What is Colony Style?
Updated: Sep 19, 2021
When you see most rabbit breeders, the rabbits are kept in cages/hutches separated from other bunnies. The males (bucks) and females (does) are brought together for breeding purposes and then separated. For breeding purposes, there are a a number of advantages for this:
~Keeping track of mating/when a doe potentially conceived.
~Knowing who the father is/keeping better records of genetic history.
~Territorial issues when bringing a rabbit into another's space.
While this would make our job easier for breeding, rabbits are not small cage animals. They enjoy running, need space to hide, and have things to do. They are also social animals who enjoy spending time with each other. Think of a domestic rabbit less like a hamster and more like a cat or dog.
Here at Peabody Family Farm, our rabbits are raised together colony style. Our original bunnies were bought pre-puberty, and raised together in the same hutch. As they grew and came of age for breeding, we enlarged their home, giving them a much larger hutch attached to a 10x10 run. Their hutch is raised off the ground with 2 levels inside, 4 nesting boxes, and a ramp down into the run which they have access to day and night. In the run, they have a dig hole which is deep enough that they can dig tunnels but is secure with hardware cloth beneath. The whole run actually has hardware cloth under sod to both prevent bunnies digging out and predators from digging in. We have tried to have grass in the space outside of their dig hole, reseeding occasionally with a clover, radish, turnip and rye grass mix. However, it doesn't last long between them eating it and traffic on top of the it. They enjoy their space greatly; zoomies and binkies are common sights which are signs that they are happy.
Colony raised bunnies are very social. Often I will go out there and see Jack and Rose snuggled together, sometimes with a younger bunny (kits) snuggled in as well. We have watched siblings grooming each other or playing chase. Also the kits stay in a family situation with mom and dad actively checking on them and caring about them. We have taken a kit inside for a bit and both mother and father bunnies are concerned about where it has gone and check its welfare when it returns. It was interesting to see how interactive Jack was with the kits when they were still in the nest as well as when they came out of the hutch into the run.
Socialization isn't the only good aspect of colony style. We actually installed a bench in the run which acts as a second level for them to play on and hide under. It also gives us the ability to sit in the run and let the bunnies come up to us and get used to humans. We can bring treats out and enjoy hand feeding them or petting them easily. I have noticed that they actually prefer us sitting down than standing up including when we are holding them. They will try to climb us when we are sitting down as well. It is also large enough of a space for them to run and hide if they don't want to be interactive that day. We have a few who are shy and don't like to be held. But they feel safe enough to be in the space with us rather than hiding in a corner or getting into an anxious state.
We also have toys in the run and have planted herbs that they can eat. I have other plants that are perennials and edible for the rabbits planted around the run or in hanging baskets hanging from the run for quick treats. Having had bunnies as pets growing up in a hutch/cage setting vs raising these in a colony enclosure, I definitely prefer the colony style.