We took over about 1/3 of our garden (the third with the lawn in) and turned it into a little bunny village that could originally hold all 6 of our rabbits (when we actually had 6 rabbits), it was designed to be a self-contained play and living area for them because we didn’t want them getting cooped up in unfamiliar hutches while we went on our holiday driving around Europe in summer 2014. This way, all our designated rabbit feeders had to do was feed them, the rabbits had toys, companionship with other groups (they were three pairs) and lots of room to exercise. The third hutch was at the back of the run but we threw it out (actually it’s still partly standing on the concrete, wood is always useful) when Fifer got Katie because she was too big to share his first hutch.
When we came back from Europe, we moved the 2 rabbits from the shed back into the house (Banacek and Cleo) and bought Fifer and Katie a new deluxe 2 storey hutch that was 5 foot wide and 18 inches deep, Katie adored it. We took the downstairs hutch doors off so they could have 24/7 indoor-outdoor access, which all the rabbits were used to by this point, and we’d already removed a couple of bricks so rabbits could get from the brick shed into the main run. The floor of the shed I covered in straw so it was basically an extension of their rabbit hutch. At this point, the rabbit run was still sectioned into three parts and Banacek and Cleo had the back of the run now when they wanted to play outside, which was slightly awkward for carrying them because Banacek never got used to being handled.
When Neville died, leaving Sebastian behind, about 18 months ago, I thought it was best to let Sebastian live out his days in the hutch we got him in, since he was very small (Netherland Dwarf) had a whole shed to himself (the wooden one) and a garden, and I wanted him to have continuity. Unfortunately, about three months ago with the really shitty weather we’ve had, the bottom of his hutch started to go rotten. I ripped the whole thing out one afternoon and redesigned a second hutch – the spare one we’d kept in the kitchen, that was going to be Banacek and Cleo’s outdoor hutch until Banacek died – and gave that to Sebastian. It’s the exact same hutch that Fifer and Katie (and now, Fifer and Poppy, who live part-time in the house because Poppy likes being inside but Fifer doesn’t like being an indoor bun) have in their shed, with a few slight differences because this hutch was a £30 fixer upper and the other was in pristine condition for nearly £100 (with discount vouchers). More info on how to design an inspirational rabbit hutch
The most important thing to talk about is the type of fencing to use, to make sure the rabbits really can have 24/7 indoor/outdoor access. You need a fencing that is really rabbitproof (insert joke about Australia’s rabbitproof fence here). We used different types of fencing in different areas to make the most rabbitproof run without having to spend 100 years making it:
The top of the run is made out of chickenwire.
The chickenwire replaced this miserable plastic crap that my husband brought home.
Apart from where it’s against a fence, the chickenwire starts at 4 feet high because rabbits WILL chew through chickenwire, even the coated green stuff. The chicken wire replaced that awful lurid green stuff that was made of plastic that my husband bought, and which has been an eyesore for 18 months. Don’t use chicken wire anywhere that a rabbit’s mouth can reach unless there’s something behind it, and AVOID that stupid plastic stuff at all costs, I was against it from the moment I saw it, and when we were removing it, Poppy came out to explore, got tangled in it before we could stop her, and she nearly died. £600 of vet bills later she’s ok but it was the most harrowing experience.
At the very bottom of the rabbit run we have put this thick and relatively inflexible metal the squares are about 1.5cm wide each, so rabbits can’t get their noses through.
A little bit higher, we never had a problem with the green squares until we got Poppy. She’s a gorgeous Dutch bunny with a slightly more petite bone structure than our other rabbits, and being a bright young thing she will leap up and climb through these two levels of squares so I had to wrap this green wire diagonally to stop her getting out. I wouldn’t mind but it takes her too long to get back in because her bum gets stuck, and if a cat was in the greater garden it could very quickly eat her.
Toys are important to me for the bunnies, as important as grass I can’t stand the idea that they ever might be bored in their bunny village, so I like to give them as many things to do as will fit. I did make a little climbing frame for them but we had to take it apart when I replaced some of the fence panels earlier this year, so the components (such as this ladder) are still around.
And the most important thing in our giant rabbit enclosure is to make sure they can’t escape, because there are a lot of neighborhood cats and there are local foxes who have shat in our greater garden (bag it using 2 sandwich bags so you don’t touch it, clean the area with neat jeyes fluid, rinse with boiling water) so we know they are aware of our rabbits. So we fasten the door (an old garage side door we got on Freecycle) with a lock and a piece of wire. Before we used the wire, the vicious northern winds had been known to blow it open which can be very dangerous at night. I do let Fifer and Poppy out into the wider garden regularly (Sebastian doesn’t like going out of his run) they eat all my weeds it’s amazing.
So that’s our bunny village, currently housing Fifer, Poppy and Sebastian! What do you think? Have you made anything similar for your rabbits?
So I thought after all these months, it might be nice to actually introduce our rabbits to you. I know I put lots of pictures of them up and obviously do all the rabbit care articles as well, so let’s go through them, in order of when we got them:
Banacek is a mostly white, with brown splodgy bits on his fur, that used to look exactly like someone had drizzled treacle on his back when he was a baby. Now he is an adult, it looks more like a respectable snowy camouflage. We got him in April 2012, the week after Mother’s Day (UK edition, usually 2 months earlier than everyone else has it). We bought him brand new from Pets At Home because there were no adoption bunnies in a 50 mile radius, and there hadn’t been for months and months (literally, I bought hay, toys and a food bowl for a new rabbit about 7 months before we finally gave up on getting an adopted bunny and just bought one). He had up ears when we first got him, but after about a year they both gradually became lop ears, apparently this happens sometimes with particular cross breeds where the genes can’t make their minds up whether to give the rabbits up or down ears. For a while he had helicopter ears, and even now, one of his ears is much more lop than the other. After about a year, we realised he was profoundly lonely, and given that we weren’t allowed a bunny in our house, we started to look for a new house of our very own so we could bring a friend home for him to adore. It took a ridiculous length of time but we found our perfect house and then we looked for a friend for him. He likes to jump on the sofa and try to drink my tea (with soya milk and no sugar, of course – the bunnies are lactose intolerant and I have a milk allergy). He also has developed a habit of trying to steal my toast in the mornings.
Cleo (2005 to present, we had her 2013-present):
When we were looking for a friend for Banacek, we were sure that we wanted someone who was adoptable, since we felt bad that we had bought Banacek, even though there were no adoption bunnies at the time. We looked everywhere but there were no female rabbits for adoption. Banacek was a male and we knew he hadn’t got on with other males since he’d been neutered at 7 months old, because he had regular playdates with my friend’s rabbits. At long last, we found an advert on Gumtree. There were three rabbits up for adoption, all Netherland Dwarf bunnies, about 15 miles from where we lived. The owners were emigrating. We phoned and asked questions. We were initially disappointed, as the female hadn’t been neutered, and neither had one of the males, and the males were kept separate from the female, and they were all eight and a half years old. We knew bunnies could live to see a decade, but I also knew that this was not always the reality of having a bunny, and I didn’t want my current rabbit to be lonely again in six months if his new friend died. This was in September 2013. We asked if we could arrange an introduction, and the following day, we took Banacek on the car ride that would change his life.
Cleo, Sebastian and Neville’s former owners had two outdoor runs, where the bunnies played out all day during the day, then went back to their hutches at night time. We put Banacek in to meet Cleo. At first she was terrified – Cleo had never seen such a big rabbit! She wouldn’t stop running away and we didn’t think this was going to work – she was such an elderly bunny, and Banacek was so young and full of the joys of spring, that it looked doomed to fail. We left them alone for half an hour, though, and Cleo started offering her nose to Banacek. Netherland Dwarves do this to say hello, and other bunnies don’t do it as much, so it was astounding to us when Banacek offered his nose back! He had never done this on any of his playdates with other buns the same size as him! They soon were chasing each other as a game, rather than out of fear. Three days later, we brought Banacek back, to check whether they were still going to get on or not, and they remembered each other straight away (which rabbit care websites claim is impossible). The hardest part was having to put them in separate boxes to get them back down the motorway to our home, as they didn’t want to be apart!
We put them in the living room and let them play together. I was still worried about leaving them unsupervised so I put Cleo in her hutch outside every night at bedtime, because she is such a tiny rabbit and I didn’t want to close her into Banacek’s hutch in the living room until we knew he was happy for her to be in there – and for about two months, she showed no interest in going into his hutch to explore. One day, though, she had a bit of a cut on her nose and I wanted to keep her in as the weather was getting colder, so I put her into Banacek’s hutch, ready to pull her out again at the first sign of trouble, but she was ok, he was ok, and we came downstairs the next morning to find them snuggled together on the bottom floor of the hutch. We did have to make some reasonable adjustments to the hutch as it was designed for a bigger rabbit and Cleo couldn’t climb up to the higher platforms, but once we put extra climbing blocks in for her to get onto, she was soon on the top floor at night time with Banacek – which was his favourite spot!
Neville (2005-2015; we had him 2013-2015)
Neville and Sebastian were twin brothers, and were from the same litter as Cleo. When we went to get Cleo, my husband fell in love with the boys too. The only problem? Banacek didn’t get on with them. After a couple of scuffles we had to give up on the idea of a rabbit foursome in our living room, so we then had to think seriously about what to do. We decided that, if we only wanted to get rabbits to be friends with Banacek, then perhaps we shouldn’t get any rabbits at all, not even Cleo, because in our eyes they wouldn’t all be equals. We re-examined why we wanted rabbits at all, and came to the conclusion that if we brought Sebastian and Neville home, it would be because we liked them and wanted them to be happy in a new home, not with any kind of illusions that they would ever be friends with Banacek (but it would be great if they ever did). My husband decided he liked them anyway, and so they came home with us too.
Neville was always the loudest, most energetic of the two. He was the one who had been neutered, and he was definitely the dominant twin. Sebastian was a quieter bunny and liked to sleep for long hours, while Neville was the most playful little bun, always starting games with his brother. More than that, they had never been apart since they were conceived by their parents. When Neville got attacked by Fifer, later on, we took Sebastian to the vet with him to keep Neville’s stress down, and kept them both in the bathroom for a while, until Neville had healed.
Neville went on to make a full recovery, but about eight months later, just one month before his tenth birthday, we found him dead in a corner of his hutch. We left him out for the other bunnies to see, as this helps them with their grief (if they don’t see the dead bunny, they will assume they are out somewhere, and will sit and wait for them to come home for weeks). We buried him in our back garden the next evening.
Sebastian (2005-present, we had him 2013-present)
We didn’t think that Sebastian would cope without Neville, and watching him grieve was profoundly sad – if we’d had to guess, we both expected Sebastian to go first, not Neville, as he was less active and often didn’t leave his hutch during the day. We thought he was winding down in life. It’s five months later, and Sebastian is still going, still just as inactive as ever. Occasionally we see him running round, but not often. We tried introducing him to other bunnies, but it turns out that he wants some peace and quiet in his retirement, and hasn’t been particularly kind to Fifer when we tried to get them to be friends. We are letting him have his own space as he seems content with the friendship that Katie and Fifer keep offering him through the fences between their rabbit runs, but face to face he is less than polite to them.
Fifer (2014 to present)
When I first saw Fifer in Pets At Home, he was 3 months old, and named Clover, and they thought he was a girl. I thought she was the most adorable little bunny I’d ever seen, and she clearly was annoyed that she was up for adoption, disliking the attention, preferring instead to hide in a tunnel so only her back legs and tail were visible. She was a beautiful wild-looking bunny, and when I asked the store manager if I could handle her, she attacked him viciously, covering his hands in angry bloody scratches in seconds. They clearly had a history. The second he passed her to me, Clover stretched out her nose and snuffled mine, to see if I was friendly. Then, when I brought her closer to me, she licked my face and snuggled into my neck. She came home that same day, I didn’t care that we already had four rabbits (and really, I had shared ownership of Banacek, who is his own bunny, Banacek has Cleo, and my husband has Sebastian and Neville, so Clover would be a bunny just for me), she was my little darling. I had high hopes that she would integrate with Cleo and Banacek, and offset how hard it was going to be for Banacek when Cleo died, as Cleo was 9 years old at this point. Hilariously, I booked her in for a spay, and cried when I gave her to the vet to sort out. The vet took a look and pronounced her male. So we changed her name to Fifer. Fifer got neutered, a procedure I was far less stressed about, and he came home and we stopped trying to introduce him to the other rabbits. We gave him his own section of the garden to play in, which he really liked. After about three or four months, though, he seemed really bored and disinterested in life. He just sat in the same spot, day after day, staring wistfully at Sebastian and Neville. We’d tried to get them to make friends before, and it had all gone wrong, so we didn’t want to try again until we were certain they would be okay. Fifer had other ideas.
I came downstairs one morning to find Sebastian and Neville’s rabbit run strewn with fur, Banacek was sitting at the front of his run, staring into the kitchen window (he lived outside all of last summer) and Cleo, Fifer, Sebastian and Neville were nowhere to be seen. I went straight outside, concerned that the boys had been fighting, and I was very surprised to see Fifer sitting in Sebastian and Neville’s run, looking like that girl at the start of Battle Royale. I scooped him up and popped him on his own side of the run, and he had the sense to stay there. I opened the shed doors to get to Sebastian and Neville’s hutch and found Sebastian trying to bite my hand, clearly trying to protect Neville, who was very very badly injured and had taken himself off to a quiet corner to die. I ran to the house and grabbed a rabbit carrier, brought it back to the hutch, carefully extricated Sebastian, then even more carefully got Neville into the carrier, trying not to hurt him more by picking him up. I left the other bunnies where they were, closed the runs and gave the vet a heads up that I was coming in with an emergency, and drove straight to the vets. After 4 hours of surgery and three hours of recovery, I got a phone call telling me Neville was going to live, but we needed to keep him indoors for two weeks and give him strong painkillers and antibiotics and examine his wounds several times a day.
We didn’t know what to do about Fifer. We were obviously very angry, hurt and upset that he had gone out of his way to try to kill Neville, but we also knew that every time we’d tried to introduce them, Neville had attacked Fifer. Fifer had learned this behaviour from Neville. My husband suggested taking Fifer to the RSPCA, and we discussed whether we thought that what he had done was bad enough to warrant him being put to sleep. I was heartbroken, and I didn’t think it was fair on Fifer, that he was such a young rabbit, not even a year old, for his life to be over when he had his whole life ahead of him. It was the hardest thing we had ever faced with our rabbits, and I felt awful for bringing Fifer home in the first place. I think this was when we realized he was at least a half-wild rabbit, and when we researched them, we found out he has the right shapes and behaviours to be at least part wild. Our best guess is half-wild, half-Netherland Dwarf. Despite all my negative feelings, I also felt that I had a responsibility towards Fifer. He was my bunny, where none of the others were in the same way. I went out to see him after two days of not looking at him when I fed him, and I picked him up, and I just held him and cried, because he was my little bunny and I didn’t know how he could do such an awful thing to another bunny. He just snuggled me, but I could tell he knew he’d crossed a line. But I’ve crossed lines in the past, and felt like there was no redemption in sight, like I would never be able to make things right, and I knew how Fifer felt. So I made the decision that any mother would. I bought him a bigger, new hutch all of his own, I got my husband to build it, I placed it in the living room, and I moved Fifer indoors. I decided that if he was too wild, then we needed to bring him in so he could be around us and learn how to be more domesticated. After about three months of taking it in turns with Banacek and Cleo to be indoors for the day, and always sleeping indoors at night, Fifer had shown a great improvement in his behaviour. He stopped acting in fear and started feeling more confident. That was about the time when I saw Katie.
Katie (2013 to present, we adopted in late 2014)
Katie was (you guessed it) another adoptable from Pets at Home. She actually came from the same holding enclosure as Fifer. Her story was that she was dumped outside my vets in a cardboard box one night, so they passed her on to Pets At Home. When I first saw her, I was very excited because I thought she was the perfect size to be safely paired with Fifer. When I took Fifer for his vaccinations, I asked the vet about her, and she said that Katie had a lovely temperament and would probably get on with Fifer. The best guess is that she’s two years old, but nobody really knows. She was already microchipped and neutered when we got her. I went to Pets At Home and arranged an introduction between Katie and Fifer. There was uncertainty, there was scuffling, but ultimately, Fifer learned that this ginormous female marmalade bunny was just immune to his aggression. She would literally just lie down and ignore him. When she got bored, she’d lunge at him then go back to sleep. After two hours of introduction, we decided they were getting along. We didn’t take her until the Saturday, when we took Fifer back, expecting to have to re-introduce them. They remembered each other, though, and shared a bowl of vegetables. They were so friendly, I brought them both back in the dog box that we’d brought Fifer in (Katie was too big for those cardboard Pets at Home boxes), and when we got home and I opened the box, they just lay in there together for about an hour before coming out. Katie moved into Fifer’s hutch straight away, and they’ve never been apart since. Katie thinks she’s the size of Fifer, and he seems to think he’s the size of Katie; she’s very timid, and I don’t know what happened before we got her, as she has a lot of fears and hang-ups, but Fifer looks after her and makes her feel safe. In return, she seems to have helped Fifer to become a kinder, more loving rabbit. I would never separate them.
So that’s all our bunnies. We reconfigure who lives where on a regular basis so they all get their fair share of life indoors and outdoors, and we’ve just bought a new hutch (a £30 fixer upper two storey ex display model, down from £99, from Pets At Home) so Banacek and Cleo can move out for the summer to keep them cooler, and so we can get Katie and Fifer back indoors and spend more time with them.