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Geoff Lawton's Rabbits

 
Darren Collins
Posts: 34
Location: Jamberoo, NSW, Australia
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I have asked this question in other forums, but not gotten much info. Apologies if you've already seen it elsewhere!

I've seen rabbits mentioned in passing in a few of geoff lawton's videos and articles, but I've not been able to find out any information on how he raises them. I understand he has them at both the Greening The Desert II site, and Zaytuna Farm.

Has anyone that has been to either site seen the rabbit setups? Could you give a brief overview?

Even better, could you give a highly detailed overview with photographs and/or video?

I'm also interested in how other people are raising rabbits in a permaculture system. The only concrete information I've been able to find so far is from VelaCreations (http://velacreations.com/), who also posts on here.
I'd love to read about more setups!

I've currently got my breeding rabbits in suspended cages, growing out the young ones in movable rabbit tractors - I've modelled my setup after Joel Salatin's. Now that I'm comfortable with their care and handling, I'd like to move towards something with a higher level of welfare.
 
Abe Connally
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Location: Chihuahua Desert
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Thanks for the mention! We used to do colony with all of our rabbits, but issues sprang up, and eventually caught up with us. We now do mini colonies in cages with attached underground shelters: http://velacreations.com/blog/374-new-rabbits.html

Tractoring/colony raising the feeders after weaning is a good idea. It gets them more exercise and exposes them to green foods. The majority of our colony issues related to adults (fighting, disease, overeating by some, dominance issues, etc).

I don't know how Geoff does his, but I imagine it's a colony setup. If you do ever go with colonies, my advice is to break them up to 2-3 does in each colony. This helps a lot with being able to control feed intake as well as fighting and territorial issues.

 
Erik Little
Posts: 160
Location: USDA 5b - Central IL
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Darren Collins wrote:I have asked this question in other forums, but not gotten much info. Apologies if you've already seen it elsewhere!

I've seen rabbits mentioned in passing in a few of Geoff Lawton's videos and articles, but I've not been able to find out any information on how he raises them. I understand he has them at both the Greening The Desert II site, and Zaytuna Farm.

Has anyone that has been to either site seen the rabbit setups? Could you give a brief overview?

Even better, could you give a highly detailed overview with photographs and/or video?

I'm also interested in how other people are raising rabbits in a permaculture system. The only concrete information I've been able to find so far is from VelaCreations (http://velacreations.com/), who also posts on here.
I'd love to read about more setups!

I've currently got my breeding rabbits in suspended cages, growing out the young ones in movable rabbit tractors - I've modelled my setup after Joel Salatin's. Now that I'm comfortable with their care and handling, I'd like to move towards something with a higher level of welfare.


I just posted about asking for a podcast about how Joel raises his rabbits...can you give me some more info on his method?
 
Darren Collins
Posts: 34
Location: Jamberoo, NSW, Australia
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I'm gathering the info together (with references to YouTube clips, blog posts, photos, books, etc) to eventually write a blog post on how I think Joel Salatin (actually Daniel, his son, runs the rabbit holon) raises his rabbits. I'm working from memory here:

They keep their breeding rabbits in suspended wire cages in hoop-houses through the winter. They call these structures "raken houses" - a useful search term if you want to learn more. Chickens are on the ground under the rabbit cages, cleaning up dropped food, scratching through rabbit manure, and generally spreading and mixing everything into the wood chip bedding. The rabbits are fed unmedicated alfalfa (lucerne) pellets, hay, and cut-and-carry fresh greens.

Most people seem to report that the Salatins' breeders are kept in the cages in the raken house year-round, but then I've seen others claim that the pregnant does are kept on pasture until they're due to kindle. I kind of doubt the second - it sounds like a misunderstanding from people without rabbit experience wanting to believe it's all sunshine and roses. The pregnant does would all need individual cages, moved to fresh grass daily, and given the number the Salatins would be raising, it would take a lot of management (human labour).

In winter the raken house is closed up and warm, in summer both ends are opened up for ventilation.

The young rabbits are weaned at about 5 weeks, when they are moved into the rabbit tractors. They are kept in cages for a week between weaning and tractoring, just to help them adjust and to better keep an eye on them. This is the period they're most susceptible to coccidiosis, so it pays to be vigilant.

The rabbit tractors are 3 feet wide and 8 feet long, and 2 feet high, and accommodate 10 rabbits. They have wire sides, a solid hinged top (to keep rain off and allow access by humans), and wood slats (2" apart) for the floor. Slats are much better than wire floors - when you drag the cage, the grass will stand up between the slats. When you drag a wire-bottomed tractor, all the grass is pushed flat and the rabbits won't each much of it. The rabbits will gnaw the slats, but you just replace them periodically as needed - they should last several years at least.

The tractors are moved to fresh grass daily, sometimes twice a day if the rabbits are really going through the grass. The pasture provides about 25-40% of the rabbits' diet, with the rest made up of pellets.

The young rabbits are slaughtered at about 12 weeks old, once they've reached market weight (4-5 pounds live, 3 pounds dressed).

At slaughtering time, Daniel also chooses breeders to keep. If he identifies a good litter (healthy, good size, fast-growing, no illnesses), he'll kill all of one gender first. If they dress out well and look good inside (healthy organs etc), he'll keep the best of their other-gender siblings as breeding stock. If they're not perfect, he'll just slaughter the rest and move on to the next litter.

They don't have a specific breed of rabbit - Daniel started many years ago (I think he was about 7 at the time!) with whatever rabbits he could get his hands on. He has bred for good production characteristics (size, growth rate, loin length, meat quality, etc), health (low pest and disease incidence) and pasturing ability (many breeds/strains of rabbits can't handle pasturing and get gastro-intestinal problems). He has bought in new breeding stock over the years to improve his herd as well.

I was at a talk by Joel where he admitted quite frankly that rabbits are the area of his enterprise that give him the most concerns about animal welfare. He needs to keep the breeding stock separated or they'll fight (although others report success with small colonies, I suspect it might be harder to manage at scale), and suspended cages really help with cleanliness (manure, urine and old food falls right through). But he has a lot of demand for rabbit meat, so he produces it the best way he knows how.

Phew, that was longer than I expected!

Anyone who has seen Joel's setup, please correct me if I've got anything wrong! This is just my imperfect recollection from a whole bunch of sources over several years.

And please, if you can suggest improvements over this approach, I'm all ears. I'm off to read Abe's info now...
 
Abe Connally
Posts: 1502
Location: Chihuahua Desert
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Darren Collins wrote:This is the period they're most susceptible to coccidiosis, so it pays to be vigilant.

Coccidiosis happens when the feed and manure/urine are in close contact. Usually, it's when rabbits have been in one spot for a while and are eating off the ground.

Darren Collins wrote:He needs to keep the breeding stock separated or they'll fight (although others report success with small colonies, I suspect it might be harder to manage at scale)

males can't be kept together beyond breeding age or they'll fight. Does establish dominance, and most of the time, the dominant doe won't have to fight much, but in large colonies, you have several dominant does, and they can fight, if there's not enough space. Smaller colonies are better, of 2-3 does. You'll have 1 doe establish herself, and then they'll be good (for the most part).

The only way you can keep a male with other rabbits is to move him from cage to cage. Otherwise, you have uncontrolled breeding and fighting (does will kill an unwelcome male in their territory)

Darren Collins wrote:Anyone who has seen Joel's setup, please correct me if I've got anything wrong! This is just my imperfect recollection from a whole bunch of sources over several years.

that's how I remember his setup from the several sources that have seen it.

When you have growing grass, you can tractor the feeders, but for a lot of people, that's 6 months (at most). We try and give poultry access to the manure area under cages, and establish an earthworm colony there, too.

Rabbits die in heat, and even high 80Fs will stop them from reproducing. They evolved in contact with the ground, and for proper temperature control, they need burrows. Cages won't do it, and anywhere that has a warm to hot summer (the majority of the US), you'll need a way to cool rabbits in cages. I would NEVER put a rabbit in a greenhouse in my climate. We are in a fairly hot climate, so we provide underground burrows for the rabbits (especially breeders) so they can control their temperature.

Some people use AC, frozen water bottles, and all sorts of fans, swamp coolers, etc to manage the heat from rabbits. But, if you give them burrow space, they will be fine, and even in Egypt (120F+ temps), they can keep rabbits if they allow burrow space.

Our underground shelters are made from brick, and that's the "house" of each cage. The brick shelters are buried in the side of the hill, and they stay a constant temperature (65-70F) year round.

Here's how we made them: Underground Rabbit Shelters



 
R Scott
Posts: 3305
Location: Kansas Zone 6a
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I do remember Joel saying (not sure if it was on YouTube, in a book, or in person) that they had [SHOCKINGLY] high mortality rates at first trying to get a pasturable stock. Good thing you can get multiple generations a year, or they would still be at it.
 
Darren Collins
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Location: Jamberoo, NSW, Australia
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Awesome, thanks for the extra info, Abe. I like your underground houses, and am thinking about how I might incorporate something like that into my setup. I don't have a barn, and the lay of my land would require quite a bit of excavation. I really like the idea, though, and need something like that for my climate.

R Scott, Joel said that at the talk I was at too. In fact, he said that happens with all kinds of livestock. Modern animals generally don't have a lot of natural resilience, since they've been kept alive with antibiotics etc for many generations. He said that when you try to raise them more naturally, they'll get worms and other illnesses, and you'll have high mortality rates. The stronger ones will survive and breed, though, and pass on their natural immunities and vigour to the next generation. Before long, you'll have much-improved genetics in your flock/herd, and will no longer need to rely on medications.
 
Isabelle Gendron
Posts: 173
Location: Montmagny, Québec, Canada (zone 4b)
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Hi everybody,

I was gathering infos about rabbit that I like to incorporate in the system, first for meat, and second for fertilizing. But everytime I was looking for infos about free ranging rabbit it looks like always a problem. Like several said here: disease, fight, death etc. But in some country, you have rabbit living naturally so I guess it is possible.

regarding desease, I am convince, like J, Salatin was saying, that after a couple of generation, you will have a more stronger breeds. Less proe to desease of all type. You will also probably have speciment that can forage better, like my chicken. But the main concern is keeping Buck and does together. Since I have no experience with that, it is hard for me to find a solution. But again, in the wild, how do they cop with that? There is a solution...I'm sure...I think I will give it a try...

Isabelle
 
David Miller
Posts: 280
Location: Harrisonburg, VA
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That's why I started my rabbitry from does that had been born on pasture! There's a farm about an hour from me that pastures and they had great stock!
 
R Scott
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Location: Kansas Zone 6a
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The solution is SPACE. A buck learns very quickly to stay away from the doe's den, so as long as he has his own man-cave things usually go OK. Some bucks will try to kill the young, but that isn't usually a problem if you have enough space and a good doe. If it is, then you have a decision to make about the buck--sell, separate, or supper.



 
Isabelle Gendron
Posts: 173
Location: Montmagny, Québec, Canada (zone 4b)
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David, you are right about this. But here, honestly, I don't know anybody that would even think of raising free range rabbit. SO I guess I will be the first one.

Thank you R Scott. Now that I know the right expression * colony raising* I found some more infos. ANd I am sure about space. Since I have a lot, it shouldn't be a problem. Even for winter time, I would have space in the barn for them...But my objectiv would be to have them stay outside for winter also.

Now the feed....I do my own mix for my chicken and during summer they eat almost only outside....I feed only once a day at night and mainly wheat and corn for now. But My other concern would have them (rabbit) to eat only what is outside like hare here. I could even manage to have the fence partially in the wood so it could be possible for them to eat some leafs berries etc...

Hummmm looking for electic fence or just a netting for now..

The ex owner of the house was telling me that when she was young, her father was leting the rabbit outside freeranging all day and at night they would put them in the barn...so maybe they would stay close? or I won't necessarely need an electric netting?

Anyway, the best thing is try it and natural selection will occur..

Now the best breed??

Isabelle
 
Abe Connally
Posts: 1502
Location: Chihuahua Desert
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one of the issues with does and bucks together (besides the does trying to castrate the buck), is that the buck will often breed the doe a day or so after kindling. This means the doe never gets a break from breeding. It's so much easier to keep a buck separate, and it avoids most issues.
 
Isabelle Gendron
Posts: 173
Location: Montmagny, Québec, Canada (zone 4b)
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Thank you Abe.

Nice reflexion to make.

Isabelle
 
David Miller
Posts: 280
Location: Harrisonburg, VA
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Abe, good point. I had that problem, I'm rebuilding my rabbitry (moved) and will be building a few growout pens to put in the garden for both weened kits and bucks for when the does need a break. It was one of my only issues with my colony setup. My does managed but I knew it was an unsustainable pace.
 
Abe Connally
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Location: Chihuahua Desert
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we ran colonies for several years, always had the bucks separated. Eventually, though, the lack of individual control and increased disease vectors pushed us towards cages for breeders, though our cages connect to give us mini colonies in cages (2-3 does that can roam between cages). We still do colonies for growers.
 
I agree. Here's the link: https://richsoil.com/wood-heat.jsp
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