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Experimental rabbitry

 
Daniel Bowman
Posts: 74
Location: Sandy Mush, NC
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Hi, I posted this idea a while ago in another thread, but didn't get any responses. Well, the idea has matured and I think it deserves its own thread. I also posted it over on the rabbittalk forum with the same title:


I am trying to incorporate the following different strains of thought into my proposed rabbitry and am interested in any feedback:

1) I have been reading about various traditional/alternative rabbitry designs that utilize burrows and surface ground pens or wire hutches (sources mostly available on the FAO website, see their Raising Rabbits pdf, and various articles published by the research station in Viterbo, Italy and also some studies from North Vietnam).

2) Another idea that I find appealing is coupling the rabbitry with a passive solar greenhouse, as popularized in solar greenhouse books of the 60s-70s. In particular, mike oehler's book The Earth-Sheltered Solar Greenhouse provides some enthusiastic support for this idea, albeit still theoretical, and the dated and hard to find books of James Dekorne (haven't actually read them, but he apparently does this with some success).

3) Getting off pelleted feed, using Salatin-style mobile grow-out pens and keeping rabbits together in small, controlled-breeding "colonies", all of which is recently discussed in the Urban Rabbit Project e-books.

The first key to the design of an integrated greenhouse is the earth-sheltered part and keeping the rabbits below grade for a stabilized year-round burrow temperature. The second key, in my opinion and something that Oehler does not discuss, is allowing outside access for better sunlight and ventilation. Outdoor access is incorporated in the FAO research papers, but I think a lot of their lackluster performance is due to poor diet (rather than hygiene) and the cramped nature of the wire hutch/burrows used. For this reason, I want to use feeds that are only minimally processed and sourced from my own land (willow and other tree cuttings, grass, hay, kitchen and garden waste, etc),as outlined in the Urban Rabbit Project books, and give the rabbits greater outdoor access than a small wire cage. The last consideration is sociality, which I think is important for overall health and quality of life. I do not like the full "colony" approach that allows for the self-creation of burrows and warren structure with breeding bucks included, but also regard the isolation approach to be less than ideal, as rabbits are a social animal and their isolation causes boredom, excessive gnawing and scratching and other neurotic behaviors. Instead of these two options, a good compromise seems to be to keep small groups of breeding does, bred in a controlled way to produce litters at the same time. This allows for some minimum of social behavior, if not a full "colony". At time of weening, the litters will be moved to mobile grow-out pens until they make slaughter weight.

Here are some details of my burrow design idea: 2-4 does will be kept in 2 ft deep, 32 sg ft burrows (4' x 8') underneath the walkway of my earth-sheltered solar greenhouse. Temperature will be passively maintained at 55-65 deg F, year-round. There will be a total of 4-5 burrows and each will connect with two pipe tunnels to fenced-in outdoor runs for an additional 32 sq ft, per group. Each burrow will have two pipes to improve access and reduce "bullying". The pipes will be designed to create a passive venting of outside air into the burrow and up into the greenhouse, pulling in fresh air and supplying CO2 into the greenhouse.

The breeder pens will be connected to the burrows by pipe tunnels and will therefore not be mobile. They will be sheltered from direct sunlight and rain and will have a partition to limit overgrazing and allow for times of grass recovery.

I have found a lot of discrepancies between the conventional rabbit books (Storey Press, for example) versus what the scientific research shows about the optimum breeding/living conditions for rabbits (see the FAO documents) and think that the case for both pellet feed and wire hutches to be overly exaggerated.

I plan to gradually increase the colony population with sibling pairs from the same filial lines.. I think it will reduce the likelihood of fighting and fertility issues often associated with keeping multiple does together.

I came across another e-book on "Rabbits in Colonies" that recommended the minimum of a 6" pipe for tunnels. I was initially worried about the rabbits soiling the pipe over time and it being hard to clean, but since they typically only poop while eating, I hope this won't become a problem. I am planning on getting Champagne d'Argent and New Zealand Reds for breeding stock and trying out both and possibly hybrids. I will install 10" plastic culvert pipes. Do you think that corrugated pipe would be problematic in some way?

The breeder pens will have a nice buried perimeter fence that goes all the way up to the shed roof, impermeable to rodents and other predators. I am thinking that the burrow tunnels will open into a small, gravel-bottomed, hay-mulched section that leads up onto a wire feeding platform (with poop catch pan below). When the grass is grown out enough, I will allow access into the small pasture run. In the winter it will remain closed off and they will be fed green fodder from my hydroponic NFT fodder system. Winter frost should kill most parasite eggs.

Regarding burrow access, the burrows are under the greenhouse walkway, covered by 4x8 sheets of plywood. Easy as flipping up a board to check on nests, etc.

What do y'all think is the longest length of pipe tunnel that the rabbits will enjoy using for daily outdoor access? Is 10ft too long? 15ft? The longer the pipe, the warmer the air will become (earth heat exchange) and the better the air will flow through it into the greenhouse (chimney effect).
 
Tina Paxton
Posts: 283
Location: coastal southeast North Carolina
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I'll be interested to see how the system of housing works out for you. Are you on the BYMR (Urban Rabbit Project) FB group? Lots of activity there so if you aren't, I would encourage you to join. I've not read the eBook on colony raising but I know that Anna Zabina Nilsson is a young lady in Scandinavia with lots of experience with colony style. I have seen some systems where rabbits have an external/above ground cage and a below ground burrow. I would love to have such a set up but that goes well beyond my abilities at this time. It would resolve many issues with temperature extremes for sure!

I have read the other eBooks and support the information. I'm working on establishing a food forage/fodder system so that I can feed my rabbits 100% from my property.

Anyway...please post updates as you develop your rabbit system!
 
Daniel Bowman
Posts: 74
Location: Sandy Mush, NC
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I am allergic to facebook. I got Boyd to join the rabbittalk forum and he replied to my post with an update on his own projects that is a good read.
 
Tina Paxton
Posts: 283
Location: coastal southeast North Carolina
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Daniel Bowman wrote:I am allergic to facebook. I got Boyd to join the rabbittalk forum and he replied to my post with an update on his own projects that is a good read.


What is the link to his write up? I used to hang out at Rabbittalk but it's been awhile...just too many things and too many places to gather info...
 
Bryant RedHawk
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This sounds like an interesting set up you are planning. I would love to see some drawings or even photos of your setup as it is built. We are getting into the American Blues and I will be breeding them for sale as breeding pairs and the culls from that program will become some of our meat. Currently I don't have a way to do what your talking about but it holds a great deal of interest to me.
 
Daniel Bowman
Posts: 74
Location: Sandy Mush, NC
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Tina Paxton wrote:What is the link to his write up?


http://rabbittalk.com/post256032.html#p256032

I will document it as I build. I plan on breaking ground in late summer, so there is some time. Still in the research/planning phase.
 
Abe Connally
Posts: 1502
Location: Chihuahua Desert
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We have a somewhat similar setup. We use buried shelters for the breeding rabbits, grow out pens on pasture (during wet season), and then we run chickens in and around the cages.

http://velacreations.com/blog/rabbit-dwellings/

The buried shelters work well, we have them into the side of the hill, made from brick. They have doors on top, part of the upper walkway. Then, we have a hanging cage for them to go outside. The whole thing is encased in a barn, but could be a greenhouse (though rabbits don't like heat).

We feed ours a combination of local grasses, alfalfa and weeds, with some pellets as backup. Wire cages greatly improve hygiene and disease control. We had rabbits in colonies for a long time, I will never go back to that. You can't control eating, fighting, hygiene, and if you get a disease or sickness, it spreads super fast. A wire cage with an underground component is by far the best way to keep breeders, IMO.
 
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