Strongly Considering Colony Setup but have questions

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Strongly Considering Colony Setup but have questions

Post Number:#1  Unread postby minibackyardfarmer » Fri Oct 18, 2019 1:55 pm

This maybe a long post but I want to give a bit of background info so maybe that will help with getting our questions answered easier or hopefully help you all give us tips etc. lol

So we are naturally (or how we have interpreted it lol) feeding our rabbits. They are feed grasses and friendly garden stuff during growing season/orchard season and then just grasses till we can't any more (usually till end of Oct here in Ohio sometimes into Nov), along with good grass hay free choice. We rotate every so many days where they get either wheat or rye grain (we can get both cheap), sprouts from the opposite (meaning if they are getting wheat grain they get rye sprouts etc), alfalfa cubes or pellets (some prefer one or the other) and a day where its hay only day.

We plan on during the winter trying to grow fodder along with sprouting.

Anyways this is really working out.

However right now they are in cages. We tried tractors which were great on spots that are level (our property isnt the greatest for this to be able to utilize all 5 acres) outside of that our biggest issue was when Ohio weather wanted to do nothing but rain and keeping their feet dry (we did wood rungs along the bottom instead of fencing and had no escapes).

We have a spot that will work out well level wise for a colony and would be in the center of our planned rabbit garden next yr. So convenient also. And plan on getting another electric netting to put around that garden (so an extra predator deterrent and if they would get out of the colony enclosure theres an extra barrier for them to be caught in for us to catch them) we attach bird like netting to our poultry nettings and plan on doing this (it works for us with chickens and the chicks not being able to get out through the squares or the smaller chickens/ducks being able to squeeze out.

Right now we have 1 buck NZ, 2 mature flemish/satin cross does (they aren't the large flemish, they are about the size of our silky terrier dog maybe a tad bigger), 2 lop/satin cross does (will be mature come spring) and 1 satin/flemish doe (wont be mature till early summer) together, and 2 does (if had to guess are crosses of a cali and something else, we got from ruralking before we found a meat rabbit breeder) together and are of mature age.

We will end up keeping the males in cages. Our one young satin/flemish doe is blue and want to see if she throws blues when shes old enough and keep a buck that has that color. Come sometimes plan on creating a run that comes off the buck(s) cage so it just isn't a "cage" and has a bit more room and ground contact.

We prefer doing controlled breeding if we do a colony system.

I already know the 2 mature satin/flemish does may never be able to be in a colony. They are do dominate/aggressive with others. They are sisters and were in a very large tractor together and once they started to really mature there was too many fights with them.

So the colony would be with the 3 young does and the 2 does from ruralking. We know the 2 older does get along with anyone as we've had to put some timid rabbits in with them in the large tractor (when we were still using it and put the 2 flemish cross does in separate cages) while we built more hutches - we had another buck and a few other does that didn't make it for some reason (the buck was always depress looking and we prob weren't going to keep as he wasn't growing out to a good body form we were looking for and were afraid his offspring would be this way.).

So with them I wouldn't hesitate putting the other 3 young does with.

We have the material (its an old cage like thing we got when first doing chickens its metal panels with metal fencing on it we plan on putting smaller fencing over top it so no escapes or break ins) to do a 4'x12' area or the panels we have it could be an 8x10 area (would have to put netting on top then as that would eliminate enough panels for the top) would just kinda take away from having a rabbit garden in that area also (maybe again the concept is just drawn out on paper its diff when you actually have things in place lol). the 4ft wide is the best with to work productively in the space and still be able to have a rabbit garden in the same area. Plan on having totes with the lids on but cut outs (prob 2 so there is more one way in and out), we have a few totes that have no lids and seen better days (some have broken pieces off etc) but would give hide aways and what not, and also plan on in a different spots having platforms for them to get up on a diff level.

The idea would be with the kits is once they are 5wks wean them off and put them into the tractors we still have and let them grow out that way.

My questions are:

Would the 4x12 area work for those 5 does or would doing an 8x10 be better?
- planned on doing shelf like platforms if did the 4x12 (which would allow panels to be used for the roof as an added benefit for snow and putting scrap metal roof panels on top).

With the whole kitting thing we were debating an idea instead of allowing kits to be raised in the colony.
Way #1 only have 2 out of the 5 does bred at a time, when ready to kit move them to a cage. When the kits were 2 wks old bred 2 other does (or 3 depending on if they want to lift) in the colony. So when by the time the kits are 5 wks old their moms are going back to the colony (rebred) with the remaining does in the colony being 3 wks preg it it took.

And just rotate that way during the months we classify our breeding months due to our weather here. which is normally Feb (start) and end when the last litter would be had in May at the latest, then it gets too hot usually. Then second cycle starts about July/June (depending on heat) and last litter is end of Oct at the latest.

Would transitioning the breeding does in and out of the colony cause issues within the colony, causing it not to work?
If this would work how would you go about transitioning the removed does back in?

Can you do deep litter with rabbits (we use to with chickens before we change our system)?
If so what type of material can you use safely with rabbits (we can't always get our hands on affordable straw around here but can get pine shavings cheap)?

I had read that we could use play sand with the rabbits in the colony. So if we built a "sandbox" for them in a spot is that helpful/beneficial to them?

How many shelves/platforms, broken totes (flipped upside down and by broken really mean spots that would have had holes drilled out but not as neat lol) for tunnels, and totes with hay in it would we need for a safe total number to help to prevent territory issues from happening?
- 1 was thinking one of everything per rabbit, but with the the platforms may only be able to pull off 2 but would run almost the full length (12') on both sides maybe a 3rd ran along the backside (front side would be the door we used to get in) that would be almost 4'.

With the platforms/shelfs what is the recommended width for them?

Now with food and feed bowls feeders/waters. How many of each should you do?
- I was thinking water dish maybe 1 per rabbit or 1 per every 2. only need bowls during winter easier to replace frozen water. and during some time just hang a bunch of the bottles from the outside (1 per rabbit but spaced enough apart so no issues) and have 1 or 2 pans inside just as backup.
- feed bowls figured 2 or 3. if we did colony plan on doing feed bowls, the plastic ones you can get from like tractor supply that have cut out hands on the frame but sit completely flat (we changed to these for the chickens as they were flipping the rubber ones and one got trapped under it)

Has anyone done framed platform with fencing on it so grass can grow through it allowing for spots to always have grass growing?
- the idea is to do a skirt of fencing around the inside perimeter (with some going around the outside too for predator digging protection) and then the center having a platform with fencing on it so grass can always be growing (minus winter) and then do deep litter around the edges on the fence skirting once they have the grass age down.

Thank everyone in advance for help and sorry so long, but they are one of our food/meat sources and our breeders we are semi attached too (kids know when they need filtered out or don't carry the characteristics we want they will be part of the freezer rotation) so don't want to jump into a potential colony idea with out having some tips/research done from those that are successful doing it and willing to share bad experiences so we have an idea of what to have an eye out for.


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Re: Strongly Considering Colony Setup but have questions

Post Number:#2  Unread postby michaels4gardens » Fri Oct 18, 2019 8:01 pm

8x10 is as tight as you should go, 4 x12 is too tight, sure to have territory issues.

Any time you take a rabbit out of the colony for very long, you need to watch to make sure there is no fighting, when they are reintroduced. [every rabbit is different].Some does get along great, with all kinds of interruptions, some don't.

Both straw, and pine shavings worked fine for me.

At an animal shelter i worked at, they had sand, and a cat litter scoopers, to sift out the poop from time to time.

The more hiding places you have ,the less likely it is you will have fighting

I had several feeders spaced a distance apart for 10 does,[with litters] and 2 big water containers I washed daily.

you need to be sure they will stay dry, a wet rabbit, or rabbit with wet feet, is going to have issues.
meat-mutt rabbits, a few laying hens.

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Re: Strongly Considering Colony Setup but have questions

Post Number:#3  Unread postby a7736100 » Sun Oct 20, 2019 4:04 pm

I'd be surprised if you can keep grass growing in there.

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Re: Strongly Considering Colony Setup but have questions

Post Number:#4  Unread postby hotzcatz » Sat Oct 26, 2019 2:37 pm

For the size, I'd suggest one dimension no longer than your arm. Otherwise, reaching the rabbits when you want them can be a bit problematical.

We have evolved to big modular hutches which has worked out pretty well.

The rabbits here are angora, so we want to keep their fiber clean. The base of the hutch system is 1" x 1/2" wire for the floors of the hutch. Since space is somewhat limited, the hutch is in two layers. Perhaps the next incarnation of hutches will only be one layer due to the cleaning requirements of the tin roofing separating the upper and lower halves.

The wire for the floors comes in ten foot rolls that are 30" wide. Which makes a good depth since that's about as far as can be easily reached across. With ten feet in the other direction, the bunnies have enough room to romp when it's left as one big space. Now, however, we are using matching floor plates so those can be interchanged and /or added so the length of the hutch can be longer than the 10' roll of wire. Since we never know how many bunny spaces we will need at any particular time, there are walls that can be inserted to segment the one long space into smaller spaces. This allows for a lot of flexibility depending on what we need at the time.

Currently, there are two of the big modular two story ten foot long hutches along with two smaller stand alone hutches. One of them is only in use as a quarantine space, the other is a nesting space and can be set up as either a one or two nest site. One of the big modular hutches is set up as a buck hutch so it's segmented into six spaces so each buck is housed by himself. The other big space is set up into two large 'colony' spaces for all the females to live together.

There's no 'grow out' space, these are angoras so the bunnies are kept for years. Once the litter is old enough and the genders are known, the possible breeders are selected and the rest sold at around ten to sixteen weeks old. At sixteen weeks (four months) any bucks are on the edge of being sexually mature so they are housed separately, although they can - if necessary due to lack of hutch space - be housed together until about six months old. Usually by that time they are all sold and any we are keeping for breeding will have their own space by then.

The females are pretty much all kept in one big group. It's much easier than individual spaces. Since there's two big group spaces, when a doe has been out in a separate nesting space and I want to put her back in with everybunny else, I'll switch the groups to the other space and mix and match any of the bunnies while doing it. They don't notice a returning bunny to their group when the whole group is in a 'new' space.

There is also a water system so water bottles or pans aren't necessary for the big modular hutches. I still have water bottles for the two accessory hutches, at some point, it would be nice to set that up with the automatic water system. We don't have freezing temperatures here, though, I'm not sure how one would keep the system from freezing in the winter, but if there's a way to do that, it would save tons of work.

The other thing with the modular space is maintenance. When the floor wire rots through in a spot, that individual floor plate can be replaced with a spare. Which keeps the hutch functional and moves the repair out to a repair shed instead of trying to do construction with rabbits all over. When moving the bunnies to a new house or a new location, with the modular system, a lot of the hutch can be moved since it's in pieces and not one large object that is too heavy and awkward to move. It's still a PITA to relocate the bunny yard, but at least now it's not a start from the ground up like it had been.
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Re: Strongly Considering Colony Setup but have questions

Post Number:#5  Unread postby Augustus&Beatrice » Mon Nov 18, 2019 12:47 pm

I know this is from October but I just wanted to point out that pine shavings are not at all safe for rabbits. The phenols that are produced from the shavings have been known for causing respiratory issues and liver issues. I would go with straw. I know where I live I can get straw for $5 a bale.

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Re: Strongly Considering Colony Setup but have questions

Post Number:#6  Unread postby MacEntyre » Wed Sep 30, 2020 5:08 am

We use wood chips, works well if you keep it no deeper than 8", otherwise they burrow and you know not where... you cave them in with your feet! That can be mitigated by burying upside down boxes for them... they won't burrow if an underground place is already provided.

Straw works very well. Rabbits love it.
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Re: Strongly Considering Colony Setup but have questions

Post Number:#7  Unread postby hotzcatz » Wed Sep 30, 2020 10:38 pm

I wish we could get straw for $5 a bale! Sigh!
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