Housing Your Rabbits

Remember a Hutch is Not Enough.

A hutch is an old fashioned way of housing rabbits from the Victorian era. Originally, they were kept in hutches to fatten them up for dinner as rabbit was a popular food dish. Times have moved on and even though the rabbit is still on the menu, most are now domestic pets. In fact, to date, rabbits are the third most popular pet in Britain. What hasn’t moved on so much is the accommodation for rabbits. People immediately think a rabbit lives in a hutch and it’s because of this basic housing that so many negative things come

The following are just a few of the disadvantages of a rabbit living in just a hutch:

  • The conditions are cramped and affect the rabbits health.
  •  The rabbit becomes institutionalised. Due to the lack of space and lack of enrichment of it’s environment.
  •  The rabbit then becomes boring because all it does is sit there. Further neglect of the rabbit then takes place compounding the situation.
  •  The rabbit can develop behavioural problems, aggression and timidness being the most common.

 

Alternative ideas for housing:

  • Convert an aviary.
  •  Use a Wendy house.
  •  Use a garden shed.
  •  A greenhouse frame replacing the glass with mesh. It’s worth calling in at your local garden centre and asking if they have any old greenhouses or frames they don’t want or would be willing to sell you them cheap.
  •  Get creative! – design & build your own. Nip down to your local timber merchants for any off cuts of wood. Avoid pine & if the wood has been treated make sure you know what with & do your research thoroughly.

Check out the internet for more ideas & see what other people have done.

Rabbits must also have an outdoor area to stretch those powerful back legs, give them some fresh air, new smells to sniff & grass to eat. There are so many more advantages, least of all it will keep them stimulated.  You’ll have so much fun watching their antics & getting to see your bunnies personalities.

Don’t use chicken mesh it will not be strong enough to keep predators out or your bunnies in. Use galvanised mesh.

My Housing

Over the years I have progressed my housing for the bunnies.  I have always tried to improve on the housing I had before. It is only through trial & error that they have the housing they have today.

In the beginning I kept my bunnies in hutches as that is what I understood at the time you did. I preferred to have my own made as I wanted mine to have bigger hutches than normal plus it was cheaper.

My hutches.

During a house move to the above property I hadn’t enough hutches for my bunnies. One of the rabbits was a leaving gift from a friend who quickly became acquainted with my female by demolishing both their hutches!  The property we moved into used to house battery hens, so I temporarily had to move the bunnies into those cages.

My bunnies temporarily housed in hen battery cages.

At this time I was starting to adopt more abandoned bunnies.  Some had been released in a nearby field & of course were pregnant.  It was also becoming known at work & in the village that I kept bunnies.  This meant bunnies left on the door step, on my desk at work or desperate phone calls with a bunny in need. The word No didn’t exist for me when it came to a bunny in need.
As the number of bunnies grew & the hutches increased, I became aware that every time I entered the bunny shed  there was an air of depression.  They all looked bored & depressed. It got me thinking that there had to be a better way of housing them. I eventually came up with the idea of their own shed with pens instead of hutches.  I also wanted to get rid of the water bottles & give them a dish of water instead.  I hated the water bottles, they dripped constantly & it stressed me to see the bunnies licking a ball to get a bit of water  especially as a lot used to get frustrated with it. The other requirement was that I wanted my bunnies to have access to an outdoor pen. I was lucky that we had moved to a house with some land so the first rabbit shed was built.

My first rabbit shed with access to an outdoor pen.
The outdoor pen.

The above shed was built from corrugated metal sheeting on three sides & a wooden front.  The wooden front was so the door had a good fit & we could cut  hatches for access to the outdoor pen.  The inspiration for the hatch was the hen shed, which is the shed with the pink door on the photo.  The roof was made of corrugated clear plastic & metal sheeting.

The outdoor pen was made of any metal mesh I could find attached to an existing fence.  The ‘tunnel’ from the shed to the pen was basically two tongue & groove floorboards knocked together & then pegged. The roof was any mesh I could find & bricks placed on top so the bunnies couldn’t get out or the hens in!

The inside of the shed was divided into ten pens with two rabbits in each.  The pens were made with 2×2 pieces of wood & chicken mesh. The floor was made from oily mill boards.  These boards were very thick compared to a normal floorboard.

Drawing of how the pens looked.
The inside of the shed looking towards the back.
The inside of the shed looking towards the front door. You can clearly see the hatch on the bottom left hand side.

The above photos are not particularly clear as they were taken in the early 1990s.

This shed was a good start for the bunnies but it had it’s drawbacks.  Here are the pro’s & con’s of this shed:

Pro’s

  • Rabbits had more space allowing them to build muscle & keep healthy.
  • Rabbits could see each other & interact more keeping them stimulated.
  • Rabbits had access to an outdoor pen albeit on a rota.
  • The oily mill board flooring was so thick it was difficult for the rabbits to dig & the oil protected the floor from their urine.
  • Cleaning out took longer but I could spend more time interacting with the bunnies.

Con’s

  • The corrugated metal sheeting meant the shed got too hot in summer & too cold in winter.
  • When it rained heavily, the metal & plastic sheeting made the rainfall very loud.
  • No windows meant I could not let air circulate well in hot summers.
  • I soon discovered chicken mesh is vulnerable to rabbits.  It didn’t take long for them to chew through.
  • I could not get rid of the water bottles as the bunnies tipped their dish over or would fill it full of hay & sawdust.
  • It really wasn’t big enough for the number of rabbits turning up looking for a new home.

It was time to think of a better shed & set up for the bunnies. So for my next shed I needed to incorporate the following:

  • A more consistent temperature.
  • Quieter roof.
  • Larger.
  • Bigger pens.
  • Pen design where I could get rid of the water bottles.
  • Access to the outdoors from every pen.

 

My next shed was made out of wood using oily millboards, except for the roof. I could not afford proper roofing so was forced to go for the corrugated plastic sheeting again. Windows were also put in this time & every so often a clear plastic sheet was used on the roof allowing more light into the shed. All the windows & clear plastic roof sheets were placed strategically, so that each indoor pen at some point during the day would get some sun. I believed this to be important for the rabbits health not just physical but mental health.

One side of my rabbit shed.
The other side of the rabbit shed which started from just before the first window.

My shed was attached at one end to a workshop & garage. So all in all it made a rather long shed. My actual rabbit shed was 30ft long x 20ft wide.

At the end of the shed I had a stable door. The reason for the stable door idea, was that in warm weather I could leave the top door open allowing for good air circulation, & the bottom shut keeping out any unwanted visitors. Sometimes there were farm animals in the field which my shed backed into

Outside view of my stable door.
Inside view of my stable door.
Inside view of my stable door fully closed.

This time I wanted to try to stop the severe temperature changes that occurred in the inside of my previous shed. I decided to see if insulating the walls worked. I used polystyrene sheets cut down to fit into the frame.

Polystyrene insulation within the shed frame.

I then covered the polystyrene with plywood tacked into the shed frame.

Plywood covering the polystyrene insulation tacked in place.

The inside of the shed was divided into 17 pens. I literally had nearly 40 rabbits at this point.  The size of my indoor pens were 5ft x 3ft, & I had a ramp installed up to a bed box. The upstairs allowed me to give them water bowls instead of water bottles. Being upstairs the rabbits could not fill their bowls with mess, like sawdust etc. The bed box also provided the rabbits with a safe hidey hole & in winter it was very warm & snug. They also loved the height & the ramp kept them strong, making them have to go upstairs for a drink.
The ramps were on a hinge so I could lift them up when cleaning & the bed box lid was removable.

Two pens with a ramp & upstairs bed box.

The pens themselves were made out of pine wood with a 2×2 frame. The whole floor in the shed was once again made from oily millboards. The mesh used was galvanised mesh instead of chicken mesh, so was much stronger & less flexible. On one side of the shed I grouped the pens into four or three & on the other side I grouped the pens into twos.

Inside showing some of the groups of 4 or 3 pens.
Inside looking the other way, showing some of the groups of 2 pens.

I covered one side of the pens with plywood to stop the urine smell & anything else easily getting into each others pens. It was something a vet said to me about diseases being transmitted.  I do not know if it helped at all but having so many, the risk of diseases & viruses was greatly increased. Some of the pens had to have partial lids due to the fact some bunnies could jump out of their pens using the ramp as a jump off point.

The outdoor pen idea didn’t quite go to plan. Originally, I was going to have a hatch leading to an outdoor pen on every indoor pen that was against a wall. The logistics of this just didn’t work. In the end I constructed 3 outdoor pens using fence posts & galvanised mesh. They were 20ft x 4ft. Unfortunately, this meant the bunnies were still on a rota & had to be carried outside.

Penny, relaxing on one of the boxes in her outdoor pen.
Outdoor pens with a family of visiting ducks!

The pros & cons of this shed are as following:

Pros

  • Rabbits had a lot more room keeping them fit & healthy.
  • The ramp made the rabbits use their muscles a lot more & made them generally fitter.
  • I was able to get rid of the water bottle allowing the rabbits to drink easier & no constant water drip.
  • Rabbits were able to interact with each other safely between pens.
  • The pen design kept the rabbits stimulated. They were big enough to put cardboard boxes etc in for them to chew & play with.
  • Rabbits were much warmer in winter having a secure, warm bed box.
  • Rabbits were kept much cooler in summer by having the windows & stable door. These allowed for good air circulation & a gentle breeze.
  • Galvanised mesh used instead of chicken mesh so no escapees!
  • The insulation kept the shed at a more even temperature & kept drafts to a minimum, although it did not work as well as I would have liked. Still an improvement though.
  • Much bigger outdoor pens & an increased number.
  • The oily mill board flooring was so thick it was difficult for the rabbits to dig & the oil protected the floor from their urine. The shed itself needed very little maintenance, thanks again to the oily millboards.
  • Cleaning out took much longer but I could spend more time interacting with the bunnies.
  • I could spot any health problems easier & quicker by the pen design being so open.
  • Generally, the rabbits were much happier.

 

Cons

  • The roof was still loud when it rained heavy & the clear plastic sheets used to drip condensation.
  • The pine wood used in the construction of the pens was easily chewed.
  • The temperatures inside could still become too hot or cold even though it was an improvement.
  • The rabbits couldn’t have an outdoor pen per indoor pen, so this meant they were still on a rota for the outside. They also had to be carried in & out of the shed.

All in all this shed was a massive improvement on what I had before. However, even this shed did not cater fully for the 45 rabbits I ended up having in my care. I realised that I had to start saying no. This shed served me well for over a decade & is still standing today nearly 25 years later. The shed still has a use for my bunnies of today as their holiday home.

When I next moved, I had considerably less bunnies. It was time to think of another rabbit shed & what improvements I could make.

Fortunately, I was lucky enough for the next shed to be built out of brick.

The brick bunny shed.

As you can see from the photo, I kept the stable door idea, had windows that opened in the roof & finally was able to have pens that had access straight from the shed.

The shed had access via pipes to the outdoor pens.

Once again, this shed was a huge improvement on my previous shed but still wasn’t perfect. I had 8 rabbits at this point but could only create access to 2 outdoor pens, so once again everyone was on a rota.

The mini indoor pens that had access to the outdoor pens through pipes.

The access to the outdoors had to be done through 2 mini indoor pens. The logistics did not work of getting access to the outdoors from their normal indoor pens. At night the bunnies were returned to their indoor pens & bungs placed in the pipes to seal them. I didn’t want any unwanted visitors & the bunnies certainly wouldn’t have appreciated it.

A view of the pipes coming out into the outdoor pens. Normally, the ramps would be down.
A full length view of the outdoor pens.

The size of the outdoor pens were 4ft x 16ft.

Polly enjoying the height of the shelf & Samson, happily munching away.
Samson enjoying his ‘freedom’.

The indoor pens were once again made from a 2×2 pine frame, galvanised mesh & the floor was oily mill boards.

The four indoor pens.
Looking down the length of the shed from the stable door.

The pros & cons of this shed are as follows:

Pros

  • By keeping the pen size & layout of the pens, the rabbits had enough room to keep themselves fit & healthy, keep muscles strong using the ramps, keep warm in their bed boxes, able to have boredom breakers like cardboard boxes, could interact with each other & keep a natural way of drinking by keeping their water bowls.
  • The oily millboards used for the flooring was so thick it was difficult for the rabbits to dig & the oil protected the floor from their urine.
  • With the shed being brick it allowed for a much even temperature.  In summer it tended to keep cool & in winter warmer.
  • By having the roof windows that opened, I could allow good air circulation especially in hot weather.  It cooled things down nicely as hot air rises & most went out of the roof.
  • The roof was tiled so no loud noise if it rained heavily.
  • All the side windows opened so this also helped with temperature & good air circulation. The stable door also contributed.
  • The mini indoor pens enabled the bunnies to have access to the outdoors & could return inside if they so wished.
  • The outdoor pens were made from very strong galvanised mesh.  This enabled me to leave the house knowing the bunnies were safe from predators, dogs & humans.
  • The bunnies were very happy.

Cons

  • The roof wasn’t insulated so this caused condensation to run down the walls when the weather was right for it.
  • Bunnies were easily able to chew the pine wood of their pens.
  • The bunnies were still on a rota to get access to the outdoors, although this was only between 8 rabbits now, not 45.
  • The temperature was a huge improvement on my previous shed, but it still got too cold in winter.

I moved house again & was even luckier to be in a position to give them a really good shed by ironing out some of the previous issues. The new shed pictured below.

The current bunny shed.

As you can see from the above photo, the outdoor pens are now attached to the main shed, each with a pipe running through the wall into the indoor bunny pen. At last, I had my wish of the bunnies being allowed to go from their indoor pen to their outdoor pen without being handled. The outdoor pens are 6ft x 16ft & made from galvanised mesh with a galvanised frame. The shape of the pens with their apex roofs mean I don’t get terrible back ache or bang my back when I am doing maintenance or anything else inside the pen. Each pen has a door on the end & is padlocked for safety.

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