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Scottish Agriculture
Domestic Rabbit Warren

It will perhaps be superfluous to detail the most accredited methods of keeping rabbits in hutches, for the perusal of those persons, to whom the plan of a domestic warren may prove intelligible, because the hutch system is well understood, and is generally practised; we shall therefore merely offer a few hints and directions, impress two or three facts—the result of experience—and then proceed to the subject which forms the title to this paper. Air, dryness, good feed, cleanliness, with very little succulent food, are essential to rabbits, which are debarred, by this unnatural system, from the healthful enjoyments of exercise in their own native wildness. For our own parts, we confess that we should almost as readily attempt to immure a tricky squirrel in a tread-mill cage, or confine the soaring lark within the wires of a prison, as we should retain in those close boxes the happy denizens of a warren: but as the animals are subservient to man,—as these creatures among others, are made to be taken and confined, it remains for us merely to advocate their helpless state, and to inculcate mercy.

It must be gratifying to all persons who are proprietors of live-stock, to conduce to their comfort and well-doing, for the mere delight of indulging in benevolent feelings; but, when it is made manifest, that, by obeying the dictates of nature as much as possible, and making their artificial mode of living approximate as nearly to that which was intended for them, as the relative states of freedom and subordination will allow, we shall be gainers in a double sense,—we should evince unwonted stolidity, not to bend our attention to effect so desirable a result. It is very little known, that an artificial or domestic rabbit-warren can be constructed with ease, and at a trifling expense, which will not only allow a free range to the animals where they breed, and to enjoy themselves unmolested by man, but that they may be caught, examined, fed, and attended to, without the delay of five minutes. We have had ample experience of the feasibility and highly advantageous nature of this method of keeping rabbits, and therefore speak positively respecting its vast superiority over that stiving unhealthy system of hutching, at present considered the only alternative with that of total wildness in the warren.

During a residence of nearly three years in that south-eastern portion of our island, the Isle of Thanet in Kent, we had practical proof of all we have asserted, and, therefore, feel no hesitation in prognosticating similar successful results to others who may be inclined to put the scheme in practice. We should premise, that those districts in which the subsoil is of chalk or other material, equally difficult of perforation, will be found most available for a domestic warren; a sandy soil, or one of rich soft loam, would afford too ready facilities for burrowing, and the animals would shortly find an exit and escape; therefore we would advise that only in chalky, stony, dry, impervious subsoils, the trial should be made.

In any part of the premises deemed most convenient, a court or a stable-yard for instance, the soil must be removed full six feet deep, and three wide; a foot from this opening another must be made of the same depth, but four feet wide; the latter hole is to be bricked all around as well as the floor; and at the bottom of that part which divides it from the other space, an opening must be made, large enough to admit a full sized rabbit to pass through, thus forming a communication between the two compartments. Down the party-wall an iron plate or door is to be slided at pleasure, in two grooves, by a rope from above. Light covers of wood, or of oil-cloth, or tarred sail-cloth, are to be fitted with hinges, on a frame-work of stout wood, and made to open towards the south, in order to admit all the warmth possible from the sun. Every morning these covers should be propped up with sticks, in which deep notches must be cut, so that the opening may be wide, or narrow, according to the state of the weather, as it is not advisable to allow more moisture to find access to the rabbits than can be avoided* Indeed, we omitted to say, that, while the excavations are being made, a drain ought to be constructed in each* over which a small iron-grating should be fixed, and the floors ought to slope towards these exits; thus dryness, so essential to the health and comfort of the animals, will be insured.

The larger of these two excavations, which we have been describing (the bricked compartment), is the trap,—the smaller we will call the warren. In the trap, and only in the trap, the rabbits must be fed. It is self-evident, that the more nearly a state of nature we approximate the condition of our livestock, the greater range we may afford them in their diet. Green food must be very sparingly administered to all that are confined in hutches, but those which are allowed a roomy space, with the salutary exercise of burrowing, may with safety be indulged with green food at their own discretion,— attention being paid to select those esculents which they are known to prefer when in a wild state. We incline to think that animals in a state of nature are liable to no disorders, but that we, in consequence of our ignorance of those wise laws by which they are taught instinctively to vary their diet, and thus preserve their health, inflict diseases upon the unoffending creatures, which we then exercise our folly, not our rationality, to remedy: on the torture to which ignorant and conceited man subjects his speechless dependents! Rabbits in hutches thrive in spite of cabbage-leaves, not by means of that rank succulent unnatural food. Fifty generations of these animals have lived and passed away, in their wild extensive warrens, without the possibility having occurred of their encountering a cabbage-leaf. The mild beautiful herbage, that evident staple of their lives, as bread is of our own, varied with the thousand flavours, and healthful adjuncts which they meet with in the surrounding weeds,—as we judiciously assist digestion with different condiments,—this natural food, grass, is never given to rabbits in hutches, although they can obtain little else in the vicinity of their native warrens.

We would then strenuously advise that not any of the rank succulent vegetables of the garden be offered to creatures so artificially placed, that the option of choice is no longer in their power. Twice, or even three times a-day, there should be a supply of bran and oats in troughs, let down into the trap, by means of a stick fastened to each trough, about four feet in length. A few handfuls of fresh grass, with its attendant weeds, ought also to be given daily, and the refuse should be taken away every two or three days; this can be managed with ease and expedition by means of a small ladder. It will be obvious that the trap is made deep and wide, in order to admit of easy access for the facility of cleaning the place and selecting the rabbits, which is effected in the following manner. As soon as the food is let down, the creatures, from habit, will run through the trap-door into the trap, and when it is judged that they are all collected, the person (keeping out of sight, for they are naturally shy and would run back into their warren if they were to see any one, or hear a noise) must let down the trap by means of the long rope, and he can then select at his pleasure.

We think it likely that some of our readers may be inclined to question the utility of the opening to the warren, and may suppose that the trap would be sufficient; we assure them it is essential, for not only must a space be cleared for them to begin their operation of burrowing at that depth below the surface, but occasionally it may be requisite to clear away any loose soil which they may have excavated, as well as to secure the manure, which is valuable; besides, the two openings afford a free circulation of air, and more light than could be admitted by the trap only.

In many districts of this country not a warren or a wild rabbit is to be seen for twenty, nay, fifty square miles, yet, at all the poulterers in large towns within those districts, wild rabbits so called are always to be obtained. There exists an imaginary preference in favour of wild rabbits, and therefore the public is never let into this secret, that they never purchase a wild one, excepting within an available distance from a warren. All others are bred in hutches, and all warranted wild! This we know to be fact. Independently of the superior health enjoyed by creatures nearly in a state of nature, other contingencies are prevented by the domestic warren system. Rabbits are exceedingly shy, and those unnatural propensities, the destruction of their young by the fathers, and devouring them by the mothers, which many writers have endeavoured to account for, quite unsatisfactorily, are avoided; they are, too, probably caused by the officiousness and ignorance of man; in the first place, by interfering with the mother, in the next by having debarred her from that species of diet which her own instinct would have led her to select, to suit her maternal duties.

As our present notice refers only to the subject of a domestic warren, we abstain from offering any remarks or advice on the numbers to be kept, the sorts and advantages of this prolific and valuable live-stock, because there are few small farmers who are not aware of all we could say, by experience, in the troublesome, and every way ineligible system, of hutches, when compared with that of the domestic warren. We repeat, that we have had ample experience of its perfect success, and had it no other merit than being a merciful and rational plan, it ought to supersede all others.

From The Quarterly Journal of Agriculture Vol. IX. June 1838 - March 1839

The Domestic Rabbit
DOMESTIC RABBITS grown under conditions that favour rapid body development are an excellent source of tender, delicately flavoured, white and nutritious meat. Domestic hutch-reared rabbit meat is in the same class as chicken and is far superior to, and quite different from, the meat of wild rabbits (pdf)

From the Ontario Agricultural College

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