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SilverStar Polish Rabbitry


Keeping Hutch Rabbits

Keeping Hutch Rabbits
Many people, especially seemingly youth, will put their first rabbits in a hutch in the backyard.  Thats how i kept my rabbits the first three years that i had them.  It is certainly the "classic" rabbit housing, though i guess i would not say that it is the BEST.  However with the proper design and maintenance it can certainly be a healthy way to keep rabbits.  Please, when reading this article keep in mind that I am not ripping on people who keep their rabbits in a hutch, nor criticizing them.  I just hope to offer some helpful tips to those who do, or plan to, keep rabbits in a hutch.
When building a rabbit hutch, do not actually attach the wire to the wood.  I mean, the wood should not be holding the cage together.  It is better to make a wood frame that you can slide all-wire cages into.  There are several reasons for this.  If the wood is actually holding the cage together and keeping the rabbit confined, you may soon find your rabbit missing.  I have seen rabbits, after months of working on it, chew through a 2X4.  An all-wire cage sitting in a hutch-frame prevents this problem.  It is also much easier to clean--take the cages out, lay them on the lawn, bleach and then rinse them with the hose, and let them dry in the sun, before sliding them back in the hutch.  If you need to scrub off built up manure this is a lot easier when you can take out the cage and turn it over.
Hutches are sometimes made of chicken wire.  However, chicken wire is not suitable for rabbit housing! Galvanized wire cages should be used, with the floors being 1/2 by 1" mesh and the sides being 1x2 or 1x1.  Very large breeds may need solid floors, however wire is better if it will work, because the droppings fall through the floor, keeping the cage clean. 
The part of the hutch on which the cages rest will soak up urine and will get all chewed up.  Also, manure will build up.  While i never got this done on my hutches, i might suggest coating the 2x4's with metal flashing where the cages rest on them.  This makes it a lot easier to clean--just scrape,scrub and rinse.  It prevents chewing, mites from living in the wood, and soaking up urine.  Another idea would to put L-brackets inside the frame and have the cages rest on those. 
The hutch frame can be made of 2x4's.  The legs should be pressure treated lumber to prevent rotting.  However nothing that the rabbits can get their teeth on should be pressure treated, as the chemicals are bad for animals.  The roof really ought to be shingled.  On my first hutch, Dad put on a "temporary" particle board roof that lasted until it fell apart and we made a bigger hutch.  the particle board leaked, and it came apart very quickly, in the end just resting on the cage since the nailed-on corners broke off!  My next hutch, a longer 12 foot one, had a slightly slanted OSB roof.  But after a year this too started leaking when it rained--water would drip right thru the OSB.  It got in feeders and ruined rabbits dinners.  It spoiled coats and even dripped into nest boxes, resulting in kit deaths.  Not to mention being bad for the overall health of the rabbit!  So the roof on a hutch does need to be shingled.
Should the sides and rear be enclosed? good question, i haven't really come up with a good answer yet.  in the summer it is nice to have a little breeze thru the hutch, cooling the rabbits.  But then that night it thunderstorms...  Tarps don't really seem to work.  It is nearly impossible to keep tarps down and they WILL flap around, making a noise that will put the rabbits into "freeze mode" or "tear around the cage mode".  I have, and i know others who have, used quilts: they are good insulation in the winter and do keep the wet out somewhat.  But quilts get chewed, faded, soggy and moldy quick, besides making the hutch look like a dump.  Actually it is rather hard to keep a hutch looking nice!
So you cover three sides of the hutch--what about ventilation?  They get plenty out the front right? so what about when it storms?  I had my 12' hutch roll over 270 degrees during a march windstorm once--with the rabbits in it.  That i think is the biggest disadvantage to a hutch is that it just cannot be climate controlled.  It is unbelievably hard to keep out rain, wind, snow, heat, cold, and drafts out and still provide adequate light and ventilation.  The sun, if shining on the hutch, is right over your rabbits heads, not a good thing in the summer.  In the winter, does with litters need to be taken out of the hutch into another heated area before they kindle.  It is hard to provide electricity to a hutch for nest box warmers without using extension cords--not a great idea.  A Nestbox warmer/extension cord once caught the straw on fire and nearly burned my rabbits up--except Dad "just happened" to be looking out the window, standing by the door, with a spiquet not 2 feet out the door, and a bucket next to the spicket, right when the first spark happened--thank God!  The connection had gotten wet and that is what made it go wrong.  Still, the bunnies smelled like smoke for a week.
Rain doesn't only get bunnies and babies wet, but You when you go out on downpour-days.  If you forget to close the feed bin, or the lid blows off...emergency feed store trip time! (and often as not this happens at 5:29 pm on friday, so it will be monday before you can get more...)  You have to keep equipment in a seperate roofed area or else it will get all wet--carriers, tray, pliers, jclips rusted, grooming tables rotten and carpet soggy...Records will blow away, your ribbons too.  (these are just things to keep in mind when building a hutch or deciding if you are going to put your rabbits in a hutch or a barn).
With a hutch it can be hard to protect rabbits from flies.  Mites can live in the wood then crop up at the most frusterating times.
One of the most appealing features of a hutch is that the droppings fall down to the ground--No drop pans to empty--yay!!!  yep, and you also get rabbits with toes pulled off and killed by predators from underneath!  I never had any problems with animals getting my rabbits the first 3 years i had them in a hutch.  Then the last MONTH they were in a hutch--get this: the barn was being BUILT--i had only 5 rabbits and 2 of them and a junior were eaten by a raccoon.  Actually the junior was found dead in his cage, killed from underneath.  (we know it was a raccoon--we saw tracks in the snow, and we had seen them around before)  Also, it pulled the toes off my show stock.  It killed my only two homebred rabbits at the time, one of which was my only GCH.  I had had rabbits get out several times, and they always stuck around the hutch, sometimes even running up to me when i came out.  But this time they were gone.  But if i had them in a barn I would not have lost them, whether they ran away or the raccoon got them.  So, the point is, if you have a hutch, you need to cover the bottom of it.   The hutch should be as high off the ground as possible without being unstable.
Even if you do not have predators (remember, neighbor kids and thier dogs count) to worry about, if a rabbit gets out of its cage, in a hutch, maybe at night, he may be long gone by morning.  A friend of mine keeps her hutches in an enclosed area (where the chickens live) and i think this is a good idea.
Again, i am not critisizing people who keep thier rabbits in a hutch.  With the proper set up and management it can be an excellent way to keep rabbits.  I just want to caution everyone who has a hutch or is going to build one--make sure it is as safe, dry, and sanitary as possible.  Hutches are cheaper and easier to build then a barn, but remember, "cheaper" and "easier" is not the definition of "better", especially where live animals are involved.    HOME

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