Saturday, June 20, 2015

Rabbits on Pasture

Let me be frank: I hate cages.

I realize they are necessary in domestic animals for safety and cleanliness in most setups, but I am just not a fan. Not for dogs, horses, rabbits, etc. I think cages are very widely available, convenient and overused.

To me, a much better choice is fencing. Animals, like people, need room. Room to exercise, room to eat, room to breathe. When I was at the vet yesterday with my dog for her annual shots and senior bloodwork, the people next to me were talking about how long their dogs can stay in their crate without fussing and it made me sad. It's one thing if a dog needs to be crated because you are having a child's birthday party and are worried the dog could knock someone over or get out the open front door. It is an entirely different thing when the dog crate is used to hold the dog out of the way for convenience day after day. I use my dog's crate for feeding them separately and when I need them in there for their own safety (ie we are moving a huge table out the front door or whatever). Otherwise they stay out with us as part of the family. And not to toot my own horn, but out of the 20+ dogs there, my dog was the best behaved and the most calm. She was a perfect ambassador to her breed, which are notoriously difficult to train and high energy.

So, our rabbits spend a lot of time in their cages out of necessity. We don't have a setup for them on pasture and there are a lot of problems with rabbits on grass from coccidia, toxic plants, escapes, predation, etc.

Despite this, I still want to start trialing pasture raised rabbits. It is one of my new goals for the upcoming year. Hopefully we will have additional acreage for them, but even if we don't, we will be building some modified rabbit tractors that will be a work in process. The goal is to keep mamas/new babies in their extra large cages because I have read that kits are most susceptible to coccidiosis when they are still nursing and shortly after. So I'll probably wean the babies (but mama can go to pasture) and then a week or two later move the babies to a pasture grow-out pen. The goal will be not to use the same spot of grass twice in a 12 month period, so they will be rotated frequently somewhere new. There will have to be slats or something on the bottom to keep them from getting out underneath and there will have to be a top or the hawks will make short work of my project (they nest in the trees on the hills behind my house).

This isn't all for them though- it is also for us. I hate cleaning trays. I also would like to see more muscle development and I think exercise will contribute to his more than anything else we could do with diet or care. I butchered an older doe last week and was absolutely shocked and appalled at how much internal fat she had. No wonder she wouldn't take when she was bred! She looked and felt good from the outside, but the inside was just fat with fat on top. She was only getting 1 cup/day of pellets and random hay/grass/garden extras, so now my adult does are only getting 1/2c and we will see how it goes. I think pasture raised rabbits will also reduce the feed bill and will contribute to better fitness overall.

We don't have our rabbit tractor design yet because honestly most that we've found for ideas were failures. One blog even scrapped the whole design after escapees and losses over the course of a year. We are hoping to have better results, but no way to know until we try! So for now we are researching and letting our rabbits exercise outside with supervision when we can, which is better than nothing, but still leaves us with plenty of room for improvement. Hope everyone is having a great weekend!


  1. I dislike cages too. We are actually planning a new set up, now that we have some land. I want to model it after the first rabbit pen my dad built for me back in 1994. That one was livestock fence on t-posts to create a 10x10 pen with a chicken coop style shelter. I kept rabbits like that until my family moved, never had a loss and I don't recall any health issues. Of course I don't remember my first several rabbits ever being sick.

    What Brandon and I are planning is to buy premade 6Hx8L privacy fence panels to create a 16x16' pen, put chicken wire along the inside bottom to prevent digging (although my first rabbits never dug except to expose fresh dirt to cool themselves), and cover the entire structure with hawk netting. We have an area of the yard that stays shaded all day that should work for the bunnies.

    1. Oh I can't wait to see the new pen! We have seen so many people saying they have problems with their designs that we haven't settled on one yet, but I was thinking we need wire along the inside to prevent escape and shade for sure like you are planning. I think the rabbits and I would both be a lot happier with them having their own space to do rabbity things. :)