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We are raising meat rabbits in a colony. I am not entirely sure how we got to this particular point where I thought raising meat rabbits was a good idea, but somewhere along the line, I read some facts about bunnies that made me want to give it a go.

WARNING: This diary discusses housing and raising of rabbits in a colony for human consumption. If this topic disturbs you, please do not proceed.

Jump to:
Why Not Cage Raise?
Why Should You Raise Your Own Rabbits
Raising Meat Rabbits in a Colony
Shed Colony
How Much Room Do I Need?
Designing a Rabbit Colony
Feeding in a Rabbit Colony
Keeping a Rabbit Colony Clean
Introducing New Rabbits to your Colony


If you want to know more about why we chose to raise meat rabbits on our homestead read 5 Reasons to Raise Meat Rabbits. We have chosen to raise ours in a colony rather than cages, read on to find out why.

Why Not Cage Raise?

Like chickens, commercial meat rabbits can be kept in cages and bred intensively. But that just doesn’t sit right with me. Rabbits are naturally social and love to run, play and frolic.

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I remember as a child going with my mother to pick up a pet rabbit for the kindergarten she worked at. The lady we got it from had a small shed that you walked into and there were rabbits and guinea pigs all over the place.

It was quite fantastic. They all looked so happy and free, and they were very friendly. I decided if I was to get rabbits that is how I would like to keep them.

When we first got married our first pet was a rabbit we named Nudge Montgomery. Nudge was a real character, and he lived in a puppy pen in the house, and we often let him out for a good run around. He was a truly happy bunny.

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When your grandparents were young having meat rabbits in the backyard was commonplace. In fact, rabbits have been bred for meat for hundreds, maybe thousands of years.

That was before we all decided to pay someone else to do the hard part of raising/dispatching our meat, so we can pick it up from the grocer and not have to think about how it got there or how it lived.

We have become so far removed from our food, we really have no idea about the process or control over their environments anymore.

Why Should You Raise Your Own Rabbits

Backyard meat rabbits are making a comeback. A BIG comeback. They are small, quiet, cheap and easy to raise, so you can have them in your backyard and your neighbors would be none the wiser.

You can feed them what you want them to eat, and you know that they have lived a fantastic life, with only one bad day. That, my friends, is happy meat. Ethical meat. My kind of meat.

There are merits to keeping meat rabbits in cages:

  • They are easy to catch.
  • It is super easy to keep clean as the poop falls through the cage.
  • It is easier to keep them cool – heat kills more rabbits than the cold does.
  • They don’t fight when they don’t get the opportunity to do so.
  • And you can stack many many cages into a space.

The downside to individual cages are many

  • The initial setup cost is more.
  • The ongoing feeding/watering takes a long time each day.
  • The rabbits don’t have the room to run and play.
  • They have less muscle tone.
  • They don’t get to be social like rabbits like to be.

Raising Meat Rabbits in a Colony

There are several options for colonies for rabbits. They range from a double sized cage/chicken tractor and housing 2 or 3 does together, to a well-fenced paddock to keep predators out and rabbits in allowing them to live in self-dug ground holes.

Outdoor Colony

This style of colony involves digging a 600mm (2ft) deep trench all around the edge of the paddock and burying tin, heavy duty geotextile or netting to stop them digging out.

In NZ and Australia, you will need to then leave the paddock fallow for 3-4 months to ensure RCD virus dies before you introduce your rabbits.

To save having to dig right around the perimeter some people are having success with filling the colony with 300mm of very rocky fill – broken bricks, rocks, large gravel.

Not only does this strongly discourage digging but it improves drainage substantially. In the middle of this sort of set up, you can then add a truckload or two of top soil and allow the rabbits to burrow into it.

Ground burrows protect from both heat and cold without air-conditioning, they are protected from wind, rain and flying predators.

The good bacteria that live in the soil will build your colony babies immunity and you will end up with a much more robust rabbit.

In England in the 1600s-1700s+ they would maintain warrens, and use ferrets, rats or terriers to flush out the rabbits.

These days I suggest you simply feed your rabbits in a designated area in the colony that can be shut off/made smaller when you need to catch your rabbits.

Shed Colony

Somewhere in the middle between a shared hutch and a paddock is what we have chosen to be so we have a shed colony.

This eliminates the contact with wild rabbits, minimizing the RCD (and other diseases) risk, and is a manageable size for our first time.

Flooring options for indoor houses include concrete, pavers or bricks, dirt covered in wire/geotex fabric or stall mats. Each has its own merits, and cost, go with the best that you can afford.

We have a combination of free bricks on one half and wire with bricks around the edge on the other half, both sides have dirt underneath.

The upside to the dirt underneath is that any spilled water or bunny urine can simply soak into the earth, this minimizes the stench.

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meat rabbit colony

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How Much Room Do I Need?

To work out what sized space you need is a little confusing. NZ doesn’t appear to have legal minimal caging size requirements, but it does refer to the American standards.

For individual cages most people allow 1m2 per adult rabbit (10sq ft). In a colony you need to allow a mama rabbit twice this size to account for her baby rabbits.

If you move your grow-outs (weaned growing babies) to another area they get half the allocated space of an adult rabbit each as meat rabbits are moved on before they reach their adult size.

MATHS TIME: Our shed, is 9.89m2/106 sq ft (if it is under 10m2 in NZ you don’t need building consent to build it).

One of these adults is my buck so he just needs 1m2. So that leaves 9m2  for the mamas. 9 /2= 4.5. So in my 10m2 shed I could fit 4 does and my buck and their babies up to 12 weeks old quite happily, with 1m spare for them to share around.

You can reverse this to work out how much space you would need for x number of rabbits as well. Where D is does and B is bucks based on an average of 8 kits per doe.

METRIC: m2 = (1 x B) + (2 x D)
IMPERIAL: sq ft = (10 x B) + (20 x D)

Designing a Rabbit Colony

You can increase the floor space by building vertically, I plan on adding a few .8m wide shelves for them to climb on, rabbits love being up high.

My nesting boxes are also designed with the thought that they might like to climb on top of them.

They love having obstacles and tunnels and things to play with. You can make beds out of rubbermaid totes or old pet carry crates with their doors removed. They also like big truck tires.

Give them plenty of wood that they can chew – apple, pear, untreated pine, willow, and birch are all safe choices.

Rabbits like to lie in dust, it helps kill off parasites. Give them a dust wallow with some sand, dry dirt and hand full of wood ash and a handful of diatomaceous earth – the same blend you give chickens for the same thing. You can add some sage and lavender crushed up too if you like. These will all help repel/kill the cretins that annoy your rabbits. For more on

You can add some sage and lavender crushed up too if you like. These will all help repel/kill the cretins that annoy your rabbits. For more on parasite control read here.

Given a large stack of bales of hay or straw the rabbits will burrow in and make their nests in there. But so will the local mice/rat population.

Feeding in a Rabbit Colony

Communal feeding areas should be well spaced out so there are no fights, and have 2 water sources for the same reason.

Rabbits do well on a balanced natural diet. If you choose you can use purely commercial pellets, or a mixture of the two.

Keeping a Rabbit Colony Clean

If you are using a shed, I suggest you employ the ‘deep litter method’. Find yourself a source of cheap or free bedding material – pine shavings or straw work well.

Put 20-30cm (8-12 inches) of bedding down over a dusting of barn lime and diatomaceous earth. The lime will reduce/neutralize the ammonia pee smell and the diatomaceous earth helps keep flees, mites and ticks at bay.

Adult rabbits will tend to use one or two areas as the toilet. Baby rabbits will go where they stand, so raking over the top layer of deep litter daily is helpful.

Only disturb the bottom when you plant to it clean out. I do this every 3 months, but if you keep adding fresh bedding on top, you can get away with the big clean out once a year.

If you are going the whole hog and doing a large shed or paddock, a dirt floor sown in grass/feed/barley that you can simply hose now and again to soak in the pee/poop works well.

Introducing New Rabbits to your Colony

To minimize fighting in the colony you need to provide plenty of hiding places and several food/water stations to minimize competition.

It is also best if you can introduce everyone at the same time to the space, so no one has time to claim the territory first. Young rabbits are less likely to fight, but then you cannot buy one that is “proven” ie has already had a litter.

If you are introducing a new rabbit to your colony, it is recommended that they go into quarantine for 35 days first, somewhere away from your main rabbits like a hutch on your lawn.

Always feed/tend to the quarantined rabbit last so as not to share around any potential disease with your own stock.

Once the quarantine period is over, try introducing your rabbit in a pen within your colony first for a week or two so they get used to each other. A dog crate or puppy pen is ideal. Then let them out and watch closely for scuffles – you can squirt the perpetrator with a water bottle if scuffles are getting serious.

After a few smooth supervised outings you can let them join the fluffle (yes a group of rabbits is called a fluffle, cute right?). Keep an eye out for injuries or piles of fur that might suggest a fight.

Some rabbits adjust really well, others will never adjust. Sometimes it is easier to remove or cull the dominant/bully as they probably cause unrest for all the occupants of your colony anyway.

Sometimes it is easier to remove or cull the dominant/bully as they probably cause unrest for all the occupants of your colony anyway.

Related: The Ultimate Guide to Raising Meat Rabbits In Colonies.

Do you keep your rabbits in a colony? Tell me about your setup in the comments below!

 

For further reading I would recommend:

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A comprehensive guide to raising meat rabbits in a colony for a self sufficient and sustainable source of health meat in your backyard.

A comprehensive guide to raising meat rabbits in a colony for a self sufficient and sustainable source of health meat in your backyard.

 

 

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