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What Do You Think?

Ask the Breeder Oct/Nov/Dec 2007 Issue

Recently I have bred a few litters, with different lines and colors. However, I see that the animals from the litters are very small, about 3.5 pounds each when they mature. They were bred by parents that were both normal sized rabbits.
What are some possible causes to my problem, and how can I fix this?


From Fran Schettler:
In reading the question, it seems as though you have eliminated most genetic issues as a possible cause, unless both of your normal size parents are out of small sized breeding lines and this pair are abnormal themselves for the line.  Other than that, I can only speculate that your problem stems from some environmental cause or perhaps you have a line of does that do not naturally produce sufficient milk.  This last could be genetic or environmental.
Environmental causes might include:
1.  stale (more than a few months old), contaminated (rodents? mold?) or poor quality feed, or a feed that is not formulated for the needs of a breeding doe and her kits.  Is it even formulated for rabbits?  This could also explain a lower level of milk production in the doe, which would cause depressed growth patterns. 
2.  Are you are asking the doe to raise too many kits at a time?
3.  Perhaps you are not free feeding the doe and her babies, or they are scratching the feed out and it is falling to the ground or the pan and they are not getting sufficient food on a regular basis.  
4. You might have water that is either contaminated or tainted with some chemical etc. that affects normal growth.  Is the water supply always readily available and clean and pure? 
5. Perhaps your rabbitry is too hot or too cold. 
6.  You may have dirty cages that do not promote normal growth or maybe there is insufficient lighting or air flow in your rabbitry.  
7.  Are you does healthy, with no infections? 
8.  Is there a pattern in the breeding lines that produces a lot of runts or unusually small kits at birth?  Genetic abnormalities?  This too may be genetic, or a function of environmental issues.
I hope this helps.


From Jill Pfaff:
This problem does not sound genetic because unrelated animals were affected so it sounds like an environmental problem.  The first thing I would investigate would be the feed.  More history would also be helpful, has there been bouts of diarrhea or not eating?  Are there feed supplements used?  or hay?  There can be other environmental stresses like air quality and water and noise.


From Bob Bergene:
This is an involved question, with many possible answers.  First of all the breeder is getting "small 3.5# rabbits" when they mature, but they are out of normal sized parents.  I would like to know what the normal sized parents weigh to determine if we have a GENETIC PROBLEM.   Our standard indicates they can be 3.5 to 5.5 lbs.  Well if they are 3.5 to 4 lb. mature rabbits and they are from a genetic line that produces similar size rabbits, then one could expect litters of animals that when they mature would be 3.5 lbs.
If this is not the case, and the parents are 4.5 to 5 lbs., it may a PARASITE PROBLEM.  Coccidiosis is prevalent in rabbits and through sanitation and medication, one can keep it to a low level, so as not to adversely affect the health of the rabbit.  However if left unchecked, coccidiosis can get out of control and the rabbit will become unthrifty.  A normal 5 lb. rabbit suffering from coccidiosis infestation can easily become an unthrifty, bony, rough looking 3.5 lb. rabbit.  Treatment is easy for this, and you should have a periodic treatment in the drinking water.  Several medications are on the market and you should ask your rabbit equipment distributor in your area what he would recommend.
A FEEDING PROBLEM could arise if the breeder is feeding too little feed to the rabbits.  If the same amount of feed, 1/2 cup, is fed to the nursing doe and litter then they are not getting the proper amount of nutrition that they need.  Instead, the feed should be increased from 1/2 cup prior to kindling, to one cup after kindling to increase milk production, and then when the kits jump out of the nest box and start eating, feed should be increased again to about two cups (depending on the size of the litter).  However, too much feed may be being fed.  I have seen situations where the breeder feeds, full feed.  Here the feed crock is always full, and the young rabbits will tend to urinate and defecate in the feed crock.  This contaminated feed will cause them to go off of feed and cause them to be stunted in growth.  There are many good brands of rabbit pellets on the market; they simply have to be fed with consistency using good management and sanitation practices.
I hope this person finds the solution to the rabbit’s problem, and becomes a great breeder of Dutch, instead of losing the breeder.


From Kevin Hooper:
Although the parents may be of a normal size, most likely both of the unrelated lines have small Dutch in their backgrounds.  Now, since most Dutch breeders cull out the one with undesirable markings at weaning or before/after, it is possible that the ones which are the better marked are coming out small, while some of the mismarks may be of a normal size.

So, as a solution, you have a couple of options. Keep some of the better mismarks to see how big they become, and if they do obtain ideal size, then you know to keep working with these animals. Or bring in some stock that does not have small Dutch in their history.
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