It isn’t so hard to find rabbit meat for sale online, but have you ever wondered why they aren’t advertising pictures of their operations?
It might be because their operations consist of a lot of metal cages where they raise “on wire”. We are not judging others for how they raise their rabbit and for a long time we also were raising our rabbits this way. According to various books on raising rabbits for meat, this is the way of business. While that system does have many benefits, it was troubling to us to confine our animals to around 4 square feet. While we were raising on wire, our rabbits were in their own cages because the books warn of territoriality. While they could see other rabbits it still seemed like a dull life.
So it got us thinking about colony raising, this means keeping all of our rabbits together in a larger area where they can socialize, dig and even cuddle. Many of these same books highlight the pros and cons of this way of raising rabbits in a colony but when you finish the book, it seems right to raise rabbits in cages because that is what all the other producers are doing. But after some time, even though we were providing them with protection from the elements and even bring freshly harvested forage, we realized that we just were not comfortable with the life we were providing for our animals.
So we decided to dive head first into colony raising and we are so happy we did! In 2021, we were fortunate enough to purchase a home with a two bay garage. We decided that this could be the perfect place to launch our colony experiment. We built a large enclosure with a nice big hay rack, multiple feeders and even some levels to increase enrichment and space. We added a few small ventilation holes in the walls to increase cross breezes in the stickier weather (especially since rabbits really suffer in intense heat) and installed windows for added light. Once we laid the wood shavings down it was our moment of truth.
We placed our breeding does into their new home and to our surprise not only did they not attack each other, but greeted each other and continued to explore and snack on some hay. Over time a pecking order was established just like in any group of animals but everyone lives in harmony! Day after day we are overjoyed that we switched to colony raising, especially when we go to do chores on frigid mornings only to find everyone cuddled together or seeing them groom each other.
But we didn’t stop there, we wanted the rabbits to be able to live their best lives and that meant the ability to bask in the sunlight and even to dig! So we purchased a chicken coop and mounted it to the adjacent space outside of the barn. With a little rabbit ramp and rabbit door they can go in and out as they please. There is nothing greater than opening that door in the morning and seeing everyone get the zoomies!
We are proud of the systems we have created for our rabbitry and feel that it is reflected in the quality of meat we raise! When we raised lamb, it was nice to boast that they only had one bad day (slaughter day). Before switching to colony raising, we couldn’t express that sentiment with the same enthusiasm , but after making the switch to colony raising, where our rabbits have access to outside, the ability to socialize and just the ability to live their best rabbit lives full of digging and basking in the sun, we feel we can once again make that claim!