This is a repost of our Managing Rabbits Series from 2013. The original post can be found by clicking here.
The first consideration when starting with meat rabbits is housing and feeding. It is important to have adequate housing and food ready for them before they are purchased.
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. I can’t imagine using smaller cages for the does with litters, it would be too crowded. All of our cages are Bass brand cages.
Our breeding doe cages also 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 the kids definitely couldn’t do it. So it became my husband’s responsibility because he was the only one who could manage the trays.
We built our new rabbitry back in 2013 and love it. The older kids, 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 (-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 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 disposable plastic water bottle that we fill 3/4 full of water and freeze. We place one in each cage for them to lay next to. On really hot days we give them one in the morning, then switch it out with a new one mid afternoon once the first one is thawed.
Feeding and Watering
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.
Additionally, we 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.
As with any feed change, if we buy an adult rabbit that hasn’t had hay we introduce it slowly and carefully they adjust fine.
We make sure our rabbits have constant access to fresh water. Even when it is freezing – we rotate the bottles and thaw them. Does with large litters get a second water bottle on their cage once the babies are a few weeks old. One water bottle can’t keep up with a large litter once they start drinking water. And the weaning cages also get two water bottles. 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.