A removable rabbit nesting box filled with straw will be needed in the cage of each pregnant doe about five days before she’s due to kindle (give birth.) She’ll use the nest as a safe, cozy environment to give birth in and the babies will be warm and snuggly inside until they are big enough to take on the world. Rabbits are born hairless, deaf and blind so the nest is essential to their survival.
Metal nests are best because they last a very long time, are easy to sanitize and are great for summer nesting. In the summer, if the pups are hot, they will lie against the metal sides to dissipate heat.
Barley straw is the best option to line nests. Shavings and sawdust are terrible for your rabbits — they absorb water and become damp and cold. The dust from it can also cause illness and breathing problems in your rabbits. Also, most wood products now contain some preservatives and it has been banned for use as hog bedding. A good barley straw nest can last up to six weeks without changing. It sheds liquids and it has a hollow core so it provides constant insulation value even when wet.
Rabbit nesting boxes can be purchased in many places, made from wood, sheet metal, wire or a combination of these. Because you’ll be needing several nesting boxes around the same time, you may find buying them a bit expensive. Building a nesting box yourself is a fairly simple and inexpensive option. The material you select will not only dictate the price for the box but also how much cleanup time you need later on.
Regarding the flooring of the nest, building or buying one with pegboard floor will make sanitation a lot easier, especially if it is removable. You can use treated masonite peg board for the perforated floors of either metal or wood cages. Cut the peg board to fit the bottom of your nest, soak it in linseed oil and then dry it in a warm place for a couple weeks. It will become impermeable. A hinged top is also a great option for simple cleanup in colder climates where the rabbits need more warmth.
Whether you buy or build your nest boxes, be aware of the box’s size versus the size of your rabbit. The box should be large enough for your mother doe to comfortably turn around in after bedding has been added to the box and the entrance hole should be easy for the mother doe to fit through. The babies will also be hanging out in here for about 3 weeks so you need to allow space for them too.
Rabbit Nesting Box Dimensions by Breed Size
(Length x Height x Width)
Small – 12” x 8” x 10”
Medium – 16” x 10 1/2” x 10”
Large – 20” x 11 1/2” x 10”
Closing the box up with at least a partial top will give the mother rabbit a perch to escape to and will keep babies warm in cold weather. This will also allow you to isolate a doe that is causing problems with the pups. If you cannot close the box you will need to remove it from the cage.
Keeping the Nest Clean
An extra nest or two is essential when you need to clean it before the kits are ready to hop around the cage freely. Nests, especially wooden ones, should be scraped and scrubbed with lots of elbow grease and bleach or a disinfectant spray at weeks 2, 3 and 4 after the litter is born. Once the majority of the funk is gone, take a small propane torch to the cage to lightly burn off the remaining hair and manure (where nasty organisms love to grow and multiply.) Torching should be used in combination with other cleaning because neither will get the job done alone. Leaving the box out in the sunlight for a while will also help kill off harmful organisms.
An alternative cleaning process involves scrubbing and lots of bleach. First scrub out and rinse boxes and floors, then wash them in strong bleach solution. Soak floors or wooden sides in clean water, twice, scrubbing between soaks. Then drain them off and spray them with a strong bleach solution, keeping them wet five minutes. Finally, air dry the nest floor and wooden boxes for at least a week and re-bleach them. They are then ready to dry and be used again.