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What Do You Think?

Ask the Breeder - July/Aug/Sept 2006 Issue

What advise and tips can be given to breed does and raise litters in the late fall and winter?

From Kevin Hooper:

First, I would suggest setting up a set of lights on a timer to allow for 14 hours of light per day. Rabbits are phototropic breeders - they respond to light - so the extra light is needed in our cooler/darker months. They also seem to respond to some heat. Some breeders who have an enclosed part of their rabbitry will move the does to the heated portion a few hours prior to breeding.
Now, last year, my suggestions did not work. My cold weather conception rate was low, and my litter success was rate was lower.
Years ago, Doc Reed suggested that I add a drop or two of wheat germ oil to the does feed every night. If I remember correctly, this was for extra vitamin B. Now it could very well be that since this seemed to be a problem in the Midwest last year, there could have been something that caused our main forage we use for rabbits (alfalfa) to be lower than normal in something in this area?

One thing that is very important: if you save does from your spring litters which won't be old enough to breed in early September, don't plan on much of a conception rate from them until the latter part of January, or early February. My experienced does seem to conceive right into late November, but the new ones don't. That is an observation that I have made the last few years.
I look forward to seeing what others do after the last winter or two that I have experienced.

From Fran Schettler:

This is a non-topic for me here in California. I can easily breed year around (and do), with no huge challenges in fall or winter. The only thing I do is adjust the timers on my barn lighting so as to artificially extend "daylight" in the barn.

We prefer to have lights on for at least 10 hours per day. If we do not adjust the lighting time with the timers during fall and winter when the natural daylight grows less than spring/summer, the does become less receptive to breeding. We have seen this when I'm slow to adjust the timers as the seasons change.
The 10 hours of light seems to keep them interested in breeding. We use fluorescent shop lights throughout the barn, but we only put one bank of them on the timers-- the one that runs down doe row.

From Allan Gerhart:

October and November seem to be the two months that we have the most trouble getting does bred. As the daylight hours get shorter and shorter the does get less and less receptive and conceive less. This means that we as breeders have to work harder and longer in the fall to get the same results as we do in the spring. We as breeders especially in the Midwest need to learn to accept that we are going to have problems in the fall such as un-bred does, fewer litters and less per litter. If we know or expect this can happen in the fall and winter we will be better prepared to deal with these problems. Ideally we would like our Jrs to be almost 6 months old by the NDS that means breeding the does in the month of November. That is the worst month of the year as far as getting the does to take. We start breeding the does in late August and September and palpate the does every two weeks until they are bred and continue to try to have litters through the month of January. We expect to have fewer litters, less per litter and to lose some due to cold weather. Some does that have litters on real cold days will just refuse to take care of them; it just may not be worth their effort during real cold weather. Don’t get discouraged as the next litters do just fine as the weather warms up. Keeping your barn heated and the lights on will help but it usually won’t solve all your problems. We looked at breeding records from four of our most productive does, these four does all had litters in November of 2005: 17 total born with an average of 4.25 per litter and the same does had litters in May of 2006 and had 29 total born which is an average of 7.25 per litter. That means 41% more young were produced in the spring then during the fall. So my breeding tips for fall and winter is to start your breeding program early in the fall and to anticipate that its going to take more time and effort on your part during this time of year compared to the spring and summer months.

From Dennis, Barb, & Megan Kline:

The best advice is keeping lights on in your barn. We have found no difference, as far as conception rate is concerned, by leaving our barn lights on 24 hours a day 7 days a week during the late fall and winter. The size of the litters usually goes down but the percentage of misses is about the same as spring and summer. We use natural spectrum light bulbs, which simulate sunlight.
As far as raising litters, we have a propane furnace in our barn to maintain a temperature around 42 degrees. We do not use heat lamps on the next boxes. Sometimes using heat lamps can cause the nest box to be too warm for the doe and she won’t nurse the babies. If a doe doesn’t pull much fur we add Litter Saver Nest Box Filler to the nest box to help keep the babies warm. We check the nest boxes every morning and night to make sure the babies are staying back in the warm part of the nest and are not laying out uncovered.
The key is to try to simulate the spring season as much as possible.

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