A lot of people have their own methods for weaning kits, and I have found that I am frequently asked to share mine. I’ll go over everything in detail as much as I can. I’m not saying that what I do is the best way or a superior method, it’s just what works for me. I have had ZERO losses to bloat/weanling enteritis from my own litters, so I’ll keep doing it my way 🙂
Foreword: I don’t mess with kits much prior to two weeks old except for the following:
– initial count within 12 hours of birth, check on momma
– daily nest box checks daily for the first week to make sure everyone is being fed and no one has fallen behind or been injured (over cleaning, stepped on, etc.)
– checks every other day (visual) to make sure all is well
At two weeks old, I remove the nest box to take weights and ID the kits. I ID at this age via ear marking with a sharpie. I alternate colors and ears (left/right) in order to make kit identification easy. Once I’ve weighed and marked everyone, I change the bedding out for some fresh, new hay. I’ve noticed this changing also can get the kits to start nibbling on hay, which is a prequel to weaning.
I check weights and re-mark kits (sharpie doesn’t stay on very long) once a week, as close to their birth day as possible (ie. born on a Monday means weights and markings on a Monday, if possible). This ensures that everyone is gaining weight well and allows me to know if anyone isn’t growing like they should be. It also gives me a good idea of which kits will be better producers and which should not be bred. I also make this the absolute minimum that I handle kits, I try to do it more often if I can so they’re used to human contact.
I wean at four weeks old. Some people think that kits should stay with mom for 6-8 weeks, I know others who won’t wean until 3 months, it’s all personal preference. I have found that my does keep much better body condition and seem MUCH happier when I wean early. Four weeks is the absolute earliest that I wean because they’re still nursing a good amount up until then. I have not noticed any stunted growth in my kits who are weaned at four weeks – Powder hit 9lbs at less than 6 months old and she was the first kit weaned from her litter.
I have two basic methods for weaning depending on size and condition of the litter. Both methods begin the same way, at four weeks I remove the larger half of the kits. For example, in a litter of 7, I would remove the largest 3 kits, leaving 4 with mom. Then, I remove 1 every day by size until all are weaned (smallest kit stays with mom the longest). This accomplishes 2 things: 1. It gives the smaller kits some extra time with mom for an uninhibited boost of nutrients, and 2. It prevents the does getting mastitis from an abrupt removal of kits with no warning. The method varies when I have a larger litter with kits who are noticeably smaller than their siblings. I still wean the largest half of the kits first, but then I wait two days between removing the next kits. For Sookie’s current litter of 8, I will remove the four largest blue kits first. Then, since there are TWO kits who are much smaller than the rest (if the trend continues), I will wean the largest two remaining kits on 24-hour increments, then I will wait, and wean the smallest and final two kits on 48-hour increments. It’s just a bump of nutrition for the kits and makes it easier on the doe. Once 3/4 of the kits are weaned, I begin feeding mint and raspberry leaves to help the doe dry up and again to prevent mastitis.
My does are also fed free choice grain, unlimited hay, supplemental Calf Manna/oats/BOSS, garden clippings/weeds/kudzu/fresh herbs, and ACV in their water. The kits have access to ALL of these things while they’re growing up with mom, which also helps prevent enteritis/bloat. It is also important to note, that while I haven’t been able to find any laws regarding it yet, my personal rule is that I never sell kits less than 8 weeks old. This allows them a full 3-4 weeks from the time they’re weaned to acclimate to “adult” life and begin to eat and survive entirely on their own. I have seen a lot of losses in kits sold younger than 8 weeks due to stressors, new diets, etc. There are many states where it’s illegal to sell younger than 8 weeks old, I abide by those rules.
My kits are ready for the table between 10-12 weeks, they’ve started to have nicer quality fur and are dressing out at better ratios. At this point their meat is still tender and juicy and makes excellent protein for pretty much anything you want to use it for. I’m looking forward to some fried rabbit this fall and some buffalo rabbit dip in the future. 🙂