Disclosure: We may earn money or products from the companies mentioned in this post.
A reader here at RabbitPros.com contacted me to share her story about having free-range domestic rabbits. And her story about her pet rabbits that live outside without enclosures turned out to be simply amazing!
So we decided to share her story and her pictures. Enjoy the story about this Free-Range Domestic Rabbit Rescue.
P.S. I’m going to add a few notes below the story.
By Anita Neifert
The phone rang in early May of this year and it was a dear friend on the island where our summer home is asking for help.
Judy (named changed) was needing some help with her rabbits. She thought she could rescue some of the domestic rabbits that are left behind when people moved off the island and did not or could not take them with them when they relocated to off-island.
So, bless her soul, she took about 6 of them in and made a covered rabbit area for them. She did not know how to sex them and the rest is history because we all know that rabbits breed like rabbits.
She now had over 30 rabbits and 3 Does had just given birth.
Since we are on a private end of the island and very isolated, I said yes, knowing that these rabbits will need to learn how to become dependent on their own, since they would be turned loose on over 14 aces.
We have a large outdoor habitat that is made of two dog kennels put together for our cats so they can go outside during the day. This keeps us from worrying about them roaming off to be eaten by a wild animal, owl or eagle.
We placed the first 12 rabbits we got from Judy into the kennel where they stayed for 5 days with rabbit pellets, water, and fresh veggies. We became aware on the 3rd day that some of the rabbits had already made an escape by digging holes!
However, they were staying near the kennel and just running circles around it. The cat habitat (where they now live) has a hill area that is covered with blackberries which is one of the rabbit’s favorite hiding places.
You may not be aware that coyotes do not go into blackberry bushes, since it is too painful for them, so the free-range bunnies are safe from coyotes and, thankfully we do not have bears on this island.
So in time, we decided to just open the gate and let the rest of the rabbits out. They all stayed around the new feeding station we had set up for them.
After 7 days all rabbits are accounted for and running around eating at the feeding station and come when we whistle for them for their carrots and other treats.
I called Judy and told her how the rabbits were making themselves at home and soon I’d brought home the rest of the rabbits that she had rescued and repeated the same routine, after covering the escape holes!
But it didn’t take these new rabbits any longer to dig escape tunnels because they all wanted to be together. So I opened the gate and let them all out on day 3 this time.
Yes, they will breed and we have had two new litters since they arrived. Besides the blackberries, we have several sheds and access under our house for them to hide and be safe.
They have learned that humans are not scary, but they do run and hide when a bird fly‘s over or if a coyote is near.
I was a Licensed Veterinary Technician for over 18 years and am now retired; I now also help with a wildlife rehab center to help raise orphaned possums, squirrels, and cottontail rabbits. We have turned them loose when they became old enough and a certain weight here on the island.
Last year I did 11 cottontails by bottle feeding for the rehab center. When we returned this spring we had 7 which I felt was encouraging for them to survive the winter on their own without any assistance from humans.
It is now July and all of the domestic rabbits I received from Judy are doing great. They are free roaming and enjoying life. I have lost 2 cottontails and 1 grey young domestic rabbit to a red tail hawk, which we witnessed. Yes, it is sad but Mother Nature also has a plan.
I am getting more from Judy as soon as the next litter is old enough and also taking the mothers too!
Notes From Stacey
Anita lives on an island, which means that her rescues face fewer rabbit predators than might be found in many locations. Still, she has lost and will continue to lose occasional rabbits to natural predators and accidents.
This is the way of nature, and even the best protected indoor rabbit has occasionally fallen prey to preditor. One would have to carefully their relationship with domestic rabbits before considering free-ranging like this. If your rabbit is “part of the family”, this living arrangement would simply expose them to too much danger.
Let’s also remember that while these rabbits are living free-range outdoors, they are not living in the wild. Domestic rabbits have a very high mortality rate in the wild, but these rabbits are living in a human area with free access to food, water, and shelter. This story should never encourage anyone to turn an unwanted rabbit loose in the wild, it would not survive for long.
While free access to pellets isn’t considered an ideal diet for a domestic rabbit, we have to consider that these rabbits also have free access to unlimited greens. It’s my guess that they eat fewer pellets than a caged rabbit would eat if they were given free access.
We can also see in the pictures that these free-range rabbits appear quite healthy and don’t seem to be rabbits that are suffering from obesity. This is probably because of their free access to greens and the fact that they get way more exercise than any housed rabbit.
My family has kept domestic rabbits outdoors in hutches for years, so I’m sure that with access to cover these bunnies are going to do just fine in the winter.
My biggest concern is just how big this colony of rabbits (also called a Fluffle or Herd) is going to get. Even if the pressure from predators is minimal, I wonder how many rabbits this island can really support.
Regardless, I will be looking forward to updates from Anita as time goes on!
I told you it was an interesting story!