With some does it can take up to 48 hours for their milk to drop. Also remember does only feed their kits usually late at night, only once or twice in 24 hours, and at each feeding they feed for only a few minutes at a time. So you may not be at the right place at the right time to see if the doe is feeding her litter. You can tell fed kits by their plump bellies and they are warm to the touch, if the kits are shriveled and cold something must be done. Just make sure you are not fostering if you do not have to.
You can force the mom to feed the kits by placing the nest box on sturdy surface. Place mom in the box over the kits. Cover her and the box completely with towel. Leave her in the box for fifteen minute. Check the kits to see if they have been fed. If so return mom to her cage. Repeat in 12 hours. If they were not fed leave her for another 15 minutes. If she does not feed them return her to her cage and keep the nest box separate from her. Try again in 2 hours. Keep trying until she feeds them or at this point you should foster them.
I like using a nest box that is not part or attached to the cage. You can pull it to the front of the cage to inspect, remove, or place foster kits easily. it is much easier to disinfect between litters and can be replaced
I always try to breed at least two does at a time, this way you can foster their kits to each other if needed. When your breeding doe’s get older their litters will usually get smaller. These are great foster moms with experience raising young! So when breeding, breed a young and older doe on or near the same day. If you do not have two does, or you do not want to have two litters, then you will have to let the litter die naturally or bottle feed them if anything goes wrong. I did a post on FEEDING ORPHANED KITS- in the March 2012 Archives, Check it out for more information on this subject.
As a rabbit breeder backyard or commercial fostering litters is a very important skill to know how to do. Even if you have only a few rabbits you should know how to foster kits.
If you need to keep track of kits when fostering and they are of the same breed and color. A small tattoo needle will work by putting one or more dots in the kits ear, so that the fostered kits can be identified after weaning.
There are different situations where you would want to foster off kits to another mother doe those would be as follows.
If the doe is not feeding them and they are very skinny. The doe may not be producing enough milk to supply enough to her litter. If she is a fist time mom and needing some experience, let her raise some and foster the rest.
If a doe has a very large litter you can foster some to help them all grow equally and help out the doe. Sometimes does can give birth to a large number of kits that they can possibly not take care of. Some litters have been know to run as high as eighteen so be prepared to have a foster mom available.
If a doe dies while raising a litter or while giving birth. Never attempt to foster any kits from an obvious sick or diseased doe as this could very easily be spread to the new litter and the foster doe.
If the doe is mean to the kits, or if the doe is mean to you and you cannot remove the babies easily. If I have a doe like this I cull the whole line, I do not want this trait carried on in my bloodline!
If a doe ate all of the litter except one or two when they were perfectly healthy, Move the remaining babies, if any, to a new mother, If she is a first time mom I will give her a chance to re breed but if she repeats this do not use any of the does for breeding cull that line. (remember "Save the best, Eat the rest!").
Sometimes, I foster kits to even out litters, so they all will grow equally. If the doe has more than 8 kits, you might want to consider fostering one or two to another doe that has a litter of under eight.(remember a doe has only 8 teats). When raising rabbits for meat there is a advantage in reducing the litter size to a number that will develop equally. This way they will all be ready to process at the same time. Some show breeders will sometimes reduce the litter size to four to six kits. This will allow the kits to have the best chance to develop to the best of their breed and bloodline will allow.
If a doe has only a few kits you can re-breed her right away and foster her young to another does to raise the few with her litter increasing production. A single kit will often chill and die if left alone in the nest box without the added heat of its litter mates.
I always try to allow first-time does to nurse their litters to help them get the added experience of raising their own litter. I also try to foster kits to does who have had a dead litter. I think that it helps in the future by adding experience.
Many breeders claim to have to rub the kits or the nose of the foster doe with a scent. Some does can be hostile to kits that do not smell like them (I have yet to see this), so by rubbing a scent cover over the kits you foster, will cover their scent so they do not smell like the other doe. I have never rubbed any smelly substance on any of kits I have fostered, or to the noses of any of my does.
I have fostered MANY kits successfully. I just give the foster doe a treat (like a small piece of apple, or banana) to keep her occupied, and place the foster kits in the nest-box with their new siblings. I have never had a problem with a doe refusing the newly added kits or hurting them. This is most likely a hereditary trait. I do not even worry over destroying the scent of humans or other rabbits. Once the young are in the nest box and coming into contact with the young and nesting material all the scent will be destroyed. I feel that the doe’s do not count or notice a change of the new colored kits in their boxes they will raise them as her own.
I have fostered kits up to the age of 2 weeks(14 days) when fostering kits at a older age (something that is not recommended) I removed the doe from the cage and added the new kits to the box. I let them stay together for a little time, while I do my rabbitry chores, before returning the doe to the cage. Some doe’s will seem to be very curious that something has changed, but after sniffing around awhile, she jump into the box and feed the whole litter.