By Erin Maclean
For many years, I have been using drop nest boxes. These nest boxes are wire baskets that hang down below the floor of the cage. Rabbits have a natural tendency to build their nests by digging a hole. In the wild, young can stay safe and warm hidden below ground. I found with the traditional style box I had more kit loss than I liked due to kits hanging on to the teats as the doe jumps out of the nest box. Usually it was largest and strongest I would find later cold and often dead on the wire. I found I did not have this problem with the drop nest box. Due to the fact that the nest is below the floor of the cage, does have to jump up to get out and kits have more of a tendency to fall off the teats as she exits the box.
A drop nest box requires a cage with space below it—at least 9 inches. If you have stacked cages with trays, you could set up the nesting cage on the bottom of the stacked cages with a tray on the ground (or no tray at all if you prefer). My nesting cages are hanging or supported cages with permanently fixed wire drop nest boxes. Theoretically, the wire baskets could come out, and some breeders have them set up that way to make their cages more versatile. However, I find it too much work to both remove them and cover the hole when not in use. Frankly, I have seen no reason to do so. I rotate these cages among the nesting does and if I need to, move a doe and litter out as early as four weeks, to make room for the next doe waiting to kindle. I also use the drop nest cages even when I don’t have nesting does. If I don’t need the nest cage for the next doe ready to kindle, I just leave the resident doe in after she has weaned the litter.
Drop nest boxes require a larger cage. My German angoras are in the 9-12 pound range. My nest cages are 30″ x 48″ x 24″ high. One breeder I know has luxuriously large nesting cages—55” long.
NEST BOX SIZE
I make my own wire nest boxes with 1×1/2” baby saver wire (14g. galvanized after welded wire will hold up longer than thinner wire). My wire nest baskets are 12″ x 16″ and 8″ deep. Smaller breeds could use smaller next boxes. I make sure I place the basket in a spot that has easy access for kit inspection. I place the basket flush with the side of the cage and use j-clips to attach one 16″ side to the side wall of the cage. The other three sides are perpendicular to the hole I have cut in the cage floor. The basket is attached to the cage floor with J clips. If you want a next box that you can remove later, make the basket an inch higher on the sides so you can fold the last one inch of the basket over the cage bottom so the basket is supported by the bottom wire of the cage. You might want to secure it with zip ties or J clips here and there to make sure it stays put until you remove it later on.
When I made my first nest box, my wire basket was too small. As I recall, I made them the same size that Bass shows in their catalog in order for me to use their pre-made liners. My doe refused to use it! I have since retooled the cage for a larger basket and this same doe used the drop nest box willingly. Another mistake I made with the first generation baskets is the depth was too shallow. I think they were 7 inches deep, not the 8 inches I use now. I found I lost kits because they were still able to hang on to the doe as she jumped out of the nest box. I made them 8 inch depth boxes and I have not had any problems since. Also, I have not found the depth of the basket I use to be a problem for older kits beginning to leave the nest box. In my experience the kits generally start exploring outside of the next box at about two weeks or three weeks of age. They can enter and exit with no problems.
LINING THE NEST BOX
During the colder weather you can line the nest box by dropping a cardboard box slightly smaller than the size of the basket. You might have to make your own to fit or line the wire nest box with a feed bag. Straw works well as insulation. I lined my nest boxes with cardboard for many years, but have since gone to not lining them at all. In my mild climate I don’t think lining is necessary. Hay and the wool the doe uses to make her nest are usually adequate.
Cardboard can get wet and soiled fairly quickly and requires frequent changing. However in cold climates, lining is de rigueur. Cardboard lined nest boxes can be advantageous because they can be lifted out and taken inside for the night if needed.
I have been very pleased with the wire drop next basket method. It works well for my rabbitry and I can honestly say I have had far less kit loss using this method.