Raising rabbits for meat or just for added garden fertilizer is a great first project for the homestead. Getting into rabbits has a much lower financial entry point that larger livestock, and you can slowly grow your enterprise as your needs increase. The funny thing about rabbits is, they can either be a major pain to manage, or a breeze, all depending on how well you set up your system. When I first started with rabbits in 4H as a kid, I had lots of single cages housed in a shed, I used drop pans for their waste, water bottles, and wooden nest boxes. This was how most people were raising them, and it worked fairly well, but it made for a very labor intensive project. When I got back into raising rabbits as an adult, Nicholas and I made sure to try and do things a little better, and over the last five years we have slowly improved our system as issues arose. Below I will outline a few simple things we have implemented that make growing rabbits a breeze.
Wire bottom hutches (no drop pans) – Building our own cages in three cage segments to be arranged in outdoor hutches allows the manure to drop straight to the ground. There it piles up, ready to be loaded into a wheel barrow for the garden. When I had rabbits stacked vertically and kept in a shed, cleaning drop pans and managing waste was a hugely time consuming task. Drop pans also require bedding, and input that is unnecessary when droppings are allowed to drop to the ground and accumulate in an open air system.
Arranging cages in a horizontally linear fashion also keeps everything at eye/arms level, and allows you to walk down the line dispensing feed and checking animals efficiently.
Water Nipples – Automating watering your small animals in many ways is probably a bigger time savings than automating your large animals. Rabbits can be a lot more time consuming than your poultry, seeing as every cage has a bottle that needs to be filled every day. If you only have a couple of animals this is no big deal, but filling all of our bottles, sometimes twice a day got to be VERY time consuming. We recommend brass nipples for rabbits since the plastic ones or the type used for chickens can’t stand up to a rabbits vigorous chewing. Arranging them in line along a PVC pipe attached to a gravity fed container with a float valve keeps the whole system running smoothly.
The PVC needs to be outside of the cage just far enough that the rabbits can’t reach it and chew, but close enough for the nipples to reach into the cage. We like to wire them in place to ensure that the nipples never get pushed out too far leaving the rabbits high and dry.
Misters – Though misters aren’t highly practical or necessary for most large animals, they can be literal life savers in the rabbitry. If you have ever raised rabbits before you know that the real environmental danger to their health isn’t winter’s cold, but the heat of summer. Any time the temperature rises above 80 degrees Fahrenheit you run the possibility of losing animals to heat stress. Shade of course should be a first priority, but mist heads make a huge difference in keeping the rabbitry cool. If you really want to get fancy, combining mist heads with a timer can allow you to prevent heat stress in your animals automatically during the hottest part of the day.
J-feeders – I almost don’t feel the need to mention this one, because most rabbitries are equipped with J-feeders vs. crocks nowadays, but in case you missed the memo; J-feeders. Feeding out of dishes or crocks means you have to open every single cage, and often times when young rabbits are involved they need daily cleaning. Feeding a herd using hoppers (J-feeders) takes maybe two seconds per cage.
Drop down wire nest boxes – The issues with traditional removable nest boxes are as follows:
Hygiene, wooden boxes hold bacteria and urine in their fibers, and metal boxes transfer cold directly to the kits if they come in contact with the sides.
Escapees; around two weeks old kits start to explore their surroundings, and unfortunately this results in the death of many babies. They squirm out of the box, and are too weak, blind, and uncoordinated to get back to their siblings. Often they get trapped behind the box and get chilled.
Unnatural presentation for the doe; does instinctively want to dig below ground level to build their nest, and a nest box is generally just the sort-of-best option for them, but far from what they want. This results in inexperienced moms especially accidentally kindling on the wire resulting in the loss of most of or whole litters. I can’t even count how many kits I have lost due to traditional nest boxes. Since using drop down nest boxes, all of my does have chosen to place their nest in the appropriate place, and kits have been able to wander back to their siblings when they escape the nest. The only losses I have had were due to damp weather chilling the bedding or having bedding fall through the wire. I have since learned that the nest boxes should be located on the inside edge of the cage, should be sheltered from winter weather and lined with cardboard in cold weather.
So that’s it, all of my secrets. You are welcome. I hope this information saves you copious amounts of time and lots of baby rabbits! What neat bunny-hacks have you discovered over the years? Comment below!