Today the rabbit kits are two weeks old. All nine are still alive and growing well! Their eyes are open and their fur has come in. They are half New Zealand White and half Californian, and you can see a little smudge on most of their noses and tails. They are starting to venture out of the nest box and investigate mama’s food already! Mama is still not very cooperative when it comes to letting us get at them, but thankfully she did not decide to eat them. I hope as they become more mobile and start leaving the shelter of the nest box, that she can also manage to avoid trampling them. She looks so huge next to them!
The book says that while they can be weaned as young as 4 weeks old, it’s better to wait until about 5-6 weeks before we separate them from the mother. So they’ve got another 3-4 weeks before we make any significant changes for them. Then it will just be a question of giving them enough space to grow out to butcher weight. I am still trying to figure out the optimal time to harvest them, since I’m hoping to get use out of the pelts as well as meat. A roaster rather than fryer-size rabbit is perfectly fine for us, so having them get too big isn’t an issue, and I’m willing to take a slightly decreased return on feed conversion to get a better pelt. Some sources mention a “baby prime” coat around 10-12 weeks of age, or a “junior prime” somewhere between 4-5 months (16-20 weeks). My tentative plan right now is to look at possibly harvesting them in two batches, probably around 10-12 weeks and around 16 weeks, and seeing what my results are. But of course this will depend on how everything goes between now and then, and what our schedule looks like! No matter what I will get some practice pelts that I will be able to use as I figure out the tanning process, so they won’t be wasted either way. I have some small projects planned for any useable practice pelts, and some very grand plans once we are getting good pelts on a regular basis!
We are already making plans for our next breeding, which is very exciting. Up until now the only meat we’ve bred ourselves has been the poultry, by hatching in the spring and harvesting in the fall. Having a resource for ongoing production is a very interesting change! We’ll be breeding both of our Californian does in early February, then give everyone a break for the summer months when it’s hot. In late August or early September, depending on how the weather behaves, we’ll start up again. I’m also hoping that with such a rapidly-produced resource at hand, we’ll be able to start bartering rabbit meat for things!