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Why Are Rabbits Kept in Cages?

December 10, 2014

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOne of the questions, and sometimes objections, to rabbits is the use of modern cages. There are many statements of facts that aren’t really fact. As the rabbitry here has both wire and solid floors, we have a way to check both.

The blue New Zealand doe (that’s female) enjoying a spot of hay is on a wire floor. Wire floors are used in modern rabbit keeping for many reasons. They’re easier to disinfect and sanitize, there’s less manure build up, no wet spots from pooled urine (which also can increase disease problems), more air circulation in warm climates. Some draw attention to sores that can happen on rabbit’s feet due to the wire, and it’s true that some rabbits have a problem with what is called sore hocks. I’ve had it happen, and like breeders with good, thickly furred pads of the feet. A resting mat or board can also prevent sores, giving the rabbit a spot to rest that isn’t wire.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt’s important to note, however, that sore hocks – similar to a pressure sore – can happen on solid floors as well. Solid floors – ours are wood, with shavings over it, have some advantages, particularly in colder climates, with conserving heat. Solid floors eliminate waste of feed from pellets spilled dropping down out of reach – although not preventing waste entirely. There is less chance of coccidia because of less contact with manure with all wire cages, as even with frequent cleaning, solid floors are tough to keep clean. Wood also transmits bacteria and although many issues are treatable, not having it means not having to treat it. Because of the issue of wood problems, the little hutch has vinyl flooring lining the hutch – but that can be problematic in that it’s easier to clean, but slippery – with spooky stock it could result in leg or back injuries.

There are other possibilities including group housing – which in several tries has not worked for me. One sounded like a great idea – three rooms in a basement, with ventilation outside – solid floors, deeply bedded. It. Was. Disastrous. With large rooms and plenty of feed, there was fighting even with plenty of space. Fights created injuries, leading to infections which needed treated and sometimes wasn’t successful. It sounded awesome from a time management standpoint – but failed. It was a shining lesson in sometimes what people think the animals reject. They don’t want the social time and are content with their own territory. That was several years ago, but not something to repeat. One of the feeders now is a young buck that was injured in a fight with a sibling – he lost an eye before purchased and brought here. It has healed, but he’ll be a meal.

An alteration, however, is being worked on in a grow out pen for smaller groups. With 100 square feet of space and hide spots, with smaller groups and multiple free choice feeders, it’s a colony arrangement for growing bunnies from the time they are separated from mom until their last day on Earth. I also hope to do some experiments with rotational grazed pens between raised beds, using rabbits for some specially seeded areas. The area used needs some fencing and reinforcements before that option is tried. Another is a indoor/outdoor housing option…which will take time and funds.

The only thing between the doe and the ground is the wire cage floor. Dog's eye view.

The only thing between the doe and the ground is the wire cage floor. Dog’s eye view.

All wire cages are by far the easiest for maintenance, and the rabbits seem comfortable. The photo on the right shows square distribution of weight of the Giant Chinchilla doe. If she were to be uncomfortable, there are other options to try.

Raising happy, healthy rabbits is a part of what we do. Youngsters that grow into productive adults, or feed a family healthy, lean, high protein meat. There are some who object to this, others who are curious and some who have had rabbit meat and love it.

Because of wire cages, rabbits are not in contact with manure, which falls to the ground under the cages. This is a big factor in no medication ever needed in raising meat rabbits. As you can see in the baby photo, the youngsters have hay and fur in the nest box, but now are big enough to jump up with ‘mom’ and nibble on the feeder, which is always kept full. Right now they get a mix of chopped hay, an “all stock” pellet and a roughage pellet made for horses. This helps keep the feed prices down to try to keep the meat prices reasonable, while at the same time providing all the growing youngsters need for optimum growth. Free choice feeding rabbit pellets has led to digestive issues the last couple of years, and just hay means weight loss.

Keeping rabbits in cages helps insure growth and health, keeps costs down, keeps the rabbits protected from predators and gives each rabbit space to be near but away from other rabbits.

The best rabbit housing often depends on location, but for now this is working great for us. We use both wire and solid floors, and aim for zero medication, but sometimes treat an animal or a pen rather than lose them. Yes, we eat rabbit meat too – and quality matters.

New Zealand cross bunnies - the next generation

New Zealand cross bunnies – the next generation

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