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Roll Call -- Colony Systems

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Roll Call -- Colony Systems

Post Number:#1  Unread postby BelleVie » Sun Mar 05, 2017 10:39 am


Hi everyone :) I was wondering how many folks here on RabbitTalk actually have a colony system of some sort? --

1.If you have a colony could you share some details of your system (pen size(s), breeding arrangement, indoor/outdoor, etc.

2.How long have you had a colony? Why did you decide to try it?

3.What do you think is the biggest misconception about colonies by those who prefer other systems?

4.What do you consider the biggest benefit of a colony system? The worst problem?

__________ Sun Mar 05, 2017 9:37 am __________

I have a colony system and I love it.

1.My system currently consists of 3 outdoor colony pens. In two pens I have breeding quintets with one buck and four does. My third pen is a grow out pen. My bucks stay with my does continually and they breed on a natural schedule. The does seem to self-regulate litters and I only have one doe who will have litter after litter - but they are all nice & healthy and she is the best momma of the bunch.

My colony pens are all different based on the materials I had available at the time but they are all covered to some extent to keep out the elements.

2.I have had a colony system for 2 years now. My first experiment with one ended in disaster - wasn't predator-proof enough and got decimated by some neighborhood dogs while I was away. My rebuild is predator proof and I haven't had any problems. I decided to try a colony because I didn't have the money to buy a bunch of cages and had the thought 'I wonder if you can raise rabbits in pens like chickens' -- googled that and my adventure began!

3.I feel that the biggest misconception by others is that colonies are somehow a careless way of raising rabbits.

4. I think the biggest benefit of a colony for me is the flexibility it offers. I have a life other than my rabbits and we regularly go away on weekends. Since I free feed, I am able to get away for short stints without it affecting my buns at all. For longer trips it is easy to find someone to come by every other day to feed/water.

The biggest problem for me is litter maintenance. I have to pay close attention to whose litter is whose, and take steps to mark the kits regularly so I don't give the wrong rabbit credit for a kit. I think that's an ok trade off for the convenience I have in other areas.
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Breeding colony 2
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Breeding pen 2
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Breeding pen 1
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Pens 1 & 2 - growout pen and breeding pen 1
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Colony pen 1 - grow out pen
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Last edited by BelleVie on Mon Mar 06, 2017 7:26 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Roll Call -- Colony Systems

Post Number:#2  Unread postby jeannie » Sun Mar 05, 2017 4:10 pm


1.If you have a colony could you share some details of your system (pen size(s), breeding arrangement, indoor/outdoor, etc.
We have 3 out door pens:
1) 16x16 for 22 Lionhead Does (bucks run the yard).
2) 16x8 for 5 NZ Does
3) 10x10 for 2 NZ Bucks
Breeding is done selectively. I do wonder if putting my prized NZ buck in with the does, as you do, would be beneficial? Any advice on that? I thought that they'll all have kits every 4 weeks, lol. Maybe not so?
Anyhoo, when breeding Lionheads for show, BEW, or my newest project, the couple do the deed and she goes back into the pen. I have had several litters in the pen at one time, weekly pics help to identify them.

2.How long have you had a colony? Why did you decide to try it?
We've had a colony for 3 years. It took about a year to decide to go for it. A lot of reading about colony style for rabbits.
I decided to try it because, as one develops rabbitosis, one builds to accommodate the chronic, but not fatal, disease.

3.What do you think is the biggest misconception about colonies by those who prefer other systems?
Not sure on this one. Everyone who's seen the colony set up is surprised it's done and really like it.

4.What do you consider the biggest benefit of a colony system? The worst problem?
Yeah, the flexibility is a big plus! I still go inside the pens everyday to feed/water and I get surrounded by bunnies that want attention. Another benefit of the colony system for me is the easy cleaning. I throw straw down weekly, and rake it all out every 3-4 months. No smell, no mess. Straight to cover garden beds.
Another benefit is that they groom each other, and a few are "mid-wives". They help build the nest and "guard" (against what, I don't know) the nextbox opening for the mama.
Oh, another benefit: they take turns being sentry's. Watching for danger. Standing up like meerkats. If the sentry does the danger foot stamp, even the chickens run for cover, LOL. And visa versa. One time I witnessed this was when a hawk flew over. We have lots of hidey holes for the rabbits.
The worst problem, I agree would be litter management. Marking didn't work for me, but weekly pics did. For the kits that look identical ~ that's where it can be a problem, lol
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Re: Roll Call -- Colony Systems

Post Number:#3  Unread postby 2CrazyFools » Sun Mar 05, 2017 5:21 pm


Love this thread! Can you guys add a picture (or more...) of your setups as well to your posts? The colony idea has always interested me.
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Re: Roll Call -- Colony Systems

Post Number:#4  Unread postby BelleVie » Sun Mar 05, 2017 9:44 pm


Jeannie I enjoyed your post -- ditto the easy cleaning and using the mixed used bedding on garden beds. Mine also get to dig in the dirt so it really gets incorporated. I also enjoyed the last part where you mentioned their social activities. That is my favorite part about the colony setting. It is awesome to watch them interact with each other -- I think my favorite things to watch are my bucks grooming and laying with their kits and the way the does co-mother and even co-nurse the kits.

I love how they know my voice and come running to check out what I'm doing when I'm outside. I've heard people say that a colony environment makes rabbits more afraid of people -- but I've found the opposite to be true. A number of mine come up and actually enjoy getting petted or scratched :D

Regarding your buck question:

Breeding is done selectively. I do wonder if putting my prized NZ buck in with the does, as you do, would be beneficial? Any advice on that? I thought that they'll all have kits every 4 weeks, lol. Maybe not so?


I've made a couple of observations about bucks in my colonies that you may find helpful --

If you add a buck to your doe pen, he will quickly take over -- he will find your dominant doe (or more likely she will find him and challenge him) and he will eventually win her over. After that, the rest fall in line. I'm not sure what type of personalities your bucks have, but I look for bucks with a good demeanor who are gentlemen with the ladies -- they get the job done but aren't crazed lunatics. Regarding the frequency of breeding, I've found that my lower-ranking does in the pecking order are the ones who get bred the most. With 22 does it would be quite the feat for a buck to keep them all bred, but you won't know how good he is at it unless you are willing to try the experiment -- and I'm not sure if that's a risk worth taking lol could be quite the population explosion! :lol: Maybe you could create a test colony of 5-10 does with one buck just to see what your ratios are.

In my pens, I have some interesting combinations --

My older buck, Frankie, basically isn't interested in copulating at all during the winter months (he'd rather sleep and eat) -- but once it warms up outside he starts to get in the mood. The does seem to be perfectly fine with that as well. I actually put my best breeding doe (the one that will have litters every month if allowed to) in with him so she can get a bit of a break and recover from being a momma. Frankie actually lived his whole life in a cage system until I got him from his breeder to improve my stock -- I placed him in the colony with the does with no problem at all and he adapted to his new lifestyle easily.

In my other pen, I have a younger buck (my second-generation buck in this particular pen), Archer, in with my most dominant doe, her daughter, and two other does. He is also a gentleman but is always willing to do his job. Despite that buck's desire, the does in this pen are very good at regulating their breeding schedules. My dominant doe, May, will only allow herself to get bred every other month -- which is good. It seems that the further down the pecking order you go, the more often the does get bred (probably because they're more submissive)?

Anyway, many litters in a colony isn't a problem if you are able to keep track of them. I've had each of the four does in my colony with litters at the same time and they all get along just fine.

(Also I love the photos on your website! Super cute!)

@2CrazyFools -- I will try to take some photos of my colony pens for you to see. If you have any questions, feel free to ask -- we'd be happy to offer help and/or suggestions :)

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Re: Roll Call -- Colony Systems

Post Number:#5  Unread postby jeannie » Mon Mar 06, 2017 8:42 am


I love how they know my voice and come running to check out what I'm doing when I'm outside. I've heard people say that a colony environment makes rabbits more afraid of people -- but I've found the opposite to be true. A number of mine come up and actually enjoy getting petted or scratched :D

It's awesome huh?! I walk into the yard hollar'n "bunny bunny bunny" and they all run to the fence with their paws on wires looking at me with love in their eyes (okay, it's because I have their treats)... :)

Yikes, I would pull my hair out if I put a buck in with my Lionheads... LOL
I am thinking about this for my NZ pen, 5 does. The buck is a laid back guy. Very sweet.
Maybe I'll try it ~ we did just get another freezer :mrgreen:
Thanks for the input!
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Re: Roll Call -- Colony Systems

Post Number:#6  Unread postby BelleVie » Mon Mar 06, 2017 7:31 pm


Lol sorry -- didn't catch that NZ detail in your original post. That makes more sense. :)

I posted some pics in my original post --

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Re: Roll Call -- Colony Systems

Post Number:#7  Unread postby ohiogoatgirl » Wed Mar 08, 2017 2:15 pm


My colony is about 55sq ft. (10ft long, one end is 5ft wide and other end is 6ft wide)

I have a Silver Fox buck, Californian doe, and three does of the cross (50/50). Currently two more 50/50 kits from the cali doe and litters of 6 and 7 from the other does (75/25 kits).
I have been playing with the idea of line breeding but I am not happy with the size of the 75/25 kits right now. thinking of keeping a 50/50 buck or bringing in a cali or nz buck to breed the 50/50 does to.
I also have a young Mini Rex doe.

I have been letting the buck run with the does full time but as I believe them all to be bred back I will be separating him to a cage sometime this week. Give the does a break.
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Re: Roll Call -- Colony Systems

Post Number:#8  Unread postby alforddm » Wed Mar 08, 2017 2:43 pm


I have toyed with the idea of a colony system. I have a feeling it would allow me to breed year round as they could dig down into the soil to stay cool. The things I have been leery about it is I know we have some cocci here as one of the escaped growouts I had a while back when finally caught and butchered had cocci in the liver. It wasn't really bad, just noticeable.

We also have wild cottontails, and even though our dogs try to run them off, they aren't completely successful.

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Re: Roll Call -- Colony Systems

Post Number:#9  Unread postby MaggieJ » Wed Mar 08, 2017 4:58 pm


I no longer have rabbits due to mobility issues, but I have kept rabbits in both cages and in a colony. I enjoyed the colony much more--and so did the rabbits.

1.If you have a colony could you share some details of your system (pen size(s), breeding arrangement, indoor/outdoor, etc.
Mine was a colony in half of an unheated shed. The geese had the other half, but they were outside all day. The rabbit space was about 8ft by 8ft. In the centre were two nest tunnels with hinged lids. The rabbits loved to hang out on top, particularly on sunny mornings. There were windows on all but the north side, so lots of ventilation and a nearby silver maple gave good afternoon shade.

There was a hay-feeder that gave them free access to good hay: about 80% alfalfa, 20% grass. I was feeding naturally and this was the backbone of their diet, along with as many fresh gathered greens as the season allowed, a small amount of whole grain and a trace mineral salt block. Feeding and watering could be done from outside the colony, which is handy but not as good from the point of view of catching problems.

Initially I had two does and a buck in the space, IIRC, or it may have been three does. They were all related and got along well together. Previously I had used the space as a winter pen for the does so they could could keep each other warm and to simplify the frozen water problem. The buck was housed separately at that time, since i did not breed them in winter. It required only small adjustments to make it a year-round colony.

2.How long have you had a colony? Why did you decide to try it?
I had the colony for about 3 years. At that point I had to give up the rabbits, or I'd have it still. I much preferred it to cages.

Besides the social and health benefits to the rabbits, it made breeding so easy. No more standing around waiting for the buck to do his thing. No more unwilling does--they now decided when to be bred and when to take a break. Daily care is much easier and quicker. Rabbits in groups are charming to watch and they were always happy to see me coming with their greens.

3.What do you think is the biggest misconception about colonies by those who prefer other systems?
I think a lot of people don't realize how many types of colonies there are. Anyone contemplating a colony is wise to tailor one to their needs and husbandry style. Outdoor colonies are quite different from indoor colonies--especially from the point of view of keeping the rabbits safe.

4.What do you consider the biggest benefit of a colony system? The worst problem?
The biggest benefit for me was having a better lifestyle for the rabbits. They socialized, they could breed through the winter because of the nest tunnels, they enjoyed the exercise and company. Daily feeding and watering was a breeze.

I used a deep litter system that needed to be shovelled out every few months. Because alfalfa hay is stemmy, the stems kept a fresh layer of litter on top of the mess. I had almost no illness and no instances of liver cocci. Other than the waste hay, I used wood shavings and occasionally straw.

BUT: A colony requires a different kind of routine to make it work. When rabbits are in individual cages, a glance will usually confirm that all is well. When there is a problem it is fairly easy to deal with it before it spreads. In a colony, a rabbit hiding in a nest tunnel with a health problem may not be missed immediately. Does with kits may not come out to be fed immediately if they are nursing their kits.

A colony requires you to think on your feet if something goes wrong. For instance, once we began to find litters scattered and chilled. It took a few days to realize that our buck was overly eager to breed kindling does, sometimes even interrupting the breeding process. We tried a couple of solutions and ultimately divided the colony and let him commute between the two sides so he was not in with a doe that was about to kindle. It worked, but it doubled the daily care. Later we replaced him with his son, who was much more of a gentleman and we could remove the partition.

My parting advice to anyone contemplating a colony: Don't sell your cages until your colony is at least a year old. That way, if you don't like it, you will not take a financial hit.
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Re: Roll Call -- Colony Systems

Post Number:#10  Unread postby ohiogoatgirl » Wed Mar 15, 2017 1:16 pm


I don't know why but Sassypants decided the second tote (nest box) was not up to par and the only thing to be done was to panic at the last minute and have her litter in the first tote with the cross doe's litter.... So there is 9 (75% SF, 25% cali) and 5 (50/50 cali, SF). It's been more than 24hrs and all the kits were fed and tucked in together. So... guess we are gonna see how this progresses...
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Re: Roll Call -- Colony Systems

Post Number:#11  Unread postby BelleVie » Wed Mar 15, 2017 8:37 pm


Yeah that'll be tricky -- hopefully the does are good at keeping them all well fed.

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