Except not quite ready yet. Eventually the time came for her to deliver her offspring, and this eventuality triggered another frenzy of a different kind. Now she and I both would see what her impressive dangling dewlap under her chin is for. The day a doe starts pulling fur from her chest, sides and dewlap is a dead giveaway that the birth is imminent - probably in the next 24 hours or so. This delivery can happen in the day or the night, but we often find in the morning that she has given birth the previous night. We often don’t actually see the babies right away, unless the mother has accidentally and disastrously missed the nest and given birth to one or more on the cage floor. Fortunately, this scenario is not common, and if it does occur, is sometimes due to a first-time mother being too young to have a clue as to what she is supposed to do. (I well remember those feelings myself with my firstborn!) The preferable way is for her to enter the prepared nest box just before the first wee baby pops out, so that its landing pad is warm, soft, and safe. Thankfully, that is usually the case.
No, the first birth-signs are more likely to be some blood on the mother and in the cage and a little bit of motion of the hay and fur in the nest box. However, very often, by the time we get to the bunny barn to check on her, the mother has already cleaned everything up and we have to peek inside the box to see if there’s any movement or if we can see any babies, or if we only imagined she was pregnant! Except on rare occasions, we usually don’t disturb the babies for about a week, not even to count them. There’s time enough to tally the count, and in our experience, it’s safer and healthier for the babies to grow a little bit before being handled. That will come soon enough!
Every now and then the hay would tremble from the little ones rooting around in there. My anticipation turned to delight when I was finally allowed to see that first litter of babies - tiny, squirming, soft and fuzzy, coal black kits with closed eyes, hidden deep in the recesses of the nest box. Sometimes only two or three snuggled in there, but sometimes there was a bonanza of babies – eight or nine!
It was a mystery to me when the kits were actually nursed, since I never witnessed it during normal “visiting hours”. I imagined the mother doe coyly waiting until she was left alone with the litter to nonchalantly venture into the box and nurse them in protective privacy. Invariably, after the first couple of weeks, at least one of the babies, eyes finally opened, would learn how to poke his head out and tumble out of the nest box to try to get himself an a la carte meal. Once the kit did this, it mattered not one bit how many times you might put him back into the nest box, it was not long before he would tumble out again, eventually taking flying leaps out into the wonderfulness of the cage! It was just a matter of time before all the babies learned this trick, and the image of them popping out of the nest caused me to dub this their “popcorn phase”. In the winter, we attempt to keep them in the nest box and warm, by popping them back in as soon as we find them hippity-hopping around on the cage floor, since most of them could pop out of but not back into the box. Such attempts always prove futile in the long run. Every time I witness one of the little prisoners escaping the confines of the nest, I’m reminded of the words to the WWI song, “How Ya Gonna Keep Em Down on the Farm? (After they’ve seen Paree) ”!
Eventually, predictably, we give up on rescuing them and just let them do their thing: Chasing their still-nursing mother around the cage until she wearily escapes to the top of her nest box; dozing and pooping in their newly filled little “trainer” food dish; drinking water and peeing through the cage floor, sometimes at the same time; enduring their mother’s OCD cleaning of their pudgy round bodies and teeny little ears and feet; NASCAR racing noisily around the cage in frequent bouts of energy; and sleeping all stacked together in a little pile, finally tuckered out from being so darn cute.