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Pastured Rabbits

Tom Celona


Joined: Aug 09, 2011
Posts: 37
Location: Asheville, NC
I know this is a long shot but I have to ask.

Have you or someone you know ever raised pastured rabbits successfully?
Even just the fryers?

I really want to do it, but there are a lot of challenges.

Can someone give me hope?

Urban Asheville, NC - Zone 7A - 2,200 Ft elevation
Tom Celona


Joined: Aug 09, 2011
Posts: 37
Location: Asheville, NC
To be clear, I mean pastured by using a paddock shift system, not with a "rabbit tractor".
Jami McBride
volunteer

Joined: Aug 29, 2009
Posts: 1777
    
    9
There is .... raising rabbits in 'colonies'.... I posted information on this here at permies, you can use the key word search tool to look it up if interested.

To be clear rabbits do not feed mostly on grass, so I'm not sure what your hoping to accomplish using paddocks.
Are you hoping to grow fast growing plants, over and over, and allow the rabbits to self feed.....

Maybe you could elaborate on what you are thinking?
Joe Skeletor


Joined: Jan 04, 2010
Posts: 104
Location: Blue Island, Illinois - Zone 6a - (Lake Effect) - surrounded by zone 5b
Julie Engel in Wisconsin has developed an entirely pasture-raised rabbit system. She originally worked with and then replicated Joel Salatin's son's system of raising rabbits, but then created her own. She didn't like using the tractors either, so went for a colony approach. I went to a workshop that she held at the Michael Fields Institute. It was really great. I know that the pastures that she raises them on are heavy on the legumes and have lots of non-grass plants for the rabbits to eat. She uses electric fencing and moves them a lot. I'll try to find the pdf files she gave out at the workshop. Might help you out in this respect -

She doesn't have her own website (i think), but here's a page with her on it -


http://grassworks.org/?110260000000

If you google her name with the word rabbits there are a few mentions of her on the web

and from a farm that she worked with's website -

"Of course keeping those little bunnies within the confines of the fence can be a challenge. It is not uncommon to view someone holding a large net aloft as they chase an escapee. Rabbit pastures are moved frequently so that the rabbits are always on new grass for grazing. "

I think it would be possible but possibly difficult to raise them on pasture. You would need protection from predators especially if you had lots of coyotes and hawks around.
Brad Davies
volunteer

Joined: Sep 22, 2011
Posts: 212
Location: Clarkston, MI
    
    8
Here's a link to the previous thread.

http://www.permies.com/t/9020/critter-care/Rabbits-colony-approach

I am very interested in trying this also. I am designing my yard to include as many 75-120sq ft paddocks as possible so that I can try the same approach. What I have been reading seems to suggest that if the rabbits are happy and have a place to burrow they are less likely to try to make a break for it. My paddocks are mostly going to be located in the shelter of my soon to be food forest. The breed that I have is New Zealand Blacks, currently 1 buck and 3 does.

My questions are:

What size fencing will keep them in? 2ft, 3ft, 4ft
Would it be best to build a shelter for them, maybe a brush pile or a small den with a top I can pop off to clean?
Can bucks be kept together? What about does that are not kindling?


My paddocks are going to be one right next to another so if they did burrow under the fence they would just be going into another fenced area. There will be ~40-60 of these paddocks all planted specifically for rabbit forage, and maybe a little human forage. I plan to keep permies update with my R&DIY on this, but if someone had some experience in this area it sure would be helpful.

Edit: Asheville, NC is beautiful btw. Stayed there once as a kid on vacation, is Builtmore located there?


SE, MI, Zone 5b "Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work."
~Thomas Edison
Tom Celona


Joined: Aug 09, 2011
Posts: 37
Location: Asheville, NC
Joe,

Thanks for that lead. I am definitely going to follow up with her. If I can get any good info or helpful correspondence than I will post it up here.

Brad, I have similar questions to yours. And despite what I've heard I am concerned about burrowing. I'm not ready to just trust that since I give them a wooden tunnel that not one of them will dig out their own holes. Also, perhaps a silly question, how do you move them from one paddock to the other and then catch them for slaughter. Last time we had a rabbit running around on the ground it screamed bloody murder when we caught it. Its the only time we've had a screamer, and I really don't want it to become a regular occurrence.

Also the polyculture would really need to be tailored to the rabbits needs. For that Julie Engle seems to have some good stuff going on. Again, I am excited to glean some info from her. It's surprising to me how few people are doing this. I don't have enough land to do it 100%, but I'm very excited to help develop the model.

Jamie,

Thanks for your contributions to the other threads. As the others have picked up on I am trying to get to a point where I can pasture rabbits chicken style on a paddock rotation. It doesn't necessarily have to be in colonies but it could. I'll leave that to trial and error... or sage advice. In terms of the polyculture, it should definitely not be just grass, but a blend of plants that come out to healthy happy rabbits. I've been trying to learn about what that might be through foraging so far. I have a tread on it.. Again, it seems that Ms. Julie Engle might have some good ideas.


RE: Edit - Asheville is really amazing. It pretty much has everything I look for in a place. and yes.. the Biltmore house is located here.
Joe Skeletor


Joined: Jan 04, 2010
Posts: 104
Location: Blue Island, Illinois - Zone 6a - (Lake Effect) - surrounded by zone 5b
I remember that the fence she used was lower than the ones we have with chickens, maybe only 2ft. high or so. know the bigger problem was them burrowing under, not jumping over.

Also, about moving them to a new paddock. From what i remember, it was as simple as taking the one side of a fence off, to the new area, and the rabbits would all go over there to get the new greenery. I'm thinking that the size of the paddock was pretty small so that the rabbits would eat up all of their favorite greens, and then when she opened up the next site they were really excited to get to the new ones. She moved them very often, which kept them from creating too many burrows (at least not many getting out of the paddock).

Her shelter was basically a cart on wheels that had a ramp up to it. There was a top to it so you could open the top if you needed to get in and check on a litter or clean it out. Also, she said the rabbits would run under it or up into it if they heard a hawk or other predator.

Here is a picture of one of her 'cajachinas', as she calls them. Found it on somebody's blog that she must have helped. It's the cart on wheels I described -
emancipation acres cajachina
Jami McBride
volunteer

Joined: Aug 29, 2009
Posts: 1777
    
    9
Here is a great discussion, with pictures, we had on pastured rabbits http://www.permies.com/t/1352/critter-care/Pastured-Rabbits#8346 This link is different than the one offered above.
Brad Davies
volunteer

Joined: Sep 22, 2011
Posts: 212
Location: Clarkston, MI
    
    8
Jami McBride wrote:Here is a great discussion, with pictures, we had on pastured rabbits http://www.permies.com/t/1352/critter-care/Pastured-Rabbits#8346 This link is different than the one offered above.


Great link Jami!

So after reading this yesterday I e-mailed Julia Engle to see if I could get more info. To my surprise when I got in this morning I had a response. Copy and pasted from e-mail:

Hi Brad,
Thank you for your interest in pasturing rabbits. I suggest that you check out the Organic Voices website. They recorded my presentation at the 2009 NOFA-NY conference and it is titled Pastured Rabbit is the New Chicken. I'm not sure, but I believe they will mail you a copy on a CD for only the cost of the CD and shipping. I have made some changes, for example I no longer use electric fencing, but it will give you a good foundation.
I am in the process of documenting my system but will not have anything available until after the Holidays.
Good luck!
Julie


On Wed, Dec 14, 2011 at 7:04 AM, Brad Davies wrote:

Hi Julie,
I was wondering if you had any links or information on your pasture rabbit raising approach? I just started raising rabbits on my suburban lot and am very interested in a paddock shift system approach, instead of the confined cages. I have been doing some research but am having a hard time finding anything besides theory. I found a thread that mentioned you and had a link to a web page with this e-mail address, http://www.permies.com/t/11645/critter-care/Pastured-Rabbits. I was just wondering if you had any insight or wisdom you could share that would help myself and other raise rabbits in a more humane way. Thank you for your time.
Brad Davies
SE MI
Zone 5
Tom Celona


Joined: Aug 09, 2011
Posts: 37
Location: Asheville, NC
Oh, now I feel bad. I got the same response from her this morning

50 bucks for the CD. I think I'm gonna spring for it. She's still the only person I've heard of who's documented doing such a thing. Also, it seems like there's a bunch of other great stuff on there.

Thanks for posting the thread Jamie. i had also read that one. Again, good info. But really my ideal for this thread was looking for leads of anyone who has actually done it. It has already been somewhat fruitful.

The big think I also wonder about is who goes in which paddock? Just all the weened fryers in the pasture? Weened fryers and the bucks? Weened fryers and the does? what do you think? As much as I want them to do their own thing.. I really don't want to loose track of breeding.

Tom
Brad Davies
volunteer

Joined: Sep 22, 2011
Posts: 212
Location: Clarkston, MI
    
    8
The big think I also wonder about is who goes in which paddock? Just all the weened fryers in the pasture? Weened fryers and the bucks? Weened fryers and the does? what do you think? As much as I want them to do their own thing.. I really don't want to loose track of breeding.


I am wondering this also. My thoughts were that I would most likely keep males on their own pasture and only allow them to breed when I want. I currently only have 1 male, but I would like to raise another one, an heir and a spare. Since I am going to be able to have 40-60 paddocks letting a doe have her own paddock with her kits shouldn't be a problem. I am also thinking that once the kits are off of milk and munching solid foods I would start rotating them through the different paddocks.

Ideas for moving rabbits:
1) The paddock system that I have drawn up is sort of honey comb shapped, so I would just open the gate up between the old paddock and the new one and hopefully they would want to travel to the new food source.
2)If that doesn't work I could try bribing them with some choice feed, currently my rabbits get very excited to see me as I always bring them treats to nibble on, I would imagine I could condition the same responce from the next generation.
3)Introduce them to my LGD, Mr. Rufus Doofus, a large Scott Amer. Bulldog. While I havn't trained him to heard livestock yet I know he can and will do it. I can't speak highley enough of this breed, smarted dog I have ever worked with, picks up tricks and new comands so fast it's scary. I'm suprised they are not utilized more as LGD as they were once considered to be almost exclusively a working farm dog. He can be stubborn but learns quick, he pawed at my rabbit cages once and got a hefty jolt from his shock collar, needless to say he won't do that again. It's very funny but ever time he goes out side he walks to the garage, looks through the window and once he is satisfied the rabbits are still there he goes and does his business.
4) If none of the other options work, then I'll hop into that paddock and chase them like Rocky. Who know maybe a montage of that and I'll be eating lightning and crappin thunder also

I had another idea about discouraging the rabbits from burrowing, but it might not be necesarry or practical. Anyway the idea was to create a hugelculutre pasture. Using thin 2"-3" diameter wood layed next to each other like a raft then covered with top soil and planted. The idea being if the rabbits dug down they would hit this and stop. It could also make it so the pasture didn't need to be watered. Just a random idea I had, no idea if it's a good one or not.
Tom Celona


Joined: Aug 09, 2011
Posts: 37
Location: Asheville, NC
Thanks for the thoughts. I think Hugleculture is a great idea to keep the pasture productive through the summer. I don't know about it working as underground rabbit containment though. It would have to be a very dense layer of wood and not decompose too much. Locust? hehe, then there wouldn't be too much hugleculture effect I suppose.

Mr. Rufus Dufus! I love it! haha. No dogs here yet but I agree with you about moving them. Now.. catching the ones for harvest might be a different story. I'll have to figure something out for that.

It sounds like you are talking about a pastured/cage set up where the breeding and nursing take place in confinement, and then the fryers and buck pasture together. I'm considering the same thing. I have two bucks right now, and I don't think they would be OK sharing a paddock together. So maybe I'll start off with just one pasturing. I think that if 1 buck and all fryers were fully pastured from weening forward that would reduce my pellet consumption by ~75%. Any behavioral concerns from that set up? Julia mentions that pastured rabbits take about twice as long to get up to weight. If that is true - fryers will be getting into the realm of sexual development. I don't think we're likely to get breeding happening, but I'm a little concerned about young bucks fighting.

Another big thing is fence construction. At least on the perimeter, I'm thinking I need to bury the fence 2 feet down and still be 3 feet high from the ground. Any experience in this space?

The third major thing in my book is makeup of the pasture. What are you planting?? I'm definitely getting alfalfa in with a mix of orchard grass, ryegrass, red and white clover. Not sure what else to include. I also will have mulberry and sunchokes just outside the perimeter that can be added. Additionally there is an infinite supply of kudzu down here which I can always give them. What is your plan in this area?

One of my major handicaps is space. I'm working with a pasture about 1000 sqft. So I'm either going to scale down to match it, or keep experimenting till I can get some more space for them. I really like the idea of moving in this direction. I've started in cages, but it was never my intention to stay that way.
Abe Connally


Joined: Feb 20, 2010
Posts: 1381
Location: Chihuahua Desert
we colony raise our rabbits. We buried the fence 1 ft down, but we are lucky with really rocky soil, so they don't burrow out.

They have a house with a deep litter system, and they burrow in that.

2ft fence is not enough. They do jump out. We had a junior buck that learned he could jump a 3 ft fence, and now, we can't keep him in anything without a roof (he gets out of a 5ft fence).

4ft is a good height to start with. Most won't even test it, and the key is not letting them learn that they can do it.

Our does are in one big pen, and each buck has his own pen. The weaned rabbits have a separate pen.

We don't pasture them much (sometimes in tractors), but we do a lot of cut and drop. We're also growing oat and wheat grass inside and give it to them as a supplement. They eat the roots, grass, and everything.

Here's some more info on our setup:
http://www.velacreations.com/rabbits.html
http://velacreations.blogspot.com/search/label/rabbits


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Bull norris


Joined: Feb 03, 2011
Posts: 50
Location: Chanute Kansas
I moved 5 months ago and brought my rabbits. first i tryed just putting them in the chicken yard and it was working untill they started haveing babys it the litter.
So back to pens , but i left by bucks out to run . i open the chicken house doors to let the girls forage , my red bone will not go inside the house.
but if a buck comes out the race is on until he finds his way back. Joe over at polyface farms has yard pens they use . I think ill try these next.
 
 
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