So, there is this myth in the rabbit world that you must keep rabbits in small wire cages up off the ground. If you put them on the ground in a colony-type setting, they will get every parasite and disease known to man, and will quickly parish. Cages are much easier to clean, the rabbits will be much healthier, it’s just a better setup overall.
I call BS. On all of that.
I have been raising meat rabbits for… 3 years now at least. I started out with them in cages, as I had been told to by every rabbit book I owned. But the amount of time I was having to spend cleaning cages was just too much. I don’t know where people get the idea that cages take less time to clean than a chicken-coop-type setup. With cages, you have to individually scrub each cage probably once per week, and every day, you have to empty the trays underneath the cages, (which, by the way, smell godawful.) With a pen, you put down a few bags of pine shavings, and when the shavings start to get dirty, (about every 2-3 weeks,) you shovel them out and put down new ones. Or at least that’s what I do. It never smells, (unless you wait too long to clean it,) and you can put the soiled shavings on your compost pile to fertilize your garden later on. What’s not to love?
The other thing I hate about cages is the fact that the rabbits aren’t able to engage in their natural behavior. When I first put my rabbits out in their new pen, they immediately started hopping around, digging, and leaping into the air and kicking their legs out, which is called a “binky.”People say that if the rabbit is born in a cage and lives in a cage all their life, they won’t miss what they’ve never had. But it’s clear to me that my rabbits were born with natural rabbit behaviors that were being suppressed because all they had space to do was lie around all day. Once in their pen, they were finally able to be rabbits and do rabbit things. The whole point of raising my own meat was that it’s supposed to be more humane than factory farming. I don’t feel that keeping rabbits in tiny cages is that far off from the way chickens are kept in factory farms.
So, what about illness? They are all perfectly healthy with nice coats, no runny eyes or noses. I’ve never seen indication of parasites in any of the ones I’ve butchered. They eat rabbit feed and plenty of grass and weeds pulled from the garden, as well as vegetable scraps from the kitchen. And all of my does typically have large litters too. According to all my rabbit books, they all should have dropped dead the moment they touched the ground. Instead, they are thriving. It’s common sense; do wild rabbits live in cages? Of course not. They live in burrows underground, they eat grass and weeds, they hop around, and they dig. No animal was born to live in a cage and can’t survive outside of one. But if that’s what people have to tell themselves so they can sleep at night, well, so be it I guess.
Another thing: they enjoy each other’s company, and can often be seen cuddling up to one another. The does have an occasional squabble, but for the most part, they don’t fight. And the kits can pretty much do whatever they please, and nobody pays them any mind. Kits of different litters will play with each other, and all the does are very indulgent of each other’s kits, and allow them to sit on top of them and other such nonsense with no fuss. I don’t do colony breeding any more, (where the buck lives with the does and they are allowed to breed freely,) because when I did I ended up with, no joke, around 30 rabbits total, which was just way too much. But when I did, the buck was also very tolerant of the kit and their baby nonsense.
So, I’m glad I came to my senses within the first year of my rabbit raising, and gave my rabbits a more humane living situation. If you want to raise rabbits cage-free, then go for it. They’re not going to get sick if you care for them well.
On a different note, I have not had time to butcher any rabbits lately, college student that I am, so I am currently selling these beauties. Take a look at their pretty little cage-free selves. (They were a little freaked out because I haven’t handled them a whole lot, you can tell 😉 )