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Think of Transitioning to a Colony Set-Up?

Alternative housing for rabbits in groups.
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Think of Transitioning to a Colony Set-Up?

Post Number:#1  Unread postby ramblingrabbit » Thu Aug 18, 2016 6:19 pm


Hi folks! It's been a while since I've visited Rabbit Talk. We've settled into a routine with our rabbitry recently that has been working well, and so other projects have been taking more of our attention and R and D.

Recently, though, I've been dreaming of transitioning to a colony type set up, and so I thought back once more to good old RT. Since I don't know anyone personally who has done something like I'm envisioning, though I know locally a couple of people who have had colonies of sorts (one was for pet rabbits, so breeding concerns weren't addressed, however--and the other seemed to be casually for meat purposes, but was just not designed or managed well so it stank and looked awful, allowed rabbits to escape, and didn't seem to provide them with much meat). I'm hoping to visit the former person next month for ideas tho and to grill her on fencing solutions etc all the same.

Current situation background with meat rabbits:

We are using individual free-standing wooden hutches with wire flooring--they were built one at a time along the way from scrap wood, so each one looks a little different, but all are roomy and provide adequate shelter. They are underneath a shady mango tree which provides midday and afternoon shade. We have 3 breeding does of different ages, one being quite old now but still fertile, and one young doe about to be bred for the first time, and one young buck. Each has their own hutch. We also have two grow-out hutches, and one simple bottomless rabbit tractor that works very well, that they normally graduate to for the last few weeks before slaughter. Twice a day we feed OG pellets, and a couple of bucketfuls of fresh greens from around the farm (particularly ti leaves [Cordyline fruticosa/terminalis], pidgeon pea leaves, sweetpotato vines, plus various greens and herbs from the garden, weeds, and other things as available) as well as rationed amounts of sugarcane stem, ripe bananas, beets, and carrots. We wean does at about 1 month after kindling, and rebreed as soon as they are in good condition and receptive after that. This is Hawaii so the greens are available steadily yearround and winter temps are not a concern. Summer heat is an issue sometimes, but the shade tree mitigates that, and temps are rarely higher than mid 90s during the day, cooler at night. Tradewind breezes are the norm. So not enough to cause heat stress, and usually not enough to affect fertility, unless its a really bad el nino year like the last two summers.

I'm considering colony models for a couple reasons:

1. I would like to shorten and simplify the daily feeding and related chores. Emptying those buckets of greens over a fence into one or two communal mangers seems a lot simpler than having to go from hutch to hutch distributing the mixture of greens evenly among rabbits in appropriate sized piles (nursing does get big pile, buck gets littler pile, etc), and having to open and close seven different hutches, plus a tractor, and check seven different water bottles, twice day. We divide up the work, and it's routine enough now, but still, a more efficient system would be ideal.

2. Actually this is the more important: I've never been totally comfortable with having animals confined in such small spaces, and on metal wire to boot. It was one reason that I hesitated to get into rabbit keeping in the first place, because it seemed to be the standard model. I understood why, especially after I did more research, and eventually went with it, in lieu of any other tried-and-true model to follow, once I became convinced of the many other virtues of rabbit raising. But I just wasn't crazy about it and still am not. I don't believe that our rabbits are miserable by any means, and so I don't have a problem with other people doing hutches of course provided they are humanely designed and properly sited and reasonably roomy, because they obviously have their advantages. But having spent years doing "natural farming" and improving our chicken coop to incorporate natural foraging behaviors, and raising muscovies free-range, I would like to do something more in line with my philosophies and aesthetic values in terms of housing them in a way that allows for more expression of the "rabbit-ness of the rabbit." Being able to watch them run laps and interact in the fresh air and sunshine is appealing. And having several years experience with rabbits now I feel puts us in a better position to anylize behavior and sort out problems that may arise in a more complicated social setting. Having rabbits that grow a little slower, or produce darker meat because of the excercise, is just fine--I actually believe, as with other animals, that extra excercise develops flavor and nutritional profile in a positive way, rather than making meat "gamey" or "tough" or being "less-efficient" (meat should taste like the animal it came from and be a distillation of the experiences of the healthy and well-expressed life that animal lived--animals are not just meat-producing machines that eat and poop).

My Current vision:

Please feel free to point out any problems you forsee--that's why I'm posting! But this is what I'm envisioning currently. A colony enclosed by a perimeter fence, probably chicken wire or welded wire (depending on what we can afford), on metal posts, with hardware cloth or similar buried underground, or maybe buried paving stones (if affordable), to discourage easy digging under it. It would be sited on high or at least sloping ground that won't flood in heavy rain, probably somewhere in our orchard, so that at least half of the area is in shade (I think this is really important in the tropics). I'm picturing a raised mound of dirt, artificially constructed if necessary, in the very center of the enclosure, with perhaps some kind of slab-like thing on top, like a piece of roofing material, or a pile of large rocks, or a log, (or maybe a tree?) or something, that would make this the appealing, flood-proof, cool area to burrow into, and discourage burrowing under the fencing or elsewhere. From what I've read rabbits like to burrow under structures, as well as into sloping ground rather than flat, it seems...? I would add a small feeding area in one corner of the perimeter fence that would contain some racks or mangers to hold greens, some kind of rain-proof pellet dishes (or cover the feeding area to keep it dry), and some watering devices. This would have a gate that we could easily but securely close, so that we could catch rabbits. I hear that rabbits kept in outdoor colonies with underground burrows aren't very tame. I don't mind if I have to deal with crazy wild young rabbits once a month or so--I can use a net and wear appropriate protective clothing if needed, but I'd rather not resort to trying to pick them off with a bow or something, as I've heard of some people doing... :shock:

The buck would be housed separately, and we would catch does at feeding time and breed them with the buck before returning to the colony. That way we could still keep track of breeding and regulate it.

Some Key Point that Concern me right now:

-I can't afford to spend a lot of money on materials. We can borrow earth moving equipment to make a mound, and probably steal some large rocks from somewhere. We have some metal posts on hand already. Hardware cloth and chicken wire are pricey-ish but we could probably swing these.

-However it's also important that it look generally tidy, both initially and down the road, and not like a "rabbit ghetto." We have farmstay rental guests and visitors to the farm for tours and such as well and it can look "rustic" or simple for sure but not ugly, cluttered with "stuff", or foul. In addition, my mother's (the boss's) aesthetic and organizational sense is particularly offended by having things too messy or red-neck looking...

-Predators are not an issue. Dogs could be, but our dog is well-trained and kept under control at all times, and so far we haven't had issues with the neighbors dogs bothering our animals--there is a leash law in place but it's frequently flouted. Would burying a foot or two of hardware cloth, combined with creating an inviting burrowing area away from the fencing and controlling the population (of course), be enough to contain them? Even hardware cloth rusts pretty quick here, but I don't think we can afford to pour concrete several feet down or buy anything much heavier duty.

-How big would it have to be to stay green inside? We get a lot of rain, and it can't become a soggy cesspit. I think, like a chicken run, it needs to either be small enough to cover it with a roof and manage it intensively with bedding, or be large enough that it won't become overused. This is not a trivial question, because of the expenses involved with fencing,-- labor etc! :x

-Is it possible to introduce our existing herd of does--or part of it--to a colony lifestyle, or does that cause a lot of problems with fighting, etc? Is it always necessary to start with young litter mates or others raised together? Is there anyway to predict how their personalities or ages will affect the integration, or ways to make the transition easier?

-How does one collect manure from an outdoor colony? Will there be a couple of "potty corners" where we can wheel in a barrow and rake and scoop without much hassle? The production of manure is secondary for us, but still important to the farm, so if theres any way to facilitate this in a colony that would be great.

-If there are one or more trees within the fence, is it likely that the rabbits will completely destroy the roots or girdle the bark off a mature tree? How might this be prevented if so?

~~~

Sheesh! Sorry for such a long post!

But any advice, suggestions, or merciless critiques on any part of it are welcome if you have the time. Thanks! :)

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Re: Think of Transitioning to a Colony Set-Up?

Post Number:#2  Unread postby MaggieJ » Fri Aug 19, 2016 8:06 am


A couple of quick, off-the-cuff thoughts . . .

Chicken wire is useless to contain rabbits. They can chew through it quite easily. Can you perhaps find some used chain link fencing and use chicken wire or hardware cloth as well around the bottom to keep young kits in?

You seem confident that you don't have predators, but are there hawks or owls there? People setting up outdoor colonies sometimes overlook attacks from the air.

Rats are likely to become a problem. I know Dayna, our other member from Hawaii, has had problems with them.

I don't mean to be discouraging, but outdoor colonies are probably the most expensive and problematic way of raising rabbits, especially if you can't resort to red-neck methods. I had a rabbit colony in a shed for several years and liked it, but outdoor colonies are a whole different kettle of fish.

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Re: Think of Transitioning to a Colony Set-Up?

Post Number:#3  Unread postby ramblingrabbit » Fri Aug 19, 2016 3:14 pm


Hmm. No hawks, but we do have occasional owls. barn owls mostly. Our ducks and ducklings are out in the open on full moons tho and are never bothered. And a barn owl can only nab an exposed small bunny thats not paying attention or fast enough... right? i think id be more worried about the rats in the end...

What defenses do wild rabbits have from rats? Do they just relocate a warren to escape predation when it becomes too intense...? ( I understand wild rabbits and domesticated arent the same deal obviously--im just always curious to study mother natures analogue solutions to see if i can learn anything, and i have little experience around wild rabbits...)

we also have domestic cats, but i feel like we could handle that...

We do have chicken wire doors on several of our hutches, and our rab tractor has only chicken wire on most of three sides, and theres never been any holes chewed (maybe we are just lucky :? ), tho it doesnt last very long before rusting out. i was thinking of using hardware cloth allong the bottom as well if we did use it tho for reinforcement. But id love to use something else--i hate chicken wire! We have a lot of plastic netting and can easily get more--now i know they could chew through that in a second, but maybe if the bottom was lined all around with hardware cloth or something else chew-proof a couple feet off the ground? with the netting above just to prevent jumping over the hardware cloth? the plastic would outlast chickenwire weatherwise. and its way easier to work with and even cheaper...

anyway, thanks for the thoughts! realistic concernd are much appreciated, discouraging or not! i will keep researching and brainstorming for now, tho it may well be that we have to do something quite different in the end... :)

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Re: Think of Transitioning to a Colony Set-Up?

Post Number:#4  Unread postby Preitler » Fri Aug 19, 2016 3:59 pm


Hm, my neighbours rabbits (pet breeds!) just keep killing rats that get too close, but I reckon that is a very rare thing. I had rats sometimes, nothing that snap traps (homebuilt, about 2-3 times as powerful as commercial ones, which were just right for mice) didn't take care of. Walnuts are a great bait.
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Re: Think of Transitioning to a Colony Set-Up?

Post Number:#5  Unread postby MaggieJ » Fri Aug 19, 2016 4:17 pm


LOL, Preitler! :lol: I have a goose that has been known to drown mice in her water bucket (I think she was amused to see them swimming around) but I've never known rabbits to kill rats. I guess it might be a learned behaviour.

Rats can be devastating when their population swells out of control. They are attracted to grain and rabbit pellets and population explosions can happen in the blink of an eye. We're in a state of war with them at the present time. I'm hoping a nice family of weasels or mink will move in and rescue us. Poison helps, but a good predator is the best control . . . at least until the rats are gone and they turn their attention to the livestock.

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Re: Think of Transitioning to a Colony Set-Up?

Post Number:#6  Unread postby ramblingrabbit » Sat Aug 20, 2016 9:20 pm


I've also been considering as plan B, something like a small pole barn, with paving stones or tiles or similar on the bottom, and placed vertically around the sides, covered with straw. I guess the advantages are that this requires less space (Many of the "indoor" colonies I've seen and read of are rather compact (but still beats a cage for space). And also that you can handle rabbits more and check on kits in the nest. Disadvantages, are more feed required, and more work keeping it clean, I guess? And more construction? (though I'd have to figure out if it actually costs more or less in materials than a large, reinforced perimeter fence, :? ). We have scrap wood to use for the posts and walls, and would just have to get roofing, and we could scrounge up at least a few paving stones, flag-stones, or large tiles.

I've been interested in colonies for some time (even when we first talked of getting rabbits). But it's really hard to find reliable, consistent models online. (Which is why we built hutches then instead--at least we knew they were tried and true.) Seems like everyone with a colony has done it differently. And often it seems there are a lot of exciting ideas, grand plans, and pictures of people setting up colonies shared online--but then little follow up. So ultimately the reader has no way of knowing which, if any, of these grand ideas worked and which didn't in the long run... :x

Anyone have any insight to offer or resources to point me towards on my other concerns, regarding the stocking density, manure management/collection, and how (or if it's possible) to transition cage-raised does into a colony dynamic? I know this last is highly dependent on the individual rabbits, but I'd still appreciate any general advice or experience you can share regarding that...

Thank you!

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Re: Think of Transitioning to a Colony Set-Up?

Post Number:#7  Unread postby Truckinguy » Sun Aug 21, 2016 9:10 am


I had no problem transitioning my rabbits to the colony from cages in the garage. They immediately seemed to enjoy running around in the straw and continued breeding like normal. It seemed that their natural instincts kicked in and they dug and tunneled through the straw and ran around happily.

I have a few changes to make in a complete redo of my colony which might happen next year. I"m going to try to incorporate PVC pipe into a feeding system, raise the colony for better drainage for both urine and spring thaws, raise the roof so I can stand up straight in it (my back will thank me!) and perhaps raise the walls onto a layer of concrete blocks so the wooden walls aren't in contact with the urine on the patio stone floor.

I also want to build a separate area for the bucks so I can control the breeding. I was hoping that a buck and a couple of does could stay together and, for the most part, it has worked out but back to back litters is hard on the does.

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Re: Think of Transitioning to a Colony Set-Up?

Post Number:#8  Unread postby ramblingrabbit » Sun Aug 21, 2016 1:54 pm


thanks truck! that's encouraging. i am thinking separate buck area. just one less variable to worry about, but also i do just really like to KNOW exactly when litters are due, for support--and be able to control their timing. hopefully we can have something where they can still see and "socialize" but be separated by fencing.

can i ask what your "stocking density" is in your colony?

please excuse lack of caps and weird typos... having to use phone currently... :)

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Re: Think of Transitioning to a Colony Set-Up?

Post Number:#9  Unread postby foresthomemama » Mon Aug 22, 2016 1:02 pm


I am very interested to follow your journey towards colony rabbits. For many of the reasons you described, I have an interest as well. Check out "Peebles Rabbit Colony" channel on youtube. His videos show his colony and how he set it up. He's informative and seems like a nice guy as well. Keep us all updated on your decisions and progress. Good luck with everything!
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Re: Think of Transitioning to a Colony Set-Up?

Post Number:#10  Unread postby ramblingrabbit » Mon Aug 22, 2016 6:55 pm


thanks for the resource. i will look him up!

i will happily share the results of our project on RT when we settle on something and get it going--and esp if it is sustainably successful. :) plan to get started with actual construction in october...

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