Below is a copy of an article written by one of our owners Alex Murphy for successful rabbit magazine RabbitingOn.
A Hutch is not Enough
The RWAF are doing an incredible job promoting this phrase. But if a hutch is not enough, what is? Simply, we must ditch the out-dated concept of a separate hutch and run, and create a new age of Bunny Specific Accommodation that satisfies ALL their needs.
Living in a box
A hutch is horrifying concept. Imagine living in a small box. You’d have food and water, occasionally be cleaned out, and maybe let out for a bit to run around, but only if your keeper was home. You’d live, but be unhappy as it’s not normal.
Unfortunately, that’s how we’ve been treating domestic rabbits for a long time. Separating the hutch from the run isn’t normal either., You won’t see this concept in nature. After running around all day, wild bunnies aren’t picked up and put into boxes.
When people see Rabbitopia or the large set-up I have at home, they comment, “lucky bunnies” or “luxurious accommodation”. They’re wrong. Sure, a Rabbitopia, or my custom home-build, or development prototypes donated to friends, are far larger than the inadequate accommodation at typical pet stores, they’re still in effect, prisons. They’re only ‘adequate’. In the wild, a rabbit typically has four football pitches-worth of space. Nothing we design or build can give that much freedom to domestic rabbits.
So lets work on what we can do to make our rabbits as happy and safe as possible.
First, forget the words ‘hutch’ and ‘run’. Forget the concept. Instead, consider an ‘enclosure’, and inside that a ‘shelter’.
The ‘shelter’ is a bolthole, sleeping area, somewhere the rabbits feel safe and warm. Most hutch designs are insufficient, have a darkened area with access hole cut into the side allowing heat to escape. Instead, build a shelter with insulation on the sides/roof and access from underneath so heat generated is trapped, as heat rises. I recommend Polyurethane, at least 25mm, it’s the best insulator available and twice as efficient as loft insulation. Make insulation inaccessible to rabbits, so they can’t chew it.
The shelter should be within the enclosure, not outside like a traditional hutch. This gives the rabbits 24-hour access.
Ensure the enclosure is at least 3ft (900mm) tall for bunnies to jump without feeling trapped. A rabbit will be comfortably up two feet plus its own height and ears. Make it a few inches taller than you and you can easily get inside. Shorter will be harder to climb into, so recommend a lifting lid as well as a doctor. You need to access every area your bunny can, in case it hides when sick.
Keeping rabbits in and predators out
Rabbits are prey animals. That’s why you need good strong mesh to keep predators out. Holes to shouldn’t be bigger than 25mm x 25mm, to prevent a bunny’s paw getting stuck or poking through. Weldmesh is considered stronger than woven type, galvanising after welding will protect against rust.
Mesh will be one of the largest expenses, but worth getting right. Chicken wire and rabbit “netting” are cheaper but won’t give protection. If your meshing to ground level you need 16g or better “the lower the number the thicker the mesh). If you fit fox guarding (recommended) as explained below, 18g or better will be acceptable.
Being seen by a predator terrifies a rabbit. Therefore you’ll need “fox guarding” at the bottom of your enclosure walls. Opaque material, like tarpaulin, will give rabbits the perceived protection they need, in reality, the mesh stops Mr Fox, but the rabbits just happy out of sight. Timber is obviously better, but the point is, use something. A guard about 1 ½ feet tall (450mm) will give rabbits reassurance, whilst acting as a windbreak.
Cats are likely able to jump off fences or scale enclosure walls, so you’ll want mesh on the roof too, which will also keep out birds of prey.
You may prefer living with a roof over your head, but rabbits prefer open space with grass to eat and a sheltered bolthole. If your rabbit lives under a solid roof, grass can’t grow.
Rabbits don’t have pads on their feet, making them unsuited to living on hard surfaces, they need something non-abrasive with give, and there’s only really two options – grass or mud.
How much room?
From experience with my bunny friends, I believe you need about 36m² of grass per pair to prevent ending up with mud after Mr and Mrs Bunny have decimated it. I don’t have that much space and doubt your planning to either, so it’ll be become mud at some point. Still better than concrete! Rabbits are used to it. One tip I’ve found useful – loads of soil in bunny cages with grass seed raked in and watered.
Another advantage is less cleaning because everything composts, but watch out for flystrike.
One problem is, rabbits like to dig, as do many rabbit predators. Grass/mud can be dug into. Simple answer, mesh under the ground. With Rabbitopia, there’s optional mesh floor to be placed under a layer of turf. When designing accommodation, don’t give bunnies depth they can properly dig and burrow into. If they do, they could hide or risk lit collapsing in on them when you walk overhead. This is one part of the design where it’s best not taking inspiration from the wild. And don’t forget to connect the mesh to the enclosure sides.
Choosing the wood
Choice of timber is a difficult one. Left untreated, softwood won’t last long, but chewing on treated timber could cause a rabbit problems. Treatments exist that are pet safe, but all pets are different. I’ve yet to see a treatment that is entirely risk free, but without any treatment, the enclosure will quickly deteriorate.
In Rabbitiopia, we use child friendly, chrome and arsenic-free pressure treatment, applied after timber is cut. If using pressure treated timber on a DIY build, remember that cutting it will expose untreated ends.
Untreated is theoretically best in the short term, but won’t last; you’ll need large timbers to allow for the fact they’ll degrade.; Do monthly checks to ensure fixings are holding an predators can’t break in. I can’t recommend untreated as a genuine option, so suggest buying arsenic-and-chrome-free, pressure-treated timber lengths. After cutting, treat ends with the safest treatment available and try to keep them away from chewing bunnies.
My growing band of 10 bunnies have lived win their current pressure treated enclosure for two-and-a-half years, there’s been little chewing and no issue with rot or insect infestation.
Now that you’ve built rabbit accommodation with properly insulated shelter, more space than a standard run, thick mesh to protect from predators, fox guarding and a grass floor, add lots of toys and fill their shelter with snugly bedding straw and hay.
Sit back and watch your bunnies enjoy their new world!