Expert advice on which tools and equipment for raising rabbits is absolutely vital to your success, plus some rabbit handling advice.
We’ve covered basic housing options and the typical rabbit feed and watering options already. But what about all those extra tools that make running a rabbitry go smoother – the things you’d never think about until you were helping a buddy cull a few rabbits and you had one of those where-did-you-get-that-thing moments? And where should you draw the line between essential and nonessential?
Read on, and we’ve got you covered with some devices that may or may not be fundamental to your rabbit keeping operation, drawing on decades of rabbit-keeping experience and expertise. And then once you have everything you need, it’s a good idea to establish a regular routine for your animals.
Let’s start with you — with what to wear — and then proceed to what your rabbits need:
1. Feed scoop and bucket
You will need a feed bucket, unless you have a large operation and need a feed cart. A 20- or 30-gallon steel garbage can will safeguard your feed supply.
Plastic feed scoops are inexpensive, and you can easily make one from a plastic bottle. I have a steel scoop that is still as good as new after 40 years of use every single day
2. Nail clippers
Rabbits raised on wire tend to wear down their nails over time, so clipping them is not a regular chore. But when you need to clip the nails of an older animal, a regular dog nail clipper does the job nicely. You don’t want a rabbit’s nails to get caught in the floor wire of a cage
A good wire brush with a scraper on the end (sold in paint and hardware departments) comes in very handy for use on hutch floors to remove the occasional dried manure droppings that cling to the wire.
A wire brush with brass or stainless steel bristles will cost more but last longer. Another brush with nylon bristles is handy for brushing hair from the hutch. And a slicker brush, as used on dogs and cats, will take out dead fur and ease a rabbit through a molt.
4. Building tools
We covered the tools that you need to build your hutches. They include wire cutters, J-clip and hog ring (or C-ring) pliers, and basic household tools.
5. Bucket and scrub brush
These are for washing and disinfecting hutch floors and feeders, as well as nest boxes, unless you are using wire nest boxes with disposable corrugated cardboard liners.
6. Propane torch
Not required but certainly handy is a small propane torch to burn off hair on wire hutches. Use a torch nozzle that flares, rather than pinpoints, the flame. My Tans don’t shed a whole lot, but in late summer or early autumn, my torch goes to work.
7. Wide-blade putty knife or paint scraper
If you use pans under the hutches, these are useful for scraping off manure that the hose can’t budge.
8. Pitchfork and shovel
Use for manure removal. A rake and hoe are handy, too.
9. Wheelbarrow or garden cart
For hauling manure to the garden or compost heap. I have one of those wooden garden carts with big bicycle wheels, and it still works great after 30 years of service.
10. Nest box warmer pad or aluminum photo-flood reflector
If your rabbitry is cold in winter, you will need one of these, along with a 25-watt light bulb or a heat bulb used to keep pet reptiles warm.
11. Insulation foam board panels and plastic foam trays
These are another way to make doe hutches warmer, along with the heating devices above.
The following equipment and supplies are useful in many rabbitries, but others may be required depending on the kind of operation you have. For example, if you raise Angoras, you may need a grooming table and tools, such as combs and shears.
12. Hanging scale
This is perfect for weighing fryers and other rabbits to make sure they are reaching their growth goals. The hanging type has a hook to hold a bucket or other container and subtracts the weight of the container.
I like to weigh my rabbits in one of my wire nest boxes. You can purchase the scales in capacities of either 22 or 55 pounds.
13. Limestone or deodorizer
A bag of agricultural limestone, the granulated kind used on lawns and gardens, is handy to have in hot weather. You can sprinkle some on manure under hutches or in pans to diminish ammonia odor, if necessary.
Neutralizing ammonia odors will help prevent respiratory problems. Additionally, you can purchase biodegradable deodorizers that eliminate odors in a building.
One product, called Anotec, chemically bonds with odors to eliminate them, not just mask them. You can apply it directly to surfaces or use it as an air freshener in a pump dispenser.
14. Record sheets
Record keeping will make you a proficient rabbit raiser. You need hutch cards to record mating dates and the does’ overall performance. Stud cards for each buck let you measure the performance of your bucks at a glance.
These cards fit on the outside of hopper feeders and are held on with clear plastic card covers. There is so much plastic in packaging these days that you can probably make your own covers, but otherwise you can buy them in sizes to fit the feeders.
Pedigree forms, production record sheets, and daily, monthly, and annual summary sheets are also available from rabbit supply companies, or you can devise your own. In addition, now there are computer programs that help you keep track of everything to make sure you have a successful operation.
15. Skinning knife, skinning hooks, and hide stretcher
These are needed only if you are slaughtering your own meat rabbits. A good knife is a “boning knife,” which is used in most commercial slaughter plants because of its ideal size and shape for rabbit processing.
Skinning hooks, made of plated steel, are specifically shaped to hold the carcass in the correct position for dressing. Mine are attached to a board that I hang on the wall of the barn. I like to place a large black plastic garbage bag under everything to catch the offal.
16. Tattoo set
If you plan to enter your rabbits in shows, they need an identifying number or letters in the left ear. And even if you don’t show, after you raise a few rabbits you will find no better way to keep track of who’s who in the herd.
I prefer the pliers type, but you can also buy one that is battery-operated. If you don’t have room for a table in your rabbitry, you can make a shelf that folds down from the wall and use that for tattooing.
Depending on your location, you may need equipment for such needs as heating, cooling or lighting, among others. Here are some items I have found useful.
Cooling tools. A portable electric fan can come in handy in hot weather. You can even find one that you hitch to a garden hose to mist your rabbitry with cool, moist air.
A soaker hose, which emits a fine spray, can be placed on your shed roof. It cools the roof, and when the water flows off, any breeze blowing by can provide additional cooling.
If temperatures in your area are regularly in the 90s or above, you can make your rabbits (especially your pregnant does) more comfortable by filling some plastic milk jugs or soda bottles with water and freezing them. If you put a couple of them in their hutch, they will lie against them. I keep herd bucks in my lower tier of hutches because it’s cooler near the floor.
You might also purchase a window air conditioner. The classified ads often reveal many serviceable used ones at very reasonable prices.
17. Small electric heater
I keep one in my barn, not for my rabbits but to warm my fingers if I’m knocking ice out of water pans. There are many different kinds of electric heaters, and you might want to use one on occasion to warm up your rabbitry.
18. Folding cart or two-wheel truck
If you go to rabbit shows, this will help you haul carrying cages from the parking lot to the showroom. If you raise Angoras, you’ll also want a folding grooming table to take to the show, along with assorted combs, brushes, shears and clippers.
19. Humane trap
Mine is known as the Havahart. It traps any rabbits that happen to escape their hutches. I just bait it with a carrot or some lettuce, and I’ll have the rabbit back in its hutch by the next day.
20. Motion-activated outdoor lights
These can help protect your rabbits from nighttime intruders and can also be used along walks and on stairs for your safety. You can even buy one that is battery-operated or solar-powered if you don’t have electricity in your shelter. These lights turn on when the sensor detects movement and shut off when no more motion is detected.
21. Clip and solar lights
If it’s dark in your backyard when you feed your rabbits, holding a flashlight at the same time is not easy. A battery-powered light that clips to your glasses or the bill of a cap frees up your hands.
You can also buy solar lights with long power cables that allow you to place the solar panel unit outdoors in the sun and locate the lamp inside where you need it. This kind of light can be especially useful to boost chances of conception when days are short.
Solar walkway lights leading up to the rabbitry provide for safe passage, and installing them takes nothing more than poking each fixture into the ground.
This excerpt was originally published from Rabbit Housing by Bob Bennett, published by Storey Publishing, 2011.