Sr. Farm Boss has been commenting on rabbits and kept asking for pictures and examples to share to the group (Women in Ag so, I am not a member). I thought it may be a good post to show the evolution of our rabbit keeping, why we chose the methods, why we abandoned them, pictures and videos.
We started out as most do, with raised cages. when doing our research this seemed like what most people do. Keeps from having to regularly clean cages, away from predators, and easy to harvest manure for gardens.
We live in central Indiana and have freezing temps in winter. Having several rabbit cages and having to deal with freezing water bottles daily, frozen crocks, or broken water dishes due to ice was a pain. Jr. Farm Boss had a difficult time reaching dishes at 4/5 yo and putting cages lower made it difficult for adults to reach in. Here is a writeup of a solution with materials, to the freezing water issue I came up with. This is when we lived in suburban Indianapolis. We toyed with tractors at this point but it was more get them out during the day, in a small enclosure on the ground. Not a permanent solution, just fresh grass.
or just a link to the video
This solution was nice when it worked. If your power went out, the lines froze and it it was difficult to thaw the lines. If your water level got too low no water would circulate and lines freeze. If a rabbit could get to the tubing it would eat holes. All of these could have been managed, but also meant in any of these situations, none of the rabbits got water. When we moved we didn’t have power at the new rabbit home, so circulating water and heat was not an option.
Rabbit feed was another issue so we tried the rabbits on tractor system. I wanted two goals met. No mowing, and no feed for rabbits. The tractor met this goal, but had a negative of we kept losing rabbits despite having ample cover almost every time we have a med-heavy rain. another Negative is Jr. Farm Boss couldn’t move the tractors as they were too heavy. A solution could have been wheels but I wasn’t really happy with the tractor after a year of use.
Once we moved, and the number of rabbits increased we found that it was taking way too much time to manage all the rabbits. Especially if using tractors. Too many cages, too many waterers, feeders, and over 1/2 of chore time (we have over 200 animals) was spent on rabbits. Plus it took 2 people (Jr farm boss did water/food and I did moving them) or one adult. One of our end goals is her to be able to manage and take care of ALL the animals without us. We needed a new solution.We looked into central watering, wheels on tractor, but then still feed, freezing temps, and moving them was an issue. After some researching I found a woman’s setup I liked in the form of a colony. It solved most if not all of our problems.
Link to her video. Credit where credit is due.
We didn’t quite have the same available space/materials in our situation, but I took her idea and adapted to our own.
Here is our version 2.0 of colony. We have since moved to V 3.1.
V 1.0 just had the “home” area and they ate that in no time. I was having to bring in brush, yard clippings, more often than I liked. But it was fencing we had on hand and didn’t cost much at all to make. Most of our solutions take cost into consideration, or what materials do we have on hand that can be repurposed.
V 2.0 added the running tubes and roundabout with portable dog fencing to get more exposure to fresh grass. Again, my goal of never having to mow, and not buy rabbit food. The video was in the middle of winter. Our feed purchased went from one 40lb bag every two weeks to one bag every two months. We give pellets as a reserve or backup (rainy days, lazy rabbits, mamas) . They also get hay which we get for free. The don’t dig much and any deep holes we fill. We believe because we give them hiding spots using the drain pipes, and existing nesting boxes their needs are being met and no need to dig. With one tub for water, it is easier to fill, or change.
V 3.0 expanded the home area to the width of this particular grass area available. 100x what they had in V 2.0. We broke down and bought specific fencing for this project. We did use locust poles for fence posts as they were free and we harvested them. We also moved the water tub under the roofline so it is filled and flushed with each rain. We started getting babies once the temps warmed up. This led to another issue. Our barn cats who keep mice population down, now were able to get into and eat/kill new babies. Hence V3.1. Once a mama kids we take mama and her litter in the box to a contained and protected area.
Here is a video of V 3.1
With V3.1 we have had no losses due to rain. We have had no losses to to predator cats. We do have 3 livestock guardian dogs that keep other predators out. It is open top, and we have not lost any to birds of prey. Our feed is down to about one 40 lb bag every 4 months for 20ish rabbits. We do not have to mow any of this hillside. We supplement with weeds, cuttings from the garden, and around orchards. We went from 30+ minutes of rabbit management, to 1 min (checking on grass, food, water) to maybe 10 at most (move mobile area, clean/fill water, tend to mamas in protected area, move new mamas). Jr. Farm Boss (now 6yo) can do all of this on her own without assistance. The rabbits seem to be healthier and happier.
We have plans to evolve again to V 3.2 where the internal area in the shop/barn is larger, has climbing/jumping area, large door for easier cleaning, and floor to ceiling wire protection.