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Urban side yard rabbits

 
Myron Weber
Posts: 67
Location: Orange County, CA, USA
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I've finally gotten enough of my other projects done to get going on the rabbits. Just want to give the highlights of what I'm planning and get any feedback. I want to do the best I can within my constraints.

My goals are simple: meat for 4 humans and a dog, poop for the garden, and livestock experience for my kids.

I'm in SoCal, dense suburban setting. The space I have available for rabbits is limited, but has some cool features. It's a side yard area that is enclosed on one side and one end by a 6' block wall and on the other side by my house, with a sliding door opening into this yard. The other end is open to the backyard. This is a low-traffic area, so I will add a gate to the open end to create a small rabbit run and plant this with rabbit forage. The usable area varies from 5' to 7' wide and is 24' long, but I'm still undecided on how much of that 24' will be devoted to rabbits. It would take a really determined hawk to make a run at this area - narrow space with overhangs around it. Partial sun year-round, and already water and electricity there.

On the other side of the block wall is my neighbor's seldom-used side yard, and the neighbors are cool, so no anticipated problem as long as I don't neglect my responsibilities (and share a rabbit now and then). Everything I'm doing complies with municipal code - I've read it myself.

I know that bigger is better for cages, but given my space, long and narrow is what I need to do - placing the cages along the length of the block wall and leaving a walkway between the cages and the house. It's looking like 36"L x 20"W x 24"H will work in a 2-level configuration. If I do that, I can fit up to 6 cages, which gives me room for the standard 1 buck, 2 does, plus grow-out cages, room for junior buck/doe as needed, etc. I'll start with 4 cages and add as needed. The rabbits would be able to get out into the run area at least a few hours a week, perhaps more.

So now the questions:

  • Is that cage size reasonable, or is 20"W simply too narrow (subjective question - looking for opinions)?
  • What if I go with a smaller rabbit breed?
  • Is Florida White a good choice?
  • If I'm allowing free foraging in the run and bringing in other garden greens to supplement commercial feed, how do I determine how much of each is the right amount?
  • What forage should I be planting? I have alfalfa and comfrey going already.
  • How quickly will rabbits completely devour 30-40 sq ft of forage? What I'm getting at is, if I want sustained growth, how much can I let the rabbits roam wild and free?


  • And now for the biggie:
  • Never would have thought of this except for stuff I've read here: Is there any way that in the space I have, given my goals, that I could go with bunny community living instead of individual cages? I can see possible pros and cons, but really don't know if it's worth thinking about in my setting.

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    Myron Weber
    Posts: 67
    Location: Orange County, CA, USA
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    OK - since nobody is responding, I'm wondering if maybe I overdid it with too many facts and questions in one post. Here's the short version of the most important question:

    What do you think about keeping a smallish breed of meat rabbit (like Florida White) in a cage that is 36"L x 20"W x 24"H if the rabbit is able to get out and hop around the run a few times a week?
     
    jaylyn jackson
    Posts: 1
    Location: victor mt
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    I raise cinnamons in Montana. their cage size is 30'' by 24''.
    they do fine. I think they are a great breed to start with. but
    yes you can raise Florida whites just fine in that size cage just
    fine they will be smaller and you might need to cook 2 when
    you eat rabbit goodluck (:
    also for what you need get a buck and 2 does and breed
    them at the same time it makes butchering them easier
     
    Cam Monroe
    Posts: 18
    Location: WNC Zone 6
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    The cage size is a fine minimum, I use 24W" X 48"L X 24"H for my breeder does with kits.
    I have actually gave up on keeping my bucks in closed cages, they live in 4' x 4' dog play pens with a small dog hut inside.
    It is SOOO..... much easier to clean, just move to a new location. The rabbits really enjoy being on dirt, with plants, and can dig away.
    Flordia whites are a good meat rabbit, good feed to meat ratio.
    I feed mine pellets in the winter, and a mix of pellets, and lawn clippings in the spring, summer, fall.
    They don't like the clippings from the gas mower, so I got an old fashioned reel mower with a bagger attachment.

    My wife wants to phase out the rabbits, and focus on the chickens for now.
    We have both agreed that if we decide to get back into meat rabbits in the future we would go with the colony type setup for ease of care.
    Tattoo the breeders, and collect the fryers as needed.
     
    David Miller
    Posts: 280
    Location: Harrisonburg, VA
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    Some thoughts, dogs and cats are your worry-not hawks. The breeders are probably not predated by cats but the kits are doomed. I grew 100 sq/ft of alfalfa for my colony and it added up to next to nothing for their needs. A good source of quality hay but not nearly enough nutrition to do away with pellets. My next plan is to also grow hull-less oats in any area I can find room for further nutrition supplement. Personally I loved my colony setup and would encourage you to setup paddocks instead of cages so that you can rest your rabbit plantings but also allow for free ranging (with appropriate fencing, underground included!) just some thoughts
     
    Erik Little
    Posts: 160
    Location: USDA 5b - Central IL
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    I have most of my rabbit experience from Bob Bennett's books. I raised Satin's for a period of time.

    I wished I would have done Mini satins or another mini breed. DO NOT DO TRAYS for the poop.

    Observe wild rabbits to see what they eat, I see wild rabbits eating dandelions. Plus alfalfa. You will just have to experiment for forage food ratios or check the library for some rabbit books (some have forage recipes).

    The problem with community raising IMO is you can't control breeding as well as you can with cages.
     
    Bev Huth
    Posts: 36
    Location: AR, USA
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    I prefer cages for my rabbits over colonies. Bucks will fight PERIOD and, they can and do injure each other. You can't control when the does breed and, for some does back to back litters is hard on them so, they need a recovery period after weaning kits.

    Now how to get caged rabbits into permaculture? Build rabbit tractors, your grow outs can be in those and forage. Smaller tractors are good for single rabbits too so, problem solved for me. I have my caged rabbits and, I have my rabbits foraging.

    I have dandelion, clover, timothy, Bermuda and, rye grass growing mixed here so, that's what they forage on. I do give them pellets as well and, alfalfa cubes in the winter when there isn't enough fresh forage to supplement the pellets.

    You also need chews for them since those teeth never stop growing. I give mine hickory and apple wood since we have both kinds of trees here and trimmings are easy to get for the rabbits.

    Rabbits also like mint, basil, parsley, bananas, carrots, leaf lettuce and, garlic greens (the last in moderation as too much garlic has caused anemia in animals.)
     
    Shane Gorter
    Posts: 36
    Location: Everson, WA
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    Hi Myron, I have been raising rabbits for about 5 years, the last two commercially. You should make the depth of your cages based on your reach. Unless your rabbits are super tame they will not want to be picked up and will glue themselves to the back of the cage when you open the door. Personally I have changed my cages to be all top opening as this dramatically reduces escapes. I have found 18" to be plenty in height and for my breeders I go two feet wide and my grow out pens three feet wide. I also second Erik's advice DO NOT USE TRAYS! Cleaning trays sucks and the pee will build up and make a stinky mess that will probably offend the neighbors. I have personally never raised the Florida White, at least not on purpose, I am fairly sure someone sold me one as a New Zealand white because that buck never got over 9 lbs. If food conversion ratio is your most important issue then the smaller breeds tend to be better. I personally would go with Californians if I wanted a smaller breed, however, in some parts of the country they are larger. I have fallen in love with my New Zealands I have every color of them except blue and I find they are the best for meat production.
    As far as foraging goes I do not know how people are getting away with this? I have tried many different types of rabbit tractors and colonies and I always get horrible death rates. I went to the Salatin's farm a couple years ago and saw Daniel's rabbit tractors and he uses slates that I assumed was just to be cheap, but I think what they do is keep the rabbits and inch or so off the ground. With my wire bottom rabbit tractors my rabbits would pick up parasites and die the most horrific deaths I have ever seen in livestock, curse of god kind of deaths. Some would develop paralysis starting in their hind end and kill them slowly over a couple days and others would just drop dead and start spewing worms out of their hind end. After reading about goat pasturing and keeping the forage 4-6 inches tall I thought maybe I would build a lifted rabbit tractor so that they do not graze down low where the parasites live. I haven't tested this yet and honestly after seeing how badly those rabbits died I am really trigger shy on attempting it. One thing I will highly recommend is do not allow your breeding stock to forage on the ground, experiment with the fryers and do not return a fryer to your breeding stock once they have been on the ground.
     
    David Miller
    Posts: 280
    Location: Harrisonburg, VA
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    Gotta say, 3 does and one buck in a colony WORKS really well. Personal experience. Its more humane, deep litter is closer to permaculture. Woodchips are free, I used a apx 8x10 barn built a false wall so I could build a watering/feeding station and service it without going into the colony. Put in 5 nesting boxes to ease any tensions and only had one doe on doe fight at the very beginning. Just saying, cages are zone .01 and not how I want to raise livestock imao. Its hard to point fingers at industrial ag when all you want to do is small scale mimic. I know that colonies are 'new' to most folks but they work and they're closer to permaculture than anything else I've seen except tractoring, and without the land its not an option.
     
    Shane Gorter
    Posts: 36
    Location: Everson, WA
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    I am very devoted to breaking free from the evils of industrial ag myself, but at some point you can go to far with some of these concepts. I have been raising rabbits for a while and one thing I know is they are very territorial and forcing them into a colony is going to be traumatic. It is part of their defense to stay far apart from each other in nature, if to many are in an area they will attract predators. I know that cages are not giving them great space, but when they have their own individual space it seems to me that they are much less stressed out. The other issue with having them on deep bedding is the ammonia, even if the ammonia smell is not strong to you, put for face down next to theirs and imagine breathing that air 24/7. Also the way bucks treat does I would feel horrible leaving a doe in a pen with a buck for more than a mating as they just keep humping and humping and humping, the saying humping like rabbits came around for a reason.
     
    David Miller
    Posts: 280
    Location: Harrisonburg, VA
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    Shane, I understand where you're coming from but I've got to once again say that my own real life experience bore fruit with colonies! The ammonia smell is a sure sign that you need to add more litter. To quote Salatin, if you can smell agriculture then you're doing it wrong. To once again state, my two does one buck setup worked beautifully. Ignore it if you want but it was way more humane, easier for me (I am a big fan of less work, more productivity) and solved so many problems associated with cages. I think a secondary grow out pen/colony setup might make you feel more comfortable with the system that way you could isolate your buck if you wanted to. I'd be willing to bet though you'd never use it, my does kept their buck in line. I intentionally bought a adolescent buck and two full grown does, it was perfect
     
    David Miller
    Posts: 280
    Location: Harrisonburg, VA
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    btw, the best part of the deep litter technique is that I took all my tree trimmings (with the exception of poisonous to rabbit varieties) to my rabbits and they loved them, plus it kept the litter fresh by constantly adding new carbon. Next time I'll have two colonies setup though because my litter eventually got to about 2.5 feet deep and I would have like to move the rabbits to keep them from burrowing quite so much. It worried me when I was inside the colony, didn't want to crush the little ones. My next layout will either be built in that paddock shift style or have build in raised walkways of stone so that I know where I can safely walk.
     
    Shane Gorter
    Posts: 36
    Location: Everson, WA
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    I might give it a try with some of my fryers this year. Cages are very expensive and I have some old brooders that I am decommissioning that could be turned into 5'x5' colonies. I am always interested in trying new things out with my livestock, I am a big fan of innovation. I gotta say that I am very skeptical of doing this with my breeding stock for the above mentioned reasons, but for the fryers my only concerns would be the potential to pick up parasites and the abundance of manure / pee they generate when they get close to butcher age.
     
    David Miller
    Posts: 280
    Location: Harrisonburg, VA
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    I don't think you'll regret it. Keep us posted if you do give it a shot!
     
    Cam Monroe
    Posts: 18
    Location: WNC Zone 6
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    Rabbits are very clean critters. The reason they are so easy to litter train, is because they naturally choose a designated place in their enclosure to go. A shovel, and 5 gallon bucket will make short work of the few piles....great for the garden too! Some of my rabbits are over 5 years old, and have been living on the ground their whole lives, never had parasites ever. The only time I have seen worms in a rabbit was actually fly larvae from a caged rabbit that got diarrhea from too much fresh greens too quick after a winter of pellets.
    5 foot by 5 foot is not big enough for a colony, I would want that much space per adult breeder. 20'x20' for 3 does, and a buck would be good to breed, and raise kits to harvest.
     
    David Miller
    Posts: 280
    Location: Harrisonburg, VA
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    Not sure about 'right size' for them in a colony but mine was apx 10x8 with two does and a buck and their kits of course
     
    Cam Monroe
    Posts: 18
    Location: WNC Zone 6
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    David Miller wrote:Not sure about 'right size' for them in a colony but mine was apx 10x8 with two does and a buck and their kits of course


    Seems a reasonable size.
     
    Franco Rios
    Posts: 8
    Location: Central Calif, USA
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    Are you still out there? I think your basic plan is good. Since you have a space limit caged rabbits is good way to go. I would try to have 2 bucks since nothing stops a breeding program faster than having the solo buck drop dead for no reason at all. The 20 x 36 cages would work better with smaller rabbits like Florida Whites, but I would use Dutch in those smaller cages. They are half the size (5 lbs) of the "commercial breeds" (10-11 lbs)
    which means half the feed bill. But as a breed the Dutch will raise 10-12 kits per litter, have good mothering instincts, are usually easy breeders. The two-toned fur color pattern is very popular for pets. But the real treasure is the short, cobby little bodies are like little meat bricks. They will dress out at 60% carcass after head, feet, fur, and internals removed. This means a 10 week old at 2.5 lbs will give up to 1.5 lbs of carcass (meat/bones). Commercial producers would LOVE to have consistent 60% dressout without large bones.

    Have a good day!
    Franco Rios
    Sacramento, Calif.
     
    Shane Gorter
    Posts: 36
    Location: Everson, WA
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    My New Zealands consistently dress out at 52%, dressed the way you described.
     
    Franco Rios
    Posts: 8
    Location: Central Calif, USA
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    Shane Gorter wrote:My New Zealands consistently dress out at 52%, dressed the way you described.


    52% is good. And if it is consistent then your herd is in good shape!

    There were some litters I had that did not make 50% dressout.

    Of course the NZ would need full sized cages, at least 24 x 36 if not 30 x 36

    Have a good day!
     
    Shane Gorter
    Posts: 36
    Location: Everson, WA
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    The cage dimensions I use are 24"w30"d18"h for the breeding stock and 36"w30d18h for the grow out cage which I will typically gender split the litter between two grow out cages, so 4 to 5 fryers to grow out cage. I will slaughter at roughly 12 weeks old and get an average of about 3 lbs dressed.
     
    Bridget Miskell
    Posts: 8
    Location: zone 4 Maine
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    would it be ok to but rabbits out on the lawn in a bottomless hutch or would they dig their way out ?
     
    Franco Rios
    Posts: 8
    Location: Central Calif, USA
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    Bridget Miskell wrote:would it be ok to but rabbits out on the lawn in a bottomless hutch or would they dig their way out ?


    Many people put their rabbits out to graze in bottomless cages. Usually they are called "rabbit tractors" or movable runs. The most successful ones seem to include some kind of wire floors, maybe 2"x1" or 2"x2" which allows the rabbits to graze on the grass but impedes them from digging out.

    Have a good day!
     
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