It's January in northern Ohio, which means it's pretty stinkin' cold outside (and cloudy nearly every day thanks to good old Lake Erie). Thankfully, my bunnies get to stay in our garage until the bunny barn is built, and although it is heated from the ducts underneath the second story, it does get chilly on blustery 15 degree days! Trying to think like a bunny, I imagined myself in a winter coat, sitting on metal mesh wire with my tootsies getting all cold and nasty. That might work for some, but my spoiled bunnies expect the equivalent of a Hilton, and I felt like I was providing more of a Motel 6 experience.
Thankfully, my friend Wendy from Hickory Ridge Hollands had an excellent idea. She makes these awesome cozy pillows for many of her bunnies, and she was nice enough to give me one when I purchased a bunny from her last summer. I gave Envy the pillow last week, and she is constantly lazing atop it like a queen. As the other jealous girls gave her the stink eye and started spreading rumors about the poor girl, I knew it was time to get crafty and make some pillows for everybunny.
With my "20% off anything" Jo-Ann Fabrics coupon in hand and my kind hubby in tow, I perused the endless aisles of material and started loading colorful bolts of flannel and fleece onto my hubby's arms. I was thinking of spending around $30, and with the sales and my coupon, I smugly patted my frugal self on the back as I headed to the register with my rainbow pile of fabric bargains. Long story short and $55 later, I had enough fabric to make a few pillows and felt very naive that I let Jo-Ann outsmart me with her coupon exclusions and end-of-bolt "special pricing." She's one cunning gal, that Jo-Ann.
Having spent so much on the small bag full of fabric, I knew these pillows better look like a million bucks...even though they're just pillows for, um, rabbits. (Insert eye roll) I decided upon a pattern of 14" square for most of the pillows, and after cutting the fabric, I embroidered each bunny's name (GIVE ME A BREAK, woman, seriously??) since I have an embroidery machine. Once embroidered and the edges were sewn, I turned it right-side-out, stuffed it sparingly (that silly bag of stuffing was 10 bucks!), stitched the opening, and then sewed along the edges again to make a nice 1/2" border. I also stitched a small spot in the center to turn the pillow into more of a cushion. Sixteen pillows later, I was pretty proud of myself...and began to worry that the boys in particular would immediately shred (or hump) their pillows. Overall, I think most of the bunnies will use and appreciate their pillows. (And no, little bunny, I do not provide a mint on your pillow or complimentary turn-down service.)
What? Back that pony up...I thought you just put the boy bunny with the girl bunny and the magic bunny fairy plops a cute litter of bunny kits into the nest box 30 days later! That isn't so?
When I first started breeding Hollands, that's what I thought too. Those other breeders are just trying to scare me; how difficult can it be? Plenty!! Let's take a look at some of the most common scenarios when breeding Holland Lop rabbits.
Scenario 1: First-time Mom
There are SO many things that can go wrong with a doe who has never kindled before. If the breeding takes, she could deliver her litter flawlessly 30 days later, or they can be born dead, or even worse - be stuck and require assistance just to save the doe or be retained and render the doe sterile. If she has live kits, she can accidentally over-clean them and nip an ear or appendage, her milk might not come in soon enough to keep the kits alive, or she might have too many to care for...and the list goes on.
I was fortunate to have my first first-time doe be a "normal" (non-dwarf) Holland Lop who is definitely a brood doe. Cocoa is such a laid back girl and was my son's 4H rabbit. She delivered a whopping SIX live kits, and since she isn't a dwarf, there were no fatal peanut kits. The only issue was that her milk didn't come in sufficiently, but thankfully I had bred veteran Clementine at the same time and could feed Cocoa's babies on Clementine for the first few days. That was time-consuming!!
My second first-time doe (Saynora's Giuliana) kindled two normals and a peanut, all live, but this is more the exception than the rule. With only two kits to feed, she is doing well so far (she is on day 3 as I type this). I suspect that her awesome Saynora genetics and a nice wide bootie helped to achieve success!
Scenario 2: Veteran Mom with a Good Track Record
So you bought a proven doe and babies should just pop out of this girl like Pez candy and earn her the Mother of the Year title. Well, maybe.
There are a lot of factors that can affect whether her breeding will take and be delivered successfully. If she's too hot, too cold, too stressed, too old, has underlying health issues, has a big butt ruffle, or she's just not "feelin' it" with that particular buck, the situation becomes complicated. The babies could also grow too large to be delivered live, or the doe might not be able to deliver them at all, and this can be deadly for her.
The first veteran doe that I bred was Campo's Clementine, who had previously been residing with my breeder friend Wendy at Hickory Ridge Hollands. She was a great mom for Wendy, and she did the same after I bred her with Campo's Sunny Jim. I caught her just as she flawlessly delivered 5 live Holland Lop kits into her nesting box. Although a bit moody with me, she was a great mom and produced some cute babies!
Scenario 3: Veteran Mom on Strike!
Your gorgeous new proven doe is finally settled in, and it's time to breed her. You light the candles, put on a little hip-HOP music, and the buck seems to enjoy all five seconds of the act and squeals in appreciation. Ten days later, you're not sure if the doe feels pregnant, so you wait. After a month, your doe begins to nest and pull fur or may do nothing at all, and no babies come. She has missed. Yep, she probably ovulated if she nested at the correct time, but the mouse didn't take the bait so to speak, and no babies result. Now you feel like complete crap for both the doe and your ego as a breeder. Even worse, miss after miss keeps happening like a broken record....for months.
This is what happened to me with my beautiful broken lynx doe, Campo's Envy. When I bought her in July, she was flown from Washington to Ohio and had just come off a litter and was also bred prior to leaving her old boyfriends. She miscarried as a result of the tumultuous move (I found a bit of blood near her shortly after she arrived, so I am guessing she miscarried at that point).
For the next several months, I continued to try to breed her, using the table-breeding method so I could hold up her gigantic "tutu" (ruffle/skirt around her plump rump). One month, she pulled lots of fur on day 29, so when kits didn't ensue in the next couple days, I took her to the vet to check for retained kits...there were none.
I was beginning to worry that too much time had passed since her last litter (if you don't breed a doe for more than six months, it can be very difficult or impossible). The breeder I bought her from suggested I try a different buck and let them live together in a pen for a couple days. Long story short, this worked. Sort of.
It was so exciting to feel Envy's plump tummy and wiggles on day 30...but it wasn't so fun on day 31 and 32. Finally, on the afternoon of day 32, I found a stillborn kit on the floor of Envy's cage. It looked normal size, and I knew she had to have more inside her still.
Envy is so special to me that I wanted to try anything I could to help strengthen her contractions and get any remaining kits out. I gave her a couple Tums and fresh kale for the calcium, brewed her raspberry leaf tea, picked her fresh parsley from the garden, and moved her to a heated exercise pen on the floor so she could move around if needed. The next morning, I gritted my teeth in anticipation when I opened the door to the garage, fully preparing myself for the worst. Thankfully, she passed a second kit on her own, and a few hours later came the placenta. As I write this, I am hoping everything is out. I don't feel anything else remaining (fingers crossed that I am right)! Who knows whether I will ever get a live litter out of her, but I'm going to keep trying.
I'm sure there will be many other frustrating situations that I will encounter, but these are just a few of the reasons why breeding Holland Lops in particular can be tricky. So, the next time you find your jaw dropping at a $100+ price tag for a Holland Lop bunny or need to explain to your significant other why a Holland Lop costs so much more than that cute pudgy white bunny on Craigslist, keep this page bookmarked. There's more to it than a quick visit from the fertile bunny fairy! ...but these adorable floppy-eared fuzzy balls of cuteness are worth the time, effort, and cost in my opinion. :)
Hook's Hollands is a small hobby rabbitry on our Ohio farm and is operated by me (Diane) with the help of my family. We have a small herd of Holland Lop rabbits and focus on raising colorful bunnies with the best type and temperament possible.
This blog serves to spotlight various bunny care topics and share a bit about my experiences raising bunnies.