Expanding breeding program

by Kate

I apologize that this is a bit long, but I'm having a tough time finding answers for the many questions running around my head.

I have 3 breeding rabbits: Florida White/Dutch buck, Californian doe, and a new American.

I had a New Zealand White, but lost her to mastitis.

We brought our buck with us when we moved 1600 miles, he rode in the back of the pickup the whole way. When he got here, he sneezed a couple times, no snot or anything else at all. I figured going from dry NM air to VA where there's always stuff floating around was the cause.

I acquired the Cali & NZ does after we settled in, didn't notice any kind of illness with them until the NZ got sick very quickly and we ended up culling her. Both the litters (now 8 weeks) are sneezing and many have snot. We've culled 2 so far, hoping it was limited to just those animals, but it spread to the rest.

The American I picked up has been in quarantine for the two weeks we've had her, she had a mildly wet nose the day after she came here but nothing since, but temps were in the mid 80's. She will stay in isolation until/if we figure out who who else we have is "safe."

1) Can I assume my base breeding stock is at least strongly resistant? They have all been stressed and no one has shown snot or fits of sneezing.

2) do I need to cull the cali since her kits are ill, even though she herself hasn't shown signs?

3) with my entire growout group, should I just cull them all since the majority are snotty, or will they still be alright to grow another few weeks for the crockpot? I wasn't planning on keeping any for breeding anyway.

The goal for us is have a good line of American blues for showing, plus a few meat mutts for our own table. I understand it will take time to get to where we need to be, but in the day-to-day of it, I feel like we may not be going down the right path.

Sorry if this sounds a bit scattered. I'm just trying to figure out a course of action before I buy anything new. We don't really have the money to just keep buying high quality stock over and over. We also can't bring in any money from sales until we have the healthiest animals we possibly can so that's obviously got to be our first and biggest priority.

Thanks for any help.

***** Karen Sez *****
Wow, I so appreciate ethical breeders like yourself who want to create healthy herds and do right by the folks who will subsequently purchase from you. I honor you, my friend.

As to your questions, I will do my best, but I'm way over here and can only give you what will simply be educated impressions.

First, a quick question of my own: Do you know whether or not your base (foundation) stock have been vaccinated with the BunnyVac for pasteurellosis? If yes, then you have no idea what sort of health your animals truly possess. The vaccine can without question mask all symptoms, yet the animal will continue to harbor pasteurella and spread the germs to the animals in the vicinity.

The following answers will have to assume a 'no' answer on the vaccines.

1) A temporarily wet nose would send off warning flags in my mind, but given the circumstances, I'd be tempted to assume as you did that the change in location and climate may be the cause. Nevertheless, keep an eye on him. If he's the sire of the babies, and they're sick, and his genetics were not strong enough to help keep them healthy....? Just thinkin' out loud, but that is the direction my thoughts would be going as I continued to watch him and saw how everything played out over the next weeks and months.

The NZW is already culled. The Cali doe has sick kits but no symptoms. She is a carrier. This detail was what prompted my question about the vaccination status of the rabbits. But even so, I think I would consider her to NOT have strong enough genetics to keep. Do you really want litter after sneezing litter? If no, then cull her.

The American also had a wet nose. You've had her in quarantine. Good move. Again, mid-80's temps might dampen the nose. Keep her quarantined until the symptoms in the rest of the herd settle down. (Sick kits butchered, etc.)

No, don't assume your base breeding stock is strongly resistant. Your buck and your American doe are both under questions - probably okay, meaning good immune system, but the future still has to play out before you can be sure. They are certainly worth giving the chance, however.

2) The Cali doe, on the other hand, in my barn would go into the soup pot. Sorry!

3) The youngsters: Cull ONLY the sneezers/ones with symptoms. If they are 4-5 pounds (8-10 weeks), butcher them out. You CAN eat them, as long as there are no abscesses, frank disease, emaciation. Don't save the lungs, and don't give any of the carcasses raw to your pets.

In my experience, years ago when I was building health in my own herd, roughly 75% of all kits from sneezing or carrier does got sick. But that still left me with 20-25 percent of kits that stayed healthy.


Gotta say, it was a horrible season to endure. So much sneezing, so many sick animals! Ugh. Most of my cages were isolation cages, just in case. I hated, just hated to have to kill so many of the kits. But in one year's time the tide had completely turned. Just by making the hard choices one can create a healthy herd where 99% of the offspring are healthy and sneezing is a distant memory. The joy at the other end is 100% worth the temporary pain.

***End Sidebar***

So no, don't kill ALL the kits. Keep the ones that have no symptoms. Right now, that might be the majority of them. Keep raising the ones that seem healthy. Others will probably begin sneezing; cull those that come down with symptoms as the symptoms manifest themselves.

Put to work the few rabbits that arrive at adulthood without symptoms. The stress of pregnancy will reveal the animal's true health. If she can go through pregnancy and lactation without snot or sneezing, you'll know THAT doe has an iron-clad immune system. If she fails, let her finish raising her kits, and then cull her.

Start the process once again with the new litter, culling the symptomatic animals and keeping those that seem healthy. This time around, you may find that more of the bunnies stay healthy.

If you have the guts to go through this process of culling for health, you will achieve your goals in 1-2 years. I did it; I know you can too.

Keep us in the loop, eh?

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