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A kindling cage for Angora rabbits.

When my wife and I decided to breed English Angora rabbits, we were embarking on a venture completely new to both of us. Although we talked to many breeders, and although we read volumes on the subject, we were to discover that there were many things one only learns through experience.

Our first, and one of our most graphic lessons came with the delivery of our very first litter. We had "prepared" mother rabbit's cage for the delivery with a "nest box." Unfortunately, neither of us had ever seen a real nest box, and the books we had read had contradicted one another with suggestions for design.

The box we used had a low lip, about three-quarters of an inch high, and in our attempt to provide mother with "nesting materials," again, according to books we had read, we stacked almost an inch of straw inside the box.

My wife had gone out to check on the pregnant rabbit, and suddenly, her frantic calls for help brought me running. Our doe had "scattered" her litter, and the tiny kits were all over the cage, slipping through the too-wide mesh, and wandering blindly under their mother's agitated feet. Not one kit was in the nest box, and it seemed that every time we put one in, it simply wandered across the surface of the straw and fell back out.

By now, we had really upset mother rabbit, and she began to charge in and out of that nest box, stomping angry feet at our intrusion, and trampling the tiny kits.

Eventually, we moved the entire project on to our enclosed back porch, and amazingly enough, my wife and I managed not to do any irreparable damage. All six of those first kits survived, and that first experience helped pave the way to make us successful breeders.

Of the many lessons we have learned and techniques we have developed over time, one of the best in my opinion, was the development of our breeding cage.

It seemed that no matter what we did to prepare a doe's cage for the delivery of kits, it was always less than perfect. For instance, good sanitation requires the use of a fairly large mesh for an adult rabbit's cage floor, however, that large mesh can mean amputated limbs, or even death, to a scattered litter, or to kits that manage to get out, or are accidentally dragged out of a traditional nest box.

The nest itself can cause many problems. A fairly high lip is required to keep kits from wandering (or being dragged) out, but that lip necessitates the doe jumping in and out and potentially landing on the kits. The wooden lip on most nest boxes can also damage the teats of a lactating doe. Additionally, some does do not do a good job of sanitation inside that box, allowing the potential for disease and requiring frequent human intrusion.

These were some of the considerations that led to our design of a cage specifically for the delivery and nursing of baby rabbits.

To begin with, the entire cage constructed of half-inch wire mesh ("babysaver" wire) which helps to ensure the safety of the kits in case of an accident. The cage is a fairly spacious three feet wide and two feet deep, giving the doe plenty of space to get away from the kits when she needs to.

At one end of the cage, the floor is replaced with a sunken box, made of the same half-inch mesh, permanently attached and measuring ten inches by 18 inches, and dropping eight inches below the floor of the cage. This eliminates the need for a wooden box and allows the doe to see where she is going as she enters the nest. Additionally, should one or more kits be born on the main deck of the cage, the sunken nest allows for them to drop safely into the nest. It also allows easy human access if necessary, and the wire bottom aids in good sanitation for the nest. The eight inch drop poses no problem for the doe to enter or exit the nest, but effectively prevents the kits from leaving the nest accidentally, and there is no potential for injury to the doe's belly. Even with an inch or so of nesting material, this nest works well.

The door of the cage is situated in the middle of the three foot span, allowing access to the nest and to all comers of the cage in case you need to reach an uncooperative rabbit, and the doe's food and water are located at the end away from the nest to give her a break from the kits.

The end of the cage opposite the nest is wired to the stand to prevent balance problems stemming from the weight of the doe in the nest, and the entire cage sits on a stand made of half-inch PVC, which precludes the sanitation problems associated with wooden stands. The PVC stand also makes the entire thing light enough to move about easily, facilitating storage when the cage is not in use and allowing us to choose the placement of the cage prior to use, according to weather and other conditions.

Our breeding cage certainly hasn't solved all of our problems. We still sometimes feel like we're playing pin the tail on the bunny, complete with blindfold. We're still learning a great deal from our rabbits and our mistakes, but our breeding cage has certainly smoothed the rough edges of the birthing process for us.
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Copyright 1994 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Hart H. Codie
Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Date:Jan 1, 1994
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