A year into raising meat rabbits in a colony setting, I’ve got a pretty good feel for the pros and cons, I think. I also feel like I’ve successfully tackled most of the cons.
First con, a colony pen is substantially more difficult to make escape proof than individual cages. We’ve both had to chase down rabbits more times than I care to admit. But when you’ve got an adventurer like Benjamin who thinks he is invisible, it’s not hard to find the weak spots. Stand there for a minute and he will show you.
Second con, any health issues spread much more easily when rabbits live together. We had a new rabbit introduce ear mites. Thankfully, there is a very easy and effective medication that is gentle on their system. Ivermectin is available at any veterinary office and most farm stores. The dosage is ridiculously low.
Third con, the rabbits will establish a hierarchy with some more dominant than others. This one is arguable. Many say that this causes additional stress on the rabbits. However, it is their natural social order. If a human child goes to school, they might have to deal with a bully. But if they never go outside, they’ll never develop into a functioning adult.
Fourth con, and this is probably the biggest one, it is harder to control breeding. At one point this last year, with three adult females, we had 27 rabbits total. That was tough. So for now, Benjamin is isolated from the rest, but his individual pen is inside the communal pen, which prevents him from feeling too alone.
But for all of that, I don’t think I’ll ever go to a cage style rabbitry. The pros are just too big.
First pro, the rabbits have more space. Having seen the rabbits run around in circles and get excited over new branches to gnaw or veggies scraps, it’s pretty obvious that rabbits like having room to play. And when it snows, they go wild. Backflips and rolling around. It’s adorable and entertaining!
Second pro, socialization. Rabbits are social animals. You’ll never find a wild rabbit living by itself. They always live in colonies, and always have company. To me, letting them have that in captivity matters. When it’s cold, they can huddle for warmth. When it’s nice out they groom and play with each other. I feel it makes for happier rabbits.
Third pro, ground beneath their feet. Sure, you can put cages directly on the ground, but that negates the easy cleaning that people use cages for in the first place. Our rabbits nibble grass and claw at dirt. They still have a wire fence barrier to prevent digging and escaping, but they at least get to feel grass beneath their feet any time they want.
Ultimately, it’s a personal choice. But we take these animals into our lives for our own uses, and we both feel that deserves the courtesy of the best life possible. Yesterday, I processed five rabbits for a total of 15 pounds of meat. It was a lot of work doing so many at a time, but we are now down to rabbits with names, one that is probably pregnant, and one that’s too small to process for a couple weeks. And that will cut down on the feed bill.