If you want to try your hand at raising rabbits for meat, fiber or as pets, you’ll have to decide whether to keep them in rabbit cages or in colonies. Both have their benefits, as well as their pitfalls. I’ve used rabbit cages and kept bunnies in colonies. While rabbits benefit mentally from colonies, and can certainly live a life similar to their wild cousins, using large rabbit cages to partition the animals is safer.
Ensuring the safety of your animals is important to every owner. But particularly if you’re keeping rabbits as working livestock for either meat or fiber, then giving them a safe place to birth and keeping them free of tussles with their neighbors is paramount.
Let’s look at the advantages and disadvantages of colonies versus rabbit cages.
Rabbit colonies do have many advantages. Rabbits require a living area 3-4 times their size, and in a rabbit colony, this space requirement is easier achieved. Your bunnies are free to move about a bigger space, and can interact with other rabbits as they might in the wild. Rabbits have complex social hierarchies, with several smaller groups coalescing into one warren (group of rabbits). Living together in a colony allows them to indulge in this natural behavior.
To some extent, raising rabbits in colonies might reduce your workload, since you are not required to clean individual cages (although you still have to clean their living area in a colony).
There are some disadvantages to colonies that anyone thinking about raising meat rabbits or fiber rabbits should know about. When housed together, I found that our does, in particular, got into more territory disputes than I had bargained for. After several bloody ears and mornings finding fur everywhere, I decided colonies were not for me.
Rabbits will mate to establish social dominance, and between males, we found this to be a particular issue. One male kept hounding another to the extent that neither were eating, and their constant running disrupted the rest of the warren. Because does sometimes prefer one buck of another for mating, simply having only one male is not an option at times, especially if you’re breeding rabbits for a constant supply of meat.
Like colonies, keeping rabbits in individual cages has its advantages. Although rabbits kept in a smaller area might have less room to move, I’ve found individual cages let territorial does establish their own territory without having to fight it out with another bunny.
Feeding, although more labor intensive with individual cages, became a more streamlined process that reduced health issues since I could make sure everyone are the right amount of food. When we started raising rabbits together in colonies, we found that does would bully each other. To defend herself, the less-dominant doe would hide, forgoing her meal that day – not a good way to raise rabbits! If you’re wondering what to feed meat rabbits; a good commercial grain is a great place to start.
Problems with Breeding
I also found that by using rabbit cages, sometimes also referred to as rabbit hutches, I could better control breeding. In a colony, does and bucks could breed indiscriminately; for the owner, this has certain advantages because it’s less labor intensive. Does can pick the bucks they like, and take care of the birthing and nesting process themselves. Barring a big issue, an owner can raise rabbits in a relatively hands-off way in colonies.
But every coin has two sides, and in this case, I found that indiscriminant breeding led to losing more litters. Keeping a record of breeding dates means that you can help the doe better prepare for her new arrivals. This is particularly an issue in winter, when it’s harder to provide a warm enough area for the kits. After losing litters to the cold, even though we provided enough hay and the mother did her job by filling the nest with fur, I decided it was time to keep better track of conception dates.
By housing my bunnies in rabbit cages, I can better prepare for kits by making sure my doe has a nesting box available (since rabbits pee and poop everywhere, leaving a nesting box in the cage is unsanitary for newborns). I can also ensure that she gets extra feed while she’s lactating; in colonies, I could not guarantee it, especially if it was a less dominant doe.
Since using rabbit cages means my bunnies socialize with me every day, I found that I can also keep a better eye on the kits. The rabbits are used to me touching them and aren’t as territorial when I check on the kits.
As a happy medium, since the mental health of our rabbits is important, we keep our rabbits in individual cages, but still allow them the opportunity to see and touch other rabbits through the wire. I also give each rabbit daily attention so they’re even less socially isolated.
If you would like to learn more about raising homestead rabbits, you can visit my blog FrugalChicken.
Do you keep your rabbits in cages or colonies. Let us know your preference and why in the comments below.