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Rabbits: colony approach

 
Suzy Bean
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Just read "So Happy Together" in Hobby farms (July/Aug 2011), which talks about raising rabbit colonies, as opposed to using individual cages/hutches. This makes for happy/healthy rabbits and arguably less work. A few draw-backs are difficulty in catching them, (such as when they need vet care etc), difficulty telling when certain ones are not eating/drinking, and sharing of disease. Hutch-kept rabbits are not without their difficulties too, and still spread disease/get attacked by predators. Colony-raised rabbits do not get too skinny/fat--they regulate their own eating naturally, and are supposedly best when raised in a group of females. Fencing should be buried a bit underground so they cannot dig out, and needs to be at least 3 ft tall with small holes so they can't squeeze through.
 
Abe Connally
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We do colony raising with our rabbits.  Ever rabbit has a tattoo and paper records to keep things tracked.  We keep the bucks separate, and we wean the babies at 6 weeks into a separate colony.

Overall, it has been a decent system, but we've learned a few things.  We had feeders in with the does, all you can eat type of thing, and the younger does tend to overeat.  So, we have to hand feed them daily.

Also, when it comes to kindling, they never kindle where we want them to.  So, we separate the does about 2-3 days before they are due, and once the new babies are about 7-0 days old, they all go back into the colony.

Initially, we let them kindle in the colony, but a few made burrows in the outside pen, and we had some cold weather and they lost their babies.  We also had a few does fight over burrows, and loose babies like that as well.  So, for kindling, we just separate them, and it is easier.

We have things set up to breed a doe every week, so we also have a doe kindling every week.  We butcher an average of 6 rabbits a week.  We have 12 does and 2 bucks right now, but we will probably cull a few does this summer to get back down to about 8-10 does.
 
Suzy Bean
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Thanks Velacreations, all good info.
 
                              
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both the colony and the cage have their benefits during the cooler months when the does are breeding i run cages so i can collect the rabbit poo for digester and worms its also the time where i am getting stuff growing in the colony pen mainly grasses that they like to eat
and hide in.
then during summer and early fall they go out to the colony this happens to be the time where flies can cause troubles for a cage operation and also the colony way of keeping rabbits is the best to allow them to keep cool and they are acting as harvesters
which saves a huge amount of food while they are not breeding.

if you have something for them to burrow under near the middle of the pen they dont
make to much effort to burrow under the fence i have found.
 
Dave Bennett
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Having only three rabbits sure is easy for me.  My giant chinchillas are easy to care for and I slaughter at weaning.  Usually 8 weeks.  The kits are 6.5-7 lbs so they never eat much feed.  As soon as they start eating the Doe's alfalfa they are big enough for the freezer.  If I had the space I would try running a colony but I only raise them to feed me.  I breed my Does 3 times a year so I have 6 litters and wind up with over 300lbs. of meat and that is plenty for feeding myself.  I forage all of their food so I do not have any feed expenses including the grain.  All I ever have to buy are minerals.  I have found enough rye and oats and I get a 55 gallon drum of barley mash from the local craft brewery in exchange for some minor maintenance work.  The goats farmers around here buy the barley mash for $75 a ton.  It also makes really great compost.  If I have any get moldy while I am drying it for my rabbits it goes to the compost pile.  My "girls" love the barley mash.  The buck eats it too but he doesn't seems as interested as my "girls."
 
Suzy Bean
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Sounds like you have a great situation! Barely any feed costs for 300# meat per year sounds like a deal
 
Dave Bennett
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It is very hard work foraging enough high quality food for my rabbits but necessary.  It is actually less than ideal but I will do what it takes to survive.  I am working on a system that will allow me to have food and shelter if we experience any sort of societal disintegration.  I am not optimistic about what is happening politically in this country.  I paid into Soc Sec for well over 40 years and do not know if much of it will be available. 
 
T. Pierce
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how can it get any easier than cage raising a rabbit?
 
Dave Bennett
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T. Pierce wrote:
how can it get any easier than cage raising a rabbit?

I live on a lot that is 40ft. wide and 90ft. long with a 14x56 mobile right in the middle.  I forage all of their food by hand.  It is a lot of hard work.  Just because they live in hutches doesn't mean it is easy.  Try harvesting a ton of hay by hand.  I do not buy any feed.  I find it growing wild and cut it down with a scythe.  Yes it is hard work.
 
T. Pierce
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Dave Bennett wrote:
I live on a lot that is 40ft. wide and 90ft. long with a 14x56 mobile right in the middle.  I forage all of their food by hand.  It is a lot of hard work.  Just because they live in hutches doesn't mean it is easy.  Try harvesting a ton of hay by hand.  I do not buy any feed.  I find it growing wild and cut it down with a scythe.  Yes it is hard work.


but how is putting them in a colony easier than raising them in a cage?

the very first post said "raising in colonies.....opposed to raising in cages......is arguably less work"
 
                              
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T. Pierce wrote:
but how is putting them in a colony easier than raising them in a cage?

the very first post said "raising in colonies.....opposed to raising in cages......is arguably less work"


I run both colonies and cages depending on the time of year

and during summer a colony is much less work because it cuts down on feeding time by a heap for example i probably only need to feed and water them weekly in a colony.

I dont need to worry about over heating so it saves me having to mess with
sprinklers or ice pack.

where i dont agree with the OP is that i believe cages are in many ways safer and healthier for the rabbits especially during breeding season
 
Dave Bennett
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where i dont agree with the OP is that i believe cages are in many ways safer and healthier for the rabbits especially during breeding season


I was wondering about the disease issue also.  Has anyone had any problems with disease running a colony.  It seems to me that colony style makes it more difficult to check for anything that might be in the early stages especially with the kits.  In the winter I keep mine in the house.  Cleaning the cage pans thoroughly every day makes for extra work.  I just swap out a clean pan for a dirty one clean it thoroughly and swap that one for the third one.  Having only three rabbits makes that aspect pretty easy. 
 
T. Pierce
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Dave Bennett wrote:
where i dont agree with the OP is that i believe cages are in many ways safer and healthier for the rabbits especially during breeding season


I was wondering about the disease issue also.  Has anyone had any problems with disease running a colony.  It seems to me that colony style makes it more difficult to check for anything that might be in the early stages especially with the kits.  In the winter I keep mine in the house.  Cleaning the cage pans thoroughly every day makes for extra work.  I just swap out a clean pan for a dirty one clean it thoroughly and swap that one for the third one.  Having only three rabbits makes that aspect pretty easy. 


why do you keep them in the house?
 
Dave Bennett
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T. Pierce wrote:
why do you keep them in the house?

Because if they allow them here I have to pay $25 per animal per month.  They aren't that much trouble.  I bought an extra poop pan so I switch out one at a time every day.  I made a spot for the hutches so any feed or hay that gets spilled on the floors is easy to clean up and I have an automatic watering system.  I would prefer that they lived outdoors but I just can't afford it here.  I had at a farm where I was going to be the "live in consultant" but it didn't work out.  Every time I suggested something that was perhaps a better way she made it complicated.  She really never accepted any of my ideas without changing them.  I realize that it is her property but if she wanted a farm hand she should have been upfront about it and i would have refused the offer.
 
T. Pierce
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ive often heard tell of house training a rabbit.  never known one personally,  but if its possible, then id say this would be a good method for you.  teach um to use a litter box.
 
Dave Bennett
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Rabbits are actually easy to litter train.  I had a huge Doe 20 years ago or so that lived  in  the house.  She never peed anywhere except in the litter box and once in a while I would find a poop pellet here and there but rarely.  I would need build bigger hutches to add litter boxes but it is a good idea.  If my plans work out and a friend allows me to help him make his gardening efforts a little less labor intensive with some permaculture ideas I will be moving and my rabbit will have a new home back outdoors except in the winter.  It gets really cold in upstate NY.
 
T. Pierce
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Dave Bennett wrote:
Rabbits are actually easy to litter train.  I had a huge Doe 20 years ago or so that lived  in  the house.  She never peed anywhere except in the litter box and once in a while I would find a poop pellet here and there but rarely.  I would need build bigger hutches to add litter boxes but it is a good idea.  If my plans work out and a friend allows me to help him make his gardening efforts a little less labor intensive with some permaculture ideas I will be moving and my rabbit will have a new home back outdoors except in the winter.  It gets really cold in upstate NY.


well the easy answer to fix that really cold in upstate NY problem................is migrate to VA  like alot of your brethran are doing now adays.

 
Dave Bennett
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T. Pierce wrote:
well the easy answer to fix that really cold in upstate NY problem................is migrate to VA  like alot of your brethran are doing now adays.



I have been living in Fredericksburg Va. since I moved back to the east coast in 1986 after spending 10 years in California.  I may be moving to Bath NY though.  I have an opportunity to help a lifelong friend with his 50 acres of mixed forest.
 
Pat Maas
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Have a few rabbits in colony right now and do feed harvested forage along with alfalfa or oat hay. Biggest problem has been snakes in the warmer weather, so am raising the litters in cages until they get get big enough the snakes aren't a problem.

Mine are just NZ x Californian crosses and do cull for body type. Lot of pinched hips going into the freezer.

My harvesting forage can be done by scythe, but right now generally just weeding and thinning my "raised" beds is enough. Choka weed, grass, carrot and radish thinning, swiss chard, spinach, lettuce etc and sometimes sweet clover. I do grow year round, so other than the hay, most is fresh.
 
Dave Bennett
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I have very limited space so I encourage what my neighbors consider weeds to grow in my yard but also have access to good quality "hays."  I have to harvest by hand but that's no big deal.  healthy looking stuff with a good amount of protein.  I have to buy my alfalfa these days but that will change.  Fortunately I found some areas where there is a lot of buckwheat growing somewhat wild.  I don't know why there is so much in those spots but my rabbits love it.  I also found some big bunches of chicory too so they are getting good protein.  I have no choice living here....my rabbits live indoors.
 
Saybian Morgan
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Dave I'm racking up a list from all these post on things to slash and chuck at the rabbit's. I'm not making anything a "sole" diet but is there anything rabbit's love that they'll overeat and make themselves sick? These new Chin's are chomping into the bindweed at the moment, but that bastard plant is such a pain in my ass I feel like it's gunna make em sick just to spite me. I don't know how much green vegetation they can munch through if given free choice.  There pellet rabbits but the breeder does have her on wild foraged hay mix so it's not all bad, they took to the bindweed in less than 5 mins. But I too take to cheesecake the same way with full consciousness of it's gut rotting effects.

I just don't wanna get too crazy with the fresh vegetation now that a whole new bracket of weeds have a purpose.
Yes I've only had rabbit's for about 3 hour's now, but I'm loving these things I've never seen my dog's tremble so much with jealousy and outrage.
 
Kirk Hutchison
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I just had a vision of myself in a huge house with rabbits roaming everywhere... a guest sees a litterbox and says "o you have cats?" And I say, "No, rabbits." 
 
Dave Bennett
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SaybianTv wrote:
Dave I'm racking up a list from all these post on things to slash and chuck at the rabbit's. I'm not making anything a "sole" diet but is there anything rabbit's love that they'll overeat and make themselves sick? These new Chin's are chomping into the bindweed at the moment, but that bastard plant is such a pain in my ass I feel like it's gunna make em sick just to spite me. I don't know how much green vegetation they can munch through if given free choice.  There pellet rabbits but the breeder does have her on wild foraged hay mix so it's not all bad, they took to the bindweed in less than 5 mins. But I too take to cheesecake the same way with full consciousness of it's gut rotting effects.

I just don't wanna get too crazy with the fresh vegetation now that a whole new bracket of weeds have a purpose.
Yes I've only had rabbit's for about 3 hour's now, but I'm loving these things I've never seen my dog's tremble so much with jealousy and outrage.

You have given you rabbits free access to whatever they feel like eating.  My rabbits have access to all of the hay they will eat and fresh water.  I have never fed them pellet feed.  If they were raised on pellets it is best to break them in to new food slowly so they do not get sick.  They certainly are lovely rabbits are they not?  Certainly the friendliest breed I have ever owned. 
 
Dave Bennett
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Paleo Gardener wrote:
I just had a vision of myself in a huge house with rabbits roaming everywhere... a guest sees a litterbox and says "o you have cats?" And I say, "No, rabbits." 

That happened to me once or twice........ not the rabbits roaming everywhere but when I had a pet rabbit someone noticed the litter box and asked about my cat.
 
Pat Maas
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[color=Blue]You have given you rabbits free access to whatever they feel like eating.  My rabbits have access to all of the hay they will eat and fresh water.  I have never fed them pellet feed.  If they were raised on pellets it is best to break them in to new food slowly so they do not get sick.[/color

Sometimes, breaking them in slowly doesn't work and one is lost. Most won't have the problem, some are just way more sensitive than others. The offspring of that buck were culled, although it looks like I'm getting one back tomorrow.
 
Dave Bennett
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Pat Maas wrote:
[color=Blue]You have given you rabbits free access to whatever they feel like eating.  My rabbits have access to all of the hay they will eat and fresh water.  I have never fed them pellet feed.  If they were raised on pellets it is best to break them in to new food slowly so they do not get sick.[/color

Sometimes, breaking them in slowly doesn't work and one is lost. Most won't have the problem, some are just way more sensitive than others. The offspring of that buck were culled, although it looks like I'm getting one back tomorrow.

Most often animals especially rabbits should be slowly changed to a brand new diet.  That seems to be the consensus of opinion from the myriad advice from the available reference books.  I have seen many rabbits with diarrhea and not because of a disease but from abrupt diet change.  It is better to be safe than sorry.  Do you have any idea how difficult is was to obtain those giant chinchillas.  I wonder how you would feel if someone said oh just feed them whatever and even one of your difficult to procure giant chinchillas rabbits got sick and died.  I tend to err of the side of caution.
 
                                      
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I have Satin angora rabbits. I would love to colony raise. however the nightmare would be the hair they would have so much dirt and weeds and stuff in it. they would mat in no time. I need the fiber clean so I can sell it or spin.

As far as letterbox training thats easy we have two into angoras and both are litter box trained. One of them even does a couple of tricks. he circles on command, stands on his back legs and walks and jumps into his cage when asked.
 
Dave Bennett
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I find it interesting that in the wild rabbits don't live in colonies and are extremely territorial but some people have decided that it is a good idea.  It will be difficult to convince me.  My opinion is that raising rabbits as a colony reduces the individual care, increases the possibility of a contagious disease spreading rapidly too.  In my opinion it is a bad idea. 
 
Pat Maas
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Most often animals especially rabbits should be slowly changed to a brand new diet.  That seems to be the consensus of opinion from the myriad advice from the available reference books.  I have seen many rabbits with diarrhea and not because of a disease but from abrupt diet change.  It is better to be safe than sorry.  Do you have any idea how difficult is was to obtain those giant chinchillas.  I wonder how you would feel if someone said oh just feed them whatever and even one of your difficult to procure giant chinchillas rabbits got sick and died.  I tend to err of the side of caution.

Hi Dave,
    Have  a pretty good idea how hard your giant chins are to get. That one buck that died, did so on his 1st little bit of choka weed. That was a tiny amount. Now all the rabbits just go for it and leave their pellets until the choka weed is gone.
    The dry does stay with young goats and clean up the alfalfa hay the goatlets waste and eat all the choka I can give them. Not breeding right now as it's been too hot, will wait until mid August  or later to breed again. Like floor breeding as it has proven in my situation to be easier on rabbits and me.
 
Dave Bennett
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Pat Maas wrote:
Most often animals especially rabbits should be slowly changed to a brand new diet.  That seems to be the consensus of opinion from the myriad advice from the available reference books.  I have seen many rabbits with diarrhea and not because of a disease but from abrupt diet change.  It is better to be safe than sorry.  Do you have any idea how difficult is was to obtain those giant chinchillas.  I wonder how you would feel if someone said oh just feed them whatever and even one of your difficult to procure giant chinchillas rabbits got sick and died.  I tend to err of the side of caution.

Hi Dave,
    Have  a pretty good idea how hard your giant chins are to get. That one buck that died, did so on his 1st little bit of choka weed. That was a tiny amount. Now all the rabbits just go for it and leave their pellets until the choka weed is gone.
     The dry does stay with young goats and clean up the alfalfa hay the goatlets waste and eat all the choka I can give them. Not breeding right now as it's been too hot, will wait until mid August  or later to breed again. Like floor breeding as it has proven in my situation to be easier on rabbits and me.

I have breeders for my rabbits here in the east but still it is a very very long drive to pick them up.  I have always used hutches for my "girls" and they seem very happy and are exceptionally friendly.  Even my Buck likes having a belly rub.  Both Does are used to me handling the kits too.  They are my primary animal protein source so I can't afford to have them become ill.  Some places in the country don't have as much need for concern about coccidiosis but if the environment is moist it is much higher so I limit their contact with the ground especially in the Spring.  If I had an actual living arrangement so they didn't live in my house then they would have their exercise run back but even then I controlled how often they were out in the "yard" and they were still confined to their own separate "run."  If everything works out they will have much more room.  They do live in exceptionally large hutches though
(42wide x 24high x 30deep).  My "girls" are really huge.  A bit bigger than average.  One is 17lbs. and the other is 18lbs.  My love for huge rabbits but smaller breeds of goats (Kinder & San Clemente) and really tiny breeds of pigs (Kunekune) seems weird.  hahahahahahaha
 
Pat Maas
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I have breeders for my rabbits here in the east but still it is a very very long drive to pick them up.  I have always used hutches for my "girls" and they seem very happy and are exceptionally friendly.  Even my Buck likes having a belly rub.  Both Does are used to me handling the kits too.  They are my primary animal protein source so I can't afford to have them become ill.  Some places in the country don't have as much need for concern about coccidiosis but if the environment is moist it is much higher so I limit their contact with the ground especially in the Spring.  If I had an actual living arrangement so they didn't live in my house then they would have their exercise run back but even then I controlled how often they were out in the "yard" and they were still confined to their own separate "run."  If everything works out they will have much more room.  They do live in exceptionally large hutches though
(42wide x 24high x 30deep).  My "girls" are really huge.  A bit bigger than average.  One is 17lbs. and the other is 18lbs.  My love for huge rabbits but smaller breeds of goats (Kinder & San Clemente) and really tiny breeds of pigs (Kunekune) seems weird.  hahahahahahaha


Most my protein comes from plant sources. The rabbits are for use as manure makers for the worms. Have also found kid goat manure works well up to a certain age around 6 months before it gets consigned  to other uses. That's why some rabbits share space with them this time of year.

I'll likely get into the Giant Chins after things happen in the next little while. Just needed to remember some of the things had learned as a kid when raising and showing them enmasse. Won't cross them with the smaller breeds as trade these ones off for various needs.

Like you I'm mixed on size of livestock. Like my big goats, but also appreciate my smaller nigerian dwarf crosses that are polled. Had such a hard time finding a decent polled sable buck(from strong milking lines), am making my own with what is at hand. On these smaller does just use 1st year billies as it is easier on them. Am slowly breeding them up.

The few milk cows will have soon are just mixes for now. It's been a long time since I've milked moosers so am starting with experienced milkers, even though I've broken many, many young bovine ladies to milking. After getting that accomplished will look at a certain heritage breed saw back in the NE and is associated with a sustainable ag college. Triple use breed.

Like guinea hogs and the giant blacks. Both can be found in NM.

All my animals can be handled and loved on. And I really like diversity in my livestock and poultry.
 
Dave Bennett
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Pat Maas wrote:
I have breeders for my rabbits here in the east but still it is a very very long drive to pick them up.  I have always used hutches for my "girls" and they seem very happy and are exceptionally friendly.  Even my Buck likes having a belly rub.  Both Does are used to me handling the kits too.  They are my primary animal protein source so I can't afford to have them become ill.  Some places in the country don't have as much need for concern about coccidiosis but if the environment is moist it is much higher so I limit their contact with the ground especially in the Spring.  If I had an actual living arrangement so they didn't live in my house then they would have their exercise run back but even then I controlled how often they were out in the "yard" and they were still confined to their own separate "run."  If everything works out they will have much more room.  They do live in exceptionally large hutches though
(42wide x 24high x 30deep).  My "girls" are really huge.  A bit bigger than average.  One is 17lbs. and the other is 18lbs.  My love for huge rabbits but smaller breeds of goats (Kinder & San Clemente) and really tiny breeds of pigs (Kunekune) seems weird.  hahahahahahaha


Most my protein comes from plant sources. The rabbits are for use as manure makers for the worms. Have also found kid goat manure works well up to a certain age around 6 months before it gets consigned  to other uses. That's why some rabbits share space with them this time of year.

I'll likely get into the Giant Chins after things happen in the next little while. Just needed to remember some of the things had learned as a kid when raising and showing them enmasse. Won't cross them with the smaller breeds as trade these ones off for various needs.

Like you I'm mixed on size of livestock. Like my big goats, but also appreciate my smaller nigerian dwarf crosses that are polled. Had such a hard time finding a decent polled sable buck(from strong milking lines), am making my own with what is at hand. On these smaller does just use 1st year billies as it is easier on them. Am slowly breeding them up.

The few milk cows will have soon are just mixes for now. It's been a long time since I've milked moosers so am starting with experienced milkers, even though I've broken many, many young bovine ladies to milking. After getting that accomplished will look at a certain heritage breed saw back in the NE and is associated with a sustainable ag college. Triple use breed.

Like guinea hogs and the giant blacks. Both can be found in NM.

All my animals can be handled and loved on. And I really like diversity in my livestock and poultry.
Some of my "thing" about goats is that I love them but also it is because they can be raised on a tiny piece of earth more easily than a cow.  My all time favorite bovine is Highland.  Excellent dual purpose but even though they are on the small side and excellent foragers I am beginning to "feel" my years and need a smaller animal to milk.  I only need milk for my coffee and to make small quantities of cheese so a couple of Kinder Does and a weathers for company is plenty.  That way I can breed them 6 months a part so I will not have one dry and those times of over lap will be able to make a bigger chunk of cheese.   I love Guinea Hogs too but want something even smaller.  
 
Pat Maas
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Some of my "thing" about goats is that I love them but also it is because they can be raised on a tiny piece of earth more easily than a cow.  My all time favorite bovine is Highland.  Excellent dual purpose but even though they are on the small side and excellent foragers I am beginning to "feel" my years and need a smaller animal to milk.  I only need milk for my coffee and to make small quantities of cheese so a couple of Kinder Does and a weathers for company is plenty.  That way I can breed them 6 months a part so I will not have one dry and those times of over lap will be able to make a bigger chunk of cheese. smiley  I love Guinea Hogs too but want something even smaller. smiley 

I'm feeling my years also, so insist on having animals that can work with easily. Even my pacas are easy, after working with them for a while. My place started with small, but in this dry climate, needed additional acreage for rotation.  It's why I didn't head south for the winter. Needed  a few more acres.

Why don't we take this conversation over to your Heritage Breeds Topic?
 
Dave Bennett
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Pat Maas wrote:
[color=Blue]

Why don't we take this conversation over to your Heritage Breeds Topic?
That works for me.
 
Casey Halone
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I just found this thread. Very encouraging. I just got into rabbits finally a few weeks ago, I have two does who are sisters NZ and CA cross in cages ATM. thinking some type of giant cross for a buck?

I also want to take the colony approach for health reasons. I have a spot on the E side of my house that stays shady most of the day.

currently I have a poop ramp and gutter under the cages, I could see cleanup being harder with a colony? part of my reason for raising rabbit was the free manure aspect after all. do you just sweep it all up? does it get stuck in their fur and feet?
 
Dave Bennett
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Casey Halone wrote:
I just found this thread. Very encouraging. I just got into rabbits finally a few weeks ago, I have two does who are sisters NZ and CA cross in cages ATM. thinking some type of giant cross for a buck?

I also want to take the colony approach for health reasons. I have a spot on the E side of my house that stays shady most of the day.

currently I have a poop ramp and gutter under the cages, I could see cleanup being harder with a colony? part of my reason for raising rabbit was the free manure aspect after all. do you just sweep it all up? does it get stuck in their fur and feet?
If you want to breed bigger you need a giant breed Doe NOT the other way around.  A "standard" size Doe is less likely to survive birth when bred to a giant breed buck.  I cannot answer about colony rabbits I have not done that ever. 
 
Casey Halone
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that is very good information, so thank you! Im not out to kill the does!
 
Dave Bennett
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Casey Halone wrote:
that is very good information, so thank you! Im not out to kill the does!

 
 
                          
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Well, great work! You have helped me to improve my knowledge about this field. Thank you so much for sharing.
 
Dave Bennett
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Sharing our knowledge is how we are all learning. 
 
Roses are red. Violets are blue. Some poems rhyme. But this is a tiny ad:

The permaculture playing cards make great stocking stuffers:
http://richsoil.com/cards


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