How should you contain your rabbits?
Updated: Mar 13
There are 3 main ways to house your rabbits. Cages or hutches, colony set ups, and rabbit tractors. All of these setups have pros and cons and no one way is the right way. Depending on the time you have available each day, the room you have available, how many rabbits you plan to raise and your location, one way might work best for you or you might try different things to see what you like best.
Large commercial operations use cages. They take up little room. You can design them so they can be stacked multiple high, which allows for more animals per linear foot of space. Feed and water dispensers can be attached to the outside of the cages which allows for speedy work when feeding and watering. The bottom of the cages can be open mesh that allows the poo and pee to pass through freely. This keeps the rabbits clean and limits risk of disease and sickness caused by living in their feces. Other cage designs have a tray under the cage that collects the waste and allows you to dump it when needed.
Rabbit cages are generally made with galvanized welded wire mesh that is 1" x 2" on the sides and top, and the bottom is 1/2" x 1" . This size mesh is commonly referred to as baby saver wire. The smaller holes is to stop newborn kits from falling through the holes or getting stuck. This size wire is also easier on the mature rabbits feet.
You can buy commercial rabbit cages, specialty cages, repurpose dog crates or you can buy the wire and make them yourself. You can also make your own version that is unique to your needs. You can use wood for framing but you want to stay away from treated woods. Rabbits will chew on the wood and ingest it. Over time, certain parts may need to be replaced or repaired.
If you don't have any specialized pet stores or livestock supply stores close by, amazon has a selection of cages and hutches you can order, as well as wire to build them. If you purchase wire make sure it's a heavy enough gage to prevent chewing through as well as strong enough to support the weight of everything in the cage.
https://amzn.to/3C6nQSw a cage similar style to a folding dog crate with a removable tray to catch waste and hold bedding.
https://amzn.to/3IxgJVu a hutch that has a hiding spot and room to play. Good for outdoors as well as in.
Rabbits are naturally social creatures that like to interact with each other. Raising rabbits in a colony environment gives them this ability. The rabbits have more emotional and physical stimulation and a more positive quality of life, but it comes with a cost.
Female rabbits require space to have and raise their young. The general rule of thumb is to provide 20 square feet per female. The males can get away with less as they are not giving birth and raising kits. Depending on how many rabbits you plan to have, the footprint of your colony could get quite large. If rabbits become over crowded they can fight, and it is not uncommon for a rabbit to castrate another rabbit during an altercation. Noone wants their rabbits to get hurt or end their ability to reproduce and provide you with kits. If your raising meat rabbits, kits are the goal. To keep your colony rabbits happy,you also need to provide ample hiding places and nesting boxes. Giving the rabbits somewhere to escape to will help give them a sense of security.
Another point to consider with colony raising rabbits is that the males and females are always together and you cannot supervise them all the time. This can be a pro and a con. You don't have to schedule breedings, take your doe to your buck and watch and wait for successful breedings, but you won't know when the breedings take place so you will constantly have to watch for kits being born, as well as staying on top of when your grow out kits reach sexual maturity so they don't start reproducing before you get around to processing them.
Another thing to consider is clean up. Most colonies use deep bedding. It allows the rabbits to dig around in it and have their waste fall through to keep them cleaner and for a more sanitary environment. The downside is that it does have to be all removed and replaced regularly to ensure the cleanliness and health of your colony. If you don't have a farm and produce your own bedding (hay or straw ) than its an added expense.
Location of your colony is something else to consider. You need to provide protection from the summer sun and heat, a large enough footprint to avoid fights, and also secure enough to stop the rabbits from escaping. Sheds, barns and revamped dog pens are all commonly used for meat rabbit colonies.
Rabbit tractors are a mix between the two options, while also bringing in a new dynamic. The purpose of a rabbit tractors is to allow your rabbits to forage on your yard or pasture, while still being safely contained. Most tractors are designed with a solid top to block out the sun and provide shade, food pellets and water are provided, but the availability of fresh greens dramatically reduces the amount of pellets consumed and feed costs. The tractors are also large enough that a litter of grow outs can use the tractor together without incident.
Reduced food bill, a well fertilized and trimmed yard are the perks for you, if you use a rabbit tractor for your meat rabbits. But there is one rule of thumb that goes with the use of a rabbit tractor, and that is that you must move it every day to a new spot. Rabbits can not be left in the same location for a couple days. Their waste will contaminate the greens that they are consuming and it can lead to them becoming very ill with coccidiosis, and it can lead to death.
In this group environment, again you must be aware of the grow outs age and sexual maturity. If you are not going to process the kits before 14 weeks, it's advisable to have two tractors and to seperate your kits by sex.
Rabbit tractors can be easy enough to build, or to have your local handy man build for you. The most common supplies needed are 2x2 boards for framing. 1"X2" galvanized wire mesh for the sides. 2"x4" galvanized wire mesh for the bottom. A sheet of tin or plywood for the top, and of course your feeders and waterers. One of the homesteaders I like to watch, who raised meat rabbits, builds their tractors 6' long, 3' wide and 2' tall. These dimensions allow the tractor to be sturdy, but also easily moved by one person. Tractors can also be customized to have hiding spots that provide shade and security ad well as safety from the elements. It really all depends on how much you want to spend and how fancy you want to get.