Care and Management of Rabbits/Chapter 7
A hutch is the quarters sufficient for one adult rabbit. They vary in size according to the breed to be kept. Small rabbits will thrive in smaller hutches than some of the larger breeds. Giants, for instance, could hardly turn around in a substantial hutch for the Polish or Dutch families.
For general purposes, it has been found that the ideal size hutch for a rabbit is one that is slightly longer than it is wide. The actual dimensions are not so important as the manner in which it is built and the general plan.
The hutch must be kept clean and free from dampness. If the general plan is such that this will be impossible, it would be better to change your plan of building before it is too late, as dampness is fatal to success with rabbits.
Under improper conditions, the rabbit is easily susceptible to colds, so the hutch must be well built in order to prevent the possibility of draughts blowing in upon him. This does not mean that fresh air should be shut off entirely from him. As a matter of fact, one whole side of the hutch should be left open and covered with wire mesh. The rabbit must have fresh air and lots of it; what does the damage is where there are cracks in all sides of the hutch which permit the cold air to blow in upon him at all times.
Do not fall into the error of trying to build a hutch that is more of a freak and a fad than a practical utensil. Have things for the comfort of the stock first and for the ornamentation and edification of the attendant second. This, in turn, does not mean that your hutches cannot be ornamental and designed for beauty. I think that if you will look over the illustrations and the plans submitted herewith for practical hutches for the back yard you will agree with me that they are not unsightly and a disgrace to any yard. What I refer to are the faddist hutches one sees so often on the premises of people who seem to have no idea at all that rabbits must be kept dry and comfortable and not in manure piles or in the accumulated seepage of a week's droppings.
The position for the hutches is something that is worthy of a great deal of consideration. It took me a long time to learn that the direction for the hutches to face was the East. Fewer storms come from that direction, if one lives in the Middle West, than from any other, and during the heat of the day the interior of the hutches will have more shade than if they were to face the South or West, for instance.
The rabbit, it must be remembered, is a fur-bearing animal, hence must have some thought and attention during the hot days of summer, especially if the thermometer habitually climbs to a high figure.
While some shade over the hutches is desirable, it is not best to put the hutches in a shady place. They are apt to be damp most of the time. In my own experience, I have found it best to build hutches with plenty of clearance between the roof and the top of the hutches so that there would be a complete circulation of air at all times; also to build them with a wide over-hanging roof, so that the interior of the hutch will be largely shaded and protected from beating storms.
Of course, where a double row of hutches are used under the same roof, that is, back to back, as in the Sanderson and other hutches, it is best to face one hutch to the South and the other to the North. Where the roof is wide and overhanging most of the objections to a southern exposure can be overcome.
The hutches should always be at least six inches off the ground in order to prevent them getting damp, as would be the case if they rested flat on the ground.
Where dogs are apt to prove a nuisance, and believe me they will do that if there are any in your neighborhood, it is better to place them at least two feet above the ground, by using 2x4 supports. If you can place them higher, so much the better. This only makes them easier to take care of, as the attendant does not have to stoop so far to get into the interior of the hutch and the measure of additional protection afforded will certainly pay for the extra expense.
There is nothing that can offer the discouragement that a raid from some neighbor's dogs can. In my own case I have had as many as twenty-five fine, husky, pedigreed and registered rabbits in the back yard, all worth at least $10 each, many of which I had refused to sell at any price, destroyed in one raid in just one evening's absence from home. The dogs never eat the bunnies—just seem to hunt them for the sport (?) there is in it. But Experience keeps a dear school, and I soon learned to stop this nuisance by building the hutches right and by taking other precautions which will be mentioned later in this book.
Build your hutches of good lumber. This does not necessarily mean that it must be the most expensive lumber that you can find. It may be second-hand lumber. The point is that it must be free from knot holes and cracks, as you want an air-tight hutch if possible, one that the wind won't blow through.
The lumber to be used in making doors and frames should preferably be cypress, as it will not split when a nail is driven into it. In this way they can be made strong and serviceable and will be more apt to withstand the attacks of enemies than that made of flimsy lumber full of splits and cracks.
A good grade of pine ship-lap will do nicely for the hutches and floors, although some people seem to prefer to use flooring. There is no need to do this unless you have a pocket full of money to spend, as flooring is about three or four times as expensive as the ordinary ship-lap would be.
If you have to use the cheaper grade of lumber, or old lumber that is cracked and full of knot holes, it can be covered with tar paper or rubberoid and the draughts and other disadvantages eliminated in this way. A good thing to do, if you want to make the sides of your hutches ornamental, is to cover the old lumber with shingles and stain them to conform to the surroundings.
But whatever the style of your hutch or the purpose for which it is intended, keep these facts in mind:
In the first place, it must be comfortable. That means that it is of the proper size, that it is as nearly air-tight as it is possible to make a hutch.
In the second place, it must conform to the laws of sanitation. It must be easily cleaned and kept clean. There is nothing so costly as a hutch that cannot be cleaned and disinfected promptly and properly at regular intervals.
In the third place, it must be free from dampness and draughts. Damp hutches are the forerunners of the dreaded "snuffles" and other kindred deadly rabbit diseases. Practise the ounce of prevention and you will never need "cures."
This brings us to a consideration of whether or not the solid floor in the hutch is the best or whether the slat floor is the best. In the first place, I want to say that I have used both styles and that while I realize that every man has a right to his own opinion, I prefer the slat floor for the reason that it is unquestionably the most sanitary of all.
The solid floor works all right in the summer time, provided you have a good covering of sawdust and shavings on the floor to absorb the urine, and that you keep the hutches swept out at least twice a day. But in the winter, it is practically impossible to do this. The urine will freeze in the hutches and pile up in this fashion on the floor, then when things commence to thaw out you will find a nice mess in the rabbitry.
On the other hand the slat floor, which is made by placing slats at intervals of half an inch apart, as stated in the next chapter, is clean at all times, winter or summer. The droppings fall through to the ground below, where they are raked up and taken away at regular intervals. This construction in the floor also gives the rabbits more air in the summer, affording better ventilation. In the winter, the slat floors are bedded with straw or marsh hay to a depth of about six inches. This cuts off the chances of draughts or cold winds blowing up from below and at the same time you will find that the droppings will work through the hay to a large extent and find their way to the ground below. The urine will run away before it has a chance to freeze and in this way the interior of the hutch, particularly the floor, is always dry and clean.
The solid floor always makes more work in keeping the hutches clean because all of the droppings have to be removed by the attendant himself. This makes more work, and for the busy man whose time is limited, or for the boy who has school work most of the year or who wants to keep rabbits along with work after hours, will find the slat floor a great time saver.
Of course, where you have your hutches one above the other in tiers, you will have to use solid floors in all hutches above the ones nearest the ground, because the droppings would otherwise drop down to the rabbits in the hutches below.
Many overcome this difficulty by making false floors in the hutches above with slats and removable boxes similar to drawers to slide under them and catch the droppings, but this is tedious and expensive to say the least.