Winter Breeding Tips
by Lisa Sheets
Cold weather breeding of Hollands is a big challenge. Remember, you are fighting against Mother Nature. First, you have to contend with shorter daylight, then there is the cold weather and frozen water bottles or crocks, add to that shorter ears, which equals ear control in a lot of cases, frozen babies, not enough fur pulled, the "one baby syndrome". In short, it's not fun breeding in the winter, but if you plan to show juniors in the spring, it is a necessary evil.
Leave the barn lights on 12-16 hours a day, year long. The reason--a rabbit's reproductive cycle is keyed into the length of daylight. The longer the days, the more receptive the does are to breeding. And, if you keep them bred all the time, you shouldn't have the age-old problem of "my does won't breed in the winter". Look at it this way, the bucks can go sterile in the summer, the does hide their tails in the winter. So, the fall and spring are your best times to breed and raise rabbits, but in order to keep your does in cycle, and have new juniors to show all the time, you need to breed in the summer and winter, too.
When icicles form with every breath, use heavy plastic water bowls which still freeze, but can be clapped together like a pair of cymbals and viola, the ice is cracked and on the ground and you can then refill an empty bowl, only to do it again at night!
Frozen babies are not as easy a problem to solve. Give the does their nest boxes about three days before their due date and put a clip-on light over the top of the cage aimed right on the nest box. Be sure that no wires are touching the cage as they are a tempting chew toy. Put the light bulb over the top of the nest box because if it does get too warm, the babies can move to a cooler spot. The light will also increase the ear growth in the early stages of life and might help you to sidestep those short winter ears. Fill the entire cage with hay so if the doe misses the nest box, sometimes you will be lucky and the babies will stay warm in the hay until you can put them into the nest box.
In the winter, you cannot check a doe who is due too many times. If you want to save those babies, keep your mittens, hat, boots, scarf and coat near the door and make frequent treks to the rabbit barn. Once the babies are born it is often necessary to bring the nest box in where it is warm at least at night, and sometimes most of the day if it is really cold. Another method is an indoor nursery. Set up a few stackable cages in a room in your home and you won't have to worry about frozen babies. It is also helpful to save any fur that is clean and dry from does who pull fur and miss or the babies die so you have it on hand when needed for those does who do not pull any or enough fur.
A full stomach will not keep one baby alive. It needs to have enough warmth around it to sustain its body temperature. In the winter, especially, you should be breeding two or three does at the same time so if you do have a loner, it can be fostered off to a mom with more babies. Be sure to mark down the color of the foster baby, and, if it's the same color as others in the litter, put a mark down deep in the ear with indelible ink (and recheck it frequently, redoing the mark as is necessary) so you can find the odd ball when it's time to separate the babies into their growing cages.
Also, leave the babies in a little longer with the doe in the cold weather; that way there is more body warmth to keep them warm. Then, when you do separate them, start with them in cages of twos.
HLRSC Official Guidebook - 5th Edition 2002