New Zealand White rabbits show non-selective nursing in various types of nests
World Rabbit Science
We investigated the capacity of New Zealand White female rabbits to nurse their litter in a nest different from their own (i.e., from another female, in a box containing synthetic or male hair, or in a new box containing part of the original nest material). In females that nursed in their own nest across lactation days 1-3 (one nest-condition) the mere addition of any of the above boxes (without pups) across days 4, 5, 6, 7, or 8 provoked an increase in the latency to enter their own nest for
... heir own nest for nursing (0.05±0 vs. 2±1 min; P<0.01; Group 1A). In the two-nest condition females took a longer time to enter any box for nursing than they did to enter their own. These differences were significant only for the synthetic nest (4±1.5 min; P<0.05). When the two-nest condition began on lactation day 1 (Group 1B) the latency to enter significantly increased only with the male nest (8±4 vs. 1±0 min, own nest; P<0.05). The time inside the nest box devoted to nursing was practically the same under all conditions and within the normal duration (ca. 3 min). Milk production rose steadily across the days of observation, regardless of the type of nest-box the litter was placed in. We also explored the effect of using alien kits, rather than the female's own, on the rabbit's capacity to nurse them in any of the above nest types (Group 2). The only differences between Group 2 and Group 1B were: a) on day 1 females nursing an alien litter produced less milk (48±5 g) than the two groups nursing their own (69±5, 75±8 g; P<0.02); b) the latency to enter the male nest was smaller in Group 2 (2±2 vs. 8±4 min; P<0.05). These results show that, although able to distinguish among different nest types, rabbits can nurse their own or alien kits in several environments. These findings can be useful in small farm rabbit husbandry practices for facing the problems of kit death or nest deterioration in early lactation.