March 24, 2013

Does who don't

This winter, we had quite a few does who failed miserably as mothers.  They had litters on the wire instead of in the nesting box and they didn't feed their kits.  Now as second time mothers, we changed our normal routine and give them some additional assistance.

Nesting on the Wire
When a doe is ready to kindle, she starts building a nest. This usually indicates that she'll give birth in a couple days or less. One of the last things she will do is pull her own fur off her body to line the nest and keep the kits warm. Normally, she'll do all of this in the nesting box you give her.  Usually, but not always.

There are so many ways nesting can go wrong - building a nest on the wire, giving birth on the wire without any nesting materials, not feeding the kits, not pulling enough fur to keep them warm, etc.

To help prevent some of these issues, here's what we do:
  • Give the doe a nesting box three days before she's due. We give her the box on day 25. 
  • Stuff the nesting box completely full of hay.  We also put 1/2" to 1" of wood shavings in the bottom for insulation and to absorb fluids.
  • Save fur and dryer lint.  There will be does who nearly bald themselves by pulling so much fur. Save it! Put it in a Ziplock bag and save it for the doe who doesn't pull enough fur or pulls it a day after kindling. If you don't have extra fur, save your dryer lint and use it instead.
  • Move the nesting materials.  If your doe is trying to build a nest next to the nesting box, take everything she has built and put it in the nesting box. Do it every time you see her building the nest.
Where Are My Babies!
Another issue we've had is does who don't feed their kits. We have lost too many litters because the does didn't feed their kits.  This has happened when the doe kindled in the nesting box but it usually happens when she kindles on the wire and we move the kits into the nesting box.  Even though she will watch us move them, then sniff them in the nesting box, it's almost as if she can't find her babies.

To combat this, physically lift up the doe, place her over the kits in the nesting box and gently hold her there for a couple minutes.  Check the kits to be sure that they have nice, round bellies, and let the doe go. Usually, this will be enough to make things click and she'll keep feeding the kits. But if she doesn't, repeat at the next feeding time or the next day.  Remember, although more is better, the kits will be fine if they only eat once a day.

I can't say we'll never lose another litter, but I'm confident that these best practices will give the does and kits a better chance of a successful kindle and litter.

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