Raising Rabbits in Colony Series
Designing And Building A Rabbit Colony
by guest author Tricia Woolbright
Fort Fuzzy has had many expansions and upgrades over the years. We lost several of our starter rabbits to predators, when the colony had no roof. Once we got that on, it remained predator proof for over two years, until a weasel figured out how to get in.
Nearly all of our materials were found and scavenged, with the main exception being hardware cloth (affiliate link), which was pricey enough. I have spent far more on 1” hardware cloth than everything else put together.
Fort Fuzzy consists of two sections, each with a door to the outside, and another door connecting them. What we call the “Keep” is extremely well fortified. It has a floor of chain link, with rocks, paving stones, and cinder blocks covering gaps. A 4-6” thick layer of mulch covers the wire, and another layer of straw is piled on top. Cleaning the wire sucks, and covering it also makes for a much better surface for the rabbits.
The base frame is wood, with cattle panels arching overhead to form a half-cylinder, and plywood forming the end walls. It’s about 6’ high along the center, 10’ wide, and 20’ long.
The “Courtyard” is an L shape wrapping around two sides of the Keep. It includes a bench, a large dog house, an old chicken coop and two hutches that can be used for quarantine if necessary, but usually stay open to general access. More than once, the does have made a joint nest in one of them.
The stem of the L is 24’x 5’, and the base is 20’x15’. It’s about 7’ tall, and the roof is mostly closed. The floor is the same as in the Keep.
When building your own colony, cover as much of the roof as you can. Keeping it dry makes it much easier to clean. You’ll want to make it tall enough that you can stand up, though, because even if it’s dry, crawling into poop to clean it out sucks. Having a door that’s tall and wide enough to be able to haul bedding in and poop out without bending over also makes life a lot easier.
From the beginning, the Keep had strips of hardware cloth along the bottom on either side, mostly held on by zip ties. Babies could easily have slipped through the openings in the cattle panels, but not over the hardware cloth to escape.
After the weasel, however, we added hardware cloth all the way up and across the top. Sealing the edges and corners was a hell of a chore, and we closed up any hole big enough to get a hand through, which seems to be working.
The bunnies love hiding under things, so give them plenty of structures. The roof coverage on the area with the food and one of the litter boxes isn’t as good as I’d like, so we put a plastic kiddie pool over the food and they really like hanging out under it. The more shade they have in the summer, the better, and a fan and ice bottles help to keep them cool too. They will often excavate their own areas of bare ground to lay in as well.
Unless you’re in an area with very cold winters, don’t worry about keeping them warm. They’ll be fine. Keeping them from overheating in the summer is a much bigger problem.
The guidelines generally given online say that you should have at least 10 square feet per rabbit. Fort Fuzzy has a total of over 400 square feet, and while we’ve never had more than seven adults, we were up to a total of nearly 60 at one point. Since most of those were less than three months old, it was still plenty of space to roam, hide, hop, run, lounge, pile, snack, as well as for a litter box, and for us to move around.
In the winter we cover the walls with some combination of plywood, plastic, and vinyl signs, which helps to keep it about 20 degrees warmer inside. We also try not to breed in the winter, but this year we failed at both, and didn’t get the plastic on until after the second snowstorm. So far, everyone seems to be doing well enough anyway.
Keep Reading: Cleaning And Composting In The Rabbit Colony