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Are hutches inhumane?

 
dan long
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Rabbits seem like a useful addition to the homestead. They eat grasses that I would otherwise throw in the compost bin and breed prolifically. Problem I'm having is it just doesn't seem like they would be able to express their "rabbitness" the way a chicken could express "chickenness" in a large run, paddock or range.

What are your thoughts? Lots of you raise rabbits and don't seem to have a moral objection to it. What makes it ok to give rabbits so little space, up of the ground but not ok to put chickens in those little cages in the egg factory? Do rabbits have a different nature that makes them more suitable to confinement? Or am I grossly misunderstanding what a rabbit hutch is supposed to look like?
 
Matu Collins
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I would never keep rabbits up off the ground. I have a movable rabbit pen that we move along the nice grass/clover/polyculture

I've decided to hold of on any more rabbits for now for various reasons. They do seem to express their rabbit nature in my setup but only until they reach maturity.
 
Jay C. White Cloud
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Hi Dan, et al,

This is a quandary, for many animal species keep in captivity for many reasons from permaculture to zoological garden. Having a solid background in both those arenas I can share that my personal observation are we humans spend an exorbitant amount of time debating amongst ourselves about...what our 'kindred wee folk" are "thinking and feeling." This all to often is saturated with anthropomorphic extremes and mindsets that project "human affects" where there are none. We...living beings that is...on this plant have commonalities within shared ethologies/physiologies. I feel that until we (few can or will do this) actually learn to "live like," with or through an animals perspective...will ever achieve much understanding what may, or may not be taking place within their level and/or mode of comprehension.

It could, and has been said...that if a species lives a long, healthy (body and mind) and reproductive life...most (if not all) their needs have been met within an given enclosure systems. I have kept rabbits off the ground in hutches...and on the ground in a more natural warren system...and when presented with a chance for "greater freedom," many opt for the safety and security of there hutch or other enclosure. Could this be an aberrancy of there base line ethology...yes...or, it could just indicate they are more than pleased with the conditions with which they have been given to live...

This is just a common view of many folks that work intimately with animals...others do indeed feel much different...some extremely so. I do believe we can all agree that it is often "over thought" and too many folks "project" personal beliefs and feelings onto those animals around them...many of which are clearly not there...in my opinion.

That's just my take on it...do what makes you and your bunnies happy...

 
Dawn Hoff
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I've seen the same argument for factory chickens by people who have raised "free range" chickens who then prefered the relative safety and convenience if the stable (ie never venturing outside if they could help it). Much of that depends on the breed of the chicken and the outside conditions of the pasture IMO.

I would not raise rabbits in small cages, and I am thinking very hard about how I can raise rabbits so that their instincts to dig etc are met, without them escaping the pen... If I can't do that I'd rather catch the wither ails roaming my property and eat those, than raise myself.
 
R Scott
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I think you can draw (limited) parallels to human behavior. Sitting on a couch eating chips all day is not the true expression of a man, but many are happy doing it and do not want to change.
 
Abe Connally
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There are many rabbits breeders that argue that keeping rabbits on the ground is inhumane, because of the numerous issues it can lead to. I've raised rabbits numerous ways, and I cans say for certain, that large cages with underground components/shelters work much better for us than pens on the ground or tractors. The rabbits are healthier, more lively, and perform a lot better. We have less disease and less deaths. We still tractor growing rabbits in the summer, but there is little difference in a large grow out cage and a large rabbit tractor.

I think the size and conditions of the hutch should be considered to properly answer the OP question. We have doors on our cages so that rabbits can between cages and increase social contact. All of our cages have underground burrows, as well. The cages increase hygiene and reducing disease and parasite vectors.

"rabbitness" is significantly different than "chickenness". They are different animals. Rabbits don't roam far from the warren. They don't migrate, they stay near the warren and eat grass. Compare that with chickens that constantly roam. Now, to the point about rabbits in small cages vs battery cages for chickens, the space difference is significant. Even in commercial rabbit setups, they usually have 1 animal per cage. In a chicken setup, that same cage will hold 5 or more chickens.

Rabbits can be kept a variety of ways, but most people select cages because they work well.
 
dan long
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Matu Collins wrote:I would never keep rabbits up off the ground. I have a movable rabbit pen that we move along the nice grass/clover/polyculture

I've decided to hold of on any more rabbits for now for various reasons. They do seem to express their rabbit nature in my setup but only until they reach maturity.


I was under the impression that rabbits will dig out of a run or a tractor. Is your ability to keep them in a pen a breed specific thing or am I under false impression?
 
Abe Connally
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dan long wrote:

I was under the impression that rabbits will dig out of a run or a tractor. Is your ability to keep them in a pen a breed specific thing or am I under false impression?


If you bury fence 12-18", they can't dig out. Most tractors have some sort of floor. (we use 2" wire mesh)
 
Matu Collins
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Abe Connally wrote:

I was under the impression that rabbits will dig out of a run or a tractor. Is your ability to keep them in a pen a breed specific thing or am I under false impression?



Yes, our rabbit tractors have 2" wire mesh too. It's hard to see in this photo, which gives an idea how nicely the grass and clover poke up through the mesh for the rabbits to nibble
 
Ivan Weiss
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The incidence of predators is always a factor in these decisions, too. it's no fun at all to have any small livestock in which you have invested time, money, and care wiped out in an instant.
 
Abe Connally
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Ivan Weiss wrote:The incidence of predators is always a factor in these decisions, too. it's no fun at all to have any small livestock in which you have invested time, money, and care wiped out in an instant.


This is certainly true. When we had rabbits in colonies, we lost a lot to snakes.
 
dan long
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Abe Connally wrote:

If you bury fence 12-18", they can't dig out. Most tractors have some sort of floor. (we use 2" wire mesh)


Now i'm having fantasies of an army of rabbits keeping the crab grass in the berry patch under control.

Maybe i'm over thinking this, but I have a general idea of how to make a straight fence but I cant imagine how I would bury the mesh and make the fence straight. Would I dig a trench and put the posts and wire in the same trench? Would I bury the posts then make a trench next to them? I'm not seeing a lot of useful information on google which makes me suspect i'm over thinking this.
 
Abe Connally
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dan long wrote:
Now i'm having fantasies of an army of rabbits keeping the crab grass in the berry patch under control.

if by under control you mean eat every last blade, then yeah, they'll do that. They'll get it down to bare dirt in no time!

Put the posts and wire in the trench. Alternatively, you can fill the trench with concrete or sheet metal.
 
Bill Ramsey
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I built hutches with wooden floors with cracks between the floor boards even though I knew they could get chewed on or rot if not kept dry enough. Also they are much larger bays than a commercial pen, approximately 3'×8' each with a wire door on one end and a solid plywood door on the other. A poop pan in the back by the plywood door and the nest box nearer the front where the food and water is. I actually have put two or three on the ground (inside the surrounding chicken coop wiring) and have seen them trying to get back into the hutch. Not because of being harassed by the chickens but for the company of the other rabbits. I had placed one on the ground because I had delayed the harvest too long and ran out of available bays. The coop was not really complete and the gate was usually open during the day for yard access. The rabbit would head out to graze and get back into the perceived "home" when it got ready to. Predators were not being a problem at the time and we had already corrected neighborhood dog issues. I had a nest box set on end outside one bay door and noticed that the rabbit would jump onto it, prop it's front feet on the hutch door and visit with the inhabitants. I left the door open one day to see what it would do and the rabbit chose to be in the hutch.
 
Tina Paxton
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I know some folks are put off by the thought of rabbits living on wire. In some (or all?) countries in Europe, it is against the law to use wire floors, instead, they use a "deep litter" system. Here in the US, it is not illegal to have wire floors and for most (except the giant breeds) rabbits, there are no issues with wire floors hurting their feet. There are all sorts of "resting boards" that folks use to give the rabbit "relief" from the wire. I've offered several types of such resting boards and I can tell you that my rabbits reject them completely (except for the grass mats which they proceeded to eat). That said, my rabbits will make hay carpets for themselves when it gets cold. I give them large handfuls of bermuda hay when I know the overnight temps will be low. If I'm wrong, the rabbits eat the hay. If I'm right, they eat some and mat down the rest to sit on. Once the cold spell is over, the hay magically un-mats and finds it's way to the ground below.

My rabbits love to play with pine cones and toilet paper rolls filled with hay. Mostly, though, they sleep, eat, and (in the cooler months) have the occasional baby making session. They live a good life safe from predators and filled with all their favorite things -- like roses.
 
Bryant RedHawk
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We have a fenced in area that is about 1/4 acre just for the rabbits. they have a house that is not unlike a coop, nesting boxes on the floor with space between them, fresh water and treats. mostly they stay outside the house and yes, they burrow, but none have escaped to the outside world so far. I gave them plenty of room so they would not feel crowded which usually leads to escapes. Our method came with my wife, from Canada, where she raised rabbits this same way, except for the enclosure size. Her previous set up was smaller and on that farm, there are many escapee rabbits running free, from digging out. Her mentioning that, is why I choose to give a lot of space to the rabbits. I have plans to add some simple A frame hides to their space, that will help in giving them a place to hide from the hawks. The dogs are good at keeping the ground dwelling predators away, and their pen surrounds the rabbit pen.
 
Su Ba
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In Hawaii it's illegal to have rabbits on the ground. My own rabbits are in 2'x5' hutches with a 2'x2' shelf they can jump up on for lounging. They get hay cubes 24 hours a day, plus a wide assortment of greens, veggies, fruits, and fruit tree twigs. Once or twice a week they have access to a 3'x10' grazing pen for several hours. This pen is built so that it is 1 1/2"(the width of a standard 2x4) above the ground with a mesh floor that the grass can grow up through. With the wire not touching the soil, it satisfies Hawaii law. It also happens to keep the grass from being killed by close nibbling. Thus the rabbits have constantly growing fresh graze and someplace new to explore once to twice a week.

Are hutches inhumane? I guess it depends upon the hutch, plus whatever amusement and distractions the rabbits have access to. Sort of like our human nursing homes. Are nursing homes inhumane? I would venture to say that some are far worse than my rabbits' hutches. Funny thing, I seldom see any public outcries about two humans crammed in a 12'x12' room, seldom ever leaving that room except for meals, if at that. My father was in a nursing home for 3 months until I could arrange to get back permanently to help care for him at home. He was taken out of his nursing home room only 6 times during that 90 days. No TV for distraction. No being taken to the dining hall for meals. Pretty horrid and I was told that this was standard treatment. No....my rabbits in their hutch system get far more humane treatment.
 
Matu Collins
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Su Ba wrote:In Hawaii it's illegal to have rabbits on the ground. My own rabbits are in 2'x5' hutches with a 2'x2' shelf they can jump up on for lounging. They get hay cubes 24 hours a day, plus a wide assortment of greens, veggies, fruits, and fruit tree twigs. Once or twice a week they have access to a 3'x10' grazing pen for several hours. This pen is built so that it is 1 1/2"(the width of a standard 2x4) above the ground with a mesh floor that the grass can grow up through. With the wire not touching the soil, it satisfies Hawaii law. It also happens to keep the grass from being killed by close nibbling. Thus the rabbits have constantly growing fresh graze and someplace new to explore once to twice a week.

Are hutches inhumane? I guess it depends upon the hutch, plus whatever amusement and distractions the rabbits have access to. Sort of like our human nursing homes. Are nursing homes inhumane? I would venture to say that some are far worse than my rabbits' hutches. Funny thing, I seldom see any public outcries about two humans crammed in a 12'x12' room, seldom ever leaving that room except for meals, if at that. My father was in a nursing home for 3 months until I could arrange to get back permanently to help care for him at home. He was taken out of his nursing home room only 6 times during that 90 days. No TV for distraction. No being taken to the dining hall for meals. Pretty horrid and I was told that this was standard treatment. No....my rabbits in their hutch system get far more humane treatment.


The point about nursing homes is very valid. Also prisons and detention centers. And schools, sometimes!
 
Bryant RedHawk
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Su Ba, very good points. indeed. My Grandfather kept his rabbits in hutches, they were inside the hunting dog pen, the rabbits had plenty of space and distractions, were not bothered by the dogs either. I am fortunate to be able to raise our rabbits sort of free range, at least that's what I call it. I built this setup strictly by my wife's desire. We had looked at several hutch setup ideas but in the end she wanted to let them roam, if it was possible. Since it isn't illegal in Arkansas to have domesticated rabbits on the ground, it is the way we went. Granted, we gave them a lot of space, but we also have plenty of wild rabbits on our land, along with deer and turkey. I totally agree with you on the inhuman treatment of seniors in nursing homes, I've had to deal with some of that. Hope you weren't pounded by the hurricanes.

I totally believe that the conditions of any rabbit habitat reflect the type of keeper. Either your a nurturing care taker or your a production type. I have been fortunate to have only found one production only type of keeper in my learning curve on rabbit keeping.
 
Michael Radelut
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To anyone who thinks that 'rabbitness' always includes burrowing, the following might be interesting:
When the domestic rabbit came to northern Europe a long time ago, it was the people who had to do the burrowing for them - the animals were too weak to dig for themselves, and not really adapted to cold!
The sites of those old rabbitries can still be visited, and drawings of the above-ground mounds designed for them exist.
Only after many generations did both cold-hardiness and ability to dig - together with increased aggression towards fellow rabbits (useful against disease vectors) - become "second nature" to them.
 
Rachel Watersong
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OP, I have a strong opinion here formed from decades of living with pet rabbits. My pet bunnies are house pets, so I have the kind of relationship with them that most folks have with a dog or cat. BUT, they are not dogs and cats-- they do certainly have "rabbit-ness" that they express by running full-tilt through the house at 4 in the morning, nibbling on anything with a corner, playfully hopping away from me (we call this slow-hop game "chase the bunny"), pouncing on the cat, flopping dramatically in a patch of sunshine, carefully investigating any change in furniture arrangement. They love to be "bad" and do things that they are not supposed to do (I know that last is anthorpomorphization, but I haven't figured out what that behavior actually translates to in bunny terms. They clearly enjoy the playfulness of chewing something then dashing away from it when I enter the room). When they are happy, they jump in the air and do a "binky" like this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NZgsMCRxXnI

In short, I don't think rabbits can express their true nature in a cage. They love to run. They love to jump in the air. They LOVE to explore new places. The key is, they will only do these things if they are in an environment that feels safe. Rabbits who live in cages turn into dull lumps, just like some people who are stuck in the same room all day (see the earlier mention of nursing homes and prisons, and how humans will sometimes choose to remain in confinement).

It worries me that most permies are very concerned with the happiness of their chickens and pigs, but don't seem aware that keeping a rabbit in a cage is limiting in many of the same ways.

For more info about what rabbits are like when they live in houses, see: http://rabbit.org/
 
Joe Camarena
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This is the best post I have ever read on Permies. Thank you!

Joe

Jay C. White Cloud wrote:Hi Dan, et al,

This is a quandary, for many animal species keep in captivity for many reasons from permaculture to zoological garden. Having a solid background in both those arenas I can share that my personal observation are we humans spend an exorbitant amount of time debating amongst ourselves about...what our 'kindred wee folk" are "thinking and feeling." This all to often is saturated with anthropomorphic extremes and mindsets that project "human affects" where there are none. We...living beings that is...on this plant have commonalities within shared ethologies/physiologies. I feel that until we (few can or will do this) actually learn to "live like," with or through an animals perspective...will ever achieve much understanding what may, or may not be taking place within their level and/or mode of comprehension.

It could, and has been said...that if a species lives a long, healthy (body and mind) and reproductive life...most (if not all) their needs have been met within an given enclosure systems. I have kept rabbits off the ground in hutches...and on the ground in a more natural warren system...and when presented with a chance for "greater freedom," many opt for the safety and security of there hutch or other enclosure. Could this be an aberrancy of there base line ethology...yes...or, it could just indicate they are more than pleased with the conditions with which they have been given to live...

This is just a common view of many folks that work intimately with animals...others do indeed feel much different...some extremely so. I do believe we can all agree that it is often "over thought" and too many folks "project" personal beliefs and feelings onto those animals around them...many of which are clearly not there...in my opinion.

That's just my take on it...do what makes you and your bunnies happy...

 
Raine Hogan
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I think my set up is a blending of both worlds.

I have an 8'x12' house (we call it the chikee - Mayan & Hitchiti word for woven container and house) for the rabbits and chickens. The rabbits have their cages on the north wall with one above the other with a deflector between to keep spills from falling into the lower cages; they are 2' deep x 3' long and 2' high. Each has a shelf that acts as the roof to their safe zone/house area. The botton row of cages has dividers in the walls between two cages that can be opened so that as the kits get older, two cages can become one larger cage until the kits are weaned and mom needs and wants her own space again. The door is shut, but the babies can still see mom from their shelf, to reduce seperation anxiety.
Then the genders get seperated and put into the upper cages until sold or culled.

This leaves an 8'x12' floor open for use. I have a gate to divide the area in half and we have bricks guards as a perimeter on the outside walls. This area becomes the play zone for the bunnies. They can run, play and hide (5 gallon buckets and cardboard boxes to hop onto and in). They love it. When I open the doors for my does in the lower cages they can jump down, run around, play and explore (toys and new hidey areas) until they get ready and jump back into their cages. I make sure the gate is locked and that only the does are out in their areas while the bucks are in their cages. Then, after the does are locked up, I can put a buck in each area to explore and play. I found out the hard way that one of my does can climb the plywood gate (who knew she would imitate a squirrel) and she got to my dwarf buck. No damage, but when she got tired of being mated, and couldn't get back over the gate, I found her lying on him and pinning him to the ground. So the play area is seen as neutral ground and my famales will mate there as well.

It is hilarious to watch the baby bunnies the first time they get to play in that huge space. Running, kicking, and jumping like little kids turned loose from the last day of school.
And they are so happy to go back to their cage a few hours later, after being worn out from all of the fun. I usually find them all cuddled up in a box, asleep, and just pick up the box and put them back into their cage as a whole.

I also have all of them trained to come to me when I make a smoochy sound. They know that its treat time, usually black oil sunflower seeds, but sometimes apple peel or other fav treats. This makes it easier to catch them up and put them back into their cages or when its time to handle them for health checks or grooming.

Oh, and 2 of my does were given to me last year because they were aggressive towards other rabbits and people. They were being raised in tractors on a small acreage. Since that time, both does have calmed down and have been wonderful towards me and my grandkids when we handle them. The worst one, Midnight, even let me get her out of her cage and groom her while pregnant - a time when even my sweetest does get ornery. I think its because they feel safe in their cages and have come to trust me.
 
Niele da Kine
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I've noticed that when the rabbits get out of their hutch, they rarely go very far from it and are really anxious to get back with their friends. I suspect that if they had a ramp back up to their hutch, they'd be back inside all on their own.

The hutch has a wire bottom, but these bunnies have very fuzzy feet and don't seem to mind it. They also have wooden boxes, wooden shelves and assorted ceramic tiles to lay on if they don't like the wire. But the wire makes for a much cleaner environment for them with all the feces and such falling through and not getting stuck to their wool.

The does are all in a big communal hutch and have lots of room to run around and visit and play. The bucks each have their own space, but it's not as large as the communal girls space. They each have a box or ledge and a view of the other bunnies so they don't feel lonely. Their spaces are separated by just a wire wall so they can lay next to each other if they like although boy bunnies seem more territorial than girl bunnies.
 
Jacob Smith
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I raise all of my rabbits up off the ground in wire hutches. Most of their cages are 36x24 and they are provided with fresh water, organic feed, and fresh wheat grass daily. On top of that I routinely let my breeders out to hop around and act like rabbits a few times a week.

Ethically I'm giving them the best possible life on the wire I can, I'm ok with that, and they seem to harbor no ill will towards me, since they all come to the door for a back scratch when I come out to feed and check on them throughout the day.
 
mick dipiano
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I saw some one keeping rabbits free range. I'll see if I can find a link
 
Niele da Kine
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I've not figured out a way to free range bunnies and still keep breeding records. We use selective breeding to improve the bunnies as well as to keep down inbreeding. Wouldn't inbreeding be a problem eventually with free range bunnies?

Also, if it's a fiber rabbit, how is the fiber kept clean if they're free range? Perhaps if they were ranging indoors, then they'd have clean wool, although I don't know if I want to share the house with that many critters.
 
Thomas Partridge
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Niele da Kine wrote:I've not figured out a way to free range bunnies and still keep breeding records. We use selective breeding to improve the bunnies as well as to keep down inbreeding. Wouldn't inbreeding be a problem eventually with free range bunnies?


I think people really overestimate how detrimental occasional inbreeding is in smaller animals. Yes if you only inbreed it may cause problems, but it isn't like rabbits keep records of ancestry in the wild . I think a sustainable alternative is something similar to how we do our poultry, culling old stock that is not pulling their weight while adding new stock every year (roughly 10% or so would probably be enough). You could probably do that with rabbits by replacing half of the breeding bucks each year.
 
a wee bit from the empire
The stocking stuffer game for all your Permaculture companions
http://www.FoodForestCardGame.com
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