Letter Re: Small Livestock on a Budget

Howdy Jim & Memsahib,
Regarding getting rabbits free after the usual Easter bunny buying frenzy – great idea. Get them producing, and optimize your cage designs at the same time by using those Easter bunnies as test subjects.

One notes however that the “pet” rabbits are generally not designed specifically for meat production, and there are oftentimes sizeable efficiency differences between the breeds. As soon as possible, consider sourcing true breed lines that are designed for meat – you’ll kick up production quite a bit. Using the 4H as a source is probably the best idea – depending on where you’re at. Our 4H locally has been absolutely decimated by PC folks….not many of the 4H clubs still extant here.

If possible, stay away from wooden cages, or wooden cage frames. The rabbit’s eat and chew the woods, damaging and weakening it – and the urine will soak in, making it pretty nasty after a while. If you’ve got to build from wood, make sure you staple the cage wires to the inside of the frames. For cleaning, a 15% bleach/water solution sprayed on liberally and allowed to soak in works well. I’d also say, if you’ve got to use wood, use Cedar or Redwood only.
Good sources for these (at least in urban areas) are old fences, decks, spa surrounds, etc. (At least once a year I advertise for free demolition and removal of a deck. That keeps me with enough Redwood for my projects.)

Ideally, make those cages out of only metal mesh. The wire cloth (hardware cloth, hot dipped galvanizing) that’s out there is miserable stuff to work with, but it’ll work in a pinch. Lot’s of sharp edges and spikes on it, so wear gloves. Plus it’s got the problem of spiking the rabbit’s feet, sometimes giving some nice cuts and abrasions.

The best mesh material is [Smooth] Welded Wire Mesh – 16/14 GA will do just fine. Something like 1/2″x1″ openings. Get some hog ring pliers and hog rings, wire cutters, 4×4’s and hinges for a bending brake (not absolutely necessary, but sometimes will save time and materials) and a tape measure and you’re in business. (OBTW, this stuff is also great for building aviaries, live animal traps, shrimp/lobster cages, fish weirs, etc.)

Great blog so far – looks like it’ll be a winner. I’ll be making it one of my commonly visited sites. – G.T.

JWR’s Reply:

Many thanks for your well-informed observations! I concur that wood-framed rabbit cages are a bad idea. At the Rawles Ranch we use only all-wire rabbit cages. We were able to find our latest batch (made by Bass Equipment, Inc.) via mail order when one of their distributors had a sale a couple of years back. The only wood that ever goes in our rabbit cages is a resting board. (A piece of scrap lumber–usually 2″x6″ or 2″x8″, about 18″ long. This keep the rabbits from getting infected haunches from extended exposure to wire mesh.) We change the resting boards regularly!