Obviously, given the subtitle of the blog, we decided in the end that rabbits were indeed a good idea for us to raise. The question that really matters for everyone else is why, and how did we come to that conclusion? As with every other decision we have made so far, it was based on a fair amount of research, and a lot of things are still evolving for us. Our base considerations were cost, heartiness, care requirements, ethics, and finally, can we handle killing rabbits for meat? In this post I'm going to discuss how much space each rabbit needs.
A Topic For Debate
There are many opinions on how much space each rabbit needs to live in. Much of the information is conflicting, and there seem to be a lot of assertions on each end of the spectrum. I am Not, and I repeat NOT an expert on this and have not yet housed rabbits. I am going to share the information I have and the conclusions we came to.
The Factory Option
The standard factory raising space for breeder rabbits is 18"x18" or 24"x24". That is 2.25 square feet for the 18"x18" or 4 square feet for 24"x24". These are all wire cages that are usually suspended by wires from the ceiling, or resting over metal slanted racks to facilitate waste management. They are cubes meaning there is little head room for the animals as well. These cages rarely have anywhere for the rabbit to rest its feet which can lead to a condition called sore hocks which I will discuss another time.
* Compact space
* Easy to clean
* Heavily tested
* Very small space
* No enrichment
* Places the animals in very close proximity facilitating the spread of disease
* Requires being inside a sheltering building
This standard is one that we obviously would not be ok with as it is just too little space for us to be comfortable with. Proponents of the system state that if the rabbits have never been on grass or outside of their cage they will never know the difference and will be perfectly happy. That is a justification that we are not comfortable with. Just because someone or some being is used to something and doesn't know there is something better doesn't mean it is ok.
In addition the standard method for maintaining healthy animals in this condition is the use of antibiotics dissolved in the water supply regularly to keep sicknesses down. This is the exact kind of set up that we do not consider sufficiently humane and ethical as a place for our animals to grow up, and live their often short lives.
Pet homes are by definition a different situation than we are going to be focusing on, but are definitely something to consider for the ideal conditions end of the spectrum. The House Rabbit Society recommends 8 square feet of cage space per rabbit plus 24 square feet of space that they can get out and run in a minimum of 5 hours a day. (House Rabbit Housing 101) There are other sites that recommend 1 square foot per pound of rabbit contained there in. For 8 - 12 lb rabbits with a litter that rapidly gets quite substantial.
One of the things that is emphasized in the House Rabbit Society is that wire floors are not what rabbits should be living on, and if that is the only option then they should have substantial resting space for their feet. They site that the rabbits do not have pads on their feet as do cats and dogs, and thus can't handle the rough floor surface.
There is definitely information here that is helpful to us, and some things that are out of our reasonable reach for what we are doing. What it tells us is that we need to think about having either space for them to run out of the cage, or sufficient space in their cage for them to move around. As a note, this is more than just pampering your pets, the health of the rabbits is affected by how much they get to move. Much like your dog will get fat and live a shorter, less happy life if not exercised properly, so will your rabbit.
While our rabbits will not live hugely long lives as they are breeding stock, or food stock, that doesn't change that. Our fryers will be butchered by approximately 2-3 months, and when breeders stop producing at 2-4 years they become stew rabbits. However, they Still need exercise. A healthy well exercised mother produces offspring more healthily, be happier, and will live longer. A baby with room to move and put muscle on will be better meat for healthy eating for us, and will also be happier.
Finally, the house rabbit association recommends that rabbits not be kept outside overnight. In our situation this is not a feasible option. Their page on outdoor hazards is an educational one for us as we consider how to house our rabbits outside. (Rabbit Hazards) In a lot of ways protecting rabbits is a lot like protecting chickens. Just about everything wants that delicious food. If you notice there are almost never rabbits as road kill by the side of the road. This is not because rabbits don't get hit, it is because something eats it right quick.
We will be covering pasture raising with movable arks, colony situations, and our eventual conclusions on how we want to house our rabbits to best reach a humane but feasible option.