I've been mulling adding rabbits to our sub-acre homestead for a few years now. I think it may happen for next year, and I'd like to build some housing for them over the winter so we're good to go when spring rolls around. But I have questions and concerns.
We have very little lawn space left, and it's mostly reserved to keeping our laying hens in rotational grazing. So I don't think I could keep rabbits on grass most of the time even if that were the best course of action. My understanding is that the does will need to be sequestered just before kindling and for a while after the kits are born. I'm prepared to build two types of housing, if necessary, and enough to keep a breeding trio appropriately. So what are my options?
I'm more or less familiar with the pasture pens that Daniel Salatin uses, but I don't think we'd be able to use them all that often due to limitations of space. One option I thought of was to build caging designed to sit over our very large compost bin/worm breeding area, so that the rabbit manure would either fall in, or be easy to scrape in. Such housing could be made safe from predators, I believe, while a mobile pasture pen could be kept inside the little bit of electro-netting we use for our few turkeys. My concern with caging is that full time, or near full time caging seems rather miserable and inhumane. I don't really want to keep rabbits if my only option is to deprive them of any quality of life. I'm already committed to preventing them from digging their own burrow, but I don't know if I can in good conscience confine them nearly all the time to a cage. Given my space constraints, do I have other options?
I'd also love input on how much feed I might need to buy. Ideally I'd like it to be none. We have a very large garden and a sort of straggling stand of alfalfa in a shady part of the yard. I'd happily give the rabbits the thicker stuff that the chickens don't usually want (outer cabbage leaves, kale, etc.) along with plenty of clover, dandelion and weeds. And we could make more of an effort with the stand of alfalfa - a little tree pruning would improve the sunlight there.
Our plan would be to alternate breeding the does, probably no more than twice a year, certainly no more than three times per year. The purpose would be to provide feed for our pet cat and maybe the occasional serving of meat for ourselves. I'd like to give up buying cat food, thus reducing our carbon footprint, the household budget, and our dependence on the formal economy.
I'd welcome any advice on my specific questions, or any information you feel I should have that I don't.