Rabbits – Our Facility
Currently our rabbits are housed our largest out building which doubles as a storage building. As they multiply we plan to build them their own barn.
Rabbits need a cage of adequate size to accommodate species and breed specific behavior. According the American Rabbit Breeders Association (ARBA), the minimum space requirements for one rabbit based its weight is about 1 square foot per 3 lbs of rabbit. This size cage does not allow for much exercise. Because of this, recommendations for pet-rabbit owners are to allow 1 square foot per 1 lb of rabbit. When providing housing for multiple 12 lb German Angoras, a compromise had to be found. Witamy Farm invested in custom-made cages with the dimensions 4′ wide x 2.5′ deep x 1.5′ high made of heavy duty cage wire. This cage size gives each of our rabbits 10 square feet of floor space and a height that is 4” higher than the ARBA minimum requirements. This size is also that recommended by the International Association of German Angora Rabbit Breeders (IAGARB) for does with litters. Also, weather permitting, our rabbits are given the opportunity to exercise in a spacious outdoor pen on a weekly basis.
To help maximize the number of cages that would fit in the barn, the cages are stacked three high with interlocking legs. Because of the peculiar cage size, we had to adapt droppings pans that were designed for 2′ x 2.5′ cages, so that each of our cages uses two pans. Luckily they fit snuggly together so urine does not leak to the cage below.
Of course, the key to successful animal husbandry is cleanliness especially when animals are kept in small spaces. The “Bunny Barn”, as we call it, is cleaned weekly basis – the cage pans are emptied and scraped, the cage floors are scrubbed to remove any buildup of hair and feces and the feeders & waters are disinfected. Every few months the cages and pans are given a power washing and sanitized.
Environmental conditions, like temperature, ventilation and lighting, are important to maintaining healthy rabbits. The ideal environmental temperature range for rabbits is 55° to 70°F. Like many rabbitries, our barns are not climate controlled so the temperatures can range from 10° to 90°F. However, the rabbits are protected from the wind and direct sunlight. As long as the rabbits have at least 30 days of fiber growth, they handle the cold Michigan weather quite well. However, because they are shorn every 3 months, one shearing will coincide with winter. When that occurs, we use a couple things to keep them warm – wooden boxes made of untreated pine lined with straw and/or heat lamps.
While cold temperatures are unpleasant to humans, rabbits, especially Angora, do not do well when temperatures exceed 85°F. Fans, misters and frozen water bottles in cages are methods we have used to help the rabbits cope with high temperatures. With the extreme heat and humidity of the spring/summer 2012, we were forced to shear more frequently for the safety of the rabbits.
Besides a clean environment, the best preventive medicine for Angoras is proper diet. Of course, it starts with water. Though more work intensive, we use remove-able water crocks because they are easier to monitor the water intake and to keep clean. For food, the most important thing is hay – lots and lots of hay – to provide plentiful fiber for digestion. The hay should be a 1st cutting grass hay (for example: Timothy, Bermuda or Orchard grass) with minimal alfalfa. While rabbits love alfalfa, its calcium content is too high and can lead to bladder stones.
Pellets are also a staple feed, but make sure not to choose one that is appropriate to Angora, not another breed. We have had good luck so far with Manna Pro® Pro Formula. Though again it is work intensive, we feed pellets twice per day in 4 ounce crocks. This helps us monitor our rabbits’ general health and be able to quickly if there are any problems, in particular “wool block”.
Obviously the advantage of the German Angora is the voluminous fiber production, but with that comes certain disadvantages. Since rabbits ingest their wool when they groom themselves shearing their wool at least once every 90 days is considered a must in order to prevent “wool block” from occurring. Since the wool swallowed by the rabbit cannot be coughed or vomited up and will cause the rabbit to slowly starve to death as its digestive system and intestinal tract fill up with their ingested wool. If left untreated, wool block can lead to death. It is widely held among serious Angora breeders that along with ample cage space to exercise and feeding fresh horse quality hay on a daily basis will help keep the wool moving through the system and prevent wool block. It is also widely held that feeding both Bromelain (found in fresh pineapple and papaya) occasionally will aid in breaking down the ingested wool allowing it to pass through its system.
Most Angora breeders say that because rabbits’ digestive systems are very delicate, “treats” in the form of grains, seeds, dark greens, vegetables and fruits should be given very sparingly. Specific examples of treats include: rolled oats, hard winter berries, safflower seeds, hulled sunflower seeds, kale, mustard greens, dandelion greens, collard greens, chard, beet tops, carrot tops, raspberry leaves, broccoli leaves, romaine lettuce, escarole, arugula, endive, spinach, comfrey, parsley, cilantro, broccoli, apples, banana, pineapple, papaya and melon. Vegetables such as beet greens, chard, spinach, broccoli, and kale contain high levels of oxalates or goitrogens which are toxic in large quantities.
Besides monitoring what goes in, rabbits’ health can be gauged by what comes out. Healthy rabbit feces comes in two forms: hard round pellets of intestinal origin are rich in small pieces of hay and other debris and aromatic soft grape-like cecal pellets coated with a thin layer of mucus that are produced in the cecum. If your rabbits feces comes out in any other form, you may have a very ill bunny. Click here to see photographs of healthy and unhealthy rabbit feces. If you find that your rabbit has diarrhea, they are in gastrointestinal distress. Depending on the cause, they may have only a few hours to live. Click here to see a list of potential causes.
An excellent reference on the history, care and breeding of Angora rabbits is “The Complete Angora” written by Kilfoyle & Samson.