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On Raising Rabbits

December 6, 2011

Comments by Nancy LaRoche on Chapter 13 “Raising Rabbits” 
From The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Urban Homesteading
By Sundari Elizabeth Kraft

Nancy LaRoche is the co-Manager of the Colorado House Rabbit Society

First I must state that I adore rabbits for their personalities, intelligence, compassion for other rabbits and smaller creatures, their affection for those to whom they bond, and the pleasure they have given me over the years, living in my home as house-rabbits.  Obviously, then, I cannot condone exploiting them by taking their lives to provide a meal of flesh.  But both they and we benefit when we use their wonderful fertilizer or their wool.

Given, however, that there are people who will raise and kill them for meat, it is my personal opinion that while they are alive, they should be given the very best quality of life possible to provide them.  Of all animals, those whose lives we take, deserve to live happily and comfortably until we force the ultimate sacrifice on them.

There are only a few things to say concerning the chapter on which I am commenting.  For the most part, the author “has it right.”

·       On p. 157, under “How to Purchase,” second paragraph, the author states, “Rabbits are nocturnal, so a little bit of daytime sleepiness is to be expected…”  

Rabbits are not nocturnal, but crepuscular.  Wikipedia states:  Crepuscular animals are those that are active primarily during twilight, that is during dawn and dusk 

“The patterns of activity are thought to be an antipredator adaptation. Many predators forage most intensely at night, whereas others are active at mid-day and see best in full sun. Thus, the crepuscular habit may reduce predation. Also, in hot areas, it may be a way of avoiding thermal stress while capitalizing on available light.”

Rabbits like to sleep soundly from around mid-morning through the afternoon.

·       On p 158, under “Housing,” the author states that “Good rabbit housing needs to provide…” among other things… “Adequate space” and later states, “A cage that is 36x36 inches and 18 inches high will do well for a doe and her babies.”  Later she mentions runs, and rabbit running freely in homes.

A cage 36x36 inches and 18 inches high is barely large enough for a dwarf rabbit.  Rabbits should be able to stretch all the way out, and standing on their hind legs, stretch all the way up, when caged.

Although the author mentions runs, she says nothing about the importance of exercise.  Running and leaping are not only natural to a rabbit, but of great importance for both their physical and mental health.  Ideally, every dawn and dusk, or a time close to those times, the rabbits should have the opportunity to exercise freely.

Even when caged, it is in their interest to have a shelf they can jump up to and down from to stretch their limbs.

·       On p. 160, under “Raising Rabbits Without Land,” the author writes about keeping rabbits out of heat, and out of the elements, but says nothing of protecting them from very low temperatures.  With a wooden box with only a single, small entry hole (or a hole with a “baffle” a few inches behind it, to deflect wind), and stuffed with straw or hay, a rabbit can survive low temperatures, but not comfortably.  It’s much better for them to be housed in a heated shed or in the house.

 

·       There is quite a bit wrong with the section titled “Food and Water,” starting on p. 160.    

o      The most important item in a rabbit’s diet is hay—a legume hay, such as clover or alfalfa, for growing bunnies, and a grass hay, such as timothy, brome, orchard grass, etc. for adult rabbits.  The long fibers in hay keep the digestive system working properly, and help wear the teeth which grow constantly.  (Of course, rabbits that will be butchered while still very young, may not encounter digestive or tooth problems before their deaths, but certainly rabbits that are going to be bred should have a proper diet.)  

 

o      The author recommends a mineral salt block, saying, “This not only provides them with extra nutrients they need, but it gives them something to chew on.”

§       First, minerals in a mineral salt block can be very harmful, adding to any problems the rabbit might have with too much sludge in the urine.

§       Second, although salt is needed in very small quantities, it is adequately provided in any half-decent pellet.

§       Rabbits who actually chew on a salt mineral block are ingesting far too much of it!  (Chewing needs can be provided by a piece of untreated pine lumber attached to the side of the crate.)

 

o      There are many vegetables that are good for rabbits, and they should have some of these every day, for health and longevity.  (See: http://www.coloradohrs.org/articles/diet_veggies_generic.asp for a list of vegetables rabbits can have.) 

 

o      Corn should never be given to a rabbit, as it can impact the digestive system.

 

o      Nuts and seeds should not be given to rabbits, because of their high carbohydrate levels.

 

o      Bread is inappropriate except for a very small piece of dried, whole grain bread, as a treat.

 

o      Apple and banana should be given only if grown organically, as the pesticides cannot be completely removed, and very small amounts can affect rabbits who have, after all, small bodies.

 

o      Alfalfa hay shouldn’t be given to adult rabbits, as the high protein is hard on the kidneys.

 

o      Cabbage is perfectly appropriate, if given in very small amounts.

 

o      Toward the end of this section, the author speaks of feeding rabbits once a day!  Rabbits are grazers, and need to eat pretty much all the time they’re awake.  That’s another reason that hay is important in their diet.  Hay won’t make them overweight, but will keep them comfortably full.

 

o      Finally, in this section, the author recommends “ballpoint” waterers and admonishes that they be sterilized at least once a week.

§       Most rabbits don’t get fully hydrated drinking from a ballpoint waterer.  Imagine trying to slake your thirst by licking something that gives you a single drop of water at a time.  You’re very likely to give up long before your body is fully hydrated!

§       Ballpoint waterers are practically impossible to sterilize inside the tube.

§       There are crocks that attach to the side of the cage that can’t be spilled.  These are easy to sterilize, and rabbits get fully hydrated when drinking from them.

·       On p. 163, Just before “Creating More Rabbits,” the author makes a very common mistake in discussing Pasteurellosis.  Pasteurella is a bacteria that all rabbits carry in their sinus passages.  The ones who become ill are those whose immune systems weaken.  There is no reason to be concerned about contamination, since all of the rabbits already have it.  However, one might not want to breed rabbits whose immune systems tend to weaken, since this can be hereditary.

 

·       On p. 165, under “Small Steps,”  the author states, “Try to handle the kits as little as possible.  If the doe smells something foreign on the babies, she may reject the litter.”  We have had many litters born to does who have come to our rescue close to the time they are going to give birth.  We introduce ourselves to the does, elicit their trust, and when the babies are born, pick each one up every day and examine them.

 

Does don’t reject babies handled by trusted humans!

 

·       The information given under “Raising Kits,” is off, based on my experience.  This may be because our does and kits are fed better than those she’s accustomed to.  In any case, almost all of the kits we’ve seen open their eyes at 10 days, and begin exploring a couple of days after that.  They will nibble on the vegetables the mother is given, as well as on her pellets and hay.  (We give pregnant and lactating does alfalfa hay and alfalfa-based pellets).  Their kits continue to eat the same diet as their mothers until they are old enough to be converted to the adult rabbit diet.  The does are taken off of the “young rabbit” diet after they’ve weaned their kits.  Of course, we don’t breed our rabbits, so they remain for the rest of their lives on the adult diet.