When raising animals – either livestock or pets – it’s always going to be easiest to work with the animal’s natural instincts. You are not going to win a fight against nature, and it will make for happier animals!
When it comes to raising rabbits, many people keep them in separate cages where they live out nearly all their life solo. They are often only brought together for breeding or when raising young. The reasoning behind this method is to keep fighting and unwanted pregnancies to a minimum. While that might be true, it goes against rabbit nature to live alone. It’s easiest for human caretakers to have them living solo, but rabbits are very social and want to live with other rabbits.
In the wild, rabbits live in large groups, called colonies. A wild colony could have anywhere from a few rabbits to a couple dozen. They watch each other’s backs while grazing, practice social grooming, and snuggle together to keep warm in the winter.
When raising rabbits, they will be happiest if you can allow them the space and freedom to live in a colony. The colony can be set up in your yard, shed, barn, garage, basement, or spare bedroom. click here to read more about keeping indoor vs outdoor rabbits
Tips for working around the two biggest problems
When rabbits are first introduced to the colony, you can expect there to be a little fighting. Introductions need to be done slowly. They need to establish where the new rabbit fits in the pecking order. Sometimes even existing colony members will fight to move up the ladder a bit during the upheaval of a new colony member. The worst of this is usually over within a week, but it really just depends on your rabbit’s personalities. I have had rabbits take to each other instantly with zero fighting, and also some that took nearly a month before they could live peacefully together. Rabbits that have lived for a long time as solitary rabbits will have the hardest adjustment period. Kits that are born into the colony are pretty much just accepted with no fuss. click here to read more about introducing rabbits
The best thing you can do to keep fighting to a minimum is to give them lots of space. I recommend at least 20 square feet per rabbit. The more space they have to spread out, the less chance they have of getting on each other’s nerves! Also, be sure to provide lots of options for hiding. Small boxes large enough for 1-2 rabbits are great when they need to retreat for a little quiet time.
Bored rabbits are more prone to fighting. Keep your rabbits busy by giving them levels for jumping and areas for exploring. Tunnels intended for cats, or even just large PVC pipes provide entertainment. Rabbits also love to dig. Boxes filled with shredded paper or straw can provide hours of fun!
Another common reason for fighting is when they feel there are not enough resources. If you have a large colony, you will find providing multiple hay bins, and feed & water dishes will limit fighting.
Rabbits are famous for their breeding skills. Left to their own devices in a colony setting you will be overrun with bunnies! A rabbit is typically pregnant for 30 days and can become pregnant again immediately after giving birth. They are induced ovulators which means the act of mating is what causes a female rabbit to ovulate so they can get pregnant at any time of the month or year. Rabbits also have a double horned uterus, enabling them to get pregnant WHILE pregnant. They have no qualms about mating with their siblings, children, or parents and can mate as early as 10 weeks so you will need to separate the males & females by that point. With litter sizes up to a dozen, you can see how this can quickly get out of hand!
The set up of your colony will depend largely on your reasons for keeping rabbits.
Colony raising pet only rabbits is super easy – you either just keep a single sex or you only keep rabbits that have been spayed or neutered. My female rabbits get along very well even though they are not spayed. When one has a litter of kits I have not had problems with the other females trying to hurt the babies, some even step in to act as “aunties” caring for the babies. Intact males have the highest likelihood of fighting, but without the presence of the other sex, they can often live together happily once they establish a “pecking order”. If you are not intending on breeding, I would recommend keeping all females or getting all your rabbits fixed.
Raising rabbits for breeding, either for sale or for meat, requires a little more planning.
If you are raising rabbits for meat or sale and have a very high demand you can keep the bucks & does together full time. One buck can easily cover 10-15 does. If you have too many bucks, they could fight more often and overbreed the does. Keeping the males & females together all the time requires that you be ready to process or sell the rabbits regularly and pay careful attention to which rabbits live the most harmoniously together. The most docile should be kept to continue the colony.
The easier way to keep both male & female rabbits is to simply maintain two separate colonies. This allows you to control which pairs breed and how often. This is especially important when raising show rabbits. You only want to breed rabbits with the right characteristics to produce show quality offspring. I raise rabbits as pets, but a couple times per year I want to be able to breed them for sale or showing. Because I don’t want litters happening all year round, I have a doe colony and a buck colony. They have solid walls separating them so they can not see each other. This reduces the males fighting to “show off” for the females.
Other factors to consider when setting up your colony
Predators & the elements
An ideal place for a rabbit colony is a shed or barn outdoors, or a spare bedroom indoors. This gives the rabbits lots of space to roam about while still being secure on all sides. click here to read about setting up a bunny barn – If possible, providing them with a secure, attached outdoor run is a great addition for exercise and fresh air. No matter what the setup, ensure the main walls are either solid or small gauge wire to prevent predators & rodents from getting in. The flooring should be solid to prevent predators from digging in and rabbits from digging out. The roof of the indoor section should be solid to keep out rain. Be sure to provide predator proof ventilation, especially in the summer. Heat is a much bigger threat to rabbits than cold. click here to read more about setting up an outdoor rabbit enclosure
Straw is an excellent product to use for bedding. They will have fun moving it around and making nests of it. Straw is a good nesting material and good insulator for the winter months. My rabbit’s indoor area is in my barn which has concrete floors. To make it more comfortable, we put down heavy duty foam floor tiles (like you would use under gym equipment). It is easy to sweep & mop clean. They have a corner with some straw for bedding and a few boxes with straw. Their outdoor area has a bottom covered with hardware cloth and we have scattered hay on top of it.
Rabbits are naturally clean animals and can easily be litter box trained. When your colony is litter trained it really cuts down on cleaning chores! Click here to read more about litter training rabbits
Maintaining my rabbit colony is very easy. My male & female colonies each have a 110 square foot horse stall in the barn. Once a day I fill the feed, water, hay bins and bring them fresh produce. I sweep up any stray poop pellets that missed the litter box. A couple times per week I dump the litter boxes into the compost. In the winter we add a bale of straw for them to snuggle into. click here to read more about my rabbit set up