I have decided I don’t ever want a “rabbit barn.”  Designated barns, sheds, and buildings just seem the way to go for so many rabbitries I have come across.  This summer, circumstances forced us to install our rabbit cages inside our barn temporarily, while new outdoor accommodations were figured out (you can read more in this post).  For the last 7 months, the poor rabbits have seen no fresh air (except what drifts through the little window and barn doors) or direct sunlight.  I watched as the cobwebs collected, shedding hair built up, and manure piled up in the corners.  I hated it.  Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t THAT bad, and in fact, the barn never even smelled like rabbit (which any rabbit raiser knows can happen VERY easily in confined quarters).  It’s just that it wasn’t up to OUR standards.  Then, one of our junior does came down with snuffles, a highly contagious cold virus that usually turns into pneumonia and often kills a rabbit within a few days.  We had worked hard to breed a line of rabbits that was hardy and resistant to this virus.  However, there was one big problem.  Rabbits use sunlight to synthesize their own Vitamin C, a critical ingredient to a healthy immune system.  Our rabbits were descended from a line of outdoor and colony-housed rabbits, who got all the sunshine they wanted.  Their immune systems were unbeatable.  By putting them into a dark barn, their immunity went down and made it more difficult to fight viruses.  Most barn-rabbitries use preventative antibiotics in the rabbits’ water to account for the decreased immunity.  We refuse to do that, however.  Thus, we wound up losing a rabbit.  The realization pushed me to get them out of the barn though.  While S was here for Thanksgiving, we worked on a new, more permanent, outdoor design.

The tricky thing about our property is that it basically consists of hills.  Every surface has some degree of slope.  It is also very hot in the summer here–like rabbit-killing heat and humidity.  I had to figure out what areas were sufficiently shaded for those hot days, where they would be safe from predators and goats, but the dogs could still have access to guard them, etc.  We really wanted both cages and a rabbit play yard, similar to what we had back in CO, but with a few modifications.  I decided on a slope that ran along a fence line.  It is tucked up nicely between a big silver maple and a couple of shady pine trees, so they get a good bit of morning sun, but well shaded from hot afternoon sun in the summer.  They get more sun for heat in the winter since the deciduous maple loses all its leaves.  It was a location I discovered I really didn’t use for anything, had no foot traffic so it wouldn’t be in the way, but was convenient and easily accessed.  Aesthetics mean a lot to me, too, and frankly, there just isn’t much you can do to make rabbit cages pretty!  In this spot, however, if built low enough, the entire rabbit cage and yard setup was pretty well hidden away from the main entrance behind what will eventually be a rose or vine covered fence.  The only downside was the slope, which drops about 18 inches every 8 feet.  Nonetheless, the decision was made, S agreed, and the work began.

First, S built a simple frame to hold the 30″ deep x 48″ long x 18″tall wire cages I built earlier this year.

A cage, complete with nest box for shelter.

A cage, complete with nest box for shelter.

Due to the slope and the fact we want separate yards for rabbit trios this go around, he had to build 2 separate frames, each holding 3 cages.

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Next, he had to install the frame and cages such that they were low enough to not be seen over the fence, but high enough that we could easily rake under them.  For the most part, this worked, though the upper cages are pretty close to the ground due to the slope.

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The left side shows the high end, where the cage sits roughly 18 inches off the ground. The right side doesn’t have the cage installed yet, but based on the side board (far right) you can see that the cage will sit only about 6 inches off the ground at it’s lowest point.

Because of the fact manure builds up on any solid surface the cages rest on, we decided to forego solid surfaces this time, and try wire as the support system.  I could only find 14 gauge in my area, so we tried that.  I am already seeing some bowing on the bottom of the cages though, so we will be swapping that for a thicker gauge that can be tightened more securely.  The wire runs through support beams which limits bounce and flexion, but the beams themselves are not contacting the rabbit cages, so hopefully the wire will prevent any manure buildup.

Look closely here, and you can see the eye hooks positioned on the side board, with the support wire running through them.

Look closely here, and you can see the eye hooks positioned on the side board, with the support wire running through them.

In addition, to prevent rabbits digging out of the yard once they are able to run in more of a colony situation, we laid 2×4 landscape fence on the ground before installing the cage frames, then cut holes in the wire above the pre-dug holes where the frame posts would go.  This prevented the extra work of cutting the wire to fit around the posts as we laid it–a potentially difficult job at best (you can see this in the above photos). I attached the ground wire to the main 2×4 perimeter fence with hog rings.

The cages are set about 3 feet from the perimeter fence so we can easily walk behind them for any reason.  Although you can't see it due to the bottom board, the ground fence is attached to the vertical perimeter fence with hog rings.

The cages are set about 3 feet from the perimeter fence so we can easily walk behind them for any reason. Although you can’t see it due to the bottom board, the ground fence is attached to the vertical perimeter fence with hog rings.

We will finish the yard area later, but this gives us our start.  To give you an idea, though, we will have a perimeter fence line around the rabbit yard, possibly lay some dirt over the ground fence, and allow grass to grow up to supplement their diet.  We will also have in-ground nest boxes and centrally located feeding stations similar to what we had in CO.   Because we will have multiple yards, though, rabbits can be matched up and separated into groups so all get sufficient exercise.

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I’ll keep you posted as this project progresses.  We only have a temporary roof on now (ran out of time before S left), and a few other tweaks we have mind.  Right now, though, I can’t begin to tell you how great it feels to have those bunnies back outside where they are happier and healthier, AND I get my barn stall back to use for other purposes!

 

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