I am doing my homework now - if my idea is out to lunch don't be afraid to say so. It seems that bunnies can be weaned around 4 weeks, if they are heading for the oven, then butchered at 12 seeks. What if a rabbit area were circular, divided into 2 parts. One part could be used for about four weeks, while the bunnies were nursing. The second part would be used for 5 - 8 weeks and then the third part for 9 - 12. Letting the rabbits only live in one area for 4 weeks gives the land time to recover. Each section of land would have 8 weeks to be replanted and grow. A variety of root crops, grasses and weeds could be planted in the area after the bunnies graduated to the next level. The area would have 8 weeks to mature - not difficult if the right crops were chosen. While the bunnies lived in that area they would be producing nice fertilizer to help the area grow new crops after the bunnies left. Chickens could even be put into each section of the pen for a week or two to help till the land. Does this sound reasonable? If planned a year ahead of time - or using transplants - a nice little natural habitat would be made for the bunnies.
I'm not speaking as someone who's raised rabbits, but my understanding is that you would need to design to address their desire to burrow - both to keep them in their designated space for the 4 week period, and to extract them to move from space to space. Perhaps someone with more experience can chime in here?
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I can't say much because I use wire cages currently but one thing did come to mind. Well... a few things.
You'd need quite a large area for them to manage on just what grows on the land. I've figured that to feed a doe from the first day of pregnancy until the time when the kits are large enough to butcher (8 weeks) it takes about fifty pounds of pellets plus some hay. This accounts for all of her eating during pregnancy, lactation, nursing and weening plus the amount the kits eat from about 3 weeks old until the graduate to "Freezer Camp" at about eight weeks old. This is assuming an average litter of about 10 kits and an average weight of 5.5lbs at butcher time. Forage will vary through the season so keep this in mind. It's a lot of food to be growing in a short time. Some of it will be trampled, manured and just not eaten too.
I've also figured that I get about a wheel barrow ( a large one) full of manure during the same cycle described above. It will accumulate as it is very dry and dense. A worm bin is the easiest solution for breaking it down fast. Left on the ground it will build up unless you have a serious worm population in your soil. Even still it needs to be somewhat wet for a worm to deal with it and the urine tends to deter the worms somewhat.
The urine is another thing all together. Rabbit urine is very concentrated. It will eat through wood and corrode some metals if allowed to stay in contact with surfaces. It's tough stuff and rabbits tend to use one place to pee, so it all ends up in one small area. Even though I move may cages seasonally, nothing grows under the urine areas. An adult rabbit drinks about a liter of water per day and a doe with a litter will easily drink twice that. A litter of 10 kits 5-8 weeks old will drink about 4 liters on average or more per day as they grow. More in the summer and less in winter. They make good use of their water intake and that is why the urine is so concentrated. A lot of water goes in but little urine come out.
I like your idea though I might suggest having a few of these such areas. You may also consider permanent locations for breeding does that have a good burrow or nesting area. A separate area for the buck would help avoid some of the territorial issues that sometimes crop up with rabbits. Some does will castrate a buck for being too "forward" when she's not in the mood. A third area with forages for growing out your meat rabbits is a great idea.
I'm personally going to be trying to tractor my rabbits through my garden paths. Basically I'll just add little wheels to the cage bottoms and let the growers mow the space between my crops. I want them just up off of the ground so they don't have soil contact and so that they don't end up with their feet in their manure. We'll see.
Thanks! The purpose of these gardens is not to make the rabbits totally sufficient on the land but rather to let nature help in the process of providing variety for the rabbits. I have read on many rabbit pages that rabbits get bored easily eating the same food day in and day out - I do too! - and that they are more likely to fight with each other if they are bored - and that different foods help keep bunnykins happy. So, my hope is that this kind of pen system would help me reach these goals of providing variety while letting mother nature do a large part of the work. Also, if the water supply were moved around often, the "pee place" would most likely change as well.
Sounds like you are wanting a colony type set up.
Colonies work well if you have enough space per rabbit (a minimum of 40 sq.ft. each for having their food supply grown in the pen) , fencing buried at least 4 feet into the ground (6 is better),
the reason for this is that rabbit holes, dug by rabbits can be deep and tunnels can be long.
One way to possibly limit their digging burrows would be to furnish them underground housing via ceramic pots with at the surface removable lids for cleaning.
6 or 8 inch ID pvc pipe can be used for the tunnel leading to the housing area, you would need one of these per female and one for each buck as well, this prevents fighting as much as is possible.
You will also need a place to remove the kits once the mother boots them from her burrow.
If you just want a space to let them get exercise and eat growing foods,(caged the rest of the time) then you still will need that buried fence and the space per rabbit. Just won't need the burrow set up.
When rabbits can get away from each other, they will, which leads to less fighting, so give each one as much space as practical. Hide boxes in a feed pen can also help with reducing the number of fights.
We are getting ready for a new bunny set up. I'm making 3' wide x 2' height x 5' long cages with included hide/nursery boxes. We will also have a feeding/exercise pen that will be 800 sq. ft.
Our set up is going to house 3 does and one buck, kits will get their own grow out cages and use the same pen. We will most likely only breed each doe twice a year, and rotate out the does and buck after 6 breeding cycles of the does.
If we find we need more meat, I will add breeder does from the kits.
Having raised rabbits myself in the past, I see a lot of people make a big mistake in their design - how easy is it going to be to get a specific rabbit out at a specific time? I see cages and tractors that are long and narrow to maximize space or colonies that have lots of burrows and tunnels and think to myself "how on earth are you going to get that one rabbit out when it doesn't want to come out?". Meat rabbit breeds tend not to be bred for ease of handling like pet rabbits are, so unless you devote a good bit of time socializing them (time that is a precious commodity for most rabbit raisers) you will run into situations where you may have to come back later when they are easier to access (not optimal when they are kindling).
Another thing I noticed when re-reading your post is that what you are describing would need to be very, very large if you truly intend for it to regrow food without moving them off of it for more than four weeks. Rabbits eat a lot in relation to their body sizes - especially if given as much food as they will eat like in the situation you are describing. From what I remember (and it has been a few years), I would say that a growing rabbit (4-12 weeks old) will easily eat all the plants in a 3x3 area in the course of one day unless the plants are exceptionally tall. I am not saying it isn't possible, but I would recommend trying a small tractor first to get an idea of how much land it will take to sustain the rabbits. We plan next year to go with a hutch for the breeding does and bucks and a tractor for the grow outs. I did a prototype tractor for the ducks and hope to work out a few of the issues with it before next year.