Rabbit raising in a nutshell
In addition to rabbits making your life better by being wonderful and somewhat affectionate, rabbits also have huge potential as backyard urban livestock. The EPA estimates that 30 million tons of food waste is buried in landfills in the US every year. Produce waste that is not yet decomposing can be fed to rabbits and in turn their waste can be composted, vermicomposted, or applied directly to gardens. Rabbits also proliferate rapidly. The offspring of one female rabbit is capable of growing to a combined weight of over 100 pounds each year.
Confining an animal automatically creates work, although it also ensures their safety. Rabbits seem to have adapted well to confinement. If they are bouncing off the walls, they may be requesting some time outside of their home. Rabbits can have a symbiotic relationship with grassy areas if placed in a frequently moved corral. They must be mildly supervised to ensure they don’t dig to their freedom and are protected from predators.
Rabbits are tough creatures, capable of handling subzero temperatures, yet they do have some needs. They need ventilation and protection from the rain. In winter, they need a way to escape cold drafts. Hutches can be easily made from found materials. I have found that the only necessary purchase beyond bulk screws and U nails is a special ordered 14 gauge ½”x1” galvanized after welding wire mesh. Meat rabbit breeds such as New Zealand and Californian are especially well adapted to the mesh. This size mesh allows for droppings to fall through while providing the most comfort and safety for the rabbit’s feet. Cage pieces can be fastened together with malleable braided metal wire or purchased C-clamps. Discarded vinyl air mattresses are very useful as waterproof roof liners.
Ventilation and air flow are especially important in the summer time when hot temperatures can be dangerous for rabbits. For this reason, in the Salt Lake City climate, hutches must be placed in the deep shade. Rabbits cannot perspire due to their fur. Their ears function as a cooling system similar to a car radiator. Stretching out and panting also assist in their cooling. Consider putting out frozen plastic water bottles or ice cubes in their water dish. Ventilation also helps with their respiratory health by reducing ammonia levels in the air evaporating from their waste catchment.
Rabbits have a nearly insatiable appetite. In addition to consuming massive quantities of vegetable scraps, they also require constant and significant amounts of indigestible material for dental and digestive health. This includes grass hay, bark from safe branches, and other non toxic plant material.
Rabbits are paleo raw vegans. They don’t do well eating grains, especially unprocessed corn, although most pellets are a mixture of grains, hay, and minerals. Rabbits do fine without pellets as long as the owner is consistently providing the rabbits with a variety of vegetable scraps and indigestible fiber. It is recommended to cut up celery into inch long pieces. Feeding rabbits without pellets makes a mineral lick a nice insurance policy. Unlike chickens, rabbits cannot consume moldy food. They also should not have avocadoes, citrus, legumes, alliums, or most seeds.
To mate, the female rabbit must be brought to the male’s cage. Females are more likely to be receptive when there are more daylight hours. Gestation period is one month and nest boxes must be properly designed to keep the young safe in their first weeks of life.
To clean cages, use one-time use rags with vinegar after wire brushing. Protect your own respiratory health with a comfortable washable dust mask when sweeping. Plastic barrels cut vertically with a jig saw or repurposed plastic totes make great waste catchment. Pee smell is the major downside with keeping rabbits, and is the reason that daily waste management is essential, especially in the summer. Do not be alarmed if their pee is red as this is not a concern for a rabbit. Rabbit manure will not burn plants, although there is a possibility that pathogens can be transmitted if haphazardly fertilizing edible plants. Though variable, nutrient values of rabbit waste are approximately 3-2-2. If putting rabbit waste directly into your red wiggler system, the urine must first be diluted or separated so that worms are not damaged by ammonia.
I believe it is important to make rabbit hutches as big as possible without making them too big to clean. It seems as though rabbits really enjoy standing up on their hind legs in their cage. For this reason I build hutches with plenty of standing room, at least 2 and a half feet tall. While rabbit hutches do not take up a lot of space it is important to not fall into efficiency at the expense of animal comfort, a mindset that plagues animal agriculture today.
Rabbits are certainly plenty of work. However they are definitely worth it. Share in the rabbit joys and start raising rabbits already! Forfrom Industries takes landscape waste including weeds and tree prunings and uses rabbit recycling. Go zero emissions, and call Forfrom Industries to assist you with your landscape goals today.