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Some breeders choose to raise their rabbits in colonies. There are pros and cons to this. First of all, let’s talk about keeping more than one rabbit in a cage or colony area. Many people mistakenly think that rabbits are social animals when in fact they are actually very territorial. Rabbits in natural colonies each have their own warrens and territories, and need an opportunity to get away from each other. Overcrowding a colony will lead to fights and nasty injuries, and sometimes even death. Giving each rabbit plenty of space is the best idea- you can use the ARBA guidelines above to decide what size your colony needs to be. Calculate the amount of space for each rabbit and multiply it by the number of rabbits when calculating out what size your colony space needs to be. Remember to add extra space for your does and their litters if you plan for your does to kindle in the colony.
If you are getting senior rabbits that have not been raised together previously, be warned that they may fight whether or not they have kits, sometimes even to the death. Rabbits are highly territorial and some will not get along with others. If you decide that colony raising is the way for you, then consider starting with young rabbits rather than senior rabbits unless the senior rabbits have been raised together previously, otherwise you’re risking territory fights. Sometimes young rabbits will get along fine until they hit senior age and start feeling territorial. If you want to raise a doe in colony that has never been in a colony before and refuses to get along with other rabbits, consider keeping some of her daughters since she will instinctively get along with her kits. Remember, though, that this is not always the case once her daughters reach senior age.
Rabbits are by nature colony animals, and so rabbits in colonies are often more active and content. Does will sometimes co-parent, kits have an opportunity to be social and learn from entire herd, and rabbits will groom each other and even play together. On the other hand, rabbits raised in colony are often difficult to catch and handle. If a communicable disease were to crop up in your colony, you may not notice it at first and it can spread through your entire herd before you know it. If you are going to raise your rabbits on the ground outside, be warned that odds are high that they will contract cocci. It can kill a rabbit in a matter of days, and the symptoms may be difficult to spot in a colony setting. Rabbits also dig so if you do not have a solid or wire floor in your colony, consider digging up an area the size of your colony containment, laying down wire, and then burying it. This will allow your rabbits to dig without allowing them to dig out.
Sanitation can be a concern in a colony setting. A hutch or wire cage is fairly simple to clean and disinfect, but it can be trickier to sanitize an entire area, especially an outdoor area on dirt. Colony rabbits must also have protection from the elements and some sort of shelter in order to be protected from wind, rain, hail and snow, as well as the intense heat of the mid-day sun. As an alternative to dirt floors, concrete floors work well for colonies, helping to keep rabbits cool in the summer and holding heat in the winter. You can cover the floor of your colony in straw or hay which the rabbits can nestle and burrow in. In the winter you can employ a deep bedding method, adding a new layer on bedding on top of the existing bedding after removing any obvious wet spots (like under the water bottles or bowls). Applying fresh bedding on top keeps the rabbits clean and the bedding naturally composts along the bottom layer, releasing heat which helps keep the rabbits warm. During the warmer months it’s important to keep the bedding fresh and change it often to prevent problems with flies and illness.
When you design your colony, be sure to provide multiple hiding places and several levels for jumping. Be sure to protect your rabbits from weather and predators. Provide several areas of food and water for your colony rabbits. When does kindle, they often stake out an area of the colony and get territorial over it. They will fight to protect this area for their kits. It’s a good idea to keep your bucks separate from your does. For one thing, bucks will always fight each other, no matter how much they like each other. Even bucks raised together as BFF’s will eventually fight. For another thing, keeping a buck in your colony is giving up any and all control over your litters and breeding. A doe that has just kindled is likely to become pregnant immediately, which means that her kits will only be 4 weeks old when the new kits are born. Rabbits also have two horns to their uterus, which means they can get pregnant while they are already pregnant. In that case, she would have two litters of slightly differing ages and odds are good that one litter or the other will not make it. Finally, allowing your does to be bred back to back to back will deteriorate their condition and your does will not be as productive as they could be. A few ways to get around that is to put your buck in with your does for only a short period of time, or remove your does one at a time to breed them and then return them to the colony.
If you plan to show, colony raising can be a challenge. Ears get nibbled on, fur gets pulled or chewed up, and even small injuries can ruin a potential show rabbit.
Some breeders pasture-raise their rabbits in rabbit tractors, but keep in mind that you are going to spend a lot more time to finish your kits to a size big enough to eat. You will also have to move your tractors often, as rabbits can decimate the plants in a tractor in no time. In the wild, rabbits have access to all sorts of beneficial plants to round out their diet, but only having access to grass isn’t enough. You’ll be looking at a difference of 8-12 weeks to finish a young rabbit on pellets, versus 26-28 weeks to finish on pasture. Consider instead pasture-raising your rabbits and also offering pellets.