Katie's Journal

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Rabbit Colony

by @ 12:08 pm on May 11, 2010.

For several months now, I’ve been obsessed with the idea of raising meat rabbits. Ern likes rabbit meat (I’ve only tried it once but remember liking it), and I’m totally stuck on the idea of having a continual source of adorable baby bunnies. With the dairy as it is right now, I have no extra funds to set this up. So I’ve been researching and plotting like crazy deciding how I want to do this, and how feasible it actually is.

From my research, I really, really like the idea of raising rabbits in a colony instead of cages. For all that they will end up the table, I want them to be happy rabbits during the time I have them. From what I’ve read, rabbits in a colony are also fun to watch interact and enjoy the space. Colonies are not as cost effective as cages since you can’t stack them and so have relatively a lot fewer rabbits in the same space, but I think it will work out great for me. My fun will be in raising and watching them.

In my wanderings I’ve come up with some resources that are proving really helpful. The Rabbit Talk message board has forums for both colony raising and meat rabbits. The Homesteading Today message board only has one general rabbit forum, but there are several members who have colonies and most do raise at least some rabbits for meat. That message board also has great info on all kinds of other things from chickens and cows to bees to quilting – pretty much anything to do with homesteading. I really like both these forums as it seems like there are a number of knowledgeable people, and you don’t get blasted for actually daring to breed or, worse actually butcher rabbits. One other site I’ve enjoyed reading has been the blog Palazzo Rospo, which is the blog of the user turtlehead on the above two forums. She and her family moved to WV to create their own little homestead, and her blog documents her progress as they get up and running. She has a nice outdoor colony set up, and provides good information about what she’s gone through to get it going.

One big difference I’m facing is that most colonies are set up outside. This presents its own challenges, as the rabbits do dig burrows and can dig out under the fence if you don’t bury it deep enough. While I’m sure this makes the rabbits happy I don’t really fancy trying to catch babies that can run in underground burrows. Regardless, I can’t seem to find an outside space that I like to set up a colony. I’ve been looking at spaces inside that might work, and I think I’ve finally settled for a spot under the calf barn. Luckily it already has a concrete floor so the rabbits can’t dig out.  The next three pictures show the location I have picked out. It needs cleaned out and a pen made, so you have to use a good bit of imagination yet about how it would look when finished.

This first picture shows the path into the area for the rabbits – they will be well in and to the left, across from another big door that opens out to the right.

The next picture shows what I refer to above as the big door to the right. The rabbits will be straight back in from this door. It does have a sliding door that will close for the winter.

This last picture shows the actual area I have in mind. The colony would go along the support beams in the right on the picture to the back wall where the feeder starts, and then around against the wall on the left.

The end result of this would be a 16′ x 16′ space. My thought is to enclose it with dog kennel panels, which would give me an easy entrance gate, then run something like chicken wire around the bottom two feet (to keep in the kits), and chicken wire from the top of the kennel on up to the ceiling, to keep out the coons and other evil rabbit eaters. There is one support beam in the middle that needs jacked up, and then wrapped with wire to keep the rabbits from chewing on it. I’m figuring to keep three does and all resulting babies in this space. I’ll advertise the babies for sale at 8 weeks, and whatever isn’t sold by 11-12 weeks will end up on the table.

I’ve really debated whether or not to leave the buck in the colony, and I think I’m coming down to keeping him in his own cage beside the colony. Some people have good luck keeping the buck in the colony and still ending up with a nice spacing, and not an overabundance, of litters. Others have tried it, and end up having does that breed back right off all the time, and don’t get enough of a rest between litters. I haven’t 100% ruled out keeping the buck in the colony, but at this point I’m strongly leaning to not. Mainly I don’t want to end up with three litters at once and an overcrowded pen. If all goes according to plan and I space out breedings, I’m hoping I won’t end up too overcrowded (especially when I add nest boxes and hide-holes, and other things they can jump on top of for extra room).

So, there’s my rabbit plan. I’m hoping maybe by fall the dairy will start to look up, and I can find the funds for this project. I need lead time on the rabbits anyway, since finding adult new zealands around here is next to impossible (I haven’t seen any yet), so I’d have to start with little ones and raise them up to breeding age.

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