We currently only raise Silver Fox rabbits. We have previously raised French Angoras, New Zealands, Rex, and Palomino breeds. Because of our work with the French Angoras, I've kept up those pages on the website, but you'll find the bulk of the information here is about the Silver Fox.
Generally Accepted Agriculture and Management Practices
What are GAAMPS?
GAAMPS stands for Generally Accepted Agricultural and Management Practices. They are a voluntary list of practices intended to give animals adequate care and to provide for their well being. These GAAMPS provide scientifically backed guidelines for the care of each species of animal. From the Michigan 2018 Livestock Management GAAMPS:
“These voluntary Generally Accepted Agricultural and Management Practices are intended to be used by the livestock industry and other groups concerned with animal welfare as an educational tool in the promotion of animal husbandry and care practices. The recommendations do not claim to be comprehensive for all circumstances; but attempt to define general standards for livestock production and well-being on farm operations...Proper animal management is essential to the well being of animals and the financial success of livestock operations. A sound animal husbandry program provides a system of care that permits the animals to grow, mature, reproduce and maintain health.”
Why are they important to us at Kaninchen Farm? Why follow them if they’re voluntary and not required?
GAAMPS are designed to do 3 things:
- Look out for the animals health, safety, and well-being.
- Promote good animal husbandry and care
- Help educate both farmers and the public about good care practices.
The health, safety, and well-being of our animals is a top priority for us. All of our animals are given regular health checks. If a problem is found, the animal is quarantined and treated. We also have the added measure of if there is any disease found, we will not sell any stock until the problem is cleared up and all animals are deemed safe. It’s not just their physical health that we care about. The psychological health of our animals is important too. All of our animals are provided enrichment. The rabbits are given chew toys and rings for instance. The ducks and chickens are allowed to range in a protected natural environment where they do what they are intended to do - scratch in the dirt, hunt for seeds, dust bathe, eat bugs, and run around. We believe that this is all part of good animal husbandry and care. Sometimes people have the wrong perception of a care practice or situation and may believe it to be inhumane or dangerous when really it isn’t (for instance keeping rabbits in wire bottom cages instead of solid bottom cages.). We are always happy to educate people about the methods we use and most importantly why we use them.
We would like to invite you to learn more about the GAAMPS and the practices used on our farm. In the sections below, I have copied sections of the 2018 Livestock Management GAAMPS for Domestic Rabbits. Anywhere you see words in quotation marks, they are also quoting these 2018 GAAMPS.
Generally Accepted Agriculture and Management Practices for Domestic Rabbits
“Rabbits are raised for research, meat, wool, pelts, show, pets, and as a hobby. They
are maintained under a wide variety of conditions ranging from single backyard hutches
to large environment-controlled commercial production units. Rabbits are adaptable to
a wide range of housing and management systems provided their needs for shelter,
nutrition and health care are met.
If rabbits are raised and sold for laboratory use, they must be raised according to the
provisions of the Animal Welfare Act. Rabbitries producing rabbits for laboratory use
must also be licensed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.”
At Kaninchen Farm we raise and sell rabbits for a variety of reasons. These include: meat, wool, pelts, show and most importantly breed conservation. We do not raise rabbits for research or sell them for laboratory use.
“Nutrition: Rabbits must be fed a sufficient quantity of wholesome, palatable feed to meet their nutrient requirements. Each pen should be provided with suitable feed receptacles (typically a crock or metal feeder and a hay manger if loose hay is fed) to allow easy access to uncontaminated feed.
Rabbits must have access to clean, fresh water daily. Water receptacles (crocks, water bottles, etc.) or automatic waterers may be used. Frequent watering or use of heating systems should be employed to assure that an adequate supply of drinking water is available to the animals during freezing temperatures.
Feeding young newly weaned rabbits between the ages of 5 and 10 weeks of age requires special attention as they are prone to infectious digestive disorders such as epizootic rabbit enteropathy. With new rules regarding the feeding of antibiotics, feeding and management strategies that establish healthy growth, resistance to digestive problems, and promote a strong immune system should be employed.”
Our rabbits are fed a nutritious diet consisting of 16-18% protein rabbit pellets, Non-GMO alfalfa, wheat, barley, oats, BOSS, herbs, and greens. They are never given carrots, lettuce, or other “table scraps”. These things are not healthy for a rabbit to eat. Rabbits are free-fed under 6 months of age. Over 6 months of age, we feed them between 8 and 12 ounces of feed depending on the rabbit’s size, condition, and unique dietary needs at the time. Every cage has its own J feeder.
All of our rabbits are given fresh clean water at least once a day. This is a bare minimum. We have a 5 gallon automatic watering system that uses nipples and tubing. This allows each rabbit to have 1-2 nipples for constant access to fresh, clean water. Even though we may only fill the 5 gallon tank once a day, the water is kept cleaner than if we used crocks, and stays fresh. Unlike bottles, this system rarely runs out, overheats, or gets stale. We feel that an automatic system like this is the best, safest, healthiest way for us to water our rabbits. Sometimes when we have an abundance of grow-outs, we have some rabbits that are not on the system. These rabbits are given either crocks or hanging bowls full of water at least twice a day.
Regarding the feeding of young recently weaned rabbits, our policy is to keep them with mom until 8 weeks of age. Usually our moms will wean them before then on their own, but we believe that mom knows best and is capable of governing when she stops nursing her litter. Kits have access to their mothers feed and we usually see them start eating her pellets around 3 weeks old. At this time we are going through about 1.5 quarts of feed per day for the litter and mom. A litter will usually be eating 3 qts of feed each day by 5 weeks old. Because of the kits’ sensitive digestive system, we do not give any greens, treats, or moist feed until 6 months old. It is very easy to disturb their intestinal balance so we stick with dry feeds (pellets and hay) only. We recommend this system to all our buyers as well.The feed for all rabbits, but young rabbits especially, should not be switched rapidly. To this end, we send between a 1 quart bag and a 1 gallon bag of their usual feed with each rabbit. This is to provide 2-3 days of their normal feed, 2-3 days of a mixed feed (¼, ½, and ¾ of the new feed), and by day 5-7 the rabbit should be entirely on the new feed.
“Handling and Transportation: Proper handling of rabbits will help prevent injury to the animals, as well as to the handlers. Recommended methods for handling and examining rabbits are given in Rabbit Production (Cheeke, et al. 2000) and in the Domestic Rabbit Guide (ARBA, undated).
The safety and comfort of the animals are of prime importance when transporting rabbits. Wire carrying cages are recommended for transporting rabbits. Carrying cages should be of sufficient size to allow the rabbits to turn about freely and make normal postural adjustments. Carrying cages with wire (1/2" x 1") floors suspended above solid bottoms are recommended. Cat carriers are not recommended for transporting rabbits, as rabbits could be injured when removing them from the carrier. Rabbits should be provided with a non-toxic absorbent bedding material to prevent leakage in transit. Loading rabbits into transport crates or cages should be conducted with care. Carefully placing each rabbit into the transport crate or cage can help to minimize fear and distress associated with transport. Handlers must avoid hurried loading and rough handling such as inappropriate lifting and must not carry and throw rabbits into the crates.
Rabbits being transported should be observed frequently and should have access to feed and water (or feed that will satisfy their water needs) if in transit for more than 6 hours. A delay or cancellation of transport should occur for animals that appear unhealthy, dehydrated or exhausted and unfit to withstand travel. During hot weather, precautions should be taken to guard against heat stress.”
All of our rabbits are handled properly. They are moved carefully, gently, and in a low-stress, safe manner. We never throw, inappropriately lift, grab, or roughly handle our animals. Animals are transported in a wire bottomed commercial 3 hole rabbit carrier made for large rabbits. This cage has a wire floor suspended over a solid bottom. Because the sides are wire as well, we are able to securely attach feed and water bowls if needed. Rabbits are transported like all of our animals - in the passenger cab of our vehicles. They are always within earshot, easy visual checking, and in climate-controlled comfort. We do not transport rabbits more than 4 hours away. Only healthy animals are ever transported. If the rabbit we are selling has a long distance to travel, we occasionally recommend giving the kit probiotics and electrolytes in the water to help support their system.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR THE ENVIRONMENT
“It is essential that good sanitation and vermin (insects, ectoparasites, and avian and mammalian pests) control be provided whether rabbits are housed indoors or out-of doors. The use of screens and approved sprays and baits are suggested to help control insects in the rabbitry. Pens, feed, and watering equipment should be cleaned and sanitized periodically. Accumulations of hair on rabbit pens should be removed. Frequent removal of manure from under the cages will help prevent unpleasant odors and ammonia fumes, as well as, reduce environments that are conducive to insect propagation. All feed and bedding should be stored in bins or containers in a cool, dry, area which would not attract rodents.”
We practice good sanitation. All of our cages are cleaned twice a year with bleach or an equivalent cleaner. We spray each nest box between litters, and use only wire-bottom cages to help with sanitation and health. Our nest boxes are metal with a removable plastic or wood bottom. When needed, we use sticky strips to control flies and other insect pests. We have had 1 spider bit in 5+ years of raising rabbits. We find that they are not usually a problem and that adequate lighting and a duster takes care of them. Feeders and waterers are cleaned frequently. Additionally the automatic watering system is treated with apple cider vinegar, and tubing is replaced 1-2 times a year. Nipples are replaced as needed. All of our feed is stored in 30 gallon plastic barrels with locking rings to prevent rodents.
Manure is taken care of with a combination of compost, manual removal to the garden, and chickens are allowed underneath the cages out in the rabbit barn. They scratch in the poop and will remove any insects they find. Worms that we have introduced also help to break down the waste as well. In the rabbit barn, we have a slanted shelf that is easily cleaned and allows the manure and liquid waste to roll down and away from the rabbits.
FACILITIES AND EQUIPMENT
“Housing: Although rabbits may be housed under a variety of conditions, they should be provided a comfortable environment which will limit stress and risk of injury, and afford good ventilation and protection from the elements. If rabbits are raised in outside hutches, the hutches should have water tight roofs. Hutches should be designed to protect the rabbits from wind, snow, rain, sun, and predators, yet allow for sufficient ventilation for removal of hot air in summer and moisture in winter. Hutches suspended above the ground with welded wire floors and sides are conducive to good air circulation and sanitation, as opposed to solid wooden hutches. The size of hutch required will depend on the size and number of the rabbits to be housed (see pens below). When rabbits are housed in a building, the building should provide adequate ventilation and drainage to maintain a healthy environment for the animals. Ventilation may be natural or by mechanical means (fans) when natural air movement is not sufficient. Typically, in indoor housing, single-tiered, all-wire pens are suspended. Single-tiered pens facilitate animal care and sanitation and are preferred over multi-tiered pens. Concrete or dirt floors with pits under the pens to contain the droppings are recommended for indoor rabbitries. Automatic pit cleaners are desirable but not essential. Disposal of manure should be in accordance with Michigan Manure GAAMPs. Rabbits are herbivorous animals and under semi-wild conditions may spend up to 70% of their day searching for food and feeding (Torcino and Xiccato, 2004). Rabbits have an innate need to gnaw or chew. The provision of enrichments such as gnawing sticks within intensive cage or hutch environments may reduce the incidence of abnormal behavior. Cage biting is one abnormal behavior associated with barren environments and can cause tooth damage. Provision of enrichments may improve growth and carcass characteristics for meat rabbits (Verga, et al. 2004). For example, recent research conducted with New Zealand White rabbits has indicated the provision of gnawing sticks can improve carcass traits and body weights (Mohammed and Nasr,
Our rabbits are housed both indoors (winter), and outdoors (spring, summer, fall). Both places provide good ventilation and protection from the elements. Rabbits are brought indoors in the winter to avoid freezing water and to provide them with a slightly warmer environment. They are kept at about 45 degrees F indoors to both allow them the chance to use their cold weather coats and keep their normal rhythms, and to keep them warmer than the outdoors for new litters. Indoors we have a plastic system that the droppings fall on. The cages are suspended on a frame above the plastic, all of which is standing on a concrete floor for maximum stability.
Our outdoor “rabbit barn” is a 3 sided shelter with roof and overhang. The font is kept open for maximum ventilation and breeze, while the remaining sides are closed to protect from severe wind, blowing rain, etc. The barn is located in the shelter of a curved hill and further protected on 3 sides by our natural layout and trees. When the weather is 80 degrees F or higher, we provide each cage with at least one frozen water bottle or frozen ceramic tile to help them keep cool. These are replaced regularly and have successfully prevented issues from overheating.
Whether indoors or out, we use wire cages with babysaver that are more than adequate size for the rabbits housed in them. These cages are suspended to protect them from predators and to allow for easy care of the animals. Outdoors the cages are suspended over the dirt floor. We are not a large enough rabbitry to need them, so we do not use pits to catch the manure or automatic cleaners.
We provide our rabbits with various methods of enrichment. We do toilet paper tubes stuffed with hay, suspended greens, metal ring toys, chewing sticks and balls, and even stuffed animals (yes, we had one little guy who would get depressed by himself, so he had a little stuffed elf he cuddled with). We have not had a problem with cage biting or other abnormal behavior.
“Pens: Rabbit pens must be clean, dry, and of sufficient size to allow the animals to perform their normal physiological functions, including rest, sleep, grooming, defecation, breeding, kindling and raising young. Giant breeds of rabbits require larger pens than the small breeds. Suggested pen sizes for various size rabbits are given by Cheeke, et al., and the American Rabbit Breeders Association (see references). Pens should be structurally sound and constructed of durable, non-toxic materials which resist corrosion and are conducive to good sanitation. The pens should be maintained in good repair and afford protection to the rabbits from injury and predators. It is desirable to house rabbits in wire bottom pens suspended above the ground to allow feces and urine to fall through the pen floors and for ease in removal of these waste products from under the pens. Wire mesh (1/2” x 1”) floors are recommended and should be of woven or flat construction. Flat is more easily cleaned. Solid floored pens may be more suitable for some giant breeds of rabbits that are prone to foot problems. Rabbits in wire bottom cages could be given a section of drywall (plaster board) or pegged board for a resting place and to help eliminate foot problems. Solid floored pens should be provided with clean, dry litter and should be cleaned frequently. A solution of household bleach with water and sunshine are effective disinfectants.
Bred does should be provided with an adequate sized nestbox in which to raise their young during the first few weeks after kindling. The nest box should contain a suitable bedding material and should be placed in the pen a few days prior to kindling. Various types of bedding, including straw, wood chips or sawdust (do not use cedar which is a respiratory irritant or walnut which can be toxic), crushed/shredded sugar cane, and newspaper, can be used. Nest boxes may be constructed of wood, metal, plastic, or wire. Disposable liners should be used with wire nest boxes. In non-heated rabbitries during cold weather, well insulated nest boxes should be provided or the does should be moved to a warm area to kindle and raise their litters for the first few weeks. Good nest box sanitation is essential.”
First, I want to address cage size. ARBA and the Animal Welfare Act say that for the breeds of rabbit that we raise, we need 4 square feet per rabbit. We personally feel that this is not enough space since the rabbit can barely stretch out. A 24”x24” cage is not adequate size for an adult Silver Fox rabbit in our opinion and we do not recommend this size to our buyers. We recommend no smaller than a commercial 30”x36” cage. Our cages that we use are 2’x4’ or 8 square feet. Each of our rabbits has double the minimum adequate cage space. All of our rabbits are able to do their natural functions including sleep, groom, have a waste spot, breed, kindle, nurse, and raise their young. Our pens are structurally sound, clean, dry, and keep the rabbits safe. Babysaver wire helps to keep the kits in the cage if they get dragged out of the nest box, and it also helps to keep predators out. Our floors are 1” x ½” wire and allow for waste to fall through, but also provide good support for the rabbit’s feet and allow claws to stretch as well. We rarely have a problem with sore hocks, but when we do, rabbits are given extra resting mats and solid surfaces that are cleaned regularly.
Our nestboxes are made of metal with a removable bottom that is made of either plastic or wood. These boxes are sprayed down between each litter. The boxes are filled with hay or pine shavings, and the doe will pull fur to place in the box. If needed, we use excess fur saved from another rabbit’s nest. If it is too cold, we will bring the box inside for the night and return it in the morning.
HEALTH CARE AND MEDICAL PROCEDURES
“Optimal management practices are essential to maintain good health status in the rabbitry. A program of disease prevention and control should be established and may include consultation with a veterinarian. Rabbit breeders should be on the lookout for signs of illness. Any sick or injured animals should be immediately treated, or if necessary, humanely euthanized. Rabbits that are under quarantine or suspected of having an infectious disease should be separated from other rabbits to minimize the spread of disease. Organic production programs should work with a veterinarian to ensure adequate protection and treatment for sick animals.”
We take health, disease, and prevention very seriously here. We have strict biosecurity measures designed to keep people from bringing in pathogens from their own areas. We have reduced/removed the number of available housing, feed and water sources for wild animals on the property to help minimize transmission of disease. As part of preventing disease and catching it early, all of our animals are given regular check ups. For the rabbits this is done in 5 phases.
- The first phase are longer annual checks. These checks take place twice a year (spring and fall) and are when we weigh the animals, do a thorough full body exam, trim claws and do any grooming or bathing that is needed. This helps us to keep track of each individual and how they are doing over a long period of time since things like weight and body condition can vary depending on pregnant/nursing status.
- The second phase of checks are daily spot checks. Every day the animals are observed at least 4 times over the course of the day. We make sure that each animal is eating and drinking. We check their behavior and activity level (Are they acting right? Are they socializing properly? Are they playful or separating themselves?). We also check each rabbit’s general condition; fur, eyes, and ears are visually checked. We also examine poop and urine to be sure everything looks healthy and normal.
- The third phase is when rabbits are between the ages of 2 weeks and 6 months old. Each rabbit is checked daily for open eyes and to prevent eye infections during the vulnerable time between 2 and 4 weeks old. The rabbits are sexed at 6 weeks old, and again at 8 weeks old. At this time they are tattooed. Young rabbits are given thorough body checks and weight checks monthly until 6 months old.
- The fourth phase is when the rabbits are of breeding age. Every time before a rabbit is bred, the weight and body condition is checked.
- The fifth phase happens whenever something different is noticed in the second or first stage. We will quietly catch the animal and take them for a closer inspection. Everything is checked from head to toe and if normal, the rabbit will be placed back in their cage in the barn. If not, quarantine procedures are initiated and the rabbit is treated and isolated. If there is any disease found, we will not sell any rabbits until the problem is cleared up and the entire herd is deemed safe. It’s not just the sick individual who is quarantined, but we lock down the entire farm until it is cleared up and everyone is healthy.
“Pharmaceutical Use: It is imperative that those engaged in raising livestock and poultry for human consumption understand the prudent and legal use of pharmaceutical products. To help ensure that health and welfare of livestock and poultry and the safety of food they produce for the public, a veterinary-client-patient relationship (VCPR) is highly recommended. In most cases, a valid VCPR is mandatory for acquiring and using pharmaceutical products in food producing animals."
We do not provide medicated feed for our animals. There are 4 medications we use in our rabbits. The first is PenG. This is an antibiotic that is injected. We have only had to use it twice, both times on does with severe mastitis infections. Does that receive this are not intended for human consumption. The second medication that we use occasionally is Ivermectin. This is used to treat for wool mites or for worms. It is rarely used. Again, the animals are not intended for human consumption. The third medication is Tums (yes, the antacid). We provide Tums to does having difficult labor. The calcium in them is beneficial and can potentially make the difference between life and death. The fourth medication we use is infant gas drops. These are used when we have a kit with bloat.
“Euthanasia: Animals that are seriously injured or ill and show no promise for recovery
should be euthanized immediately. Methods can be physical or chemical and one of
the approved methods recommended by the AVMA Guidelines on Euthanasia (AVMA,
Dead Animal Disposal: Animal tissue, whole carcasses or portions thereof, must be
disposed of according to the Michigan Bodies of Dead Animal Act, Act 239 of 1982,
Amended Act No. 311, Public Acts of 2008, December 18, 2008.”
In the best interest of our animals, all animals that are seriously injured, severely ill, or suffering without hope are humanely euthanized. We always have the illness or injury assessed and treated if possible or feasible. Unfortunately some things do not have a high recovery rate, are highly contagious, too expensive for a single animal, or lead to a prolonged painful existence. In these instances the animals are freed from their suffering and the bodies are disposed of appropriately.