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Do any of you raise rabbits "cage free"?

2179 Views 11 Replies 9 Participants Last post by  turtlehead
When I was a kid, we had a pet rabbit that lived in the large chicken pen and coop we had. Once in awhile he would dig out and go to the neighbors to eat their lawn. We fixed that by laying wire cloth on the ground in the pen and covering with dirt. I have been admiring all the nice rabbit set-ups you all have been building and got to thinking about whether we could raise rabbits without traditional rabbit cages. If we could make the pen predator proof and could keep the rabbits from digging out, what would be the reason NOT to raise them cage free?
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Hi Farmergirl,

We raise our rabbits both in cages and in a colony setting. Check out turtlehead's blog for more info on colony raising. I don't have time to add a lot to this right now, but I will try to chime in again later.

Many people here raise rabbits in colonies (cage free). It gives the rabbits a nicer lifestyle with lots of exercise and social interaction. The biggest problems are dig-outs and predator attacks, followed by disease, which can spread rapidly in a colony setting. Another consideration is that it is difficult to keep track of breedings and matings.

If you are thinking of trying a colony, please do your homework first. You'll save yourself a lot of grief.

Here's a link to Turtlehead's blog with tons of information on the progress of her colony. If you want a clear idea of its evolution, read it from the earliest entries forward.
Thanks for the link! I might be interested in raising rabbits if I could do so in a colony setting. I just have an aversion to housing anything in a wirecage longterm.
I prefer a more natural setting when I can, but I just wanted to mention that not every individual rabbit is suited for it. Many have really lost all social instincts through hundreds of generations of cage raising. I have owned many rabbits who just would not do it. Even when you raise them together, sometimes they'll still fight. Adults of both sexes can be very territorial and I have had does who were flat out DONE with their kits at 6 weeks or so.

So if you do try a colony, be prepared to sell, cull or cage several rabbits. Watch very carefully for fighting. There's really never a time when you can stop watching for it, every time a doe gets flirty, gets bred, kindles, weans or just has a bad hair day the dynamic can change and a rabbit bite will nearly always get nastily infected and rabbits can outright kill other rabbits who can't get away from them. If a buck gets to a nest he may kill kits. Not trying to be a downer, but protecting our animals does sometimes mean from the same species.

How I used to do it was I had a couple of huge, movable pens that the rabbits took turns in. They were caged at night. Does with litters popping out of the nest box got out there with their litters and the litters when weaned got to go in giant colony cages till they went to new homes, freezer camp or I decided to keep them for breeding, then they got their own digs and were rotated out on the lawn or screen porch for exercise and grazing. I couldn't do it with a big herd, but with 6 does and 3 bucks and their litters it wasn't much trouble. Sometimes you have to find a happy compromise. Also, since they were only out for the morning or afternoon, I didn't have dig-outs.
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i started my colony in the chicken pen with three does and a buck, all of which came from a colony that had been bred for quite a few generations from an original trio, all mixed up, and its true not all rabbits get along, one of these does was driven out of the colony and never allowed back in,

they have their burrows under the coop and have not had any dig outs, i have had quite a few litters born in there and actually have at least two more new litters down there now plus one that has been above ground for a while and getting close to butcher size,
How do you get the colony-bred kits handle-able? Or do you not handle them until catching them at sale/freezer time? And, if that's the case, how do you catch them and do the deed without getting injured yourself?
i catch them in the coop when i want to check one over, and then when its time to do the deed you eather pick them off with some sort of gun, or catch them, if you handle them right you dont get hurt, but a few scratches are not unexpected,
I believe Turtlehead withholds food for a few hours, so that they are eager and less cautious than they would be otherwise. She seems to be able to just reach down and nab the ones she wants.
My does are mostly wild, I wear fireplace gloves if I have to handle them. That or scruff them by the back of their necks and their hips.
We just started raising rabbits in September. I have 15 cages which I have kept the does that I would like to start breeding for now. The younger ones that I dont want for breeding are loose in a colony setting. At feeding time it is a challenge not to step on some of them. LOL I spend a little time each nite with a bowl of oats or pellets and they have to come to me to eat. That has gotten alot of the nervousness out of them. I really enjoy feeding time with a dozen bunnies at my feet eating almost out of my hands. I have been doing this feeding for about 2 weeks, before that the bunch was pretty skittish and stayed out of my way. Now I have everybody looking for me nudging my feet. LOL Now dont think they dont have feed down for them and they are dying to be fed. They have free access to hay at all times and after they come to me for some feed I put down their regular pan of feed. But not till I get to play with them a bit. They really like their oats. They think its candy I think. I can also pick up without to much trouble the ones I want to get a closer look at. There is a couple of exceptions but these are were a bit older when I got them. For those when I need to catch them I use Toms large fishing net on a pole. Good for catching the bullys. Only had a few that needed to be taken out for the peace of the whole bunch.

Linda and Tom
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I believe Turtlehead withholds food for a few hours, so that they are eager and less cautious than they would be otherwise. She seems to be able to just reach down and nab the ones she wants.
Yup, I feed them in a hutch - a little short "building" with just three sides, wire floor, and a slanted roof to keep the food dry. I take the food away around noon one day and then the next morning when I put the food out again they're so busy digging for food that they ignore me picking them up. I drop them into a large clean trash can and haul them wherever I need to.

If my husband is available on butchering day, he just picks them off with the air rifle. We go out early in the morning when they're active; in the middle of the afternoon they're frequently under shelters or in burrows and you can't see them. He's a great shot, much better than I am, and can take them out with one shot if he's standing beside the colony fence.

They seem to go through phases. The itty bitty ones, at 2-3 weeks, startle easily and run from everything. Then around 5 or 6 weeks they get extraordinarily brave and are underfoot so much it's hard not to step on them sometimes. They sniff my jeans and boots and everything about me. If I try to touch them they run away though. I still touch them occasionally, just to get them used to it, but they never get "tame". Then at about 8 or 10 weeks they get real cautious again and keep their distance.
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