Final Report for FNE01-354
This project developed an effective, inexpensive, portable cage for raising pastured rabbits.
Gail experimented with five designs for constructing an inexpensive pastured rabbit cage. Each design improved upon the weaknesses of the previous version. The original plan was to use greenhouse hoops for the main structural element and 2 x 4 welded wire for the sides and bottom. She quickly learned that the greenhouse hoops were not as readily available as other materials and that juvenile rabbits could escape through the sides of the 2 x 4 welded wire.
The fifth design was made from 10’ 4 x 4 lumber to create a rectangular base, one 16’ cattle panel attached to the wooden frame in a hoop position, 2 x 4 welded wire for the bottom of the cage, and 1 x 2 welded wire along the sides of the cage and to create separate apartments inside the cage. A half-inch pipe was fastened to one end. Wheels are attached to the pipe when the cage is moved. Canvas can be placed over the structure and held in place with bungie cords to protect the rabbits from the elements. A kindling box or 12” square piece of 1/4” plywood was placed in the corners to provide a place for the rabbits to sit when the cage is moved.
Gail found that this cage can be constructed for about $75. It will hold four adults and offspring and will last for many years. Young rabbits could not escape from the cage, all rabbits could easily graze through the bottom of the cage, no health problems were found in any of the rabbits, grain intake was decreased, carcass weight was comparable to caged rabbits, and the flavor of pastured rabbit was excellent.
We started out the project by making several cages using various wire sizes for the upper and lower parts of the cages. This was done to determine what would work for best and most economically for the sides as well as the bottom of the cages. Our plan was to test our ideas with several cages to see which would prove to be the best working model.
We discovered immediately that there are problems with using the greenhouse hoops as originally planned. They are not readily available in our area, therefore we looked for something that would provide the same type of shape as well as being very easy to locate and transport. The answer came in the form of cattle panels. These are 16'x4', made of thick welded wire. We have used these for years in the sheep industry and have found them to be very versatile as well as enduring. Therefore we decided these to be a MUCH better building material than the greenhouse hoops. A little added feature with panels is that one has complete freedom to hang waterers from any location in the cage they wish, as the extra structure of the panels provide that.
PASTURE APARTMENT COMPLEX
Our original plan was to use greenhouse hoops for the side and roof structure. The problem we very soon ran into was that it is harder for us to get those than some other materials. We decided to look for a similar material that is more easily accessible. Upon looking and pricing around, we settled on cattle panels. These can very easily be found at farm centers and the price is good. From our experience with sheep, we found that these panels are very durable and can be in use for years. Also, you can simply pick them up with a pickup truck. They are made out of rods and are 4' x 16'.
MATERIALS NEEDED: 4 apartment rabbit complex
3 - 10' x 4" x 4" lumber - Two of these are for long sides and the other is cut into 2 - 4 1/2' pieces and to be used as the cross members for the frame.
1 - cattle panel (16' long)
1 roll of 1" x 2" welded wire (4 foot high)
10' x 5" piece of 2"x 4" welded wire
Wheels with shafts
Nails and metal plates to secure corners
Wire clips and pliers
Canvas and bungie straps
Make a rectangular frame using the 4x4's. It is important to use metal plates to secure all joints. On to this frame (using fence staples) staple the panel in a hooped position. This creates a greenhouse looking frame work.
Next affix, using plenty of wire clips and staples for the wire to wood sections, 1x2 inch welded wire all the way around the whole structure sides. We made service doors out of the same type wire so that we could easily reach into each of the four apartments.
To the bottom of the cage staple 2"x4" welded wire and place metal straps every 1 1/2 to 2 feet for extra support.
Create apartments by using 1"x 2" wire and placing it across the inside and connecting the wires to form the size apartments you wish. We made four apartments.
On one end fasten a 1/2 pipe across the whole end. This is for simply inserting the shafts of wheels for moving. I suggest hanging them off the cage until your ready to move the structure, then place the shafts all the way inside the pipes, go to the other end and pick it up slightly and push. When you get to your desired place set it down and go to the other end, take off the wheels, hang them back up and go about your business.
Place a canvas over structure, fastened down with bungie straps, to provide shelter against the elements. Place feeders inside, hang waterers, put 1/4" plyboard or wire mash in corners for bunnies to get onto while moving process takes place. This does require some getting used to on their part, but after a while they got the hang of it.
*Welding a metal frame out of angle iron would work very well and would insure against eventual wood rot. This would work really well, as long as the welder doesn't use too heavy of a metal thus making it heavier to move. We're going to use 1 1/2" through 2" angle iron.
*It is very easy to make a larger appartment complex by simply using another cattle panel and enlarging the frame. The problem will be heaviness in moving. Personally, one cattle panel for us works the best, as one person can move it easily. I'd rather move two cages easily, than move one large cage with difficulty.
Below is a breakdown of the cages assembled and the findings. We will discuss the type of wire used around and below the rabbits. We will also note the outcome of each cage so you can fully understand why each preliminary structure didn't work. The successful final complete structure of the cage that worked best will be discussed at the end. To be noted: all cages were provided with an area where the rabbits could go while moving process took place. This was either 1/4" square wire cut @ 10"x12", or a 1/4" plyboard cut @ 10"x12", or if babies were in the cage I left the kindling box in for an extended length of time and the little ones jumped in there at moving time. Also, we used a rubberized canvas over the pens to provide comfort from the elements. These we simply bungied onto the cage structure.
2"x 4" welded wire used for the sides and bottom.
Since we have large rabbits, this worked ok for the adults, but as one might expect the juveniles squeezed out through the sides. However, it was noted that they could readily eat grass from the bottom.
2"X 2" welded wire for sides, top and bottom.
This design worked pretty good. definitely better than cage one. Juveniles and older were well contained. Very little rabbits could sneak out sides. In desperation one day, we added chick wire to the sides. Although this worked, we didn't like it. Too much messing around with little wire clips and the overall appearance was labored. As for being able to graze, this size wire is very good.
Chick wire used around the sides.
2" x 4" welded wire for the bottom.
This cage worked very well. No escaping of any age group from the sides or top. Plenty of room between the wires for grazing. Even though the 2"X4" wire of the bottom wire would seem to be a possible site for babies to escape through, they didn't as long as we moved the cages daily. However, we didn't like the chick wire's durability. It just didn't hold up to the rigors of daily moving. Therefore, we deemed it unfit.
Cattle panel for hoop stapled onto a frame 5'x10', with chicken wire on sides and 2x4 inch welded wire on bottom. One side the wire came half way up and was met by the roof canvas to close the area in (bungies used to hold canvas to wire). This provided caretaker with extreme ease of entry to complex. Simply undo the bungies, lift the canvas and feed/water animals.
Although it was great to care for rabbits using this cage, the rabbits found that even though they couldn't dig out they could get up on the kindling boxes and jump over the petition and be out. I also didn't care for the weakness of the chicken wire as compared to the 1x2" welded wire.
1"x2" wire for sides
2"x4" wire for bottom (2"x2" wire works equally well on bottom)
This is definitely the best set up. Highlights of this cage include: easy to work with, rabbits were well contained, as well as cage durability and cage cost is reasonable. This cage is the culmination of the project.
VARIOUS COMMENTS AND NOTES
Much was learned and proven throughout the extent of the project. I believe that the cage that Arrowhead Farm has developed will work well and is very economical. The entire cage cost in raw materials is is about $75. The cage can be used by four adults and offspring through out the growing season and do to the use of good materials used the cage will last a long time. Winter damage to building is negligable, since it is of wire construction and the canvases are stored for the winter.
After introducing the rabbits to the pasture in the beginning of the growing season, we then kept them totally on pasture. Kindling was done on pasture as well as growing to market weight and breeding. The final appartment cage worked great!!! The grain intake was much decreased. We experienced NO health problems on pasture. No medicines were used. We comepared the carcasses of caged rabbit and pastured rabbit and found them to be very comparable, and the flavor of pastured rabbit very nice.