Here at J&R Pierce Family Farm, I think it’s important to connect my readers with valuable insight from other master gardeners. Today’s post is a guest post brought to you by Samantha Rainwater.
There are numerous reasons for raising rabbits. They can be raised for meat, for their pelts, as pets, and even for manure. With such versatility, it’s no wonder why they are such a popular option on the farm.
Many urban homesteads are starting to turn to rabbits as a meat alternative to chickens. There are fewer regulations when it comes to keeping rabbits within city limits, and there are many instances where rabbits are allowed when chickens wouldn’t be. With rabbit rearing on the rise, many are left with the question, what do I need to raise rabbits?
There are two main ways to keep rabbits, in colonies or in hutches, and there are advantages and disadvantages to both. Depending on what you are raising your rabbits for, you may have a strong preference on how you structure their housing, and there are important factors to consider when doing so.
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What is Colony Raising Rabbits?
One popular option for keeping rabbits is to house them in colonies. Keeping your rabbits in colonies entails housing multiple rabbits together. When keeping colonies, not all of your rabbits necessarily have to be housed together, you can create sub-colonies to reduce the number of rabbits per enclosure.
A few reasons why you would want to create sub-colonies include: keeping different breeds separate, to separate aggressive males, or to break up a large colony to make it more manageable.
What Do Rabbit Colonies Look Like and How Do You Raise a Rabbit Colony?
Many rabbit colonies are structured similarly to a chicken coop. There will be a main house, which may be a small shed or hand-built covered enclosure, with an attached outdoor area for the rabbits to explore and stretch their legs.
Some rabbit colonies do not include an outdoor yard, and the rabbits may be kept inside all year round to help protect them from predators.
If sub-colonies are utilized, there may be multiple, smaller colony enclosures built, or the use of dividers in a large enclosure may also work.
Rabbit colonies generally allow the rabbits more room to move around, and can be less stressful on the animals. Many prefer rabbit colonies because this will most closely resemble the way rabbits naturally live in the wild.
It also allows for interaction between the rabbits. Many believe that this is the healthiest set-up for the rabbits, and can help them live better, longer lives.
Another advantage to keeping your rabbits in colonies is that it can reduce the amount of time spent cleaning cages. When you have multiple rabbits housed together, you will have less enclosures to clean. The enclosures may be dirtier than individual cages, but you will find that this still takes less time overall.
There are some disadvantages when it comes to keeping your rabbits in colonies. Perhaps the most notable disadvantage is that there is the possibility that your rabbits will fight, particularly the males. They may harm each other as a result.
How Many Rabbits in a Colony?
Keeping multiple rabbits together in one enclosure also makes it more difficult to control breeding. You may have rabbits breeding more often than you would like. You also lose the ability to choose which rabbits breed with one another, unless you create sub-colonies.
The flip-side of this is that you give your rabbits the ability to decide breeding patterns, which is a more natural approach for the rabbits.
A disadvantage to allowing your rabbits to create their own breeding patterns is that you never know when to prepare the housing for kits. Many rabbit owners help the does prepare for their litters, and set up nests for the kits. Never knowing when a litter will be born can increase the number of kit deaths.
Rabbit Colony Pros and Cons
- More space for the rabbits to move around
- Ability to create sub-colonies
- Mimics how they live in the wild
- Less time spent cleaning cages
- Rabbits can live healthier lives
- Rabbits can choose breeding patterns
- Fighting among rabbits may occur
- Lose ability to control breeding times and frequency
- More difficult to prepare for kits
- Increased risk for kit death
Keeping your rabbits in hutches generally involves individual cages for each rabbit. This is a common option for those who want to keep strict breeding regulations or reduce competition in rabbits.
What Do Hutches Look Like?
Rabbit hutches are individual enclosures, or cages, that each rabbit lives in. These cages are generally kept side-by-side, and can be stacked. There are some larger enclosures that are divided into four or more sections that can be used as individual enclosures for rabbits.
Rabbits kept in hutches generally don’t have outside access full-time, but can be transitioned outside occasionally to stretch their legs. While you can use the hutch method if you are raising rabbits outside, it can also be used for raising rabbits inside, too.
Rabbits need an enclosure that is at least three times their size to live healthy lives. If you have a large amount of rabbits, your cages are going to start taking up a lot of space very quickly.
For those who have problems with rabbits fighting, individual cages can actually reduce the stress put on the animals. Stress can be reduced this way because they lose that territorial instinct by reducing competition, particularly in males.
Keeping your rabbits in hutches may increase the work involved in keeping the cages clean. Each and every cage will need to be cleaned individually. Although more cleaning may be involved, it is easier to streamline care for rabbits when they have their own enclosure. Making sure each rabbit is getting the right amount of food, water, and space is easier when they are separated.
How Does a Rabbit Hutch Work?
When living as a colony, less-dominant does may feel the need to hide themselves, and will therefore lose full-time access to food. When kept in their own enclosures, you can be confident that each rabbit has the ability to eat without fear.
If you keep your rabbits in hutches, you can keep the enclosures next to each other. This way, the rabbits can still interact with each other without having the ability to harm one another or breed when you don’t want them to.
Some farmers believe this will help keep your rabbits happier while kept separate from each other.
Another disadvantage to individual hutches for your rabbits is that you will need to provide ample heating sources if they are kept outside or in an unheated space.
When in colonies, rabbits have the ability to use each other for warmth by huddling together. When kept separate, they will not have this option and may need a heat lamp, or other source of heat, in colder months.
Rabbit Hutch Pros and Cons
- Keeps rabbits from harming each other
- No accidental breeding
- Reduces stress caused by territorial rabbits
- Helps to streamline care process
- Can be done indoors and in an urban environment
- Better for preparing and caring for kits
- Cages may take up a large amount of land
- Not a natural way for rabbits to live
- More time spent cleaning cages
- May need added heat source in colder months
Raising Rabbits in a Colony or Cage: Which Method is Right For Your Rabbits?
There are many factors to consider when deciding whether you are going to have your rabbits live in colonies or in hutches. The answer may not be as straightforward as you might think.
The first thing I would consider is why you are raising meat rabbits in your backyard. If you are raising meat rabbits, and want the highest volume of kits possible, colonies may be your best option. In this situation, you would just want to monitor your colonies. Look out for any rabbits that may need to be separated due to fighting or dominance issues.
If you breed rabbits for pelts or pets and do selective breeding for desired outcomes, you may need to keep your rabbits in hutches.
You can also sub-colonize with selected individuals. Keeping rabbits separated gives you more control over what breeding is done, and when you will have kits.
Another aspect to consider is the temperament of your rabbits. If you deal with breeds that tend to be more dominant and aggressive towards each other, you may need to consider individual housing to reduce fighting and harming one another.
Although this is generally seen in males, there can be dominant females that will bully the other females into using less of the available resources. If you see this type of behavior in your rabbits, hutches may be your best route.
Taking your environment into consideration is also an important step in deciding what set-up will be the most beneficial to you and your rabbits.
If you live on a property with a lot of acreage, you may have the resources to build a nice outdoor enclosure for a colony.
If you live in city-limits, or somewhere with less land, you may need to consider hutches that stack vertically. With less land, you could also keep a smaller colony. This can be done as long as your rabbits can coexist with each other without causing a commotion.
Although there are certain aspects that are important to consider, personal preference is also a major deciding factor. Some farmers believe that rabbits will be happier and healthier living in colonies with full-time access to the outdoors. Others feel as though they have more success with their rabbits when they are kept in hutches, because there is more control on breeding, and less fighting.
If you are considering raising rabbits, it will be important to determine which structure is better for your situation before bringing your rabbits home.
Take into consideration:
- your reason for raising rabbits
- the type of rabbits you are keeping
- your location
- your personal preferences.
At the same time, understand that adjustments may need to be made once your rabbits are actually in place.
However you decide to house them, proper care is essential in keeping happy and healthy rabbits.
Samantha Rainwater is a freelance writer, full-time business owner, and recent mom who spends her free time writing. Her degree in Biology gives her a background in science, which she likes to apply on her small hobby farm. Writing about her experiences is one of her passions, and she finds joy in sharing her experiences with others.
Do you raise rabbits? How do you prefer to raise them? Let us know in the comments!
Want to learn more about farming? Be sure to take a look at these other articles.
- How to Cut Up A Chicken For the Freezer
- How to Make Your Own Sourdough Bread
- 20 Resourceful Recipes to Use Up Leftover Pickles
- 6 Absolutely Tantalizing Radish Recipes You Need to Try Tonight
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