I live in the very middle of Mexico in a small town. Having severe health problems I had to retire in 2002 and since then have started a very small backyard farm. The main reason for this was to eat healthier food. I started with some chickens for the eggs and the natural progression was to rabbits.
Upon reading the ingredient list on a bag of rabbit feed I found "animal flour and animal fats", exactly what I did not want to serve to my rabbits. I can get alfalfa hay and fresh alfalfa. No other type of hay is available. I grow "acelgas" (Swiss Chard in English), parsley, banana leaves, mint, string beans, and papayas in my back yard that I give often to the rabbits.
Some people say that you can grow rabbits only on fresh and dried alfalfa. I give mine free choice pellets, of which they (adults) consume approximately 1/2 cup a day - I give the pellets, because I worry that the other food they get might not have all the trace vitamins and minerals they need - alfalfa hay, a handful of fresh alfalfa daily and the occasional treat (that being on alternate days, a fruit or a grain). I would like to eliminate the pellets because I am not happy with the addition of "animal flour" and antibiotics. After all I am growing rabbits to eat to better my health. They can eat hard tortillas and dry bread along with the vegetable peelings from your kitchen - really they are very economical to raise!
I keep my bred and junior does in a Doe Pen:
This doe pen is for future reproducers and pregnant does that do not yet need the maternity cages. By keeping them in this pen for 28 days of the pregnancy I can have almost twice as many producing does as maternity cages. This means that I have to wean at 30 days - though I try to stretch it out to 40. Juggle a lot!
The 3" PVC pipe is a haven for kits and the big clay jars are just in case someone needs a nesting place (so far there have been no mistakes but it can happen). In the other corner I have a manger for hay. The banana tree is protected because the buns just love it. I cut off leaves every once and a while to feed to them - they know when I go in with a knife in my hand they get a treat. You can see in the back some of the Hyacinth vines - a dark purple bean vine - I feed the leaves and immature pods to them also. The high planter helps since I am not so young anymore - it grows parsley, mint, zucchini, etc. etc, for the buns and our table. Of course the rabbit poop goes for fertilizer - people are amazed at the yield. Manuel offered to get me some water nipples - bought 10 from the National Rabbit Assn. - 8 of which dripped - so I have been using crocks. As a feeder I am using a jello ring mold with a bottle full of sand in the middle - this has saved me a lot of feed - before I used dog bowls but lost a lot of feed soiled with pee from the kits - with the bottle in the middle they cannot sit comfortably on top of the food - Trial and error.
The first pen is made of welded wire, quite expensive. This one is made of wire mosquito screen stapled to wood - much cheaper and surprisingly effective. The width of the screen dictated the height and then I just put up a bit of chicken wire angled in so the buns would not be tempted to jump like deer - it works! There is another pen for male kits up to 100 days - I have found that there is little fighting if they are not near females - and if one or two turn out very "macho" they take the Rainbow trip to the freezer that much faster! And another pen for the normal female kits to Angel weight, at least 2.5 kilos. This way with only 21 cages I can still have up to 250 buns from kits to adults at a time.
My fryers go into in another pen I call the Grow Out Pen:
This type of pen is considered a no-no in all the rabbit groups I am in on the net, but it has worked for me wonderfully - so far - 24 months - and looks terrific - they are a decoration to my garden. At 90 days I get between 1.8 and 2.5 kg of meat from each animal.
It eases my conscience that my bunnies, though living a short life, lead a very happy one. They play and groom each other all day. Occasionally there is a bit of fur flying but it is minimal. They have large clay pots and 4" PVC drainage pipes with elbows to play and sleep in. I keep a low stool in the Doe Pen (all does have names - on the contrary the growing out pen all are called "Baby") and I sit in there in the afternoons (when not on the computer) and hand feed sunflower seeds and or raisins. It is so wonderful when they all crowd around my knees and beg for the treats. Each has her own personality and quirks.
I feel very sorry for the bucks - all alone in their cages, but when I tried a pen with more than one they fought too much. They each have a toy, and every week I try to exchange toys so they do not get bored. Every morning each gets a good rub down and ear tickle from "Mom" - am considering putting a weaned kit in each of the bucks cages for company - when it has happened accidentally they just groom the kit and seem happier, not to be alone. I keep 7 bucks - just because I love to experiment with the colors and textures - each litter is like Christmas for me.
Originally I started this rabbitry in Mexico for my own meat usage but now I wish to motivate small ranchers into having their own "Back Yard Farm". Three does and one buck, after the first year, can produce enough meat to feed a family of four every other day all year! Plus those same amount of animals produce enough fertilizer for a very good size garden, where you could even grow 90% of the animal's food along with your own. Plus, with the tanned hides you could make vests and house shoes for the family and have lots left over to sell.
You would think that ALL families with money problems would fight to get a foursome of rabbits!
Back Yard with rabbits and Chicken's coop (at rear):
I often her people say "it can't be done" and I reply: "Oh no?"
Rabbits are social creatures - they are much happier being with their own kind. Let me explain what I have learned in the past 7 years. I keep replacement does in cages together - ages 30 to 50 days: 4 to a cage; ages 50 to 130 days: 2 to a cage. At 130 days they go into their own "preparing to breed" cage - this is to insure 20 days of non-contact that could cause a false pregnancy. At 150 days, I check that they are ready to breed ( genitalia hot pink and moist ) and they are introduced to an experienced buck for two hits.
Once the courting is done the doe goes into an "expecting pen" - this pen is quite large ( 5 m x 3.5 m ); it can hold 10 does without crowding. Since they are used to being with others they fit right in - there might be a skirmish for dominance but it does not last. I have the eating area in the middle of the pen while clay pots are in the corners if someone wants to hide for a bit. They run around the eating area as if it were a race track - keeps them physically fit and is good for their hocks, to be out of the cages.
They stay in the expecting pen for 28 days and then go into a maternity cage for their delivery - there they stay with their litter for 30 to 40 days - depending on how many kits there are. Then I separate the boys from the girls and they go into cages of 4 each. Until they are sold for breeding stock or if they do not attain the conformation and or weight expected of breeding stock, they go for meat. The doe is then rebred and goes into the expecting pen again.
Replacement males go two to a cage until they start fighting - between 70 and 90 days. Adult males are in their own cages - I give them toys to keep them occupied and lots of TLC.
The advantages to this method are three fold:
IF you have a buck who is very laid back - non aggressive - you can try keeping one buck and two or three does in a VERY large pen - but the does have to have been raised together. The nests have to be very far apart.
Here the climate is very mild in winter - occasionally freezes - and can get very hot in summer. I use wood shavings on the floor of the pen - which is changed at least once a week - depending on the density of the occupancy.
Any questions, I am at your service!
Saludos! Sheila in Mexico See my Web Site! e-mail to conejosmexico at gmail.com (write in the @ symbol, and no spaces, of course!)