The first thing to remember when you are building pens or preparing accommodations for animals is to build according to the animal. Different animals have different needs as well as different interests. For instance, goats love to climb and rabbits like to burrow. So when you prepare an area for animals, make sure that they are built specifically for that animal. Pen construction is very different from one animal to another.
The second thing to consider is the amount of space that your animals will need. Animal size and the number of animals will determine how much space they will need. For instance, they usually recommend 20 square feet per goat. Have 4 goats? Maybe a 10x10 pen will suffice. Rabbits don’t require as much space, but they will thrive with more room to run and explore.
Third, you will need to decide if your animals will spend the days in these pens or if they will spend the nights there as well. It won’t change much about your construction, but it may require you to take extra precaution from predators if they are spending the night outside. Rabbits can be very susceptible to coyotes and should not be left exposed without adequate protection.
No matter what animal you are building for, adequate shelter is crucial. Animals need to get out of the wet weather and if you live up north, that may mean snow during the Fall months. For this week, let’s look at some specifics for rabbits and building appropriate shelters for them.
Many Agritourism venues create a rabbit viewing area that allows guests to see them in their usual environment. A grassy plot of ground helps to create an area that rabbits like and gives them something to snack on. We have tried to name our rabbit display based on the theme for that particular year. For instance, the year we did an election theme, we named the rabbit display “Haresburg”. (Harrisburg is our state capital and the hub of political activity.) But if it is too difficult to find a theme that works, many owners stick with the good old “Bunnyville”!
No matter what you name your rabbit display and habitat (or hutch), build it well for years to come. I always recommend double fencing for your animals so that guest interaction is minimal. Some venues build their fencing so that guests can pet and touch the animals. Sometimes you’ll see a framed out square built into the fencing so that goats can stick their heads out to be petted. Your decision on this is purely personal and perhaps should be discussed with your insurance agent. If you are looking to reduce your liability and protect your animals from thousands of hands and fingers throughout your season, build a double fence with a “no man’s land” in between. The outside fence can be a more decorative split rail fence, but the fence that keeps your rabbits in has to be a fortress.
The most important thing to remember with rabbits is their ability to dig! You may go out to your local livestock auction and purchase 10 rabbits and have 2 left after two weeks! When you build your inner pen, make sure your metal not only goes down to the ground, but well beneath it. I recommend that you begin by digging a trench around the perimeter of where your fence will go. From there you will sink your posts and attach your wire to the posts as well as top and bottom rail lumber. That gives your fencing a nice tight look across the top and between the fence posts. Since you dug a trench before you began building, your wire fence is now 12-18 inches below grade when you backfill. Rabbits will have a much harder time escaping if they find wire fencing underground along the perimeter. The outer fencing does not need to be buried as it is more of a barrier for your guests. Of course both fences will need gates so that you can have access to feed and clean.
Before you construct your fence, make sure you have brought in a good pile of dirt for your rabbit guests to burrow in. I suggest you have both a large mound of dirt, as well as some well built and attractive buildings. Little structures that make it look like a small town can go a long way to creating a whimsical feeling in your animal area. Your young guests usually begin to imagine what it’s like to live in your little structures. Buildings and dirt mounds both provide adequate shelter, but they also work very well together. (Remember that you will need enough rabbits so that they aren’t all hidden while your guests are visiting.)
We’ve added some pictures so you could see what we’re talking about with rabbit spaces, but use your imagination and make your rabbit display your very own.
That’s it for now. We’ll keep going next time with goats and other animals and we’ll show you some creative ways to have your guests interact with them and feed them. Talk to you then!