Self supporting rabbit colony

Discussion in 'Rabbits' started by Ben_slow, Oct 3, 2006.

  1. Ben_slow

    Ben_slow Member

    Sep 28, 2006
    Hi all,

    I’m brand spanking new to this forum and also to the world of raising rabbits for meat. I’ve read lots though and whilst a newbie here I’m not a newbie to self sufficiency. My wife, daughter and I live on a 30 acre permaculture farm in Nicaragua. We have Turkeys and Chickens, vegey gardens, fruit orchards and other home steady things. Our latest plan is to add rabbit to our diet. I have a basic design in mind and wondered if you folk could add any knowledge/idea’s to it before we implement.

    We want largely self reliant housing for our rabbits (just 2 does and a buck for kick off). Where we live is very hot and/or very wet. Materials are generally expensive and a long way from our farm. So the simpler the better.

    The design;

    I’m thinking of a 15’ x 15’ enclosure (more or less) made of 1” chicken wire, roofed with zinc on one side or in one corner for shelter and nesting and over shaded with trees but open sided all the way around to allow for wind and cooling. Probably a segregated caged buck, confined to quarters or to a seperate 'run' other than for mating.

    We’ll supply an internal windbreak and plenty of shade (provided by trees) to a ¼ or ½ the enclosure for keeping them cool/warm dependent on weather and also site the enclosure in the breesiest site we have.

    I want to plant sorghum, a leafy legume and amaranth together and/or in rotation over a half or third of the open area for the rabbits to eat. But I've read sorghum contains a poison as a young shoot? Can anyone confirm this?Otherwise it would be great as its drought hardy and grows like wildfire thus making it a great leafy green for hungry rabbits. By providing continually rotated crops I am hoping to keep our rabbits well fed without the effort of supplying additional feed’s other than from the kitchen/garden scraps and grains we produce on the farm. The grains I intend to feed them are again sorghum and maize - we grow these in abundance for personal consumption and for the chickens but would they too work on our rabbits?


    1) Is the area I have allowed sufficiently big enough for 3 rabbits in terms of energy output from the crops we intend to put in, given half of the area will be fenced off for regeneration?

    2) Do I need to mesh the floor to prevent escape? Foxes where I live don’t burrow and 1” mesh for the sides is small enough to keep problem snakes out.

    3) Foxes where we live are small, about the size of a cat, clearly a problem for baby bunnies, so I'm thinking roof the enclosure with wire too unless anyone has any other foxey solutions - like an angle to the enclosure fencing for instance?

    4) Does anyone know if rabbits will eat sorghum or maize as a grain? – I have loads!

    5) What about plantain and banana’s! I’ve got millions of them! What about other fruits like papaya or roots like Casava?

    Thanks all, I look forward to your input,

  2. MaggieJ

    MaggieJ Well-Known Member Supporter

    Feb 6, 2006
    Prince Edward County, Ontario, Canada
    It's obvious you are putting a lot of thought into this before you start and trying to work with the local conditions, which is great! :goodjob: So many people just rush in and then run into problems.

    I think it would be helpful to know your maximun and minimum temperatures before trying to advise. Rabbits handle cold much better than heat.

    Do other people raise rabbits in your area? They could also be a great source of information for you. And if you buy your breeders locally they should also be somewhat acclimatized to your conditions.

  3. KSALguy

    KSALguy Lost in the Wiregrass Supporter

    Feb 14, 2006
    ok first off that is a decent size to start out with for two breeding does and a buck, also you do not have to separate the buck, he will live quite comfortably with the does in their burrows and keep babies comming,

    i would sink the perimiter fence a few feet so that they dont dig out but DONT cover the ground with wire unless you build 2x4 frames and cover them with rabbit wire so that grass can still grow in patches, to both help with green feed and with preventing errosion in places, other wise leave it open and let them dig their burrows where they want, shade is GREAT, also put this pen on High ground with good drainage so that when it does get wet the burrows dont flood.

    DONT make a rotation by sepparateing the pen into two sides, this will just confuse the issue especially sence their nests will be below ground and can tunnle up on eather side and or could be separated from their kits if they dont have a connecting tunnle to their nest wich would be bad.

    plant your feed crops some place else and take cuttings to them or make hay and bring that to them, you will get more this way anyway, bring the food to them and you can produce more,

    the feed stuffs you have mentiond should work great, rabbits will eat most all that,

    also build a smaller side pen attached to the main pen and floor this part with wire so no tunneling can happen in there, feed them in this inclosure so that the rabbits are used to going in there, then when you need to catch the young ones for butcher or the adults for what ever reason you can wait till they go in the pen, and close what ever sort of door you decide to use there and it will be ALOT easyer to catch them rather than running all over the pen and haveing them go below ground and hide.

    i wouldnt have more than two or three adult breeding does and a buck in a pen this size and remove the young ones as soon as they are weaned to reduce over crowding stress, and you will have a happy productive colony,

    once you get this one figured out and if you decide you would like a few more breeding does build a nother pen exactly like this one (or as close as you can/want) right next to this one to save on space and you can have have multiple colonys going at once.

    sence the rabbits will be burrowing this will keep them cool in the summer and warm in the winter, just give them shade and some sort of rain shelter on high ground and you will be fine
  4. rabbitgal

    rabbitgal Ex-homesteader

    Feb 11, 2005
    Wow, it sounds like you've put a lot of thought into this. I think you're on the right track, but I would urge you to find out as much as you can about it before going further. (Sounds like that's just what you're doing.) The learning curve is steep enough just raising caged rabbits and feeding commercial pellets!

    I'd love to feed my rabbits with food produced entirely on our farm, but at this point, it's not practical for my situation. However, we are dabbling with pastured rabbit production. ( Weanlings are put into floorless pens for growout and moved to fresh grazing every day. They also have access to free-choice pellets. Breeding animals can also be kept on pasture, but since I don't have all the bugs worked out yet, I don't want to risk my breeding stock. I've have a copy of a research article with detailed info published on it...PM me and I can send it to you.

    I don't know much about formulating your own ration, although I do know it's possible. From what I've heard, many homegrown rations are based on good quality (horse grade) hay; veggies and root crops; and grains like oats, barley, and corn. Some breeders and especially pet owners offer a base ration of pelleted feed and supplement with the goodies...incidentally, there's information on the House Rabbit Society's website ( under "Diet".

    One problem I foresee with a colony is coccidiosis...this can be quite a problem with pastured rabbit production, and I'd imagine it would be even greater in a colony situation. (Pastured rabbits are moved to fresh ground every day, so they get less exposure to the parasite.)

    Please let us know how things go for you...sounds like an interesting project.
  5. Tucker

    Tucker Well-Known Member

    Jan 4, 2005
    Hi ,,
    I would advise to build it as big as you can afford ,, say 20 x 20 , depends on what wire size is convient for you to use and afford to buy to enclose the pen with ,, roof too ,

    if you can find 1 inch hole chicken wire in 6 foot lengths ,, I imagine its not going to be cheap ,, snakes can climb ,,

    we used the biggest hole chicken wire 2in to cover our pen to stop the hawks ,, but a determined fox or raccoon 'could' chew thru ,, the 1 in hole wire in 6 ft lengths was too expensive for us ..

    .. the rabbits can chew thru chicken wire too ,, you will find that you need to put a 2in x 4 in - by say 2 or 3 ft high fencing wire around the bottom walls of your pen ,, I don't know if putting a 1 to 2 ft barrier down inside the pen would help keep them from digging out or not ??

    here is a site I found that has research on raiseing rabbits in tropical areas and feeding with local grown crops ,, ..

    It takes awhile to get thru but was interesting , I found out by reading that that I could feed my rabbits sweet potatoe vines ,, they loved it and it didn't hurt the potatoe production any by keeping the plants pruned .. we got plenty of sweet potatoes when we dug them up that fall ..

    I agree with the post that said plant your fodder crops elsewhere and cut and bring to them ,, a trio or quad + offspring will eventually strip the pen down to the ground ,,

    and the feeder trap / box area , is a lot easier than trying to chase ,, and with ground tunnels you might would to have to end up shooting to catch ..

    as for seperating the buck or leaving him in the pen ,, I have read where some that have colonies leave the buck in and the does seem to regulate them selves to a breeding schedule ..

    .. others noticed that litters got smaller and found that taking the buck out and just putting him in for a few days every 5 - 6 weeks appart made for happier does and bigger litters on a regular basis , and by breeding this way you know what week / days the babies are due ,,

    once you get started and if they start produceing well you will find that you will need a seperate growout pen ,, the young will need to be seperated from mom(s) around / by the time her next litter is born ,,

    that 15 x 15 pen will get crowded quick if you have 2 does that have and raise 8 - 9 babies each and you try leaving them in the same pen till you butcher at say 8 - 9+ weeks ,, 1 buck 2 does 16+ fryers ,, thats 19 in a 15 ft sq pen ....

    .. so you will need a seperate cage for a few weeks after weaning depending on how long you want to grow them out ,, processing size is commonly thought of as 5 pounds, my crosses and NZs useually take about 8/9 - 10 weeks to hit that weight ,, my hub likes to wait longer till they are 12 - 14 weeks ,, he likes a bigger carcass and don't mind that it makes the meat cost more by waiting longer to butcher ,,

    Good luck in your start into raiseing rabbits ,,

    Blessings ,

  6. Terri

    Terri Singletree & Weight Loss & Permaculture Moderator Staff Member Supporter

    May 10, 2002
    Do a google on nitrates, nitrites, and sorgum. It has been a few years since I knew this, so you should look it up instead of trusting to my memory.

    My MIL used to raise the bunnies on grain: she only allowed the breeders a LITTLE grain with their pellets because it would have made them fat, but the bunnies got quite a lot of it. She WANTED them to plump up a bit! She also gave the bunnies some pellets, greens, and such.

    Does alfalfa do well in your area? Alfalfa is very good rabbit feed: all of the pellets have a good deal of it in them.
  7. pasotami

    pasotami Hangin out at the barn!

    Jun 1, 2006
    Upper East Tennessee
    Hello Ben - small world, my DH was born in Nicaragua (Leon). He has family there and just came back from a family visit. Beautiful place.
    Rabbits like forage but sogrums are not their favorite. Also I raise rabbit is what I call a rabbit tractor, a smaller structure that can be moved from place to place. I can tell you that where rabbits have access to the ground, if it is not large enough, they will destroy all vegatation. They are very good at getting under a buried fence so I prefer a 2x2 wire mesh bottom. They do well with a very high protein forage, corn (grain) has a higher oil but they are not fond of it either (they prefer vegetation). Since your climate is hot, you most likely do not have alfalfa but a bean of some variety would work (they love peas and beans....) good grass is another and lots of it. I have found that I can put 16 weanlings in my tractor - moving it 2-3 times a day and do very well. I breed my does so that I do not have any more than 2 litters ready for the tractor at a time - by the time I wean, the fryers are ready for butcher. Good luck on your rabbits.
  8. turtlehead

    turtlehead Well-Known Member

    Jul 22, 2005
    Central WV
    I think you'd do better with a heavier fence, and maybe put chicken wire on as well. I've read that many predators can get through chicken wire quite easily. We used 2"x4" welded wire and t-posts, and then we put chicken wire at the bottom to keep kits in and little predators out. We also have a hot scare wire at 12" and 36" powered by a solar charger to discourage predators from trying to climb over the fence. Our rabbits have been in their enclosure for a little over three months and so far so good.

    We're really new at this, though, and haven't had any kits yet so I don't know how this is going to work out for us (space-wise) in the long run. I hadn't planned on separate grow-out pens or rotating or anything like that but I may have to adapt in the future :)

    Here are a couple of blog entries about our rabbits, in case your'e interested.
    When we put them in the enclosure
    About the ensclosure itself

    Thatch has some posts on here showing his colony:
    The colony
    His one-way door
    HIs catch pen

    KSALguy has helped me a lot with my colony, and you're getting good advice from others here too. I can't wait to see pics and hear how your setup works and what you learn. Be sure to keep us posted!
  9. Ben_slow

    Ben_slow Member

    Sep 28, 2006
    Hey, thanks you guys for your reply's, awesome information. I'm truly grateful, the information you supplied me will come in very handy and I'm sure There's a few of you I'd really like to contact seperatley for info you supplied or questions you asked and will do so as soon as I get the chance.

    Sorry time doesent permit me to do more now.

    Cheers all,