Even though we are not putting our
rabbits out in pens this year, we get asked about “rabbit tractors” quite often and thought it might be helpful
to designate a page to the logistics of having them out directly on pasture. As a preliminary note, we
don’t think putting breeding rabbits out on pasture works as a business model. It can be done, but
the labor constraints as well as the lack of control over the herds’ genetics don’t make this a very viable option.
Consequently, we keep our breeding stock in raised hutches where the does take care of their litters for the first
8 weeks. This is when the young get weaned and put out in the pasture pens.
Digging is certainly
the biggest obstacle in ‘rabbit tractors’. Joel Salatin, who (along with Alan Lee) has popularized
the concept of ‘chicken tractors’, solves the digging problem by building his rabbit pens with slats on the bottom
spaced about 2” apart. We tried this model for a bit, but not only did it make the pens quite heavy,
it also seemed the rabbits were not getting optimum access to the pasture. It did however deal with the
digging problems 100% and is certainly a successful model.
Knowing our rabbits would consume a lot more
pasture without the slats, we came up with a compromise. We put in a couple slats along the sides and added
2X4 wire at all the corners as these seemed to be the spots where the rabbits tried to dig out the vast majority of the time.
(see pictures) This is not a foolproof defense against digging, particularly if the pasture is not
at its best. Though we have raised many litters that have not escaped from their pens, during times of
drought with the grass drying up, or as winter is approaching, we have had litters dig their way out and it is certainly an
annoyance. These litters usually are put back in cages as once the digging begins, it doesn’t tend
Our rabbit pens are 8’x8’ (x2’ tall)
separated into two compartments. Each 4’x8’ section is plenty of space for one litter, which
usually amounts to anywhere from 14-20 rabbits per pen (7-10 per side). The north, east, and west sides
of the pens, along with the top are covered with roofing. The south side is covered with 1” chicken
wire. The top of the north side is permanently propped open an inch or two for ventilation.
Some of our pens have a couple feet of open (with chicken wire of course) space on top and sides at the south ends,
but we don’t feel that this is necessary. The top lid is separated into two sections, each hinged
along the center so that they can be propped open to access the cage. A piece of wood that pivots loosely
on a nail is turned up to prop open the lids. (see pictures)
The rabbit pens are moved exactly like the Salatin-style chicken pens.
This means there are wires with black tubing attached to the bottoms of each side. We welded a dolly, just like the
one for the chickens, which slips underneath one side, becoming the axle and wheels. Then you can simply walk to the
opposite end, pick up the wire with the tube handle and pull it along.