Raising Rabbits in Colony

While many people raise rabbits individually in cages, I’ve decided to raise my rabbits in colony. This means that my rabbits all live together – male, female, and kits – in a single, large habitat. I call it the rabbitat, because awesome.

This post is an overview of the how-to of raising rabbits in colony. Plus tons of cute pics of my bunnies, so stay for that!

Raising rabbits in colony

The Basics

  • Rabbits in colony need about 10 square feet per adult rabbit. I have 240 square feet for my two does, one buck, and a variable number of kits moving through.
  • They need protection from escaping, predators, and the weather. My rabbitat is made from wire cube shelving pieces (aff link) placed high enough to keep them in, and they have plenty of places to hide and get out of the weather.
  • Rabbits need both places to hide under/in and places to jump on top of. In a colony this is especially important so they can all get away from one another if they like.
  • Multiple feeding and watering spots to prevent fighting over food/water.
  • Use multiple litter boxes, deep bedding, or regular bedding mucked out regularly.

Additional Reading: Rabbits in Colonies (affiliate link)

 

Introducing Rabbits

When you first set up your colony, you’ll need to take some care in how you introduce the rabbits to it. Rabbits can be territorial before they learn to be a family. You should only have one buck in your colony. Males younger than 12 weeks are fine but not multiple adult bucks.

Raising rabbits in colony

Raising rabbits in colony

If your rabbits are currently in individual cages, move the cages right next to one another. Feed your rabbits at adjacent spots of their cages so that they get used to being close and eating together.

If you have a buck, you may want to add him to the colony first since he is less likely to be territorial than does. Give him a day to make himself at home.

Raising rabbits in colony

You can add all your does at once. If you have one doe that you know is more aggressive than others, add her last. Watch for any fighting, which you might notice only by seeing the injuries later. Most fighting will sort itself out in a day, as long as you have adequate climbing and hiding places for your rabbits.

Raising rabbits in colony

Breeding

When living in colony, the rabbits take care of their breeding cycles on their own. You can keep the buck in his own cage if you want more control, but I leave my buck in the colony. The does will find their own spots to have their litters. If you have trouble telling whose litter belongs to who, you can feel for the doe whose milk is in.

Raising rabbits in colonyThe Drawbacks

  • Some people consider unrestrained breeding a drawback. I, however, love having different ages of kits at all times. You can always separate your buck into his own space if you want more control of the timing.
  • A rabbitat can be a big, complicated space. It’s not portable like smaller cages or easy to move around your land if you decide you want to do that.
  • The rabbits can be a little wilder if you’re not handling them all at feeding time like you might be able to do by feeding them one by one in individual cages.

Raising rabbits in colonyThe Benefits

  • The rabbits are not isolated.
  • They can have more space. Colony living typically gives a rabbit much more freedom of movement than if they were in a single cage.
  • They obviously love it. My rabbits sleep together in a pile and groom each other. They behave very much like a small family. My buck is very gentle and playful with new kits, which is a delight to see.
  • You get to offer your rabbits a more rabbit-y life. I get a lot of satisfaction from that.

Additional Reading: Rabbits in Colonies (affiliate link)

 

What else would you like to know about raising rabbits in colony?

Raising rabbits in colony

I know a better way to raise rabbits than sticking them alone in cages. Colony raising means letting your rabbits be rabbits.

43 thoughts on “Raising Rabbits in Colony”

  1. Hello, I raise Flemish Giants and want to do a colony for them. Caged rabbits make me sad. Do you do anything different for kindling? Do you just keep a nest for each doe? Will they kind of declare a nest to be their own?

    Reply
    • Their bedding needs are the same. I used straw. There needs to be plenty of nest options and hiding places in the colony. But it’s not my experience that the does will claim a particular nest until it’s time for hair pulling 2-3 days before the litter is born.

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  2. This is all great information, thanks so much! I was wondering about digging. Do your rabbits dig a lot? Is your rabbitat on the ground? Do the dig out from under the fencing? Thanks in advance.

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    • For my first rabbitat I lined the whole bottom with chicken wire. That would break down after a couple of years and need to be replaced. For my current setup, I simply lined the edges with half-size cinder blocks. So far no attempted digging has occurred.

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    • Sure. I would still start with the buck in the rabbitat first and then adding does together at once. If does are going to be added at different times you might try putting the newest one inside a cage inside the rabbitat. Do that for a few days, then start letting the new doe out for supervised visits for a couple of days to check for any aggression from the established does.

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      • Hi can a put my two female rabbits that are 6 mondse old whit my rabbit that is pregnand fore the first time together in one pen (colony)

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  3. I am really wanting to do something like this for my bunnies but I have two girls and two boys. Would it be best to have all girls, I really don’t want breeding just a community of happy bunnies. Another reason I love having them is collecting poop for the garden. In a community set up I don’t see a way to easily do this like wire cages.

    Reply
    • If you don’t want any breeding, I would get them fixed. You can still collect poop in a colony. Most bunnies will choose certain areas as bathrooms. You can collect from there.

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  4. How hard is it to catch the kits at butchering time? That would be my concern catching ra bots for one reason or another.

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    • That depends on your setup and is an important factor in designing the space. I incorporated two cages into my design so that I could easily “herd” bunnies into an area where I could trap them.

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  5. We switched to colony living last fall. On the 5th one doe kindled 6 (3 still born) and the other 2 does kindled on Sunday. 6 each all living!! I love the ease of colony living. So much easier to clean and feed than individual cages. I love to see the natural behaviors of the animals. I set up 3 separate nests. Only one doe took my suggestion. The other 2 found places she liked better and built her own. They really don;t need our help do they? 🙂

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  6. I’m raising a colony and love it. However, after one very healthy litter of 7 kits, I’ve been finding dead litters or dead babies that were dragged out. Very discouraging. There is one area that has deep enough dirt that they have dug caves and must be nesting down there where I can’t see. Could this be the problem? I wonder if the kits are being trampled?

    Reply
    • Yes, kindling under ground can cause some problems. Some people put a barrier down so that the bunnies can’t dig. Kits can also be killed by other adults if there are aggression issues or not enough space.

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      • I have 2 females in a colony situation. I would like to move them to individual cages when the birth so I can monitor them better. Do you think this would be ok?

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  7. Hello, I was wondering what you do if you purchase a new rabbit? How would you integrate her into the colony? Would introducing them in a separate space for a few days and then putting them all back together work? I’m just curious as I am starting out. Thank you in advance.

    Reply
    • You can put the new rabbit inside the colony in a separate cage. Feed the rabbits so their food bowls are right next to each other on each side of the cage so they can get used to eating together. After a few days, begin letting the new rabbit out for supervised visits for a couple of days to watch for any aggression. After you begin letting her out full time, check for a few days for any signs of fighting – missing hair, cuts, etc. Make sure your rabbitat has plenty of boxes, ledges, and other places so there’s room for everyone to get away when they need it. If you have one rabbit who’s aggressive you can try switching her into the cage for a few days. That way the new rabbit can get established and the old rabbit will be coming into someone else’s territory when she gets out. Good luck!

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  8. Hello! Thanks for sharing. We have a small Mini-Rex colony (one buck, two pregnant does and two 6 week old kits). They live in the base of a giant hollow maple tree, with an exercise yard, all fenced and cross fenced. They love their family, so enjoyable to watch them raise the babies, and guard over them so lovingly. Ive never read about anyone else doing it this way. I’m glad there are others!

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  9. I have a colony of 14 holland lops and another colony of 4 Flemish giant crosses. I’m having issues with the Bucks fighting and hurting eachother. Two of the holland lop bucks fought and one was casturated by the other and one had a huge cut on its side. I’ve removed the more aggressive one because this is not the first time he has been in a fight. Any suggestion on how I could stop the fighting?

    Reply
    • I would not have more than one buck in a colony together. Males under 12 weeks are fine (age depending on breed), but mature bucks will probably not get along. If you want to keep more than one buck, you need to either split into multiple colonies or rotate the bucks into/out of your colony as needed.

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  10. thanks for taking the time to write this informative piece! we have been raising ours in homemade hutches (not tiny cages, that is) but are planning to build a colony soon and transition, for all the reasons you mention and more. so i am grateful for all the info i can get on the subject from people with successful, productive colonies. i especially appreciate the advice on how to introduce buns to a new colony an other tips on management…

    cheers!

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  11. Thank you for all this info! I have a colony set up as well and am trying to figure out the best way to do their bedding. I was wondering what you do and how often you clean it out etc. if you’ve already written about this just send me in that direction Thanks!!

    Reply
    • I use straw. I regularly cover any bathroom piles with more straw, and then periodically scoop out the piles and compost them. If your rabbits have a “go anywhere” style you may need more cleaning, but mine have always been good about using one particular area or two.

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  12. Hello! I had been planning on a California doe and buck set, with the New Zealand white doe just to see what happened… Its a complicated and unplanned story, but I now have a NZ white doe, a black doe of unknown heritage and two California bucks.

    Problem is, both of the does are bigger than either of the bucks and breeding doesn’t seem to be happening easily. One buck is aggressive and starts fights, but is actively pursuing the does. The other buck is an absolute sweetheart… but I haven’t seen him have any luck with the ladies as of yet.

    We’re raising them as meat rabbits for fun, so I’m not worried about the genetics being breeder standard. But I DO want happy bunnies. I put a lot of work into giving them a wonderful colony habit, but now I’m left with a challenging dilemma. Do I keep Jack-ass (that is literally his name.) Or Katie (we thought he was a she.)… I’ve been debating this for weeks and I still don’t know what to do. I feel like I’m choosing between happiness or kits. And yes, I keep at least one buck in his own cage at all times.

    Reply
    • I know you weren’t asking me Riley, but typical colony behavior with more than one male would mean a more dominant male that is more polygamous and the lower in class the males go(depending on how many you have and how many females) the more monogamous they become, with some not breeding at all… if you have a large enough colony or tame enough bucks to accommodate more than one at all.

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    • I had a colony with 6 does and their kits. When I rotated my bucks there was never any problem. The does sniffed him and the male would start sniffing around to breed.

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  13. Just heard about raising rabbits in colonies and want to learn more about it. How much room does 1 rabbit need? Wanting to put about 12 does and 1 buck. Will this work? How big does my pen need to be?

    Reply
    • I typically sold my kits before they reached sexual maturity, but if you are going to keep them around, yes, you’ll need to separate them based on your breeding plan. Different breeds reach maturity at different ages, so you’ll need to look into that.

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  14. We have a Rex colony started with a single buck and doe. However, he bred her immediately after she gave birth. Would more does curb this, or do I just need to separate him? He loves the kits, but I don’t want to wear her out. Would a separate colony of only bucks be an option?

    Reply
    • More does might curb it, or more aggressive does, or a more docile buck. Otherwise, yes, it’s common to leave a buck in his own separate area. I like the buck area to share a fence wall with the does so that they stay used to being together.

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  15. I have been looking into starting a colony. But one of my best does is super aggressive with my other good doe she hasn’t been around other does in a while. Do you think she is just plain aggressive or is it something she should get over in a couple hours? They haven’t been in the same cage for more than fifteen minutes. Their cages are right beside each other so I will start feeding the m like you suggested above. Any other suggestions? Thanks~Lydia

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  16. Question. We just started putting our rabbits out side. We have had trouble with babies being all over instead of one spot. Many having there litters at once. Many have milk but not for sure who belongs to what baby. Do they know where there babies are and go take care of them. Also heard if outside there needs to be wise on the ground. Does it go right on top or under the dirt some? We are new to this and they seem to be happy outside and would like to keep it that way

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  17. This is not about colony but needed help with my rabbit. I had an house rabbit for years and then he died. so I’ve got another but want her out side I have 4 children and she spends alot of time in the house as I live in England and we’ve had so bad snow I bought an expensive hutch with a run ect with lots of space but she won’t go in side any boxes I even got her a heat pad under her straw to keep her warm. But she sat in the snow and Ive had to bring her in as shed stopped eating as the cold was killing her. Why would she not go in to warm boxes and just sit and freeze to death? I can’t understand it so she’s in the house any ideas. I’m totally lost there doesn’t seem to be any disability with her.

    Reply
    • I raise rabbits in Idaho with temperatures often reaching -15F, none of them has ever been too cold that I know of (I put insulated boxes in the cage if they would like it but only some rest in them) I do not think it is likely the cold is killing her.

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  18. Thank you for sharing! I’m planning on starting a colony myself and have been putting together measurements. I was told you cant use pressure treated wood for anything coming in contact with the rabbits. Since i’ll be building outside i was wonder what type of lumber you used or what your preferences are?

    Thanks again!
    Lisa

    Reply
    • I don’t use pressure treated wood for anything at all – not in my garden and not with livestock – and I also prefer not to use any plastic fencing or building materials, so it does limit your options! With wood, you have two other choices. One is a wood like cedar, which is naturally rot-resistant. Another is to use regular non-treated wood and replace as needed. Where it is in contact with the ground, “they” say it’ll rot within two years, but I have raised garden beds made from non-treated wood that have lasted 7 years. If the wood will actually be buried in the ground you’d need to go with the cedar.

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  19. I have 3 rabbits 2 bucks spayed and 1 unfixed doe I have bonded all 3 and they have been living together no fights in a colony set up for about 3 weeks the Bucks get on well groom and nuzzle. The doe is happy with both males but today has started to pull out her fur and has made a tunnelled nest in the hay sleeping loft. If she is pregnant which I’m hoping not as Buck has been spayed a month ago and other Buck 5years ago do I have to separate her or can I just leave them to get on in their free range life?

    Reply
    • If both bucks were spayed they should be fine together, but since you’re not sure I would take extra precautions. You could separate out the bucks and give them supervised time with the doe and kits until you are confident that they are getting along.

      Reply

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