Tag Archives: meat rabbits

Building a Rabbit Hutch

When we brought Fiona home, we housed her in the same old guinea pig cage that we used to brood our chicks for a few days until we could get a hutch built, but we knew we had to build a hutch.  First of all, the guinea pig cage was designed as an indoor habitat and the bunnies will be living outdoors; the cage doesn’t offer any protection from the elements.  Second, the guinea pig cage has a solid bottom.  Rabbits need to have wire on the bottom of their cages to allow all the waste to fall through.  Rabbit waste is very corrosive and will eat through solid-bottomed containers.  Third, when housing multiple rabbits, it is best to keep them separated.  Bunnies are prone to chewing on one another.  This can cause injury and infection and destroys the rabbits’ coats.  Besides, you don’t want a buck and doe mating like, well, rabbits.   

So a rabbit hutch was necessary in short order.  I spent some time researching plans online before developing the plans for this hutch: 

housing for two rabbits

Home to our breeding pair.

Fiona lives in the left half and Nibbler resides in the right.  Once Fiona’s kindled a litter, the kits will stay with her for a few weeks before being separated into different quarters.  This hutch cost us all of $29.43 to build.  

If you need to build something small, I highly recommend that you check out the “cull lumber” bin at your local lumberyard or Big Orange Box Store.  You can typically find an assortment of bent or damaged merchandise for 85% off.  We got a sheet of 3/4″ plywood for $3.75.  REAL plywood, not OSB.  The sheet had been cut into three pieces but apparently was not the right size for the original purchaser.  We took the two larger pieces and left the six-inch strip behind. We also found two of the three 2x2s that we needed in the cull lumber bin for twenty cents each. The 2x4s we used for the legs of the hutch and the bracing inside the boxes were FREE.  They are untreated lumber that was used in/under inventory at the store.  It is important that you use untreated lumber because rabbits will gnaw/eat their cages and eating treated lumber is not a good idea.  The paint is “oops” paint from the Big Blue Box Store; Valspar’s top of the line exterior paint for $5.  The hook and eye latches we paid the full price for: 2/$1.49.  The biggest expense was the roll of 1/2″x 1″  rabbit cage wire which cost us $16.49.  Using the correct wire on the bottom is important for several reasons.  First because of the corrosive properties of rabbit urine.  Second, using thin wire can cause injury to your rabbits’ feet.  Third, holes that are too large allow predators easy access to your rabbits.  We had some hinges and chicken wire leftover from our chicken coop/tractor construction, so we didn’t need to buy cage wire for the front or back of the hutch.  Using leftover chicken wire saved us another $12 or more dollars on wire.  Hinges probably would have been another $6-10.  We also had a supply of screws, nails and staple gun staples in the garage.  Fasteners can add up quickly if you have to buy small boxes for every little project you complete. 

I may attempt to draw real plans for you in the future, but for now, here are the dimensions of the hutch: 

  • 2 wooden front panels: 20″ w x 20″ h
  • 2 wooden back panels:  20″ w x 18″ h
  • 4 side panels (two inside & 2 outside): 23″ w x 20″ h (The sides are sloped with a 20″ height at the front dropping to an 18″ height in the back.)
  • 2x2s were used for framing the base.  The distance across the front of the entire hutch is about 74″.  If I were to do anything differently, it would be to make the hutch a little longer so that the bunnies have more space to move around, but they have about six square feet each.

Because we used a precut sheet of plywood, we had to try to get the most efficient use of the board the way it was already cut.  We also had to supplement with a small sheet of plywood left over from a project we finished years ago.  Clicking here will give you a scale cutting guide to use if you have a full sheet of plywood.  The fronts and backs need to go over the ends of the sides to make the roofs fit.  It also makes your hutch look nicer from the front with no seams showing.  The size of the boxes is adequate but as I mentioned, you might want to make the “run” portion of each hutch a little bigger.  Raising Rabbits by Ann Kanable recommends seven to eight foot per rabbit, so another foot in each run would give you about eight feet. 

If my directions seem confusing, please leave a comment and I will try to clarify for you.  I am neither an engineer nor a construction worker.  I tell my husband what I want and figure out how big to make the pieces and he figures out how to construct it for me.

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Nibbler

Last week I introduced you to our new doe rabbit, Fiona, and told you about my hare-brained scheme (Yeah, I really just said that.) to start raising meat rabbits.  I can’t raise cattle in town.  At present, I can’t even have a goat, but I can have rabbits because they can be raised in small, urban spaces and are considered pets by most people.  

I can, and will continue to buy sustainably raised meat products from farmers I know and trust, but raising my own meat rabbits is financially a better option for me.    Besides, rabbits are greener; they are very efficient converters of plant biomass into meat.  If you don’t believe me, read this research paper by Wayne Cook from the Warner College of Natural Resources of Colorado State University.  It’s really long and unless you’re versed in the science, probably difficult to read so I’ll just share this statement:

“Calculations for comparisons among herbivores show that rabbits can utilize the herbage biomass potential better than sheep or cattle and sheep are considered more efficient than cattle.  (The data) shows that rabbits are about 2.2 times more efficient than sheep and about 2.8 times more efficient than cattle.”

So, even though I don’t have space for sheep or cattle, I can cleanly, humanely and efficiently produce my own meat.  Rabbit meat production doesn’t require much space or equipment and the start-up costs are minimal.  I’ve done my research.  I know there are breeds of rabbits more suited to meat production based on their size, body shapes and growth patterns.  Fiona, our doe, is a Palomino rabbit.  Palominos are considered a good breed for meat production.

Young buck rabbit.

Our new buck.

This is Nibbler.  Nibbler is a 9-week old buck that we purchased at the fair last Wednesday and picked up yesterday.  The kids selected him.  I like that he looks like a wild rabbit.  My only criteria for rabbit selection other than suitability for meat production was that we couldn’t have any of those zombie-eyed albino rabbits.  I’ll be honest, they creep me out. 

Nibbler is a mutt, but he is a blend of several varieties of rabbits that are of a good size and shape for meat production.  Not all the breeds in his gene-pool were on the “preferred” list for meat production, but most of them were and his parents were of a good size (9-11 pounds).  I’m not raising pet rabbits, so I don’t need pedigrees.  By diversifying my gene pool, I will actually end up with heartier stock not prone to genetic defects common in straight-breed rabbits.

When we started with chickens I didn’t keep excellent records of our costs because saving money on eggs wasn’t my goal.  However, I want to show that rabbits are affordable, sustainable meat that anyone inclined to could raise.  We won’t have any meat from our pair for a while because they are young, but I will keep you updated on the expenses as we move forward in this venture.  Check back soon for a post about rabbit housing!

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Fiona

Meet Fiona. 

Palomino Rabbit

Fiona enjoying some time in the yard.

Many of you will look at this post and think, “Aw, how cute!”  That is the natural instinct when one sees a bunny.  They are fluffy and sweet.  Generally, they are gentle and quiet.  If you are a gardener, you may be thinking, “What a pest!” or “Great fertilizer.”  But, as fellow blogger Annette of Sustainable Eats writes: Bunnies are Fluffy and So Much More

Some of you will read this post and decide not to come back.  That is because Fiona is the first step in my venture towards meat independence and another step towards more sustainable food.  I started by shopping at the Farmers’ Market.  I joined a CSA.  I got chickens and planted a garden.  I ordered, paid for and received half a hog from my friend Joan at Olds Farm and signed up for a raw goat milk share. (Mr. Hippie isn’t ready to let me get a goat.  Yet.)   I make yogurt, cheese and bread.  All these things help reduce my carbon footprint and my food miles.  They increase my self-sufficiency and make me feel better about where my food is coming from.

I have a friend who is a vegetarian because she doesn’t feel right eating meat if she can’t kill it herself.  She should feel that way.  We all should.  We come from a long line of hunter-gatherers.  We are designed to hunt and kill our own meat.  Somewhere down the line agriculture was developed.  This was a good thing.   It provided food security and allowed us to settle down and form commmunities.   Homo Sapiens  has been very succesful.  We are intelligent and learn fairly quickly how to do things as efficiently as possible. We learned to work together and trade with our neighbors for the things we didn’t have.  All these innovations have made life easier although I wouldn’t argue that it is simpler.  Most of us never kill an animal for food.  Some of us, mostly children, don’t realize that a hamburger was once a living, breathing entity.  There is such a disconnect between us and our food that we don’t have to think about the unpleasantry of actually killing the animal that provides sustenance.  We even have different names for slaughtered animals than we do for livestock.  Pigs are pork, cows are beef.  Even deer become venison. 

This post is not a rant about the ugliness of industrial agriculture or the wrongs of factory farms.  This is not a post to try and convince you that you should raise your own rabbits or chickens.  I know that not everyone can or will do that.   This post is about me making a conscious choice to know where my food comes from.  When three of our four chickens turned out to be roosters, I needed to make a decision.  I could find them foster homes or I could eat them.  Like my vegetarian friend that won’t eat meat because she can’t kill it, I knew that if I couldn’t eat those roos, I had no point eating chicken at all.  How can I justify walking into a grocery store to buy a plucked, cleaned chicken and eat it when I can’t eat my own?  I’ll admit that I didn’t personally slaughter those chickens.  I wasn’t ready yet but it was a first step which brought me closer to where I am now.

 Bunnies are fluffy and cute but throughout history they have been prized as a source of meat.  According to David Taylor in his Rabbit Handbook, “By medieval times, rabbits were much valued for their meat, skin and fur.  . . .  A fine buck rabbit fetched as high a price as a suckling pig.”  I buy rabbit meat from the Farmers’ Market.  I know where it came from and that it was treated well.  I also know that it is lean, high in protein and very “green”.  Rabbits are very efficient converters of plant material to meat so they put very little strain on our already stressed out food system.  But, rabbit meat is fairly expensive to buy.  It is often considered a gourmet or specialty meat so it demands a high market price.  I can raise my own rabbits for a relatively small investment. 

Fiona is a Palomino rabbit, a variety recommended for meat production.  Fiona will probably never be eaten but she is breeding stock for future rabbit meat.  Fiona is not old enough yet to sart breeding so this venture is on hold until then, but the foundation is in place.  Until then, I do have another source of fertilizer for my ever-expanding garden.  We went to the fair yesterday and picked out a young buck.  Nibbler is a “mutt” but has nice coloring, a good shape and will grow to a good size for a meat rabbit.  We’ll pick him up on Sunday, so you can meet him soon.

This post is part of Simple Lives Thursday blog hop.  Hop on over and check out what everyone is doing.

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