As I mentioned in my first article, cage building is a relatively simple process that requires only a few tools and a minimal amount of skill. One of the most important things you can do when building cages for your rabbitry is to decide what size of cage will best suit your needs and then stick to this standard. Using standard cage sizes will be beneficial to you when your rabbitry begins to grow. Standardization allows you to use cages and cage components interchangeably which is important if you have limited space.
In this article I will explain to you the sizes of cages and cage options and or accessories that we use at 'TAP Rabbirty'. This level of standardization has served us well over the last few years. While my cage standards might not fit your individual needs, the theory and thought behind my decisions will hopefully help you to avoid some of the pitfalls that we experienced and give your some options that you were not aware of before you begin to build your own building cages.
Cage Size (Because Size Matters)
The biggest cost you will incur when building your cages is the purchase of galvanized steel wire. So there are a number of things you need to take into consideration when getting ready to make your own cages. The factor that will have the biggest impact on your wallet is the size of the cage. The bottom line is bigger rabbits need bigger cages, and the rolled wire that you will be buying comes in a variety of different lengths and widths.
We raise New Zealand's (white and red) and heritage breed American Blues for meat, both breeds are in the 9 to 12lb range when they are adults so the two breeds need the same cage size. When we started out breeding rabbits all the books stated for a rabbit of this size you need a cage of approximately 30 x 36 inches that is 18 inches tall. What we have found out over time, is that this cage size is just to big for a single doe, even with a next box, and unless you have a 36” reach, you will find that getting that doe out of the corner of the cage when you want to breed her can cause you both unneeded stress. When we first started raising rabbits this was a real circus with me trying to catch a rabbit I could not reach. So when I tell you I have done this and it is not fun for either you or the rabbit, believe me, a stressed rabbit will not breed, and a stressed breeder can easily get discouraged with the whole process.
While my arm may only span 24 ½ inches, a breeding age New Zealand or American doe is approximately 12 – 16” in length even when she hunkers down in the corner so I can grab her easily in a 30” deep cage. The doe gets a slightly bigger cage than the buck because she needs room for a nest box when the time comes for her to kindle. For the buck, he only needs enough cage space to move around in and to be able to stretch himself out for the occasional full body nap. No nest box needed so the guys get a smaller cage. So our first rule in cage building is never make your cage deeper than your arm length. The average human arm length is 25” so none of our cages are deeper or longer than 30” (2 ½ ft) for does, or 24” (2ft) for bucks. The following are the standard cage sizes we now use for our bucks and does.
Doe Cage Size – 30 inch x 30 inch square, 18 inches in height.
Buck Cage Size – 24 inch x 24 inch square, 18 inches in height.
Grow Out Cage – 24 inch x 36 inch, 18 inches in height.
For these breeds the minimal cage height should be 18 inches. Usually the shortest width of cage wire you can buy is 24”. We make all of our cages 18” tall because we double stack them in both our outside hutch and in our air conditioned buck and kindling barn. However, if you have the room, and you just do not want to waste the wire, then make them 24” tall. Just remember, if you are wanting to stack cages, taller cages means you might just have to stand on a small stool to get to the upper cages. My recommendation on cage size is to determine a suitable size for your rabbits then make all of your cages the same. Standardization will same you a lot of headaches when it comes time to expanding your herd. I have listed a 'grow out' cage size only because I took my original 30 x 36 cages and cut them down to 24 x 36-inches to use when I separate the kits from their mother at 5 to 6 weeks of age.
Door Size and Placement (The Where and Why)
The first part is easy. For large breeds like Californians, New Zealand's, and Americans you need a minimal door size of 12” square in order to get a proper sized nest box into the doe's cage when she is ready to kindle. Make it bigger if you want, but no smaller, you never want to remove a pregnant female from her cage to another cage because your nest box will not fit through the door. Your only option if you make your door opening to small and you have a pregnant doe is to allow your doe to make a nest without a next box. I do not recommend this, but I know some successful breeders who do not use nest boxes.
Now that you know the minimum size of the door opening, where should you place your cage door?When I first made my cages, almost every book I read recommended that the doors be placed offset to one side of the cage (i.e. not centered). I can tell you for me and my wife this was a nightmare. When trying to retrieve a doe for breeding she would always head for the opposite corner of the cage, and as my original cages were 30 x 36” my arm span was about 8” to short, and I simply could not reach the rabbits. It was worse for my wife who is 4' 10” who has a considerably shorter arm length. So by the time we could get the doe out of the cage she was so stressed she was just not going to breed even if she was physically ready. Essentially these cages almost became useless to me, but I had already spent the money to make them and was stuck with them for the time being.
The simple solution was door placement. Had the door been placed in the middle of the cage my reach would have been considerably increased and I would have been able to get the doe out of the cage with less stress for both the animal and myself. So on all my subsequent cages I place the door in the middle of the cage. Because the door is placed in the center of all my cages, on my smaller buck cages (24 x 24”) I have to use an inside bowl type feeder as opposed to an outside cage hanger type. On my doe cages (30 x 30”) there is room for an outside hanging feeder.
For us, placing the door in the middle of the cage made retrieving both our bucks and does from the cages much easier and both the animals as well as ourselves are less stressed when making transfers from cage to cage. So my cage making rule number two is all door openings must be 12” minimum and the door should be placed in the middle of the cage wall.
How Should Your Door Open
I admit, I never liked the idea of the cage door opening into the cage as recommended in 'Storey's Guide To Raising Rabbits'. We found that you always had to push the rabbits away form the door when trying to open the cage, and if you are using a crock or feeding bowl inside the cage, all I can say is “good luck with that”. Our bunnies are ferocious eaters at feeding time and trying to push them out of the way with a door that swung up and in turned out to be a problematic at best.
So on our first cages I made all the doors open from the top down and to the outside of the cage (the door was hinged on the bottom with j-clips to the cage). Some of my buck cages still have doors that swing down, but on my doe and grow out cages I have the door swing open to the right (hinged on the right side). This allows me to add a hay basket on the door to hold the timothy hay in that we feed each morning. The reason we do not put a hay basket on the bucks cages is that we want to reduce the risk of any potential injuries to our stock during the breeding process.
Remember, the does should be placed in the bucks cage and sometimes during the mating process they get rather rambunctious and start chasing each other around the cage. I would rather not have one of them whack their head or poke out an eye on the corner of a hanging hay rack, therefore we place no hanging hay racks in the males cage. However the choice to do so is totally up to you.
Let's face it, sometimes when a rabbit is kindling she will jump out of the next box and one of her kits will still be latched onto her teat. This happens primarily during the first seven days after birth. At this point the kits are quite small and as their eyes are not open. After falling off of the teat, they may wander around the cage until they fall through the side wire of the cage and end up on the floor. During our first round of kindling, we lost several kits this way. I did not think that the kits would be small enough to fall through the side wire, but I was sadly mistaken.
The solution to this problem is baby saver wire. Now a baby saver is simply a small strip of lightweight wire mesh ½ x ½ -inch that surrounds the entire lower portion of the cage approximately 2 – 3” in height. You only need to apply this to your doe cages, and as this lightweight wire goes on the outside of the cage it's cost is very minimal and it can save you a lot of kits.
Now, having said that, I still lose the occasional kit during the winter time when it has latched onto the does teat and is dragged out of the nest box simply because it gets to cold and dies, but I have saved many more as they are easier to find in the cage rather than on the floor behind the cage racks. This winter, we have found a few on the cage floors, and did not lose a one. We were lucky, but keep in mind that you will still lose a few kits, but having baby savers can decease your loses significantly.
Pee Guards are small strips of plastic or aluminum that line the interior or exterior of the cage wall so that when your rabbit pees the urine is deflected down into the drip tray and not onto the floor or onto the other rabbits. If you have cages that are going to be outside, then pee guards are not really necessary. Even if you have your rabbits in a sheltered barn or building they may not be necessary. For instance, my friend and fellow breeder Steve Coyne has a dirt floor in his barn which he covers with fresh straw once or twice a month. He does not use pee guards as any urine that finds it's way to the ground is simply absorbed by the dirt floor. The same happens with our outdoor hutch, all of the urine and feces simply falls to the ground to be scooped up later and placed in the garden or compost pile.
However, in our buck and kindling barn which is air conditioned, we have a solid wood floor that is covered with rolled linoleum, therefore it is important for the urine and feces to find it's way into the drip pans rather than on the floor. On these cages, I make aluminum pee guards (approximately 4” in height) out of thin aluminum sheeting and place them on the outside of the cages to direct the rabbits waste into the drip pans. So our inside cages have pee guards, our outside ones do not. Whether you will need pee guards or not will depend on your particular setup, but it is something to keep in mind.
Todd's Rules For Cage Building:
1) Never make your cage deeper than your arm length. Take it fromme, so rabbit's just like to hide in the corner and do not like to be removed from the cage. If your cage is deeper than your arm length, there is going to be a lot of cursing going on as to try and get a good hold on a rabbit who has decided to hunker down in the far corner of the cage. Been there, done that, got the t-shirt.
2) Use 12” minimum door openings or you will discover that your nest box will not fit in the cage. Meat rabbits require larger nest boxes, ensuring your door is 12 x 12 inches means that you can get the proper size nest box in the cage when the time arrives.
3) Place the door in the middle of the cage to make it easier to retrieve your rabbits. Even if you follow rule No. 1, placing the door to your cage off to one side may still leave you with that one corner that is difficult to reach. Trust my experience, placing the door in the middle of the cage will make life easier for both you and your rabbits.
Picking a cage size and standardizing all of your cages will save you time, money, and hopefully reduce the amount of wire wastage you have when making your own cages. As simple as it sounds placing the door in the middle of the cage made a big difference in our ability to get our rabbits out of their cages with less fuss and stress for both us and the rabbits. In part three, I will cover the one thing everyone has been waiting for, the actual building of the cages.
It was important to me however to give you some things the think about before you jump right in head first to making your own cages. It is my hope that this information will help you to avoid some of the mistakes that I first made when I started making making cages for our rabbitry. Mistakes can cost you both time and money. Those of us who decide to make our own cages would rather not waste either as both our time and money are precious.
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Other Related Articles On Our Blog:
Cage Building Part 1: Gathering Your Supplies.
Cage Building Part 3: Putting It All Together.
Cage Building Part 3: Putting It All Together.