Sunday, March 18, 2012

Bunny Condo Design Adjustment

So, of course I review my last post and laugh to see I have to eat my own words.

We did *some* things right with our previous design, but as this is an experiment where we intend to improve things, I have come to the conclusion that we need to change some things to make this better. And alas, we must compromise our idealism somewhat. That perfect design for our condos is less than perfect at the moment... although it will get closer soon! Here's what happened:

Our doe that kindled 14 kits lost 5. Two disappeared. I never found them. And then I found 5 with lacerations one morning, when they were just around 2 weeks old. I checked all around the cage, and am left to assume that a random piece of glass must have been underground where they were digging, from the fill dirt I add to freshen up between litters, and they cut themselves where I couldn't protect them. We ended up loosing 3 of the 5 due to infection, despite me giving them shots daily and bathing the wounds for over a week. I was so disgusted and sad.

Our purpose in having the rabbits live on the ground was to give them a better quality of life, but this experience left me doubting that it was really a better life for them.  So my conclusion is partially for the rabbits' sake, and partially for mine: They have to go in cages above ground. Here is my reasoning:

1. The lacerations and disappearances could be avoided if they were in a finite space that I have full access to. The infections would have had a better chance to heal, and I wouldn't have needed to segregate the injured ones, giving them less access to nursing and thus being smaller than their uninjured siblings. It was very stressful for the doe to have me kidnap her daily and stick her in a box with the injured ones, which smelled funny from the baths and meds, and with whom she hadn't been able to interact most of the day/night.

2. My other doe kindled 8 and lost 5, so only 3 have reached maturity. Why? She wouldn't reuse her burrow, and birthed them right on the dirt. I put a nest box in her condo and the remaining three thrived. She is a horrible housekeeper, and makes it an awful chore to keep her dirt as clean as I desire- and she's always kicking dirt into her food and water, leaving me to clean her water continually in the winter (hanging bottles freeze here in CO so they're only for warm seasons).

3. I spend wayyyy too much time fiddling with their dang dirt. I need to be able to take care of the rest of our farm and my kids, for gosh sakes, and the rabbits are too labor intensive the way we're doing it. It's either change the system, or ditch the rabbits. Seriously. It got that intensive.

My solution? Keep our bomb-proof structures, and custom-outfit them with cages of the same dimensions that keep them off the dirt. That way, they still have the spaciousness they are used to. Also, by raising them up a foot (the condos are tall enough to do that without compromising their comfort) I can install worm bins underneath, and have worms compost the waste materials directly, and I just pull out the garden compost whenever it gets full. That way I don't have to clean poo daily, dig out urine-soaked dirt, fiddle with finding organic fill-dirt to replenish them with, and waste yard space on a separate compost pile. I can also give the rabbits a ramp to access the yard, so their overall quality of life will still be pleasant.

To accomplish this remodel, we have stopped breeding. Once our last two litters are grown and harvested (by early May), I'll have my cages built to spec, and it's just a matter of pulling one out at a time, screwing in the hooks, and hanging the cages. Then they go back in. I should have them all outfitted in only a day. Then I'll give them a week or two to adjust, and start breeding again at the start of June.

I'm still figuring out how to design the worm bins underneath to accommodate our condos' bottom lip under the door, but I think I can make them like drawers that just pull out, with the worms and fresh poo in the 'drawer' and the compost pilings falling to the ground for me to shovel out. There will be a fine mesh lining the drawer through which the pilings fall. More on that to come.


  1. The mysterious disappearance might due to cannibalism. Many mammals do that when they feel they are not able to feed all of the tiny creatures.

  2. Hi Franco! Thanks for commenting.

    Perhaps that is a response to being overwhelmed, but breeders do their best to rule that out through selective breeding. Californian and New Zealand breeds are quite capable of tending to large litters of 12-15 kits. They are selectively bred for large litters and good mothering. I haven't begun to scratch the surface of the breeding science involved, but my litter sizes are on the increase as my does mature, and they should be able to handle large litters- maybe with practice they'll be okay with 15. The doe that had only 3 survive is on probation. I might keep a kit from a different litter to replace her, or get a red NZ because my black NZ is fantastic. She gets one more chance.

    A doe *will* cannibalize kits for nutritional reasons. To counter that, I provide calf manna which is high in salts, minerals, and fats lost through birthing and nursing, starting before she is due, and I continue until she is finished nursing. I also provide a yucca plant blend that helps with absorption of nutrients and counters the slight fever a new mother can develop that would tax her further. This I provide as a boost periodically to all my rabbits, but especially the new mother prior to birth and during that first 2 weeks.

    If I had a bigger rabbitry, I might have removed 3 kits and passed them off to another mother with a smaller litter just to balance them out. I only have one kindle each month, though, so the timing wasn't right. Next time I might try it anyway and see if the doe accepts them.

    It will be easier to track cannibalism with the cage system, since I can inspect the litters daily- they won't be hidden underground for two weeks anymore. We'll see what happens!