Weaning at 4 weeks of age
I would like to start off by emphasizing that I am not recommending weaning your kits at 4 weeks, 6 weeks, or 8+ weeks. I am recommending you wean your rabbits safely at the age that best works for your rabbitry and your does. I would also like to say all rabbits I talk about including the wild ones are domestic European lagomorphs.
Just recently I witnessed a lady asking for help because her weaned kits were all dying from what looked to be bloat. They had been weaned at 4 weeks and were now 5 weeks of age. 90% of the comments she received weren’t centered on helping her figure out why they were dying and were instead blaming the young woman for weaning her rabbits at 4 weeks.
I decided I need to accumulate some references in one spot so I’m not constantly rewriting and posting the same thing over and over again. The whole 8 week weaning “rule” I’ve seen spread stems from pet people and the House Rabbit Society trying to equate rabbits to other pets such as dogs and cats, which do require at minimum 8 weeks before they are separated from their mother. However they are quite different animals especially in regards to mothering their young. Rabbits are the ultimate absent parent, “I’ll do the minimum by building you a nice nest to sleep in, and I’ll feed you once to twice a day but don’t expect anything more than that. “
Most commercial rabbit breeders wean their litters at 28-35 weeks of age and they would not be doing that if they had poor results with kits dying from being weaned too early. They are making or intending to make a profit off rabbits and as such need them to produce well and have good grow out rates.
Rabbits are the ultimate prey animal and as such are designed by Mother Nature to breed heavy and often. Because of this rabbits are highly willing and fertile immediately after kindling a litter. That’s right, the moment she is done giving birth she will lift readily for a buck and in another 31 days will produce another batch of kits if allowed.
Rabbits don’t have much for protection against the wide variety of animals that prey on them, (snakes, birds, cats, dogs, raccoons, etc.) so as a result they try and produce as many kits as they can before the inevitable. This means weaning their litters at 24-28 days. Luckily Mother Nature isn’t an idiot and made sure these kits have everything they need in place by the time the mom moves on. They’ve been eating her waste deposits left in the nest to cultivate healthy gut bacteria and they’ve been consuming the bedding she gathered for the nest.
Enough of my rambling, lets look at published articles and studies from much greater minds than mine.
(The following screenshots are to show how common 4 weeks is for a weaning age, if you wish to read the full article I provided the titles so you can look them up.)
Advances in Rabbit Science:
This last screenshot mentions two references, so I wandered over there and got this:
The first screenshot is from:
Hudson R., Schaal B., Martinez-Gomez M., Distel H., 2000. Mother-young relations in the European rabbit: physiological and behavioural locks and keys.
While the following 4 screenshots are from:
Hudson R., Bilkó Á., Altbäcker V., 1996. Nursing, weaning and the development of independent feeding in the rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus).
Blip from: Recent advances in the digestive physiology of the growing rabbit Laurence FORTUN-LAMOTHE, Thierry GIDENNE
Some more mentioning about weaning growing kits off their mothers found in Rabbit Production, 9th edition. 2013.
I can write more, and more, and share more screenshots of more studies but I think you've got the gist. Again, I am NOT suggesting you change your weaning age to 4 weeks, this is simply to show that 4 weeks is a very common, and very acceptable weaning age no matter what House Rabbit Society would like to have you think.
My main goal is to have people stop scowling at others who do wean at 4 weeks and saying that's the reason for their problems. If you don't have anything helpful to contribute, move along. If you decide to wean at 4 weeks rest assured most of the commercial and scientific world is right there with you, even if the fur-moms on Facebook may lead you to feel otherwise.
If you decide to wean at 6 weeks, that's great! 8 weeks, awesome! 12 weeks, sounds good! Do what YOU feel is right for YOUR rabbits and what works best in YOUR rabbitry.
"Well when do you wean yours?"
At Rainy Days Rabbitry we don't start thinking about weaning kits until about 8 weeks of age, though we have had some does start weaning by 3 weeks and fully wean a litter by 3.5 weeks. This mentioned litter easily hit 4 pounds by 8 weeks so it didn't seem to effect their growth. (Avalon x Casanova) I've also had does start weaning at 6 weeks and I've got other does who would wait to wean their kits until they have their own litters to take care of. For the most part we allow the does to dictate when they want to wean, but after 8 weeks we start to step in.