There is a debate going on in the bunny world – colony rabbits vs cages – What is the best way to raise rabbits?
A growing movement of people are choosing to raise their rabbits in a colony setting. A rabbit colony is simply group housing for rabbits. You may keep lots of rabbits together in one house, or choose to just keep them in bonded pairs or small groups.
The rabbits that we keep as pets are descended from the European wild rabbit. They are different to the cotton tails that live wild in America, but are the same as the wild rabbits that live in Australia and New Zealand.
European rabbits are naturally social animals. They live in small family groups in the wild, and when given the chance, will do so in captivity also. American cotton tails are more solitary in nature.
Bucks will keep a small harem of does, and if your colony has enough space and feed/water stations, you can keep several bucks and many does in together.
If there is not enough space or resource to go around, bucks will fight, sometimes to the death, but more often to quite severe injury including castration and eye injuries.
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Does can be mean to new comers too. To minimize fighting you should provide many obstacles to provide places to hide, and break the line of sight over the whole pen. This gives the newbies a chance to hide from the grumpy queen.
We raise our rabbits as a sustainable meat source. I understand that not everyone agrees with this, but the benefits of a colony applies to pet rabbits too.
Colony vs Cage Rabbits
Easy to catch
Easy to keep clean
Easier to keep them cool
They don’t fight
You can stack many many cages into a space.
Initial setup cost is high
Feeding/watering takes a long time each day
Rabbits don’t have the room to run and play
Rabbits have less muscle tone
They don’t get to be social like rabbits like to be
Moody caged rabbits are more likely to feel threatened and bite
You can use an area or shed you already have
Only feed one area per day – easier
Deep litter makes great compost
Rabbits can dig to keep warm or cool
Natural immunity/hardiness develops
Great muscle tone
Rabbits choose to come up for pats when you feed them
Moody rabbits can keep their distance
Meat rabbits gain weight faster while eating less pellets if they have access to grass in their run
Depending on setup it can be hard to catch rabbits but feeding them daily in an area that can be closed off solves that issue.
Less control over who breeds with who – but the stronger genes will win out in the end
Less control over what happens in a burrow – but again the stronger genes will win
Why we Chose to Colony Raise Rabbits
Because of our philosophy of happy animals, happy meat, we have chosen to raise our meat rabbits in a colony.
We have a main shed that the breeding animals live in, and the kits stay in there until about 5 weeks of age. Then we have two grow out pens that the kits go out into until they are ready to be processed.
I know many people say the kits should stay with their mother until 8 weeks, but by 4-5 weeks usually our doe has weaned them and has another litter due any day.
We were finding that keeping the older kits in with the mothers was causing the mothers to make poor nesting choices for their next litters and we were loosing kits left and right. Removing the older kits allows the mothers to utilize the nesting boxes properly for their next litter.
Raising meat rabbits in a colony seemed like a natural step for us, we have built a purpose built rabbit colony shed and employ the deep litter bedding method in the shed.
Our buck stays in with our does year round. This means they are free to socialize, groom, run and snuggle, just how bunnies love to live.
Raising Meat Rabbits in a Colony is growing in popularity with people wishing to provide their rabbits with a more natural way of life. You have heard of free range pasture fed chicken, well this is free range pasture fed rabbit.
There is a fantastic support group on Facebook if you are looking for more support you can check them out here: MRiC
How do you keep your rabbits? Tell me about it in the comments below!
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Dana is a homesteading, homeschooling mama to 3, based in the south of New Zealand.
She is a Certified Ketogenic Living Coach, and natural wellness expert, as well as a Registered Nurse, with post grad training in mothers and babies. She has struggled with infertility and PCOS and conceived all 3 babies naturally.
Dana is passionate about natural health and gentle parenting. With a background in well child / baby nursing she loves sharing what she knows with mamas, mamas-to-be and mama-want-to-be’s.
She enjoys getting out in the garden, or just sitting at the beach in the sun. Dana also blogs about fertility and pregnancy at naturalearthymama.com, coaches people through Simplyketogeniclife.com and creates meal plans for earthlarder.com