Raising Rabbits in Colony Series
Cleaning And Composting In The Rabbit Colony
by guest author Tricia Woolbright
I have my colony set up with two doors, one near the compost and the other near the garden. Depending on the number of rabbits I have at the time, I clean one to four times per month, and it usually takes between 2 hours to 4 hours.
Spot cleaning more often reduces the amount of time on cleaning days, but during the deep winter (when there are fewer rabbits), I just keep adding more and more layers of straw until it’s warm enough to deal with.
Depending on the season and my needs at the time, when cleaning the bedding out, it may go into the compost pile, or directly onto the garden, since rabbit manure doesn’t really need to compost like other animal manures. Having the straw already mixed in with the manure ends up saving me a step at this point.
I have a three-bin compost system, although it seems I only ever actually use two of them. After three months making a pile (or up to about three feet tall), I shut down that pile, and begin a new one. Again, since rabbit manure doesn’t really need to compost, it’s safe to use immediately, without having to sit and ferment like compost usually does.
I offer for people to come help clean, and take away any or all of the manure that they want. In which case I will sometimes save up, so I’ll have help with a large cleaning job. I especially appreciate that, if there are a lot of rabbits (for my setup, “a lot” means 40-60) producing a lot of poop.
Food is usually contained in specific areas, which helps to localize the poop as well, since input and output seem to happen at the same time, especially for the babies. I found a big plastic platform that has been easy to clean off, spray, and disinfect with apple cider vinegar, which I put all of the alfalfa, weeds, and pellets on.
Waterers are raised up off the ground on a low wood bench or cinder blocks, which helps to keep them free of poop and other debris. When the babies are first leaving the nest, we will use bottle waterers (affiliate link), or add more on the ground, and just try to keep them clean until the babies are large enough to get to the raised ones.
There are some other areas that they consistently choose to use as latrines, so we follow their lead and put litter boxes there.
I use a pitch fork, hard rake, trowel, rubber tubs, 5 gallon buckets, dish gloves, a dustpan, and sometimes a mask, if there is a lot of mold and dust.
Step one is picking up the biggest and thickest layers with the pitch fork. One person is inside filling buckets, while the other is outside ferrying them to the garden or compost pile. There is wire under the mulch and straw and this can get tricky trying to rake up the poop and such.
Before I put clean straw down, I sprinkle food grade diatomaceous earth on the ground to try to control insect pests.
Sometimes I will get about a yard or yard and a half of bedding, which first goes to any garden beds that need it, then I start piling it up.
The only plants that I have trouble growing this way are peppers. All of my other plants are enormous, and very healthy, and get very few pests. I try to leave one garden bed unfertilized (and rotate which bed) each year to grow peppers in, which seems to be most effective.
Bone and blood are good for compost. They provide calcium, iron, and other micro-nutrients that plants need just as much as people. Too much animal matter draws scavengers, though, so come slaughter time, we take our bucket of entrails to a nearby field and watch the vultures. They’re frequent visitors, and love the leftovers. We do compost some parts, and the occasional dead baby, when they happen.
Keep Reading: Feeding Rabbits: Weeds, Greens, and More