Raising Meat Rabbits: Colony vs. Hutch

When Emerson and I decided to get rabbits, I wanted nothing to do with it. I grew up with rabbits as pets and could not imagine eating one of the furry fellows but seasons change and homesteads grow and food must be put on the table.
We have only ever raised one type of rabbit – New Zealand Whites.
So far we have had some success and are confident that the failures we’ve endured are most likely man-made.

CHOOSING YOUR RABBITS

Making a decision like this always starts with research. How much room do you have? Are you looking for meat rabbits? What is their turn-around rate and how susceptible are they to illness? What type of rabbit is best for you? There are many questions to ask and not enough room here to put them all. I suggest buying the book “The Rabbit-Raising Problem Solver” – it is a great book and has been my go-to for answers.

We chose New Zealand Whites because, honestly, they were the most widely used as meat rabbits and we were wildly uneducated in the field just beginning to raising rabbits. They are one of the larger breeds of rabbit and one Crock-Pot Rabbit Stew fed my husband and me for almost two weeks!

We went to our local Rural King to buy our rabbits. Now, in hind-site, the number one thing we should have really brushed up on was how to sex a rabbit before going to actually buy rabbits. Because that is a HARD thing to do for a beginner.

The beginning of our horror story is that the employee at Rural King sold us 5 rabbits as we were looking for 4 females and 1 male. Well, months and months later passed and we found out the hard way that the fella had sold us 4 MALES and 1 FEMALE.

BRINGING YOUR RABBITS HOME- LIVING QUARTERS

We bought bunnies from Rural King and released them into an open lot that was fenced in and had fencing buried a foot under the ground so that the bunnies couldn’t burrow and escape. Here’s what we tried first and why it falls under the “How Not To” raise rabbits category.

•Colony Raising Your Rabbits

This is when your rabbits are in the same lot and they mix and mingle whenever they want to – and I mean WHENEVER they want to. We thought this was the most humane way of raising rabbits because it’s the closest way to how a wild rabbit would live.
WRONG on so many levels, folks. Let’s go over some important points:

1. Rabbits will mate constantly, over and over, whether you want them to or not.
2. It is very unhealthy for a rabbit to become pregnant immediately after birth – we’re all mammals here, this one should be common sense.

3. Rabbits are more susceptible to disease and parasites on the ground.

That Rural King employee set that poor, unfortunate doe up for failure. She was constantly pregnant, tired, and running away from the other bunnies. It was only ever realized why when I noticed four of those bunnies had testicles.

The wretched reality for Mama is that, because she was constantly pregnant and we were ignorant to it all, I buried so many kits (baby bunnies) in those first months. She was unhealthy from constantly being pregnant that none of them ever survived.

We still have her and she is my favorite rabbit. We call her “Mama” because she’s a great one. Also, she is treated like a queen in an attempt to try and make up for the torture we unknowingly put her though. Since then she has raised 3 beautiful kits but I’m suspecting she may never have a larger litter again.

•SUMMARY FOR COLONY RAISING

Knowing what I know now, even if colony raising had worked, I still wouldn’t do it because:
•Even if you separate the males and females while colony raising, they will still fight (especially the males)
•Even if you had the correct 4:1 F: M ratio…think of all the baby rabbits you would end up with! ONE mother rabbit can birth anywhere from 1-12 kits. Think of having 4 mother rabbits birthing 12 kits every month! You would be rabbit rich and out of space quick.

DISCLAIMER: I am most definitely not saying that colony raising does not and can not work. Some people colony raise their rabbits and the method works great for them. For us, it was just not the best option and that’s okay.

•Hutch Raising

The standard way for a rabbitry to be set up is to have row after row of 36″ x 30″ x 18″ cages. The rabbits usually don’t have any room to hop and they never touch the Earth. We hated this idea. Some mini-farms and homesteads I have found also use this method. It’s not that your rabbits will be unhealthy or particularly unhappy but it was just a matter of personal preference and our moral compass disagreed with the method.

There are also homesteaders who give their rabbits hutches – nice sized structures that have a little bit of room to hop and stretch out while still being contained. My first ever hutch was inspired by this “How to Build a Rabbit Hutch update” on Youtube and I definitely was not able to replicate it perfectly because it was the first thing I had ever built in my life but it had a roof and doors so that is what matters.

We liked this method considerably more than the colony raising method because we had more control over the rabbits, they still had room to hop, AND they had a dark area that could act as a burrow type feature for the mothering rabbits. But, as I stated before, seasons change and as our moral compass started to spin again we felt the urge to improve our rabbits’ way of living.

•SUMMARY FOR HUTCH RAISING

This is a great option for individuals who have more space than usual but maybe not enough space. The rabbits can still hop a little and the mothers will love their burrow feature.

Hutch + Run – OUR CURRENT & RECOMMENDED METHOD

What you see above is our current set-up for our four rabbits and one baby. They each have an 8-foot run where they can hop back and forth, lounge, and spend some time in the sun.

They have their “burrow” area where it is a bit darker and they can escape from any inclement weather and mothering rabbits can raise kits.

Our rabbits were ecstatic when we put them in this hutch for the first time. Our rabbits’ whole disposition changed, which was helpful because they wanted practically nothing to do with me before which made inspecting them impossible. 

KEEPING YOUR RABBITS HAPPY

Rabbits should have alfalfa hay every day, or even better, fresh dark greens. Our rabbits favorite is arugula!

They should have fresh water ALWAYS. All of our rabbits have two water bottles with fresh water. We live in Central Florida so this assures that the rabbit will always have water in the heat of the summer.

Your rabbits should have some form of chewing option to file their teeth down. NOTE: They WILL chew on the hutch if made out of wood so be sure to by non-treated wood when building.
They have to have a way to escape inclement weather such as rain. Rabbits are sensitive to being wet because they lose the ability to control their body heat and can get hypothermia. I added a tarp to the front of my hutch so that when it torrential downpours I can cover their doors, protecting against any windy rain sessions.
Have fun with your rabbits and make sure they are happy, safe, and comfortable.
It is truly true that you are what you eat from your head to your feet.

 

 

 

4 Responses

  • We have our rabbits in hutches or colony raising. This was we control the breeding process and the females seem to do better away from the bucks. Found you on Simple Homestead Blog Hop.

    Reply
    • thegreenacrehomestead

      Yes, that’s what I like most about Hutch Raising. I didn’t like my females being constantly pregnant. I hate to break into the course of nature, but we didn’t need that many rabbits!

      Reply
  • Ladell

    How do you keep the rabbits from burrowing out?

    Reply
    • thegreenacrehomestead

      What we did was dig trenches along the fence about 2 feet deep and laid hardware clothe in an “L” shape and covered it back up. That way if they do try to dig out, they can’t because the wire stops them. There were a few spots that we missed and had to go back and fix but they weren’t able to dig out of any of the other spots!

      Reply

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