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Ask the Breeder - April/May/June Issue


Question: I recently lost a doe while she was giving birth. I have been told it is a good idea to breed two does on the same day, that way if something happens to one doe, the babies can be fostered with the other. What suggestions do you have for fostering babies? Do you do anything special to help the mom accept the new babies? I have also heard that some people foster litters for does they want to keep in good condition or if they have only one or two kits; do you recommend this practice or avoid it? Can older babies be fostered?

From Jeannie McDevitt of California:

I foster kits all the time. I have the luxury of breeding 10 or 12 does at a time so there's always a Mama available. I usually just stick the foster kits under the pile of the Mama's real kits. I've never had a problem. I usually foster to a doe of a different variety; it's easier to keep track of the kits that way. Many times I will foster out the show marked kits of a maiden doe to an experienced Mama. I then take the mismarks from the experienced doe and give them to the maiden doe. This way the maiden doe gets a chance to raise a litter. I have fostered 2 week old. When they are this age I will put the fostered kits in (no more than 2 per litter) the nest box and keep it away from the doe for a few hours. I want to make sure they really smell like hers and that she is really ready to nurse them when they are returned. I always watch that first nursing. If the doe jumps right in and nurses, they will all be fine. If not, I pull the box out and wait a few more hours and try again later. I have always been successful doing it this way.
My best does are the ones that do well on the show table and then are able to pass their desirable qualities on to their kits. If they can't reproduce themselves or their desirable qualities then they don't deserve a cage in my brood doe barn. Showing gets them noticed but being a good Mama gets them a home in my barn! Only once have I ever pulled a doe out of my brood doe barn and put her on the show table. She had won many junior legs but I stop showing her before she became a senior. I showed her once more, she won, and has never left the barn again!

From Fran Schettler of California:

We have found that fostering babies is very easy as long as it is done in the first day or so after kindling. The hardest part is keeping adequate records so that you know which babies came from which breedings. We breed several does per breeding session. When we foster, we will usually give pet marked babies to a first time doe to "practice" on. If she goofs up, all we've lost are pets. Show marked babies will go to an experienced mom. Since we raise all colors of Dutch, we try to foster babies to moms that didn't produce that color. i.e. a chocolate baby may go to a tort doe. A black baby may go to a gray mom, a blue baby may go to a mom whose litter was all blacks (we know they were all black because, of course, we keep good records, right?) etc. etc. Then we keep good records as to who went to whom and who will be rebred. Many people also use this fostering time as an optimum time to cull runts, deformed, or mismarked babies from the litters.
Our moms do not seem to even notice that they have acquired new babies. Maybe all newborns smell the same or something! Switching breeds doesn't even seem to concern the new mom.
Fostering an older baby, say over 10 days old, is harder, although not impossible. All you can do when confronted with this less than desirable need is to rub the new mom's bedding on the baby's body to get the smell transference, and get the baby into body contact with the other kits, thus getting more home smell on the newcomer.
In our barn, we foster regularly. Someone who raises only one or two colors will have a hard time doing this though, just because it can be so hard to keep track of which baby is which. We do not have any kind of scientific formula as to how we go about it though. If we are short on one variety, then we will tend to foster that variety's babies, and rebreed that doe on the next breeding day so as to get more of that particular variety. We will also take into consideration whether a doe looks like she's doing everything right (or wrong), whether she has been reliable in the past or is a first timer, or perhaps which bloodline we want to get rebred quicker so as to get more offspring.
As far as fostering to keep a doe in condition, we have only done that once or twice, when a great show doe is getting a bit old, needs to be bred to preserve her breedability, but you want to keep her in reasonable shape for that upcoming national show. For us though, 99.9% of the time, once a doe is bred, we consider her show career over, and her mommy career is now her focus. Why risk a good doe's breeding potential just because you want to show one more time? Usually it's just not worth it as far as we're concerned, but I know that others look at this differently. This is a personal decision really.

From Kevin Hooper of Ohio:

I have fostered babies on many occasions, with good results. I do nothing to cover the scent of the babies, yet the doe will care for them providing they are a good mother who milks well. The only time I seem to loose them is when those babies who are in a weakened state are fostered and the doe has recently fed her babies, so the new one does not get fed when it is needed. Fostered babies are sometimes a bit smaller, but seem to do well in general.
I only foster when a doe is not caring for her young, or when I have an old doe who has limited litters left. I will then foster her young at birth, and re-breed her two weeks later. The gestation and birthing does not wear the old doe down, but nursing a litter will. This allows two to three more litters from that good old doe who has always produced well.
I almost always breed more than one doe on the same day.
Now for some food for thought for future articles, why do we loose a doe at birth? I have lost six or seven in the last two years in this manner. Sometimes she has passed the babies, sometimes not. I do find this to have only been happening in my does with the most rounded hindquarters.
Some are first litter does, some not. Will take ideas on this?

From Dennis, Barb & Megan Kline of Ohio:

We always breed several does of different varieties if at all possible. This way if we need to foster any babies we have different variety litters to foster to so that we can tell where the babies really came from. If we can't foster to another variety litter, we write down the distinguishing features of the babies being foster. We try to downsize the litters so that doe does not have too many babies to take care of. Keeping the litter smaller allows the babies to grow better.
When we foster babies onto another doe we always rub the nose of the doe after handling the babies. This way when the doe checks on the litter, they already have the new babies scent and it doesn't seem to bother them. Also we leave the litter alone after fostering so that the mother does not think that there is something the matter.
We have never taken babies from a doe simply to keep her in show shape. We have fostered babies when the doe only has 1 or 2 showable. This way they can be added to another litter and then the doe can be re-bred. We have also taken babies away from a doe that doesn't seem to be milking very well and if she is a first time mom we give her mismarks from other litters to raise.
We have fostered babies at various ages. The oldest that we have had to foster is 2 weeks.

From Allan and Adrianne Gerhart of Ohio:

We usually breed 3-4 does on the same day. In six years of breeding we have never lost a doe while giving birth. I can remember losing a doe about 1 week after birth but she had already lost her litter by the time she died. Most of the babies that we foster to other does are because we want to even out the litters. We try to breed 2-3 different varieties at the same time, for example Black, Steel and Blue. That way if we do foster any babies we will be able to ID them from the rest of the litter. Just the other day we had a Tort litter with nine, a Steel with four and a young black doe with two in her litter. I usually wait until they are about 3 days old to foster or even out the numbers in the litters. We know from records that the steel doe is a good mother, and she only had four. The tort has 9 and this is only her 2nd litter, she had 6 her first litter and raised them well but chewed the ears off of 3 in the litter. At day 3 we culled the runt from the tort and fostered the best marked one to the steel doe. That left the tort with 7, which I think she can handle, but we will keep and eye on them for the first week anyway. The black doe only had two, both marked decent. Since she was so young we just left her with two to see how she does. We don’t remove complete litters very often unless we absolutely have to. I can only remember fostering a whole litter once just so we could keep the does in good show condition. Like I said we like to foster at 2-3 days old and in the morning usually works best for us.
We like to foster our best babies to proven does to give them the best chance to survive. So I recommend to always have a good, well experienced doe due the same day as young inexperienced does. We let the young does raise the mis-marked ones to see if they are good mothers. Probably the best practice in the long run is only to keep brood does that have come from good mothers or good brood does. These traits or instincts are passed on from generation to generation. This will not only help you as a breeder but will also help others that you sell rabbits to. After all our goal is to produce the best Dutch that we can and it all starts in the nest box.

From Jill Phaff of Oregon:

To answer your questions about fostering, yes I foster frequently, especially first time mom's I usually take any potentially well marked offspring and let some else raise them. Over the years I have had a handful of does die kindling, it just happens unexpectedly. I usually breed 4-6 does every week, I have between 30-35 breeding does so its a rotation. If a doe has a small litter I may give her more bunnies as I usually like my does to raise 5-7; or take the bunnies to another doe and re-breed. My does have 4-6 litters a year. I have even had occasion to pull off a litter at 5 weeks and give another litter to a doe that is still in the box and had it work. Only once did I have a problem and the doe killed all the babies in the box. Seems like once they are out of the box its a different situation tho.

From Bob Bergene of Kansas:

It is a good idea to breed more than one doe at a time, not necessarily with the idea that you are going to foster some babies to another litter, but just for the ease of management. One you breed say five, six or even ten does at one time, it makes it easier to put in a number of nest boxes and prepare the nest box for the doe if you do more than one. I think it might be easier to forget putting a nest box in for one doe than it would be for ten does. Make sure you have enough nest boxes for that day though! Now to fostering babies.-- I only do it when necessary, 1. if the doe dies or 2. if the doe is not milking properly and the litter is slowly going down hill. Then at this time I take the babies and put no more than two with another doe. If you have 6 in the litter, then it nice to have several does bred (10), ... see what I mean. Also if the babies to be fostered are one color or variety, I like to put them with a different color (black with a tort doe, etc.). That way you do not have to mark them in the ear. If you have to identify them, you can take a stick pin and dip in ink and place it in the ear. Also, I would not switch babies that have a big litter to a smaller litter or move them around. When you do this you are encouraging the doe to milk less, as the litter will not consume all the milk, that a doe with a large litter is capable of producing. In summary, only foster if you have to, otherwise, don't mess with mother nature.
And I had a few phone observations on the topic:

From Tom Dietrich of Michigan:

Tom does not foster often, only if necessary because he loses a doe or one has just one or two babies. He wants his breeding stock to prove they are good mothers, producing plentiful milk and fat babies. If a doe does not meet his criteria as a good mother she will be sold. He feels that if one continues to breed does that are not good mothers, eventually the line will weaken. If he finds that he needs to foster, he just puts the babies in with the others and does nothing special to insure the doe accepts them. He says it can be a problem if one needs to foster older babies, around ten day or two weeks old, the doe may reject them. But the younger ones have never been a problem to foster. Especially in winter, if a doe only has one or two, he will foster with another doe, as the kits need the body heat generated by numerous bodies. He always breeds at least two does on the same day so if there is a problem he has the ability to foster. Once a doe has been bred, she is not returned to the show table.

And an interesting note from Mike Smith of Michigan:

Mike uses a technique he learned while raising beagles; when he wants to foster babies, he rubs them with a bit of the doe’s urine. That way they smell familiar to the doe.

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