Rabbitats: Feeding large groups of feral domestic rabbits.
By Sorelle Saidman
The following applies to the rescue of the mostly feral rabbits from the Richmond Auto Mall in Richmond, BC, by Rabbitats, a rescue specializing in colony housing. To date Rabbitats has taken in at least 200 rabbits, the majority born at the Auto Mall but many dumped or surrendered house bunnies or breeder cast-offs. This protocol is not much different for our University of Victoria sanctuary rescues who preceded the Auto Mall efforts.
When Rabbitats volunteers were socializing the feral rabbits, we had volunteers just throwing carrots and other treats (greens, apple, etc) out to them on a regular basis. At one point we built feeding stations, which were rectangular temporary enclosures (made from garden wire-covered matress frames and/or xpens with one end designed to close when rabbits were inside) and left food for the rabbits nightly at the far end to get them accustomed to it. The remainder of the rabbits were trapped with Havahart traps baited with Honey Nut Cheeriois (awesome bait), fragrant fennel, some apple and/or a little banana and some kale. We gave them water during droughts but they never seemed to be too interested.
Our indoor colony enclosures house multiple large hay feeders fitting on average a ‘fluffed’ quarter of a 60 lb hay bale with the shorter pieces from split bales, etc, placed in one end of the litter boxes. Caged rabbits also get small hayfeeders attached to the bars and hay in their litter boxes. We also pull fresh tall grass for them in the summer. The rabbits receive boxes (and boxes) of donated cast-off produce from multiple grocers (every vegetable imaginable). It’s sorted, chopped and made into salads distributed in large bowls or trays in several areas to make sure everybunny gets some. On occasion the salad is tossed onto the floor. Some rabbits gather around the bowls or piles while others slip in, grab pieces and run. Everybunny is allowed to eat one way or another. The rabbits receive pellets three times a week or so (and when they don’t get their salads) served in communal trays and in bowls in areas where shy bunnies hang out. The pellets are often a mix of many donated brands and types with the most common being a 14% to 16% alfalfa pellet, not fattening given their space and level of activity. Tree branches (apple, pear, willow), with their leaves intact if possible, are put into the enclosures on occassion and are eaten in day or two. Their water is contained in large crocks or pans and placed in various areas (one large bowl per seven rabbits is a good rule of thumb).
The outdoor colonies, which are usually house on roadbase or sandy dirt and not grass, will receive natural food sources whenever possible (pulled grass, gardening cast offs, tree branches, etc) in addition to the exact same protocol as above for the indoor ferals minus the litterboxes. We are also trying to get a program off the ground where we’re installing small raised planters and growing caged bushy edible plants for the rabbits to keep trimmed outside the cage and also having edible hanging plants attached to the fences.