How we made our awesome rabbit village

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A long view of the rabbit run.

We took over about 1/3 of our garden (the third with the lawn in) and turned it into a little bunny village that could originally hold all 6 of our rabbits (when we actually had 6 rabbits), it was designed to be a self-contained play and living area for them because we didn’t want them getting cooped up in unfamiliar hutches while we went on our holiday driving around Europe in summer 2014.  This way, all our designated rabbit feeders had to do was feed them, the rabbits had toys, companionship with other groups (they were three pairs) and lots of room to exercise.   The third hutch was at the back of the run but we threw it out (actually it’s still partly standing on the concrete, wood is always useful) when Fifer got Katie because she was too big to share his first hutch.

When we came back from Europe, we moved the 2 rabbits from the shed back into the house (Banacek and Cleo) and bought Fifer and Katie a new deluxe 2 storey hutch that was 5 foot wide and 18 inches deep, Katie adored it.  We took the downstairs hutch doors off so they could have 24/7 indoor-outdoor access, which all the rabbits were used to by this point, and we’d already removed a couple of bricks so rabbits could get from the brick shed into the main run.  The floor of the shed I covered in straw so it was basically an extension of their rabbit hutch.  At this point, the rabbit run was still sectioned into three parts and Banacek and Cleo had the back of the run now when they wanted to play outside, which was slightly awkward for carrying them because Banacek never got used to being handled.

Rabbit run bunny run rabbit hutch
We removed a couple of bricks from the shed so Fifer and Katie could go in when it rained and play out when it wasn’t raining.

When Neville died, leaving Sebastian behind, about 18 months ago, I thought it was best to let Sebastian live out his days in the hutch we got him in, since he was very small (Netherland Dwarf) had a whole shed to himself (the wooden one) and a garden, and I wanted him to have continuity.  Unfortunately, about three months ago with the really shitty weather we’ve had, the bottom of his hutch started to go rotten.  I ripped the whole thing out one afternoon and redesigned a second hutch – the spare one we’d kept in the kitchen, that was going to be Banacek and Cleo’s outdoor hutch until Banacek died – and gave that to Sebastian.  It’s the exact same hutch that Fifer and Katie (and now, Fifer and Poppy, who live part-time in the house because Poppy likes being inside but Fifer doesn’t like being an indoor bun) have in their shed, with a few slight differences because this hutch was a £30 fixer upper and the other was in pristine condition for nearly £100 (with discount vouchers). More info on how to design an inspirational rabbit hutch

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Sebastian’s hutch inside his shed.
Rabbit run bunny run rabbit hutch keep warm
Sebastian lives alone so I like to make sure he stays warm.  It pulls down when it’s cold.

These links have more info on keeping bunnies warm in winter and cool in summer

The most important thing to talk about is the type of fencing to use, to make sure the rabbits really can have 24/7 indoor/outdoor access.  You need a fencing that is really rabbitproof (insert joke about Australia’s rabbitproof fence here).  We used different types of fencing in different areas to make the most rabbitproof run without having to spend 100 years making it:

Rabbit run bunny run rabbit hutch rabbit proof garden
Around the wooden fence, I nailed up some chickenwire over the first 18 inches so the rabbits can’t burrow out.

Apart from where it’s against a fence, the chickenwire starts at 4 feet high because rabbits WILL chew through chickenwire, even the coated green stuff.  The chicken wire replaced that awful lurid green stuff that was made of plastic that my husband bought, and which has been an eyesore for 18 months.  Don’t use chicken wire anywhere that a rabbit’s mouth can reach unless there’s something behind it, and AVOID that stupid plastic stuff at all costs, I was against it from the moment I saw it, and when we were removing it, Poppy came out to explore, got tangled in it before we could stop her, and she nearly died. £600 of vet bills later she’s ok but it was the most harrowing experience.

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This wire goes at the very bottom.

At the very bottom of the rabbit run we have put this thick and relatively inflexible metal the squares are about 1.5cm wide each, so rabbits can’t get their noses through.

rabbit run4

A little bit higher, we never had a problem with the green squares until we got Poppy.  She’s a gorgeous Dutch bunny with a slightly more petite bone structure than our other rabbits, and being a bright young thing she will leap up and climb through these two levels of squares so I had to wrap this green wire diagonally to stop her getting out.  I wouldn’t mind but it takes her too long to get back in because her bum gets stuck, and if a cat was in the greater garden it could very quickly eat her.

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The silver low fence keeps Fifer and Poppy out of Sebastian’s territory. I did find Katie in there once (when it was Fifer and Katie), but her temperament was so nice that she just snuggled up with Sebastian, so we never saw an issue with Katie having two male partners.
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Sebastian’s run – that little wooden thing was his original run (from his previous owners) and when we got him we found he likes sitting in it sometimes, I think he feels more secure in there. It’s good for attaching his water bottle to (left hand side, just after that open shed door).
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And that’s Sebastian’s entrance/exit between his shed and his run, it’s in his old rabbit run because he likes his little porch!
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One of Fifer and Poppy’s garden toys. Poppy loves running up and down in the holes like a cat, Fifer loves chewing it.

Toys are important to me for the bunnies, as important as grass I can’t stand the idea that they ever might be bored in their bunny village, so I like to give them as many things to do as will fit.  I did make a little climbing frame for them but we had to take it apart when I replaced some of the fence panels earlier this year, so the components (such as this ladder) are still around.

Rabbit run bunny run rabbit hutch wire fencing rabbitproof rabbit proof garden toys
Another outdoor bunny toy. Rabbits like things they can eat, chew, rub their chins on, sniff at, lick, scratch, dig, run around and sit on.

And the most important thing in our giant rabbit enclosure is to make sure they can’t escape, because there are a lot of neighborhood cats and there are local foxes who have shat in our greater garden (bag it using 2 sandwich bags so you don’t touch it, clean the area with neat jeyes fluid, rinse with boiling water) so we know they are aware of our rabbits.  So we fasten the door (an old garage side door we got on Freecycle) with a lock and a piece of wire.   Before we used the wire, the vicious northern winds had been known to blow it open which can be very dangerous at night.  I do let Fifer and Poppy out into the wider garden regularly (Sebastian doesn’t like going out of his run) they eat all my weeds it’s amazing.

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The locking arrangement, from before we replaced all that lurid green plastic stuff.
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View from the back of the run towards the house.

So that’s our bunny village, currently housing Fifer, Poppy and Sebastian!  What do you think?  Have you made anything similar for your rabbits?

If you haven’t already, check out my other rabbit care articles
 

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Keep Your Rabbit Cool In A Heatwave

Keeping rabbits cool in summer can be daunting.  This has been the hottest week of the year in the UK, and with temperatures pretty much soaring worldwide in the Northern Hemisphere (sorry, Oz), it’s important to keep bunnies safe from sun and heatstroke too!

rabbits die in hot hutches keep bunny cool

We all know that dogs die in hot cars, but rabbits regularly die in hot hutches as well, especially young rabbits (less than a year old). Lack of ventilation, hutches placed in direct sunlight, and the ammonia from a hutch that hasn’t been cleaned in a while all take their toll on rabbits. I’m not being OTT here, these are all things I’ve learned from having tons of buns for years. Here’s how to keep bunnies cool and safe and happy and snuggled in all this hot weather we’ve been having:

Don’t:
Leave rabbits in a hutch on hot days. They need to be able to move around and find shade (or a cool breeze) and additionally, they panic if they feel trapped, which will only make them hotter.

Assume their water bottles are sufficient. Rabbits have been not drowning in puddles for thousands of years, and a bowl of water that they can put their face in to cool down will really help them out. Be aware that they might knock it over, and refill as needed.

Put sunblock or other human sun protection products on rabbits:  It sounds good in theory, but please never do this.  Rabbits will lick it off and ingest it, and sunscreen’s not good for them, and it won’t reach their skin in any case.

Leave hutches in direct sunlight. Even when the rabbits aren’t in them, they will get hot and cause the ammonia from their urine to degrade. This can cause a potentially toxic vapour that can suffocate rabbits when you put them to bed.

Forget to clean the hutches out at least once a week in summer. The temperature and the amount of insects around means that it’s easy for a hutch to acquire maggots, which will lead to bunny fly strike, a deadly disease.

Ignore warning signs: If your bunny is visibly too hot, not really moving much, breathing heavily, and clearly uncomfortable, you need to take action (see how below).

Never, ever, ever touch a nest with newborns (younger than 8 weeks) baby rabbit kittens in it:  Even to move them somewhere cooler.  If the mother smells the babies have been interfered with by anyone who isn’t herself, she will reject them and they will die (yes, you can try to hand rear them, no, it often doesn’t work).  The mother will move them if she thinks they’ll have a better chance of survival, and she comes from a long line of rabbits who didn’t fail to care for their young (or she wouldn’t be alive herself), trust her to know what’s best for her babies, unless she’s got brain damage.  Rabbits have very good mothering instincts that are better than those of most human mothers.  Additionally, if you go near the nest while she’s around, she will attack you very viciously.  Put an ice block or a frozen bottle of water next to the nest, but not in it, and let the mother move it herself.  The only exception to this is if one of the babies needs a vet.

Do:
Get them a good sized enclosed rabbit run and put them out all day in hot weather (check they can’t dig out, or make sure your garden fence/wall will stop escapes if they do, if you’re at work all day). Leave the run in the shade and remember the shade changes direction as the sun changes position in the sky. An old doormat or cardboard box over one corner of the run will provide shade.  Don’t forget to give them water in the rabbit run!

Freeze some ice blocks for them and put these in the rabbit run so they have something cold to lie next to if they need it.

You could also put bricks in the freezer (if you remember from my article on keeping bunnies warm I mentioned putting a brick in the oven then put it in the rabbit hutch at night) and put these out in the hutch to cool the air in the hutch.

Get them a water bowl as well as their bottle (or a second water bowl) so that they always have some water, and check it every few hours if it’s a really hot day. Water is the most important thing for keeping bunnies alive in hot weather. If you do nothing else from my article, do this.

Keep topping their water up.  Water water water water water.  That’s what rabbits need in hot weather.

If bunny gets too hot: Emergency bunny first aid for heatstroke:
If your bunny is visibly uncomfortable from the heat, get a jug or bucket of water and get the bunny wet. Avoid the face and ears, you just want to get their body wet to increase heat loss. If the bunny doesn’t jump up and try to run away (they really don’t like getting wet), check the temperature of their ears.

If the bunny’s ears are hot and the bunny is not moving much, breathing heavily (or not breathing), and generally unresponsive, they probably have heat stroke. It is preceded by heat exhaustion, which stops them raising the alarm about their state (this is true of humans too, although in people, the face tends to go red and they can even stop sweating).  This is more deadly to small animals than it is to humans (and it’s pretty dangerous to humans). At this point, you need to make an emergency appointment with the vet and get your bunny the care he needs to survive.

Personally, I wouldn’t waste any time, and I’d get a sick bunny to the vet (any vet) as soon as possible because they are stuck with a fur coat and feel the temperature a lot more than we do, they don’t have a very good cooling system and they’re not designed to be above ground trapped in a hot environment in summer weather, usually they’d be in their underground burrow at this time of day in the summer, chilling out with their friends.  We have, over centuries, forced them to live in our environment for our own entertainment, the least we can do is try to make it comfortable for them.