© 2018 Flying Blue Dog Homestead & Nursery


Aug 26, 2018

Rabbit Manure


Edited: Aug 28, 2018

Rabbit manure is magical stuff, at least to any avid gardener, homesteader or farmer. It's dry to the touch and smells like whatever they've been eating. I feed my rabbits a diet primarily made up of hay, foraged greens and wheat fodder. This handful of bunny berries smells like fresh green hay.


Mixed in with the manure is a certain amount of urine. Rabbits use the same spot in the cage, hutch or field to relieve themselves. You can train a rabbit where to deposit its waste much like you can train a cat how to use a litter box. Rabbits urine can be a rainbow of colors, and the color can change often, depending on what they are eating that day.


Fresh rabbit manure

The manure has a diversity of major and micro nutrients (minerals) with an NPK (Nitrogen. Phosphorous, Potassium) of 2.4-1.4-60, making it a well balanced manure. It's also a cold manure, meaning it doesn't need any time composting before it can be used. It can be added directly to garden beds, dug into the soil, used to brew compost tea. Dense with micro-nutrients and organic matter, it improves soil structure, drainage, and moisture retention while also adding to the life cycle of beneficial microorganisms. It will attract and/or sustain worms in your soil, which is always a good thing.


Our primary way of using rabbit manure is to let it collect in the hay bedding in each rabbit hutch, along with their urine and hair. Every few days the hutches are cleaned out of the manure rich straw, which is tossed under the hutch until it's needed. When we are mulching around the base of trees or in rows of annual and perennial crops, we utilize the straw that has been collecting under the hutches, adding a 2-3" layer of that straw to rows or around the base of fruiting trees. You can read more about that here.


A more common way to use it is to collect it from under cages and hutches where no hay bedding is being used. The manure collects in piles on the ground and can be shoveled directly into beds, rows, around trees etc.


Rabbit manure collecting under a hutch

You can also make a compost tea by putting a good shovel full of manure in a porous cloth bag, like a burlap sack, tie it close and put the bag in a 5 gallon bucket and then fill the bucket with water. Let the bucket sit in the sun for a week then pull out the bag allowing it to hang or rest above the bucket until it's done dripping. To speed up the same process, put the manure directly into a bucket (no bag) and stir the bucket daily for 72 hours. Strain out the solids from the bucket and it's ready to go.


To make a compost tea concentrate use 1 part manure to 5 parts water following the same directions for making compost tea. To use the concentrate, dilute one cup of the concentrated tea to one gallon of water.


You can get more simplified for smaller amounts of tea by putting a handful of the manure into a small porous bag and use a twist tie to close it. Drop the bag into a watering can and let it soak in the water for a week or more and use. This method is perfect for watering indoor plants once a week or so.


We originally got into raising meat rabbit for their manure production. When I realized how much manure I could collect from a doe that had kits, I upped the number of breeding does I keep solely for the manure production. That we could eventually butcher and have the rabbit meat for our table was a thought that came me to later as my focus was on their ever so magical manure that I wanted in large quantities. I'm happy to say that 22 breeding does provide me with as much manure as I can use every year.







New Posts
  • Getting domestic meat rabbits to breed 'like rabbits' isn't the easiest thing to do. You'd think it would be, but a rabbit that lives alone in a hutch for most of its life doesn't necessarily have good breeding instincts. Diet can play a part in breeding, it's been shown that rabbits need a healthy amount of vitamin A & E in their bodies to 'get in the mood', and a diet that's low in these vitamins can create disinterest in a rabbit. When I first started breeding meat rabbits and only had 3 does and 1 buck, I tried everything I could think of, was suggested to me or that I read about to improve the breeding success with my rabbits. It wasn't a big deal if breeding attempts failed in the beginning as I was raising rabbits for the manure they produced, but the more kits the rabbits produced the more manure I had to use, so I was interested in figuring out what I could do to improve breeding success. The standard practices for breeding rabbits is to take a doe to the buck, usually in his cage. The reason for that is to keep the buck from spending any time in a new environment, the doe's cage for example, where his primary interest will be to scent mark the surfaces, he'll do that for quite awhile before showing any interest in the doe. The person who took the buck to the doe's cage is left standing there, watching him scent mark until the buck has decided he's happy with his work and turns his attention to the doe, then the person waits to see if the buck is going to be interested in the doe and if he is if she'll be receptive to him. It's a bit time consuming. When the doe is taken to the buck's cage the scent marking ritual doesn't need to happen and breeding can take place in seconds.. if you're lucky. Once the doe is in the buck's cage she runs the show. She's either receptive or not, and if she's not there's no breeding going on no matter how much or how often the buck tries. I've seen bucks positively exhausted from attempting to breed over and over again in a 10 - 15 minute period with no success at all because the doe isn't even a little receptive. On top of that, an unreceptive doe can be dangerous to the buck. It's not unheard of for the doe to attack, injure and even castrate the buck while they are in a cage together, so walking away from the cage and leaving them alone can be a risky thing. An experienced breeder can usually see signs of aggression coming from the doe right away and get her out of the cage before there is any harm done to the buck, but you're always taking some kind of chance when you walk away leaving them alone together. If you're feeling secure that there won't be any fighting or attacking going on if you walk away, it is possible that left together long enough the doe will become receptive and breeding will occur, but without watching them together the entire time there's no way to know if the doe ever became receptive. You can leave them together for an hour or two, walk away to do some other things. come back and have no idea if there was a successful breeding or not. At that point you just have to wait 30 +/- days to see if the doe kindles (gives birth) or not, and if she doesn't you wait another week for good measure then try breeding her again. That process gets old, fast. When I had 3 does and 1 buck I always made sure I fed the does black oil sunflower seeds for a vitamin E boost and dark leafy greens for a vitamin A boost for 3-4 days before trying to breed them. I found that worked ok, it increased the does receptiveness about 60%, but I was still having issues with failed breeding attempts. To rectify the situation, as manure production was still my main goal, I increased the size of my herd to 7 does and 2 bucks. With more does I was getting more litters as I had numbers on my side now. More litters meant more manure, but it also meant more rabbits to butcher. For a few years we had lots of rabbit meat in the freezer and our need to buy meat in grocery stores was greatly reduced. I also had more home grown meat waste / bones to give to our raw fed dogs so it also reduced the amount of money we were spending to feed them. Not all the does were breeding well all the time, but enough were breeding now and then to keep us in manure, meat and dog food. That was good enough for me... but I still felt like breeding rabbits shouldn't be this hard, there had to be a good solution to the issue. A few years later is became legal where I live to sell backyard butchered rabbit and poultry at the Farmers' Market I attend. Cool! After making sure I met all the requirements from our local health department, the local ag department and from the organization that puts on the market, I started to take home raised, backyard butchered rabbit meat to our Saturday Farmers' Market for sale... and sales were good. Now I was considerably more motivated to figure out how to get my rabbits to be more receptive to breeding. The first thing I did was to once again increase the size of my herd to 12 does. With this increase of does I needed to redesign my rabbitry to accommodate all the new hutches. As I was pondering the new configuration and getting material lists together to build new hutches an idea came to me about building a hutch just for breeding. What if I had a hutch that could be used as temporary housing for a new rabbit, or rabbits in transition but it's main function for use was a breeding hutch. I liked the idea! Even if it didn't work out, so what.. I'd have another hutch ready to go for something in the future... and there's ALWAYS something happening here where spare hutches come in handy. Getting back to rabbits breeding 'like rabbits'. I believe a big part of the breeding problem is that the rabbits live alone in their hutches for most of their lives, their interactions with other rabbits are limited to what they can see, hear and smell. In a colony setting meat rabbits can roam around and interact in ways that make sense to them, which allows their natural instincts to flow, they don't have to reconnect to those instincts like caged rabbits do when it's time to breed. Because my rabbits live alone in hutches I decided that the breeding hutch needed to be someplace that all the rabbits could see, smell and hear what was going on in it. I thought that would give them the best opportunity to have time to reconnect with their breeding instincts and maybe they'd start 'breeding like rabbits'. I placed the rabbit hutches in a horse shoe shape with the breeding hutch in the middle of the horse shoe. All the rabbits would be able to see, smell and hear what was going on inside of it when any breeding was going on... and it has worked like a charm. For my breeding routine, which is always the same, I start breeding in mid September. Due to the high heat of summer, I breed my rabbits from mid September to the end of May every year. I give all the does a break from reproducing in the triple digit heat of summer as that weather is hard enough on a rabbit without the does being pregnant, kindling and nursing during those months. The first good, cool weather morning in September I put an experienced buck in the breeding hutch and give him 20-30 minutes to go to town scent marking it. When he's done, I put an experienced doe in with him, one that is apt to be receptive, and I watch to see if they have a successful breeding. In all the years I've been doing this I've never had an experienced doe not be receptive immediately once she's in the breeding hutch. Once I see she's being receptive I know she isn't going to hurt the buck and I'm free to walk away. I leave them together for a minimum of 24 hours as they can continue to breed for some time. Even if they don't continue to breed, it's time for both of them to be in the physical company of another rabbit and I think they like that.. so I leave them together. The next day I put the buck back in his hutch, the doe back in her hutch and I get a new buck and put him in the breeding hutch, where he goes to town scent marking the whole interior for 15 minutes or so. When he's done scent marking it I put a new, experienced doe in with him and watch to see if there's a successful breeding.... and there always is in a matter of seconds. Repeating the process I leave them together for 24 hours then get them back to their respective hutches, then get a new buck into the breeding hutch and so on. The really great thing about the breeding hutch is that it allows for the instinct of breeding to kick in for all the does around it. I don't try to breed maiden does until the very end, after all the experienced does have been successfully bred, that's when the maiden does have experienced successful rabbit breeding over and over again from their hutches through vision, smell and sound and have had time for their natural instincts to kick in. In the past two weeks I have bred 7 of 9 maiden does in the breeding hutch with 2 different bucks, and all 7 maiden does have been receptive to the bucks within 10 seconds of being put in the breeding hutch. Time will tell if they kindle, if they have large or small litters, if they can keep their litters alive and if they are good mothers... but the initial hurdle of getting a maiden doe to breed was easy to get over, thanks to a well placed breeding hutch.
  • I keep a 2" +/- thick layer of straw in all the rabbit hutches in my rabbitry of 22 does and 3 bucks. It serves a few purposes for me. The main reason I do it is to have a constant supply of rabbit manure infused straw to use as a mulch in my fields. Piled on thick, the straw is an effective weed suppressant that will break down in time to become soil, it also attracts worms and supports mycorrhizae development. The rabbit manure, urine and hair that is infused in the straw provides all the fertilization that the plants and trees need for the most part, you can read about that here . Worms tunneling around in the soil aerate it which increases the amount of water that can get into the soil as well as improve drainage. They feed on plant debris like dead roots, leaves, grasses, and leave behind their nutrient rich castings which are packed with minerals such as concentrated nitrates, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium and calcium that help with the plants growth. Earthworms indicate a healthy life in the soil and seeing them wiggle around in the soil when we're planting is always a happy thing! Attracting worms into any garden bed or field is just good sense. Mycorrhizae is a fungus that grows in association with the roots of a plant in a symbiotic relationship. The fungi colonizes the root system of the plant and spreads throughout the soil. It's magic is that it'll grab nutrients and water that are out of the roots reach and channel those nutrients back to the root of the plant. In return the plant provides the fungus with carbohydrates formed from photosynthesis. Mycorrhizae also helps to increase the plants tolerance to different environmental stresses, and they LOVE straw. Deep mulching with straw is a great way to get the fungi life active in garden beds and fields. As far of how it benefits the rabbits, I have found that having a thick layer of straw in the hutches means I don't need nest boxes for the rabbits to kindle into. The rabbits build their nest anywhere they want to in the hutch with the straw that's already there. They kindle into their nests without fail, every time. If young kits get dragged out of the nest by mistake, they don't die on the wire as there isn't any exposed wire. I have often found kits in the morning that are outside the nest and cold, but not dead. I can warm them up quickly and get them back in the nest with their litter mates. I also have several does that will build a whole new nest with the straw that's in the hutch around a stray kit, keeping it warm until I can put it back in the proper nest. It's not that I never lose kits to the cold, it does happen from time to time depending on the weather, but it's very infrequent. I do have to clean the rabbit hutches every few days, but it's not difficult or even time consuming. Rabbits create an area in their hutch which they always use for relieving themselves, much like cats using a litter box that's always in the same place. It's always in a corner they chose, and to clean it I just have to remove the manure infused straw from that corner, move some of the clean straw that is already in the hutch over to the corner I cleaned, and add some fresh straw to hutch to bring the straw layer back up to normal. In doing the 'cleaning and replacing straw' maintenance every couple of days, I end up with a couple of large piles of manure infused straw every month to use in my fields, row crop, garden beds and around the base of fruit trees, you can read more about that here. To make the 'cleaning and replacing straw' job easier, I build hutches to accommodate the task. All my hutches are wood framed and individually free standing (for the ease of making any repairs to them that may come up) have large doors that swing open on side hinges with lots of upper body space for my ease of getting into the back corners for cleaning them, and are all 2' off the ground so I can toss the manure infused straw under each hutch with every cleaning, where it stays until I either use it, or pile it elsewhere for future use. The piles under the hutch grow quickly during breeding and kindling seasons. The does eat more food when they're pregnant and nursing so they produce more manure. Then the kits start to grow and eat a ton of foraged foods and hay and they really add the growing manure piles. When kindling season is over, and the last grow outs have been butchered in early summer, the manure production slows way down. In the hot summer months the rabbits aren't as hungry, they don't eat much and don't produce much manure, cleaning the hutches can be done once a week or less, depending on the rabbit. In the our triple digit heat, the rabbits don't like their hutches being full of straw, it cuts down on the air circulation that helps to cool them off. Even if I put a good layer of straw in the hutches, they'll move it all to one side so half or more of the cages floor is exposed, and the large pile of straw they moved to one side becomes a cooling shelter from the heat, and they'll bury themselves in it during the hottest part of the day. Once they've moved the straw into a pile, the floor is now exposed and the urine and manure fall under the hutches without building up in the straw. A few of the rabbits seem to like to have a straw layer for their manure, and keep that corner of the hutch full of straw even though they've cleared the straw away from most of the floor space. Still, it doesn't collect manure quickly as the rabbits don't eat much because of the heat, and they aren't producing much waste.
  • Come the height of summer, we're into triple digit heat. Being conservative with our water usage we don't water anything that doesn't absolutely need it to produce food for us or for the perennial plants we use for livestock food, which leaves me without the normal grassy weeds that make up 35% - 40% of the meat rabbits diet in the late fall - early summer months when its raining enough for those wild edible greens to grow. The grassy areas of the farm are bone dry and brown. Happily, what I have in abundance during the height of summer, that thrives without any water and is prolific in the bone dry grassy areas around the farm are Queen Anne's Lace and Chicory, both are stellar rabbit food. As always, when I'm first giving the rabbits any new food, I give them small amounts slowly over a 3 day period. Rabbit need to acclimate to any new food in order to be able to digest it well enough not to bloat. A bloated rabbit is a sick rabbit and bloat can be fatal in a rabbit if you're not careful. I don't like to see any of the livestock not feeling well, it's hard on my heart. No matter how much I know about rabbits, it's always a bit of a guessing game trying to figure out what's wrong and how to help. A sick rabbit means I'm going to be at its side half a dozen times a day, checking on its well being, petting it and telling it how much I love it, knowing every be-ing does better when feeling loved. Happily, I know the signs of bloat well enough that I can keep a bloated rabbit alive and bring it back to health, but avoiding bloat is easy if I'm cautious about how much of any new food I give them over a 72 hour period, and it's big in my book to avoid it, I don't want to ever see the rabbits anything other than happy and healthy. Chicory has gorgeous blue flowers that attract bees like crazy, a thick sturdy stem with sparse leaves along the length of the stem and a mass of deep green leaves at the base of the plant. It also has a good size tap root that is used to make a coffee substitute that can be found in Natural Food Stores. The bigger the plant the bigger the root, but often the larger plants won't pull up by the root in the bone dry soil, the root is too big and deep to come up with any effort that doesn't involve hand tools. I leave those roots in the ground, only taking plants by the root that readily pull up using just my arm strength. Rabbits love Chicory and will devour the entire plant, from flower to root. This time of year I can pull up plants by the root and feed a whole plant to all 22 of my rabbits every day for weeks. Queen Anne's Lace has a snow white, lacy flower with frilly, fern-type leaves. It's more common name is Wild Carrot, which is enough of a hint about the root to make you think the rabbits might like it. It also grows well in the bone dry areas of the farm, coming up in large numbers in the heat of summer allowing me to pull it up by the root and feed it to the rabbits. Queen Anne's Lace is the same as Chicory in that the larger the plant, the larger the root, but again those large roots in the dry soil don't readily pull out with the use of hand tools, so they stay in the ground. It's the smaller plants that I can pull up and get the root for the rabbits to enjoy. Once the rabbits have acclimated to Chicory, I start introducing Queen Anne's Lace into their diet over a 3 day period, then I can give them as much of it as they'll eat. That's the trick of it, giving them ONLY as much as they'll eat. With the areas of the farm that produce lots of rabbit food when we're in the rainy part of the year being bone dry, I don't have foraged food to waste. I need to dial in how much of any one food they are prone to eating in a 24 hr period and not give them more than that, these plants need to last as rabbit fodder for 4 - 6 weeks. During the rainy season I freely give them more food then they can eat without a care, what I don't feed to them from the grassy-weedy areas is going to have to be mowed eventually and I don't like to mow, I'd rather feed that deep green, diverse plant matter to the rabbits any day of the week. The other stellar food to feed rabbits in the summer months is blackberry. Thorny blackberry canes can be given freely without needing to acclimate the rabbits digestive system to them. It's the only plant I'm aware of where that's true, it's even safe to give to 14 day old kits without seeing them bloat. Goats and rabbits that eat whole plants, including the thorns on the stems without a care. What's up with that anyway... is the inside of their mouths actually some kind of flesh colored titanium? ~lol Before having goats and meat rabbits, the wild blackberries that pushed against the fences and came up in the field were the bane of my existence in the summer. Hacking away at them in long pants, long sleeves and gloves in triple digit heat is a boat load of no fun. Now, during the months of May and June I watch the wild blackberries really take off, pushing against the fence, sending out long, thick canes through the top of the olive trees, sprawling out from the base of the the raspberries and I smile... summer forage for the rabbits! Usually by the middle of August I've exhausted the wild blackberry canes available to me on the homestead, so I head across our dirt road and start cutting away at the wild blackberries that are still in abundance at the edge of road on the other side. If someone told me 15 years ago that I'd be searching for thorny wild blackberry canes to cut on during the height of summer I would have said they were crazy!