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Ask the Breeder Jan/Feb/March 2010 Issue

Sometimes when I wean babies they get diarrhea. Do you have suggestions on the least stressful way and best age to wean babies?

From Kevin Hooper:
I also get some which get what I would term loose stool after weaning, not that extreme as to be a diarrhea.  I believe we are talking about the same thing though.
I began raising Dutch 34 years ago.  I do not remember having this issue until about 18 years ago or so.  Now, what has changed? I have been using a high fiber feed since about ’95, and it was seen prior to that. I believe the rabbits have changed!  Not all, but some.
Why do some get it, and some do not?  Why do some of mine seem more prone to getting Enteritis, and others do not? I believe some animals are more susceptible than others to various illnesses. I am of the opinion that if we all diligently took notes of what we see, we could eliminate not only the loose stool, but the incidences of Enteritis as well.  When you see a litter has loose stool, record that and the parents.  Do the same if you get enteritis.  Then, after about a year, compare your notes and see if those incidences have any common animals.  If there are common animals, then cull accordingly.
If you don’t see any common links, then you can say I had no idea what I was talking about!
From Fran Schettler:
We will generally do a first culling at about 5 - 6 weeks of age.  Those that do not pass are removed.  The babies that pass this culling are usually left with the mom for a week or two as long as mom is still tolerating their company. Since we rebreed mom when her current litter is 4 or 5 weeks old, her tolerance is sometimes low and she might start picking on the kids early, in which case the weaning gets accelerated as soon as the stray fur and pick marks are seen.  Our preference is to wean when mom is no more that 3 weeks pregnant, but sometimes lack of cage space causes it to happen that the babies are coming out as the nest box is going in.
Once we wean the babies out of mom's cage, they will go into what we call a "kindergarten" cage, with 2 - 4 weanlings together, sometimes sorted by sex but sometimes not. (Good record keeping is a must to keep track of who is who!)  This gives them company even though mom is now gone and it seems to ease the stress of the process.  After 2 - 3 weeks in this environment, we go through a 2nd culling, and the keepers move into their own cage to await tattooing and their first show.
We do not have any significant problem with weaning based diarrhea using these methods.  The trick here is to separate the bunnies at each stage BEFORE they start picking on each other! 
From Al Gerhart:
At 2.5 to 3 weeks I start putting a little grass hay in the nest box and I have also been known to drop a small hand full of pellet in the nest box around this time for them to sample.  I try and remove the nest box just after 3 weeks of age, they usually are starting to eat pellets fairly well by than.  Start handling the litter at around 4 weeks checking teeth, eyes, sex, and so on, get them use to being picked up and handled, try and find the ones that you want to keep, (the culls seem to be the easy ones to find).  This seems to help them along as you prepare them for weaning.  I think 5 week of age is the best time to wean the litter, if diarrhea is a problem try grass hay, rolled oats, or even straw seems to help.
From Bob Bergene:
Unfortunately when you notice diarrhea on a weaned litter or even a litter with the doe, it is sometimes too late to react to as they can die within a 24 hour period after first noticing it.
When I see that situation, I immediately take away all the pellets and feed brome, prairie hay or timothy hay for about a day or two.  This will tend to stabilize their digestive system.  Some breeders have successfully used kaeopectate, however I have not this to be successful.  Much of the recuperation success depends largely at what stage you first notice and treat the diarrhea.  It is baffling to try to understand what precipitates this.  I feel that if the litter is with the doe and you are feeding them generously and the doe backs off on her feed consumption for a day or so, then the litter tends to consume more and they might also tend to overeat and get a carbohydrate overload in the stomach causing the diarrhea.
Similarly, if the litter is weaned and they are together, some of the rabbits in the litter can be eating more than others in the litter and thus hard to control the intake.   That is why, when I wean a litter from the doe, I like to have a separate cage for each of the rabbits being weaned, because then I can more precisely control their feed intake.  I can also monitor how they are eating and take action more quickly if I notice that one is not consuming feed normally.
Regarding the best age to wean a litter, that depends on how much cage space I have available!!!  Generally though, with my Dutch, I go thru the litter at about 5 weeks; and pick out my pet stock for pet stores.  These would include mostly mismarks and those that do not have the desired type.  At five weeks, you can generally tell what type of depth the animal will have.  Then the remaining animals in the litter, I usually leave with the doe till about 8 weeks.  At that time, I will put them in individual cages and tattoo them.  I try to bring them along slowly and do not push them with a high protein show type ration, but instead feed about a half cup of 15% protein pellets per day.
Good luck!
From Kristy Hume:
I generally wean my babies from their mothers' at 5 to 6 weeks of age, but it is completely dependent on things such as how well the babies are eating on their own, how independent they are, what weight they're at and how their mom is treating them. Sometimes I'll get a fat litter that the mom is milking really well and they are ready to be weaned at 4 weeks, but sometimes it's an opposite situation and the babies will be with their mom up to almost 7 weeks if everyone is getting along. If a doe is being particularly aggressive towards her babies, that will be cause for an early weaning as well. I will usually keep the siblings together for a little while, maybe a week or so. If cage space is tight, I can get away with longer, but I try to separate out my good show babies as soon as I can.

I always feed plenty of oatmeal and hay in baby rabbits' diets from the time they are checking out mom's food until they are on their own. It helps firm up their manure if it gets a little loose in a stressful situation like weaning from mom, each other, or moving to a new cage. But I feel it is beneficial in their diet before there is a problem.
From Dennis & Barb Kline:
The earliest we wean our babies is 8 weeks old, most of the time we don’t wean them until they are 9-10 weeks old.  Bob Hessick taught us this and thought that it put better fur on the babies.  Make sure that the feed you are feeding the babies is not too high in protein and is high in fiber.  We feed Purina Fibre 3 and it is 15% protein and 20-25% fiber.  Sometimes when cage space is sparse, we take the mom away from the babies and leave them together for awhile before we separate them each to their own pen.

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