When we first decided we were going to raise meat rabbits the first consideration was housing and feeding. We needed to have adequate housing and food ready for them before we bought them. We started talking to friends about our plans and were blessed to find someone who had three used rabbit cages in his garage from when he used to raise rabbits. They were in excellent condition. They were Bass wire cages and we liked them so much we bought three more directly from Bass.
We prefer to use the 36 inch cages, especially for our does, so that there is plenty of space for the mother and the kits to live comfortably until weaning. The closer we get to weaning (especially with large litters) the tighter the living space gets as it is, I can’t imagine using smaller cages.
Our breeding doe cages have extra wiring on them to prevent kits from falling out. We used hardware cloth and wired them 3 inches up from the bottom all the way around. Sometimes a doe will hop out of the nest after nursing with a baby still attached to her nipple. That baby will then scoot its way all around the cage and can easily fall through the regular sized wiring on the rabbit cage.
Our first set-up involved stacking three of these cages with metal trays under each that slid out.
While that was a very functional set-up there was one major thing that didn’t work for us. The metal trays are 36×30 to accommodate the cage. When you add in the shavings, pee and poop, that becomes a very heavy and very awkward tray to pull out, balance, and clean. It was a job that I could barely do, and ended up hurting my back trying to force myself to do it. So it became my husband’s responsibility because he was the only one who could manage the trays.
So we built our new rabbitry a few months ago and love it. The older kids, or my husband, or I can all clean it no problem. Here is the new set-up:
We used the same cages and mounted them on the wall with slanted metal shelves under them and a gutter in the front. You can read more specifics here.
As far as housing goes, rabbits are very tolerant of cold temperatures as long as they have a way to get out of the wind. Our rabbitry is inside the barn, which has gotten very cold at times (like -10F). We have given them wooden house boxes inside their cages in which to snuggle in when the temperatures are cold, but they have all rejected them (even when it was extremely cold) and prefer just a piece of wood on the floor of their cage. When it gets cold we give them extra hay on and around their wooden slab to help keep them warm. This is not to say that someone shouldn’t provide a housing box for their bunnies in cold weather, especially if their hutches are outside. I’m just sharing what we have found with our rabbits.
Rabbits are not tolerant of heat as they are with cold. They overheat easily and it can negatively affect their reproductive abilities (especially males) and their health. Because of the location of our rabbitry it rarely gets much over 80-85. But we still utilize cooling bottles when it gets hot to help the rabbits stay in their optimum health and performance. A cooling bottle is just a 2 liter bottle with very cold water in it placed in the cage for them to lay next to.
As far as feeding and watering our rabbits goes, we use J-Feeders with mesh bottoms for our rabbit’s pellets, and large water bottles. You can see them in the above pictures. Does with litters and growing rabbits receive unlimited pellets. Does without litters (including pregnant does until the last week of pregnancy), and bucks get approximately 1 cup of pellets per day. We are constantly checking our rabbits size and we adjust the amount of pellets accordingly. Bucks tend to get fat lying around all day and breeding occasionally and an overweight buck will not be very fertile. And does can go either way – getting too overweight (which affects their fertility as well) or getting underweight due to over-breeding. We are careful to keep track of our rabbits’ condition and feed them accordingly. We also give does that seem to be struggling to keep weight on a break from breeding until they are in optimum condition. We use breeding ration or show ration pellets depending on the situation.
We also feed our rabbits hay. This is a very controversial topic in the rabbit world. There are those who believe you will literally kill your rabbit if you feed it hay and there are those that believe that rabbits should have unlimited access to hay. We are discussing grass hay here – NOT alfalfa. We have always given our rabbits daily hay. I wouldn’t say it is unlimited, but we don’t measure it either. We give them a big handful, and if it is a cage full of kits that are old enough to eat hay it ends up being more based on how many kits there are. We have never had any rabbits die from this, and we have had excellent health and reproduction in our rabbits. We believe that this is a good (and more natural) way to feed our rabbits. They really enjoy their hay and go right to work on it as soon as we put it in their cage each day.
*One very important point in this hay discussion is that we have never bought an adult rabbit and fed it hay. All our rabbits have been purchased young or raised here and therefore are exposed to hay from the start. I don’t know how an adult rabbit would deal with it if they had never had it before. I am guessing that if it was introduced slowly and carefully they would adjust fine, just like any other feed introductions in animals. But I don’t know.
We make sure our rabbits have constant access to fresh water. Even when it is freezing – we rotate the bottles and thaw them. For our breeding animals we add 1tsp apple cider vinegar per half-gallon of water. We originally read about this and tried it out and then did without it and we have found through our small-scale experimenting that this increases our litter size. I believe it has to do with neutralizing the ph of their reproductive tract and thus making it a more hospitable environment.
That is how we handle housing and feeding our rabbits at Willow Creek Farm. If you have any questions or want more specifics on any of this please leave a comment and I will answer.
See our updated series: Managing Rabbits Series Round 2