Care and Management of Rabbits/Chapter 17
LITTERS AND THEIR SIZE
LITTERS AND THEIR SIZE
We have already had something to say elsewhere about the size of litters, but this is a matter which cannot be too strongly overemphasized.
The size and the frequency of the litters has everything to do with success in raising rabbits. People often do not stop to take this into consideration.
The rabbit is naturally a very prolific animal. Nature seems to try to compensate for the natural losses due to enemies and other conditions which combine to destroy litters in the natural state by sending a large number of youngsters to the mother doe.
The average litter of the good breeding doe will run all the way from five to thirteen and I have heard of does having as many as fifteen and seventeen at one time. It is nothing out of the way for a doe to have nine at a time. I had one doe that always brought forth nine little fellows at a breeding.
Of course the size of the litter may be somewhat due to the strength and age of the buck, but at one time I tested a buck by breeding him to two does one right after the other. When the litters arrived there were nine in each litter. The two does were sisters and came from the doe which habitually brought nine to a litter. I do not know whether the trait descended from mother to daughter. That is something for the experts to decide.
But the point is this: While litters are generally large, it should not be taken for granted that Nature intends the mother doe to raise all that come. Many will die in the natural state and old plainsmen tell me that the jack rabbit seldom raises more than a pair to the litter. This also seems to be true of the cotton tail and the brown hare of the Northern woods.
If you want to lose them just as Nature calculated, why try and experiment and see how many of each litter your doe will raise. Fancy stock should never exceed three does to the litter, and every breeder will tell you this.
Where you wish to save all of the stock from an especially valuable doe it is not necessary to kill off all of the litter. You can use nurse does. By this you breed another doe or two at the same time you do the good doe and then kill the offspring of the ordinary does and give them some of the litter of the good doe to raise. In this way a large litter from valuable stock can all be saved as a rule.
It is useless to argue that you merely want the youngsters for meat stock anyway and have concluded to keep all the youngsters. If you will give one doe six rabbits to raise and then give another one three to raise, the doe with the three rabbits will produce youngsters that will outweigh six nursed by another at the same age. Try it and convince yourself. The more youngsters you permit a doe to raise, the less the size and the slower the development. If you have ever raised pigs you will understand why this is. It is simply a lack of proper nourishment and nothing else.
The moral is to keep the size of the litters down by selecting on the second or third day after birth, the largest and best youngsters in the litter and destroying the rest.