We finally have our first rabbit barn!  Actually, that was not really the plan, and I hope it is very temporary until we get my “ideal” built, but that may be a year or so yet.

In any case, our 5 bunnies, brought with us all the way from Colorado, finally have some decent accomodations.  It took me a few weeks to get everything assembled, but they seem pretty happy with the accommodations for now.

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First, I custom built 5 cages (I’ll add a 6th as soon as I get some more wire) that are each 48″ long x 30 inches deep x 18 inches tall.  I like the rabbits to have the ability to move around, and since we lost our play yard when we moved, the cage has to suffice for a while.   Each cage has 2 doors, so we can easily catch the rabbits or even have the option of dividing them in half if need be.  Each cage is equipped with a pellet feeder, a free-choice hay feeder so the bunnies can satisfy their desire to chew, a water bottle and mineral salt lick, and a large square of wood to rest on and prevent hock sores.  I also added urine guards to these cages to prevent the messes we had at our last place, and since the cages are NOT equipped with permanent nest boxes yet, the urine guards act as a bit of a privacy barrier I’ve noticed.  When they are laying down and relaxing, they are not able to see the rabbit in the cage next to them, which seems to keep them much calmer then when they used to see each other.

The cages are suspended from the barn ceiling, in one of our roomy stalls.  There is just enough space all around that we can walk and work on things as needed, but it’s a bit tight as big as those cages are!  The chains are connected to recycled trampoline poles, and the cages just sit on the poles.  I use 14 gauge wire on the bottom of my cages, so for the short term, they do not need a middle brace as long as the weight is limited to the weight of one or two mature rabbits.  There are 2 levels, with 3 cages on each level.  Between the 2 levels, we used PVC corrugated roofing to catch the droppings and urine from the top cages, and direct it off, behind the bottom cages.  It seems to be working well.

One problem we had back in Colorado was caused by that center roof directing all the upper level waste into a big, smelly, mess of a pile behind the cages.  It was, by far, the most difficult part of our rabbit area to maintain, clean, and control odor (I love animals, but HATE odors!  In my book, unpleasant odors = bad farm management).  So, this go around, we are trying a technique I’ve come across several times in our research.

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Like Colorado, we start by putting lots of absorbant carbon material (pine shavings, in this case) under the cages to lock in the nitrogen (odor-causing substance) from the urine.  This begins a composting process when handled properly.  In addition, however, we divided our prolific vermicompost worms into several bins, and placed under the parts of the cages where the majority of the manure and urine spilled off.  To protect the worms, we gave them plenty of good soil and dirt, and covered that with a layer of old straw, followed by a layer of pine shavings.  The straw and shavings ensure that the nitrogen doesn’t get too intense and burn the worms, while at the same time, locking in the nutrient-rich liquid until the worms are able to break it all down.  If you look closely, you’ll also notice that the pellet and hay feeders are strategically located on the rear of the cages.  I did this so any wasted food and hay would also fall into the worm bins, which feeds the worms as well.  Oh, I do love to recycle and prevent waste whenever possible!!

So, my “ideal” future plan actually involves building an outdoor vine-covered trellis to allow lots of shade, fresh air, and natural light during spring, summer, and fall, and then move the bunnies into the barn in the winter.  Maybe.  I also plan to build 3, 4 foot by 3.5 foot vermicompost bins that will go under the entire cages and ensure the entire manure area is collected by the worm bins.  I hope to get that all done as soon as possible, but I am assuming that this barn set up will be it at least for this year.

So far it is working out great, though.  The rabbits seem happy.  Our oldest doe, Hope, is due to kindle (birth a litter) any minute now with our first Red Gate Farm litter.  The shavings and worms have done a good job preventing any bad smells, and the barn stays surprisingly cool on our hot summer days.  When it does get a little warm, the stall is equipped with a fan on one end and a window on the other, to get the air moving a little.  I’ve actually had only 2 issues with this setup.  First, it’s a bit darker than I would like, but there isn’t really much I can do about that.  The other fault was discovered when our new pigs were temporarily housed in the stall next door to the rabbits.  We walked out one morning to discover the pigs had dug under their stall and into the rabbit stall, dumped over a worm bin, and were happily munching on all the worms their happy little snouts could find.  Oops.  That fault was remedied when the pigs moved out to the forest paddock a few days later, and the worms can now compost in peace.  They’d rather eat manure than be a part of it.

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