Your rabbits need somewhere to live and supplies to keep them comfortable. These are the most important components of your backyard rabbit farm.
1. Hutch Plan
Your rabbits’ home base is a solid enclosure, usually wooden with metal components, called a “hutch.” Hutches are generally smaller and more mobile than chicken coops, so not all municipalities regulate their construction. However, many cities do, so you may be required to submit a formal hutch plan to the proper authorities – usually the zoning or animal control department. Your hutch plan spells out your hutch’s layout, dimensions, construction, and placement on your property. It may also cover your rabbits’ outdoor enclosure, if you’re providing one.
Even if your municipality doesn’t require you to file a plan, a hutch plan could be good for your bottom line. Other than the rabbits themselves, your hutch is likely to be your largest startup expense. Larger pre-built hutches appropriate for outdoor rabbit herds reliably cost more than $100. Hutches that include small outdoor pens (enclosures) typically cost more than $150.
By contrast, a scratch-built hutch made from low-cost wood and wiring costs a fraction of that and should take a capable DIYer less than a day to put together. Free hutch plans abound online – check out these nine from The Balance, for instance.
Your rabbits will spend a good amount of their time in the hutch, so make sure it’s comfortable. Review online hutch plans or check out models like this one ($150) for an idea of what your hutch will or should look like.
Your hutch’s size will depend on the size of your herd. The more rabbits you have, the more space you’ll need to house them. Some other hutch-related items to keep in mind:
- Waste Control and Disposal: Most pre-built hutches have wire floors with enough spacing to allow waste to fall through into a sub-floor tray or box that’s easy enough to remove and empty. If you’re building yours from scratch, this is an essential sanitation feature.
- Nursing Compartment: Pre-built hutches have separate compartments where new mothers can nurse their litters in peace and quiet. DIY hutches should as well – preferably with four solid walls and a solid wood floor that can support adequate bedding.
- Climate Control: Rabbits are fairly hardy mammals, but temperature control is still important in extreme climates. If it gets really hot in your backyard, try to find a shaded spot for your hutch. Provided it’s safe to do so, consider rigging a standing electric fan ($15 and up) to provide additional climate control. In cold climates, space heaters are optional – they consume lots of energy, are prone to shorts and fires, and typically cost $25 or more. If you’re worried about your bunnies on frigid days, make arrangements to house them indoors, perhaps in a basement or garage.
3. Outdoor Enclosure (Pen or Run)
If your hutch doesn’t have a built-in pen, construct or install an outdoor enclosure that provides your rabbits with some breathing (hopping) room.
You can buy pre-built pens with solid framing and adequate room to run, but they’re pricey. This basic wire-frame model is nearly $100 at Overstock.com. A DIY alternative is likely several times cheaper and requires minimal handiness – you just need to know how to nail together wood frames, hook together wire, and keep the whole thing stable on level ground (tent stakes work well).
Pro Tip: If your yard is fully fenced in and you’re not worried about predatory birds, you might be able to skip the enclosure altogether. Check that this is permitted in your city first, though.
4. Separate Areas for Does and Bucks
Rabbits are notoriously prolific breeders. Unlike many mammals, does are fertile year-round, meaning the likelihood that they’ll conceive after intercourse is quite high.
If you’re raising a small herd for meat, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. However, even rabbits have limits: Experts recommend waiting until the last litter is weaned, usually six weeks after birth, to reintroduce does and bucks. Back-to-back pregnancies tax does, shortening their lifespans and raising infant mortality rates. In the meantime, don’t let does and bucks out of the hutch simultaneously. The best way to avoid unintended pregnancies is to maintain two separate hutches and enclosures – one for each gender.
If your budget doesn’t allow for this, use a solid wood barrier to delineate male and female sections in your outdoor enclosure and hutch. It’s not pretty, but a plywood barrier anchored to the ground with tent stakes and to the enclosure’s walls with twist-ties is perfectly functional – and doable with found or repurposed materials at virtually no cost.
5. Predator Protection
Your rabbits have adequate predator protection inside their hutches, but what about in their open-air enclosures? If your yard isn’t fully fenced in, it may be time to invest in a pragmatic, low-cost perimeter.
Per Homewyse, you can expect a basic chain-link fence to cost $5 to $10 per linear foot. Gates are more expensive, particularly if they’re designed with low clearances to prevent quadruped predators from sneaking into your yard. To protect against birds, consider rigging your outdoor enclosure with chicken wire or sturdy mesh wiring above and on all sides.
Your outdoor enclosure’s bedding doesn’t need to be anything fancy, but it does need to be absorbent and relatively easy to change. Straw bedding is the default. It’ll set you back $5 to $10 per bale. How much you need depends on how much space you have to cover and how often you’re willing (or compelled by odor) to change it.
Bedding is optional inside the hutch. Assuming you have a waste-catching tray, it’s not necessary for sanitation purposes, but it can definitely reduce odor in between cleanings. The one exception is in the nursing compartment, which should have plenty of straw or hay covering its solid floor. Baby bunnies don’t like solid or wire surfaces.
7. Food and Water in Proper Containers
Rabbits need food and water, obviously. Unlike goats and chickens, they’re not super effective foragers, though they’ll happily mow your lawn if you let them. If you do let your rabbits browse, introduce them slowly to the practice. Suddenly switching from processed or dried foods to fresh greens can cause bunny indigestion (yes, that’s a thing).
Healthy meat rabbits thrive on high-quality Timothy hay. A 24-ounce mini-bale costs about $4 at Mills Fleet Farm; your local pet store probably has variously sized bales in stock too.
Rabbit experts recommend supplementing hay with protein-fiber pellets and fresh vegetables, such as lettuce and carrots. These should comprise 10% to 20% of the total food volume consumed by adult rabbits. Pellets are more important for younger rabbits. They’re not super expensive: a 10-pound bag will set you back less than $12.
Place your rabbits’ food in a tightly latticed container or sifter feeder that’s difficult for them to enter. If they can readily gain access to the container, they’ll defecate freely in it, contaminating their food and increasing the risk of illness. Sifter feeders are cheap and effective: Amazon sells a small one suitable for small herds for $9.
For water, you’ll want an ample water bottle that can last for a while between refills. The larger the herd, the larger the bottle. Amazon sells bottles up to 64 ounces for under $8.
8. Slaughter and Processing Station
If you’re going to slaughter and process your rabbits on-site, you’ll need this gruesome but necessary feature. I won’t go into the gory details of slaughter – if you’re interested, there are plenty of reputable resources elsewhere online.
Suffice it to say that you’ll need a couple of sharp knives (with a sharpener), flat surfaces, storage supplies, and some material you can readily procure at a hardware store. Assuming you already have knives and a sharpener, the whole setup shouldn’t cost more than $10.
Pro Tip: If you plan to get fancy with your processing – like making sausage or ground meat – then you’ll need a meat grinder. This will easily be your biggest meat-related expense: Expect to pay at least $60 for a small but functional grinder, and upwards of $150 for a fancier model.