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Alternative ways to house and care for meat rabbits?

Discussion in 'Rabbits' started by FreeRangeDinosaurs, May 14, 2013.

  1. May 14, 2013
    FreeRangeDinosaurs

    FreeRangeDinosaurs Sustainable Newbie

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    I am an urban hobby farmer who is considering meat rabbits for the first time -- most likely Californians or a Flemish/Californian mix. I would likely start very small with 2 does and one male. I do not have a lot of space and was considering building hutches or cages that would be over the concrete part of my yard however I feel like a little sad about my rabbits living their entire life as a single rabbit in a wire bottom cage. Am I just over thinking this?

    How do you raise your rabbits? Are there any housing alternatives that would work in a small yard situation that might be a little less confined? Would letting the male or the does (separately) spend time in the chicken run with my six hens be a silly/crazy idea? What are your thoughts on the quality of life for a full-time hutch/caged rabbit?

    I would love to hear your thoughts and learn from your experiences.

    Thank you!
     
  2. May 15, 2013
    citylife

    citylife Lovin' The Homestead

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    It is easy to humanize where they live but ultimately you want to do what is best for the rabbits. Rabbits do not like to be around each other much and are quite territorial. Many of us use hanging cages for cleanliness. Wood is hard to keep clean or sanitize. My first set up was in a 3 sided shed with hanging cages and I ran my chickens under them. The chickens help keep odors down and eat any food knocked onto the ground. I highly recommend buying the book, "Storey's Guide to Meat Rabbits" The information in invaluable. I would also suggest not using Flemish giants. They eat a lot, have big bones and don't convert food to meat as well as the CA's or NZ's and some other breeds.
    My page will show you my first set-up and how it changed. And then our new set-up in our new place.
    And remember....... the heat is a killer of rabbits so you need to figure out how you will keep them comfortable on the worst days of the summer.
    Good luck to you.
     
  3. May 15, 2013
    pinkfox

    pinkfox Super Self-Sufficient

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    there are pros to "colony style" rabbit raising but heres some CONS (i o raise colony style so well get into that in minute)
    you mention letting a bun into the chicken runand giving them rottion time...
    im assuming the chicken run is a dirt floor...if so, say goodbye to your bunny, theyll dig out and be gone in no time, i saw bun dig out out a gravel floord dirt bottom pen in 30 mins...took 3 days to catch her lol.
    bunnies are also increidbly territorial, especially the girls! (the boys are with each other but not like does can be) does will kill eachother if not given enough space, theyll also castrat enthuastic bucks who dont get the "im not in the mood" or "im already pregnant" message.

    bunnies can and do live quite happily in cages, singly infact many buns are most happy this way (ive never tried to raise meat specific breds in a colony, i raise stadard rex and the breeds well known for being particularly docile, i do have 1 small meat mix in the colony and she does fine but i cant say much about other breeds...lol)
    get o build the biggest cges you can for ech bunny, many people keep bucks in 24x24 and does in 24x30 (or 36) personally to me thats too small for large MEA breed rabbits...
    when i had my rex in hutches the hutches were 24x48 and seemed quite comfortable.
    if your adding flemmish blood (whichhonestly i wouldnt, slows rothe rate and adds bone, 2 thingsyou dont wat in meat rabbits) youll need even bigger. by 24x48 seemed perect for my 10lb rex buns.


    make sure the cages are in an area WELVENTELATED and VERY well shaded, and neer power, buns seem to ahve no issue taking the cold as long as theyve got somewhere draft free to snuggle up...but heat, an 82 degree day with high humidity can kill a bun.

    now heres eom slternative options for you...
    tractors...just like chicken tractors, idbuild seperate ones for each bun, mabe 1 1 unit frame with 3 compartments) with a wire floor (1/2" x 1") you can move it to a new pathc o grass each day and eveer have to mow your law again, because theyll have grass under foot and moved frequently you could get away with the smaller end for cages,
    tractor also make for realy tastey meaty babies, gras fed is always best!
    but youll not be able to use any herbicides or pesticide on the lawn anymore lol.

    Colony pen...this is what i do with my rex, this isnt an option for my angoras due to fur issues or lops due to the irty ear issue, but for the rex...my binds love it.
    to build the colony youl have to choose a shaded spot you dot mind the bunnies pretty much eating down to dirt... for 2 does and a buck a 10x10 would be fine, but plan to add space if adding more bus, especially does (my max is 4 does per 10x20 pen) (then remove babies at weaning to a tractor untill butcher time)
    thecolony pen will need a dig prrof floor, (I laid welded wire flat n the ground and "tied" it to the walls) the walls will have to be "baby proof (i found this out the hard way, 3 week old baby bunnies can climb 4 ft striahgt up in about 30 seconds!!!) so 1x1" wire woudl be best.
    youll need cover form above for air predators (a chainlink og run with harware cloth over it and a shde cloth roof would wrk great)
    you could build graing boxes (my summer project) wchihc are raised beds with welded wire stapled tightly over the top, then clover ad grass seed planted under it. the buns can grave it to where the hardware cloth is but cant damage the roots)
    youll also need "houses" (ive persoally got plastic totes with a hole cut in the side, these work for protection from the weather and as birthing boxes for the does.
    1 box per bunny, again buns are territorial and while you may find them sharing, they will occaisonally prefer their own space.

    the down side to keeping the buck in with the girls (not so much of a problem if you goal is simplyrpoduction) is he can and will breed the does Immediatly after giving birth...
    a way around this would be to build him a cage insde the colony, put him in with the girls, make sure you watch for breeding and once hes bredthem mark the ate. then in about 26 day put him in his cage, let the does have their babies and dont put him bac in with them untill you plan to letthem breed again.

    or of course you could put him in the tractor or cage full timeand just have the oes in the colony (youll still ened a 10x10 ideally) at minimum 8x8 fr 2 does)

    youll get alot of funny looks when it coes to colony raising, its still in its early days here in the us and may never catch on...butmy buns love it
    its NOT easier, infact its harder, harder to keep the rabbits handleab, harder to ctch them if there not tame, harder to make sure everyones getting enough food and stays in good condition and if illness breaks out harder to contain and quarentein (because by the time 1 hs something everyone in the colony has it...)
    General maintence for me is a little less, i just toss straw down when it starts getting muddy and everything compost. the nest boxes get dumped out and hosed off once every couple weeks (this is why i like the plastic totes, you can hose and bleach and sun dry for sterlization :)) but i do take alot loger every day just sitting with the buns, handling them, ect because i like being able to walk into my colony and call a rabbit over pick her up and do what i need to rather than playing chase the bunny...they are faster and more agile than you ever will be! lol ive seen rabits change direction in mid air lol

    heres my colony pens
    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    since those pics were taken ive reinforced the bottom 24" with 1" hardware cloth and then found out how fast baby buns could climb so now i remove momma and babies to a seperate cage at about 3 weeks untill weaning untill i can think up some creative way of preventing climbing baby buny esccapages lol. im thinking of rgoing "zoo fence" style an dputting an angled apron inside at the top fo the hardware cloth so if they climb up they hit a "roof" but thats gotta wait utill my bank account gives me the go ahead.
     
    creativetwinszoo likes this.
  4. May 15, 2013
    rhoda_bruce

    rhoda_bruce Almost Self-Reliant

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    I am so about to do start a rabbit project. I just have to put my foot down and finish the barn. Don't know if its true, that I can really get 400Lbs of meat from 2 does and a buck and all their litters, like the books say, but I know it will be a red meat source that is low in fat, so DH should be fine with his heart condition and I keep reading that its just about the cheapest project I can possibly do. I have 2 does that are too old for me to start using them for breeding, so I'll probably slaughter them when I put my foot down.....they only costing me money. I don't think I will go with rabbit coops though....a hutch will be fine to start with. I got flooding issues to deal with sometimes, so that would be one problem I don't have to worry for, if they up in hutches. Good luck with your decision.
     
  5. May 15, 2013
    FreeRangeDinosaurs

    FreeRangeDinosaurs Sustainable Newbie

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    Thank you so much for taking the time to reply. I will check out that book.

    I think that I am going to go with Californians in separate cages. I plan on growing them fodder as do not really have any lawn. I am currently growing a wheat/barley/BOSS mix for my hens. What mix of grains would you recommend sprouting for the buns?

    I do live in a desert-ish climate so it gets pretty hot in the summer. It was in the high 90's last weekend so I will need to think of ways to keep them cool enough. I will make sure they are always in the shade.

    pinkfox - Thank you for sharing your rabbit colony. It is really interesting to see your set up and hear about your success. I think this is something I would be interested in exploring in the future once I have a little more experience and a slightly larger space for them. It is hard for me to tell in the pictures - is there wire on the ground to keep them from digging out?

    Do any of you tan your own rabbit hides?
     
  6. May 15, 2013
    pinkfox

    pinkfox Super Self-Sufficient

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    yup 2x4 welded wire on the ground, eventually itll rust through and ill have to replaceit, but it shoudl give me 5-8 years, possibly longer. at which point ill just lay a new layer right over the top lol.

    given your in a ht ry climate id look into setting up a misting system and using shade cloth... a simple mister will help keep temps alot lower as will evaporation from the moist ground under the misters, you dont want the misters soaking the bunnies but i would put them ontop of the cages facing outwards so the ist falls over the forn tof the cage and ANY breeze then will be intensified. misters work great for places with low humidity 12 or 16" square ceramic or marble tiels work REALY well too, get 2-3 for each cage, 1 tile in the cage, 1 tile in the freezer, switch out every couple hours buns will ay on them, cool belly helps cool bunny.
    froe 1gallon waterjugs are also a good option
    whenever you have watermellon dont toss the rinds, save some ig chunks for the buns, they can have a little watermellon fruti but the rind ae great treats, i like to freeze them in the sumer too! my buns go crazy for them lol.

    in terms of fodder. clover, orchard and timothy grasses and wheet, ry and barley all do REALY well...for buns your looking idealy for dark leafy greens as a main fodder as opposedto the grain themselves. wheet grass and barely grass work realy wellbut clover is bunny crack! lol.
    mine also get turnip and mustard grens, carrot and beet tops, ANY herbs, dandelions, leaf lettuces...
     
  7. May 17, 2013
    pinkfox

    pinkfox Super Self-Sufficient

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    Oh and yes i do tan the hides when i get some to butcher, right ow i prefer to sell as pets and show stock because that pays or feed and the espense of geting ertyhgin set up...
    but once things level out...right now ive got 5 hides in the freezer, but ive tanned before and its fairly easy for rabbit. batches of 10-20 do well, bigger batches than that and im seriously aching after the stretching, scraping ect lol.
     
  8. Aug 24, 2013
    ninny

    ninny Lovin' The Homestead

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    Pinkfox I love the colony setup. I have angoras that if my basement was better I would have them as a colony. The breeder I got them from colony raises them on cement. I also have silver foxes and would love to get them in tractors. Your setup would work well too. I have also seen people use old horse stalls.
     

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