Tuesday, May 26, 2015


Last year I bought a weaned litter of rabbits and raised them in a rabbit tractor that I had built, essentially a mobile pen.  The pen, about 4 feet by 7 feet with an upstairs 'penthouse,' was moved every day to fresh grass.  The bunnies grew well, had room to run and play, and ultimately provided some nice meat for the freezer. 

So this year I wanted to get a breeding pair of rabbits and start my own litters.  I built an outdoor hutch with two rooms, generously sized.  The hutch allows for lots of headroom, enough for the rabbits to stand on their hind legs, which they like to do.  From the same breeder I bought a doe and a buck.  The doe is 3/4 Flemish Giant and 1/4 American Chinchilla, while for the buck the ratios are reversed.  They are large rabbits which will produce large bunnies, what I want. 

This is the hutch that I built last winter for the doe and buck.  The doe's room is 3 feet by 3 feet.  The buck's is slightly less, 32 inches by 3 feet, but he also has a little loft above the storage area in the center where he likes to sleep.  I designed it to open up in the summer for ventilation, while it can be closed off mostly in the winter, when it will be turned to face south.

The base of the hutch is made of two 2x6 skids made of treated lumber.  It tows easily with the garden tractor.  I laid wood planks across the skids and covered them with wood shavings to collect the excrement, which goes into the compost bin.

This is the buck.  I just call him Big Guy.  He's a very laid back sort, kind of like a house cat, likes to be petted and overall very amiable.  He only has one task to perform a few times each year in order to earn his keep, so it's a good thing he is easy to get along with.

And here's another view of him.  I've been trying to get him to use the water bottle but he's a bit stubborn and I usually end up giving in and filling the water dish.

The doe, who I call 'mama,'  (not the most inventive names), was bred on May 4.  I encirled the hutch with some garden fence and put them both in the enclosure.  They took care of things from there.  I put them back in the enclosure a few days later and she had no interest in him, so I'm assuming things went well, which means babies early next month.  Here she is posing on the stand.

She is much different in temperament from the buck.  She's more active and curious and has an independent streak.  She does not like being picked up, although she is letting me pet her now, if she's in a good mood. One thing I know is, given the opportunity, she will try to make her escape.  I found that out when she was in the enclosure.

After the doe was bred I moved her to the rabbit tractor to raise her kits.  The tractor was converted to a pen by the addition of legs and skids.  I found that it is easier to bring food to the bunnies than to herd the bunnies to the upstairs room and pull the pen to a new spot every day.  Besides, if the rabbits are giving a choice of leafy greens they don't have much interest in eating grass. 

I'll put her nest box in the upstairs room in a few days.  Boards can be inserted at the entrance to the penthouse at the top of the ladder to make a barrier that the mother can jump over but not the little ones. 

What are they fed?  Rabbit pellets are reasonably priced and have all the nutrients they need, but there is also plenty of food growing near the hutches.  When I first got them they were used to eating pellets.  I introduced dandelion and plantain to their diets slowly to give their gut fauna time to adjust.  Now I give them as much fresh food as they want, and they love it. 

They get lots of wild rose, which they devour with gusto.  There is a large rose bush behind the pen and I strip off shoots and push them through the cage wire.  Thorns on the young shoots are still soft and not a problem.  I also tried giving them wild blackberry shoots.  They don't have a problem with the thorns but I do - they are nasty. 

Their favorite food is the leaves from any cole crop - broccoli, kohlrabi, etc.  They practically inhale that stuff.  Now when I pick a kohlrabi the leaves go straight to the rabbits instead of the compost bin.  Ultimately the poop finds its way to the bin, closing the circle.  I have also been cutting the field peas which are growing as a cover crop and feeding this to the rabbits.  Thinnings from the pole beans, carrot tops, beet tops, overgrown cucumbers, and scythed cover crops like buckwheat and berseem clover will all be rabbit food this summer.

The other major food source for my rabbits is willow, which grows abundantly around the pond.  I used to cut it down with a chain saw once a year, now I feed it to the rabbits.  They love willow, eat the leaves and tender shoots and gnaw on the bigger sticks for hours.  With the addition of green foods to their diet they have cut their consumption of pellets to about half of what they ate when they were brought to their new home.   In the future I will make a post on their housing, and let you know how the breeding turned out. 


Daphne Gould said...

Good luck with it all. I really don't have space for animals here, but I keep wishing for goats.

Mark Willis said...

Fascinating! You have used your construction skills to make your rabbits a real mansion. Do you butcher the carcasses yourself?

Margaret said...

I was just thinking the same thing as Mark - you are quite the carpenter!

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