shut into the double nesting area with her babies and all seems happy and well. The other four girls are back to living harmoniously - although at present I cannot tell who has taken on the role of the dominant doe. Skye can still interact with the others through the bars of her hutch, but for now will remain separate, I have yet to decide if or when she will re-join the group. But at least for now, everyone is calm and happy and I can enjoy my sociable girls once again.
On a happier note the colony has been over-run with newly emerged butterflies this week. All the chrysalises that I found throughout the shed at the end of last year have begun hatching out. The adult butterflies however are too large to fit through the mesh that the caterpillars came in through, so they have had to be removed one by one to the garden. But they have certainly brightened the place up, and I forgive them for eating all my sprouts.
I'm also very happy with how 'Moorcroft's Catkin' is coming on - she is Zyanya's daughter and a real looker. She has lovely chunky type and her coat is coming on nicely, I'm looking forward to getting this baby out onto the show table later in the year, it's been a long time since I've felt this proud over a baby I've bred.
The following few days went along as normal but whenever Min would approach Zy, the new head doe would assume the dominant position (body still, low to the ground, head down and ears raised). This sight often makes me nervous in groups that are new or have unstable dominance but this was certainly a peaceful takeover. Minnie just settled straight in to grooming her younger sister. Minnie was a little quiet for a few days and spent most of her time with Blackberry the low-rank doe and our resident outsider. While I felt sorry that Min was not the centre of the group anymore it was really nice to see Blackberry finally getting some loving with a close buddy.
It's been three weeks now and Minnie seems happy to settle with her new lower ranking and enjoy her retirement but she's back in the middle of the hubub now and has taken Blackberry with her. The change in lead doe has had an impact on the standings of the other does. Zy's daughter Ava who was previous the 2nd bottom doe is now 2nd in command sticking to her mum like glue. While Min's daughter Pandora has taken to splitting her time between her mum and the lead doe group.
In other news this month Pan has been experiences a phantom pregnancy... building a nest and eating for England - but there's nothing in there. It's about time I mated up another one of these does my plan would have been Pan but with the hierarchy reshuffle i'm thinking maybe Ava.