Those were just a few of the rationales that I gave Mel on why we should get a couple of rabbits. Couple that with pictures of cute rabbits (especially babies) and it was a done deal. (The pictures worked so well I'm trying it with ducks - check out Little Homestead in the City's blog titled Baby Quackers - but don't tell Mel!)
Part of the deal is that we have to wait till we get back from Italy. We're going at the end of September for Mel's sister's wedding. We were lucky enough to find sitters for the dogs so we can't push our luck with the rabbits. However, having to wait a month and a half after we agreed to get them is killing me. Waiting does not fit into my impulsive lifestyle. Maybe I'm not as smart as I think I am.
How to pass the time? Start getting set up for our two new little friends. We decided - it was more like I kept suggesting - that we get two Angora rabbits. Mel is very partial to the English and I want a German. Mel has based her decision on aesthetics and I have based mine on economics. At between $4-$6 an ounce for unspun hair, the German produces over 10 oz every 90 days. The cute, aesthetically pleasing English comes in around 7-8 oz every 90 days.
Let me preface everything with the fact that these two rabbits are pets first. Eventually when we get the space and setup a greenhouse for transplants we plan to house rabbits out there as well. They'll help provide heat in the greenhouse and also a fair amount of manure for composting. But to use them for only that is cost prohibitive; their costs outweigh their gains. To find a solution that doesn't incur selling them as meat we came across using them for fiber production. So our two little rabbits are going to help us see where the break even point is. How many would we need to produce heat, how much fiber do we need to sell, etc. They will also help us see if we can set up a small market for their fiber. Whether in raw materials or finished goods. We want to find out if this idea is economically feasible before we go out and actually purchase a bunch of rabbits and find out that we just made a huge mistake. Our number one goal now and for always will be to produce the healthiest, organic product possible while being good stewards. Bottom line.
To follow through on our promise to be good stewards we needed to get them a good rabbit cage. I am the biggest advocate of using Freecycle.org. I posted an add wanting a rabbit cage but didn't get any hits. Side note: if you live within driving distance of San Diego, own a truck, and have space there is a lady trying to get rid of a 6 ft tall, 4 ft long, 2 ft deep rabbit/chicken hutch with storage underneath, let me know. I started searching for information on rabbit cages and came across Harvest Moon Angoras website. This is a great site and has tons of information on care and feeding as well as detailed directions on building your own cage.
I was all set to start from scratch when I realized that we had an old kennel of Bleu's. When we first got her she weighed 20lbs and everyone said she'd only get a little bigger so go with the medium kennel. 50lbs later and she's sleeping comfortably in the large kennel. The old kennel was taking up space in the garage but Mel being a pack-rat (Seriously she doesn't qualify as a pack-rat but trying to get rid of anything with her concurrence is difficult. What if we need it down the road? Apparently, she was right this time. I should just start listening to her) didn't allow me to get rid of it. Good thing.
I used the directions on Harvest Moon Angora's website for constructing the floor of the rabbit cage. I figured if I put in an additional raised floor that would solve all our problems. I went to Lowe's and found in their garden section a roll of 1"X1/2" Galvanized Hardware Cloth. The dimensions are small enough for the rabbits to sit on but large enough to allow their droppings to pass through.
We unrolled the hardware cloth on top of the cage leaving an overhang on all sides of about 2 rows. We did this to insure we cut the right size - you can always cut more off - and we wanted the edges to be bent down vice cut so as not to create sharp edges for the rabbits or us.
Next bend the sides down to form a hat for the cage. We then slid our new floor into the kennel. We had to unhook the end to get it in and we had to cut a little here and there and received a couple of mashed fingers. Well I did anyway. Finally, we zip tied the flooring into place a couple of inches above the sliding tray.
We decided to zip tie it for three reasons. First it was cheaper than buying the metal clips and metal clip attacher thingy. Second it allows us to break the cage down if we needed to move or we ever want it to be a kennel again. Lastly, I'm not sure if it is high enough off the tray once two rabbits get in there. Scout, our 13 lb Yorkie, graciously simulated one rabbit and it held up nicely. Still not sure about two though. If when they do arrive and they weigh down the floor I can easily move it up to the next horizontal rung. The only drawback is that Mel says they will probably chew through the plastic. My plan is to replace them with metal clips as we go through them if that is the case.
Total tools so far are a $10 pair of tin snips which I'll use again. $16 roll of hardware cloth which probably can be found cheaper. The roll will provide me with at least 2 more floors when we plan to build more cages. Zip ties I had but they do not cost that much. Oh, make sure you bend under the cut edges of the zip ties. They always seem to find a leg to scratch. The cage we had laying around otherwise it wouldn't have been worth it. Total time was about an hour for two people - I tend to goof off a lot.
Last note: What to do with the droppings you ask? Well my friends they will be added to the worm bin that I have on the porch. I started with 1 lb of Red Wigglers and am now up to 2lbs after 4 months. They eat, collectively, a lb of organic waste a DAY!! That is they eat half their body weight a day. They also provide me with castings that the plants love. Plus the bin smells like wet earth. Is there a better way to dispose of such stuff?
Things we need to look at next BEFORE we get the rabbits.
Feeding and care
Finding a local vet that has experience with rabbits
Finding a breeder that fits our needs.
Parting shot: I love harvest time. Summer Squash, Butternut Squash, Yellow Squash, Basil, Leeks, and more! Coop