Setting up your rabbit area outdoors allows your rabbits to live a more natural life with lots of room to run and dig. But it’s very important to take precautions to keep your bunnies safe and comfortable. Let’s take a look at the basics for a good rabbit space.
The Hutch or House
A good rabbit hutch/house is vital to your rabbit enclosure. A rabbit hutch is a secure place your rabbits can sleep at night or a safe space where they can be when you are away for extended times. It is their home base, and where you will likely keep their food, water & hay. A hutch is generally smaller and good for 2-3 rabbits. If you have more rabbits, you will want a small shed, barn, or coop to house your rabbits.
The ideal rabbit house is at minimum 6 feet long by 2 feet wide. Your rabbit should be able to take a few hops across the length of his cage. He should also be able to stand up on his back feet without hitting his head, so it should be at least 2 feet tall. If you are keeping multiple rabbits in the same hutch, go as big as you can to give them plenty of space. If you have lots of rabbits, it’s best to skip the hutch and give them a larger shed, barn, or coop to live in. Being able to walk into your larger rabbit house will make cleaning easier. Click here for a more in-depth view of my first rabbit area with a hutch. Click here to view my current rabbit area inside my barn.
There should be a space with solid walls that is enclosed where they can “hide”. If the hutch is all wire with no private space, your rabbit is going to feel very exposed, especially when it’s dark. Rabbits in the wild live in cozy, underground burrows. Without their safe space, they will be stressed and will probably have a hard time sleeping. The enclosed space will provide a place for them to escape the weather. Make the enclosed space cozy with deep hay or straw to snuggle in or even add some old blankets or a cat bed.
If you live where it snows or if you get a lot of rain, your hutch should be raised off the ground and protect them from falling precipitation with a solid roof. You can build a simple base to raise up your hutch – click here to read how we built our rabbit hutch base. Even if you don’t live where extreme weather is a problem, raising the hutch provides another step in predator protection and make rabbit chores easier on your back.
Install duel locks on all doors to the hutch/house. Some predators, like raccoons, have deft little hands and can manage simple locks. Having two different kinds of latches ensures they aren’t going to get in. Around dusk each night, you will need to go outside and lock the rabbits in their house. You can open them up in the morning. This keeps them safe during the highest predator time.
Locate the hutch/house out of direct sun. Rabbits can handle cold much better than they can handle heat. When temperatures get over 85 degrees, rabbits can experience heat distress and can even die of heat stroke. It’s vital to give them shaded places to relax. Consider planting some bushes or trees nearby, or install a shade sail or canopy over their play area. In a large shed or barn, adding a barn fan can help the keep the air moving.
At least some of the floor should be solid. Many people like to install wire floors in their rabbit hutch so the poop can fall through the holes to keep the hutch clean. That is great for the human caretakers, but isn’t great for the rabbit’s feet. When rabbits walk on wire, it puts pressure unevenly on their pads and makes them carry their weight awkwardly even when resting on all fours. This can lead to sore hocks, and left untreated could cause a deadly infection. Click here to read more about sore hocks.
I have read horror stories about predators pulling at the rabbit’s exposed feet from under the wire floor trying to get to them – so that’s another reason to give them some solid flooring! If you want to use wire flooring in part of the hutch that is fine, just be sure there are parts of the hutch where the rabbit can rest on solid flooring. The floor of our rabbit barn is covered with heavy duty foam interlocking mats (like you would find under gym equipment).
You will want to supply the hutch/house with water, a feed bin, hay manger and possibly a litter box. It is important your rabbit has access to food, water & hay at all times so putting it in their hutch makes the most sense. Hang them in places that will be easy for you to access for cleaning & filling.
I like to hang the hay manger over the litter box so they can munch on hay while doing their business. It helps keep the area cleaner when they are litter box trained. Click here to read more about litter box training rabbits. During the winter, it is helpful to swap out the water bottle for one that plugs in and has a small heater to keep the water liquid. It is helpful if you have a power source nearby, or you can run an outdoor extension cord to the area.
The Exercise Yard
The hutch is important for keeping your bunny safe, but the exercise yard is where they will really want to spend most of their time! click here to read more about colony raising rabbits
32 square feet per rabbit is the minimum recommended space. The more space you can give them, the better though! Just make sure you don’t give them a space too big that you have a hard time properly securing it.
Rabbits are diggers. They will dig all kinds of holes & tunnels in their exercise yard, so just putting a fence around the space isn’t going to cut it. You will want to dig down two feet and bury a wall of hardware cloth wire. Do this around the entire perimeter of the yard. The other option would be to line the entire floor of the enclosure with hardware cloth, then add straw or dirt on top. The rabbits won’t be able to dig holes for fun, but it is the most safe option.
If possible, it is best to fully enclosure your rabbit exercise yard. Think of it like a screened in porch (but with solid hardware cloth wire not screens). Making it 6 feet tall will make it comfortable for you to walk in and visit with your rabbits.
Putting a solid roof on the yard will make it so the rabbits can enjoy the yard even when it’s raining or snowing and will provide some shade from the summer sun. It will protect your rabbits from aerial predators like hawks. A solid roof will also make it more pleasant for you to get your daily rabbit chores done even in the rain.
Ideally, your rabbit will have access to their exercise yard all day long and just be locked inside at night. This might not be practical for your set up if it is not totally predator proof or the weather is very bad. At the very least they should be allowed a few hours in the exercise yard daily unless their indoor area is really large (inside a shed or barn).
Space for digging. One of the best advantages to letting rabbits live outside is that they can dig to their heart’s content without destroying your home. So leave them lots of space for digging. Inspect the holes every day. When my rabbits get too close to the fence line, I will fill in the hole just in case. If they make a tunnel that has gotten too long (over 4 feet or so) I will also usually collapse it so it doesn’t accidentally collapse on them or on me when I walk over it. I always feel bad because they worked hard on it, but they never seem to mind and are always happy to start digging a new one! Our current enclosure has a full hardware cloth floor. It is more secure but they can’t dig giant burrows. I like to give them large boxes of straw or paper litter to dig in.
Places to hide, things to jump on, in or through. Rabbits like to keep busy so providing them with things to do will keep them happy! We have hollowed out logs for them to jump on and hide under, wood boxes for hiding, planters with rabbit friendly plants, and plastic tunnels.
Benches or chairs – If you have a comfortable place to sit and enjoy your bunny’s company you will be much more likely to hang out with them!