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Pastured Rabbits: experiences, ideas?  RSS feed

 
Posts: 427
Location: Hartbeespoort, South Africa
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composter wrote:
For protection from predators, wouldn't an LGD be a good idea?  I have known many rabbit/dog friendships, so don't know why you couldn't raise a dog to be a rabbit guardian - carefully of course. 

Terry Jenkins

Hi Terry, Do you know which particular type of dog would form that rabbit/dog relationship best? Which types have you seen?

Chelle
 
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Cyara,

Of course it would depend on the individual dog and how it was trained/raised, but two "schools" of dogs come to mind:  First, any breed of Livestock Guardian Dog, perhaps leaning toward a smaller and less active (less inclined to trample rabbits) dog. Second, any breed of Farm Collie or Farm Shepherd (all-around farm dogs).  With either, it would be most helpful to start with a small pup and impress upon it the rabbits are flock and family, to be loved and protected. 

The LGD's are bred to live with the stock full time, to essentially be one of the flock, which would mean the rabbits would need a really large area, unless the LGD had a perimeter area around the smaller rabbit "pastures".  In this case, he or she can't be part of the flock and can't develop the close relationship...  Of our own two LGD's, an Akbash/Pyr and a smaller purebred Pyrenees who are goat dogs, my guess is the Pyr would be a better rabbit dog.  He is a little softer, although I like the personality on our cross better for my own taste.

Farm collies and shepherds are bred to be the farmer's second in command - to keep order on the farm according to your own rules and practices.  They should bond with all resident animals and help keep them contained in their proper places as well as tend to and protect them. In order to do this, they need free range on the farm, and consistent guidance from you. They would not be happy or at their best if confined with the stock around the clock. Breeds that come to mind are English Shepherd, Australian Shepherd, old-fashioned Border Collie, and rough collies.  If you have an exceptional dog of almost any breed they might fill this bill as well, except for the smaller terrier breeds who are just terrors on small stock.

Best to get advice from those who are most knowlegable on the particular breed and situation you have - these are just my own opinions, based only partly in experience. The one dog I had when there were loose rabbits living in my yard was an unknown shepherd type mix originally purchased as a "wolf" but he was no wolf or even a wolf-dog.  He was, however, an exceptional dog! The rabbits were ex-pets dumped in the park adjacent to my yard, and had adapted to their feral life very well.  They came and went from my yard and were more like friends and neighbors than stock, but my dog liked them and considered them part of his clan.

Terry Jenkins
 
Chelle Lewis
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Location: Hartbeespoort, South Africa
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Hi Terry, Really interesting reading. Thanks for taking the time to explain.

I went cruising last night and rather took a fancy to the Anatolian Shepherd Dog. Our climate here is hot and I want a short haired animal.

With all you have said it might be best to enclose the rabbits safely ... they are small so easier... with the LGDs roaming the farm and generally keeping a protective presence. I might then bond them to the larger livestock instead which are harder to keep safe because they range more widely. I will keep a few goats and sheep and Jersey cows and 2 donkeys together to make it easier for them.... if this is found to be a good idea. All part fo the LGDs family... hope I can make this work.

The rabbits will have mini-pastures during the day... but each 3m x 4m camp will be topped with a light moveable roof... to keep the rabbits safe. The roof just moves to wherever the rabbits are that day.. so sunlight on the pastures that are being rested. Lock-up at night is essential. Jackal and leopard would make short work of them otherwise. Even my chickens will have lock-up at night. In fact all my animals as I get them. Bit more work... but I will be able to sleep at night. Put the LDGs less at risk in defending them at night.... when most vulnerable.

I love the collie... had a collie cross lab as a child. Lovely animal.... but I think the fur is too long for the bush here. Pity. The border collie is an exceptionally intelligent animal.

Chelle
 
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So - a paddock shift system for rabbits?  How big of a paddock for how many rabbits?
 
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I have gotten some good ideas from this discussion.  The habitat photos are big a help.  I would sure like to seemore if anyone has any.
 
Chelle Lewis
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paul wheaton wrote:
So - a paddock shift system for rabbits?  How big of a paddock for how many rabbits?

My rabbits would only be at pasture duing the day....

I do not want the outdoor camps to be larger than 12m sq [3m x 4m] because of the roofing requirement and security against predators. The roof will need to be easily moved each day onto the next camp to be used. [A vault roof made of PVC pipe overlaid with light-weight fencing and thatched for shade?.... Will see... experimenting.]

The Rabbit Barn I am building can comfortably handle 28 adult does..... with young kits. But I will only start with about 5 or 6 does and no breeding until I have established the most efficient camp carrying capacity and rotation.

I have been told I can go 28 rabbits in 12m sq outdoors..... basically 400cm sq per rabbit .... but not sure I want to do that..... so will only be slowly increasing capacity with experience gained ... I want to be sure of what each camp can carry without undue stress for a day..... as well as taking care that the rabbits are not stressed for space. The seasons have to be considered here too.

The rotation will be daily .... with lock-up at night ..... and I hope to set up a 1 month rotation at first. I might end up using 2 camps per day for 28 rabbits. Wool, more than breeding, is the priority initially. Will see how it shapes.

Should I need to rest the camps longer I will put them onto a cement covered camp in between for a day.... easy to swab down.... with lots of "furniture" ... different heights... and rest places.... and food tossed in from the Food Forest. On rainy days the Barn is large enough to handle them..... or I might cover the cement camp permanently to help here should we have a few days rain together..... even though I think the Barn is big enough....  The "nest apartments" are built on 2 levels.... ground level and one up.... by way of a ramp..... with chill out space around. When no kits these apartments would merely be "me-space" that rabbits seem to need.

My 2 major concerns are safety from predators and never to have coccidiosis build up in any way. I will also be spraying with Efficient Microbes the day after the rabbits have been moved from a camp. The cement camp can be washed down with diluted chorine and left to air and dry before rabbits allowed there again. Dr Finzi [Colony-rabbit seminar] said chlorine kills coccidiosis.

The camps... or mini-meadows as I like to think of them... will have kikuyu grass, dandelions, honeysuckle.... all kinds of tasties. There will also be earth shelters and wooden shelters to go to. [This is the reason I think 28 rabbits in 12m sq would not be practical.... but all a learning curve for me still.... and will build it up with just the few rabbits first to see what best works together.]

Chelle


 
Terry Jenkins
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Chelle, I hope you take pictures of your rabbit set-up to share when you get it going!

Terry Jenkins
 
Chelle Lewis
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Sure I will.

I am just working hard first on getting the Food Forest laid because I do not want to buy in any food if I can help it. The Rabbitry is almost at roof height but no roof yet or inside building, and the camps still to be marked out too. I want to see how I would roof them first .. so experimenting with ideas.

Chelle

 
paul wheaton
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Suppose you controlled predators with LGD.  Would an area seven to ten times larger for the same group, but moved every seven days be better?  Acceptable?  Worse?  I'm thinking of the aspect of less work.
 
Chelle Lewis
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Yes... a valid point. If they were sleeping out at pasture that would make better sense. I have given some thought about the work aspect and would like to find ways to minimise wherever possible.... constantly looking for ways to tweak the design.

However, I have come think that the barn is necessary at night for the rabbits.... so moving each day into small or large camps is the same work.

I have wild rabbit around here that are very active at night and want no inter-breeding.... both for the sake of my stock and the wildlife. Not sure LDGs would keep them away.

I also want strict controls on coccidiosis build-up.... and I think the smaller camps will give me this... also shading for the rabbits.... and roof protection from eagles above will be easier.

If I went away for a week-end the rabbits would be fine left in the barn... big enough. I would leave someone to ensure feed and water were supplied. I suppose I could use a pellet feeder but don't really want to go that way. The automatic waterer would need daily checking too... little time needed for this... but important.... so someone care-taking here would be necessary.

I want 2 LDGs and need to maximise their use across the farm:
1.    Chase the monkeys away by their presence.... so give them full perimeter and Food Forest access. This is vital. The raiding makes farming discouraging.
2     Guard the larger mammals by day from large predators such as leopard and jackal.... this is much harder to do because their forage range is bigger.... so I think the dogs would best be used here. This is all a learning curve for me... the LGDs... so hope that this is all reasonable. Maybe need more than 2  ... or another kind of monkey-chaser.... like Alsation.... but would worry they would hunt the chicks and rabbits.
3     Need to bond the LDGs to a "family" of animals... so think this is more easily done with those that can range together.... 2 jersey cows, some goats and sheep, 2 pot-belly pigs.... and maybe 2 donkeys. I might keep the pigs in some sort of tractor in the area of the other animals. Haven't done a lot of research yet on pigs... but they seem mighty useful. Chickens I will be using in an adaptation of Linda Woodrow's "Mandala" Permaculture set-up.

I envied Sepp Holzer's ability to just leave his animals outdoors... he seems to have no predators at all. Amazing. I also have 2-legged "predators" to consider. Stock loss is too heart-breaking for me.... so would rather put the animals to bed at night. Then the dogs can guard them from outside their shelter. Easier task too. During the day they would be on full guard when on range.

Thus the rabbits will have to be more my responsibility I think. It's true that the moment you barn animals that the work-load goes up... but don't think I can avoid this. But having the animals at pasture during the day should lessen the work-load.

Chelle

 
Posts: 22
Location: Indiana, USA
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About a month ago I put my rabbits in a chicken type tractor. 



Everything went great until this week.  My only concern was the new bunnies seem to be gaining weight slowly.  Then this week two mama rabbits had babies.  I found the first group of baby bunnies, all dead.  The second group I found just after mama gave birth.  4 of the 7 were dead when I found them.

Neither of the mamas used their nest boxes, which were the same ones they had successfully used in the past.  They were just scattered around the cage.  I placed the 3 live babies in the nest box and hope the mama cares for them.

My only guess is their change in diet is responsible for the sudden dramatic change in two proven mamas.  Before I placed them in the rabbit tractor, I fed them pellets.  I have not given them any pellets for the last month.  They have only had grass to eat. 

Three rabbits have escaped and I just let them run free.  I wonder if they are able to find what they need to eat, whereas the caged bunnies are only able eat what is in the 8X8 cage.

I also have plenty of space for larger animals.  I'm wondering if rabbits are worth it.

Any ideas?
 
gardener
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Location: PNW Oregon
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Mother's need extra minerals, maybe your caged rabbits could use a salt lick, kelp or other mineral source?

 
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Brian,
Your bunnies need more than just grass! They need dandelions, herbs, alfa alfa, twigs, and veggies! 



 
Rex Nichols
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Location: Indiana, USA
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I started feeding pellets every night.  Keeping the rabbits on grass has cut down on the feed bill and they seem happy and healthy.  I've had a few escapes and a couple predator challenges, but overall it has been a success.

The escapes intrigue me.  I do not set out feed for them, yet the ones that avoid capture seem more vigorous and healthy than the ones in the tractor.  I'm thinking about putting them in a 50' by 50' paddock and do a shift type system.  But, winter is approaching.  I don't like the idea of putting them back in a 10' by 10' coop after they have had the freedom of a larger paddock. 

Has anyone left rabbits out in the winter? The ground here is covered in snow one to two months.  If I give them an insulated dog house and feed/water would they be better on the snow than on deep litter in a coop?
 
Jami McBride
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When they have food and temperatures drop they don't seem to roam around as much.  Keeping in their dens/tunnels and when out staying close by.

I gave mine bails of hay to tunnel in, because my Oregon ground can become water logged, so bales about ground kept them happy in their enclosure.
 
Posts: 15
Location: southern Spain
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I am planning to build my rabbitry in the next couple of months. While doing my research I found inspiration here:
http://www.asociacion-andalus.org/andalus/images/stories/attachments/article/101/11Estrucctura.JPG
http://www.asociacion-andalus.org/andalus/images/stories/attachments/article/101/12Majanoterminado.JPG

Providing water, fencing the perimeter and this kind of underground pipe and nests system can be a good option for those who don´t want a labor intense way to raise their rabbits, while offering a close to "natural" habitat. Underground shelter looks to me like the way to go in areas with hot weather, and to a point, for cold too.
Disease would be my bigger concern, but the fencing is meant to keep predators and other rabbits apart, which should reduce the chances of interbreeding.
The concrete pipes offer managed burrows, which reduces drastically root damage for the surrounding trees.
 
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what rabbit breed would be good for free range? I am sure there has got to be some that respond better to foraging instead of eating those pellets. Also, what about birds of prey.....how would you control those if you had a very large enclosure?
 
Peri Ledo
Posts: 15
Location: southern Spain
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Losses due to birds of prey will probably happen, but in very small numbers, as they warn others of the danger and hide under provided shelter.
Here is an example made out of pallets, with perimeter of bricks, both covered by prunning leftovers:
http://www.asociacion-andalus.org/andalus/images/stories/attachments/article/130/09conplastico.JPG
http://www.asociacion-andalus.org/andalus/images/stories/attachments/article/130/15perforando.JPG
http://www.asociacion-andalus.org/andalus/images/stories/attachments/article/130/17.JPG


These guys use wild rabbits, as they aim at breeding them in order to provide with food for black vultures (Aegypius monachus), which are an endangered species. But I assume that it would work with other breeds too.

full articles i´ve referenced (Spanish):
http://www.asociacion-andalus.org/andalus/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=56:cria-de-conejos-en-puerto-moral&catid=64:buitre-negro&Itemid=87
http://www.asociacion-andalus.org/andalus/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=130:suelta-de-conejos-en-la-reserva-natural-concertada-puerto-moral&catid=64:buitre-negro&Itemid=87
 
Posts: 1947
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I am working with another farmer who has a shortage of land. I'm not sure if the deal is worthwhile to me but it is giving me some opportunity to observe what pasturing rabbits on my farm is like.

He's brought me the young rabbits, the tractor style hutch, pellet food and waterer. The bottom of the cage is mesh large enough to let the grass and other plants poke through. I move the cage each day(more often when I'm out there) and give them the food and water. Once they are up to size he takes the rabbits away and brings me back a cleaned and dressed rabbit for the stewpot.

I have 6 apple trees that I don't put a lot of effort into because cedar apple today is so rampant here. That means I have lots of apple branches, which they love. I also have plenty of other weeds and volunteers that the bunnies like.

I haven't had an escapee yet. They gnawed at the cage before I began to be sure to give them branches to gnaw. They seem satisfied in the gnawing department now
 
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How are you keeping rabbits from burrowing out of their paddock?  
BTW  domestic rabbits CANNOT interbreed with American rabbits.  different number of chromosomes
 
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Location: NW KS/NE CO State Line
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Valorie Hatfield wrote:Here's a postscript to my bunny behavior notes:
; I adopted a second bunny to augment the poo supply, to close the loop on my nitrogen consumption so to speak.  But now I can't find any poo. 



A decrease, change, or lack of poop isn't  unusual.  Consider how difficult it is, even when an area is seemingly overrun with cottontails, to locate rabbit poop.  

Animals tend to hide their droppings as a defense mechanism against predators.  With caged ones, they tend to choose a corner to poop in and stick to it, sort of like a dog, a cat, or any other mammal.  Yours may have chosen the base of a low-lying bush or some other spot where they can find some privacy.  The addition of the second rabbit may have instigated this changen in behavior as Bunny 2 found a REALLY good spot, and BUNNY 1 jumped on the bandwagon.  

The other consideration is that when rabbits who eat a diet with good forage percentages switch from fresh to dry (i.e. there's no green grass to be found) their droppings will change to a smaller, denser consistency, not unlike the difference between hay-fed cow pies and the splatter mines that come from girls switching to fresh grass.  
 
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