I raise New Zealand rabbits for meat, breeding stock, and participation in the occasional rabbit show. One of the most common misconceptions i run into from folks not used to rabbits as livestock is “aren’t they unhappy in wire cages?” The answer is: no, they are not. My rabbits are safely housed in a well ventilated barn, in hanging all wire cages that are large enough for them to stretch out, play, make babies, have babies, snuggle with babies, and romp about as babies. All wire cages ensure a sanitary, easily cleaned environment which contributes to excellent health and the barn is secure against predators. Certainly, all rabbits would love to burrow in the dirt, run for long distances and chomp on grass – but i care too much for the health and safety of my rabbits to expose them to the elements, predators, germs and potentially toxic weeds.
I had a conversation with a woman recently who was judging my use of wire cages pretty hard. She told me a story about a woman she knew who ‘rescued’ rabbits from the shelter and let them free range on her property. “They were so happy, just romping around, hanging out on the porch, then one would go missing so she’d replace it.” Ahem – go missing? As in: eaten by a coyote??? I don’t know about you – but if i were a rabbit, i would much rather live my life in safety, being fed, watered and doted upon by a human, and then meeting my end happy and unaware of what was going on around me vs running in terror for my life and being ripped apart partially alive, by an unfeeling predatory beast. Right???
That being said: rabbits can be great ‘employees’ in the garden and why not give a litter destined for market the chance to romp and play while they grow, especially when they can do my mowing for me and they can do so in the safety of a a moveable pen? Enter, my all wire rabbit (or duck or chicken) tractor!
The construction of this tractor is incredibly basic (it better be as i am a scrimcoacher extraordinaire and do not excel at accurate building methods). I used the old wire from my hanging cages after i replaced all the floors with new wire but you can purchase wire new. The best wire is heavy guage that isn’t saggy – and that can be quite expensive BUT if you find some old, rusty cages on sale on Craiglist, snap them up and use the parts! Here’s how i made my rabbit tractor:
1. Build the base. I used 1x2s to create a rectangular frame, added triangular blocks in the corners and pinned it all together using my nail gun and long nails. My tractor is 8 feet long by 4 feet wide, to match the dimensions of the wire i had on hand. Cut an 8 foot long section of 4 foot high horse fence (the stuff with 2×4 inch holes) and use your staple gun to attach it to the base. Flip it over so the fencing is on the ground and ta-da, ready for step 2.
2. Take 2 8 foot long sections of 30 to 36 inch wide rabbit cage floor wire and attach together using j-clips and j-clip plyers. Cut a square of cage wire, 4×4 feet, then cut in half diagonally. These will be your ends. Again attach to the other wire with j-clips
3. Using your staple gun, attach the bottoms of each side of this shape to the outsides of the 1x2s. They’ll over hang a bit so just bash them in to fit. We’re scrimcoaching here, people. Make it work.
4. Cut a door. I made my door big enough for me to climb into. i think it’s like 1.5×3 feet or something. Smaller is fine, too – but you’ll need to catch those bunnies occasionally and it’s nice to be able to get all the way in. Wrap the wire from the cut hole back onto itself to make a non-stabby hole then cut another new piece of wire that’s at least 2 inches larger than the hole. Attach to the top of the hole with j-clips and get some door latches to secure the bottom of the door. I need to buy my latches so for now i’m using old springs and wire hooks.
5. Protect them from the elements! Using a section of heavy weight plastic, staple it (with a regular staple gun) to one side of the base, then the other, pulling it tight enough that it won’t catch the wind. Using your origami skills, fold it to fit the back triangle and staple it down along the back. Now add a later of shade cloth to this to protect them from the sun. Sunstroke kills buns! I used a bunch of strips cuz that’s what i had – one 3 foot piece would be much nicer. I like to cover about half/1/3 of the tractor.
6. Add a handle. Grab a length of heavy weight wire and a piece of pvc or old hose. Poke the wire close to the front corner through the cage wire and around the base, twist. Slide the pvc or hose onto the loose and and then secure this end on the other corner.
7. Add a wheel or two. So far i’m doing okay with just dragging this thing as it is super light, but a wheel would be nice. I haven’t gotten mine added on yet, so i’ll let you figure that out for yourself. Note: Be very careful when moving your tractor! Bunny legs will fall through the holes and you don’t want to break anyone. Lift the tractor up, let them sort themselves then slowly drag watching them to be sure they’re not stuck.
That’s it! Really, it’s easy – i just like to use lots of words to overly complicate things. Waterers can be poked through the front end and attached like normal. I use a small chicken feeder hung with baling twine in the covered area for their pellets. Hang so that it’s just above ground level.
Insert bunnies! Watch them have the time of their lives! Second note: always be sure and give your young bunnies some green grass in small amounts, adding more each day, when still with mama and before turning out to pasture. Too much green grass can make rabbits, especially young rabbits, very sick and can even kill them.
I designed my garden with large rows between my garden beds specifically for pasturing chickens, ducks and rabbits to allow them to naturally mow and side dress my gardens with their manure. I also find them quite entertaining and have some lawn chairs set up to watch this ‘bunny tv’ in the evenings when i’m bored. Great fun!
And the best thing about this: they’re safe! This pen is not fully predator safe, and you should only use it in a fenced in yard or other area OR just use it as a day pen for your adult rabbits to get some grass and sun and then return them to the safety of their all wire cages in the barn for the evening.
Do you pasture any of your livestock? Do you allow them to ‘free range’ or do you protect them in a tractor or with electrified netting?