Rabbit House. The first and most important matter is to have a good dry house or shed, in which the animals call be well protected from damp weather. Too Much moisture is as fatal to rabbits as it is to sheep; it gives them the rot. Dampness may be all very well for but is not good for men, women and children, nor yet for horses, cows, pigs, poultry, bees, or rabbits; these all thrive better and are preserved from many diseases by being protected from it.
Put though you keep out the wet from your rabbit-house, you must not at the same time exclude fresh air; for rabbits can no more be in health without fresh air, than human beings.
Many writers advise that rabbits should not be kept in hutches, but in little houses, so constructed, that they may have protection from the weather, and at the state time enjoy their liberty and amuse themselves. This house may be built about four or five feet square, as may be convenient, with a roof formed to carry off the rain. The floor should be boarded or paved, to prevent the rabbits from burrowing, and have hay or straw laid on it. Some boxes must be provided, placed on the floor with the open side downwards, and with holes at the side for the rabbits to go in or out. Sliding doors to these boxes are convenient to shut in the rabbits when necessary.
In the front of the house there should be a Little court, or yard railed off, into which the rabbits may be allowed to run when the weather is dry; and here they will sport and enjoy themselves, and give you opportunities of observing their pretty antics.
But this house will only do for young rabbits, or until they are about five months old; after that age, they would begin to tear each other to pieces, if left together; all the pleasure you had in witnessing their former harmony and happiness would be gone; the bucks would fight dreadfully, and the litters the does might have, would be destroyed, so that it is necessary that breeding does should be kept in hutches, and the bucks be separated from one another. But we nevertheless advise that young rabbits should be allowed to have their liberty in such a house; as they will be tar more healthy, and will grow much better, than when they are cooped up in hutches, where they have no room to exercise their limbs.
Hutches. The hutches should be made as large as convenient, that the rabbits may not be cramped for want of exercise; those for breeding does must have a partition, so as to form two apartments, one for feeding, the other as a bed. Single hutches, that is, with one room only, will do for young rabbits, or for bucks to be kept in. The door of the feeding apartment should have wires in it, but that of the bed-place must be of wood, as the doe likes darkness and concealment when she has her Litter. It is well to have a sliding-board to divide the two compartments, and to shut out the rabbits when the hutch is to be cleaned; as it is very inconvenient to do this with the rabbits running about. The floors of the hutches should be quite smooth, that the wet may run oft", and, in order to facilitate this, a small slit or opening in the floor at the back of the hutch should be made, and the hutch itself be put sloping, a little higher at the front than at the back; for when rabbits have much green food, there is a considerable quantity of moisture which requires to be drained off, that the creatures may be kept dry and clean ; and if proper means be taken to receive this into a drain, it forms a very valuable liquid manure.
Feeding Troughs. Are usually made in the form of a long open box, but this is inconvenient in many respects, as the young rabbits get in and spoil the food, and the older ones scratch out much of it, tread it under foot and waste it. A better plan is to have a swinging board in front, the cost of which is soon made up by the food saved. The rabbits when they take their food, push this board inwards with their forehead, and when the head is withdrawn, the board flaps back against the front of the trough. Some persons have a lid to the trough which the rabbit soon learns to lift, and which shuts down again of itself as soon as the head is taken out of the way.
There are many kinds op rabbits, varying in size, form, colour, length of legs or fur, and position of the ears, but the races have been so continuously intermixed, and varied, by breeding, that it is a difficult task to point out any distinct kind as preferable. The smallest and short-legged variety, of the colour of the wild rabbit, appears to be the hardiest. Boys generally prize lop-ears, though they are scarcely so pretty in appearance as the common kind. There is the single or double lop, according as one only, or both ears are dropped. SmUts too are favourites, either single or double. The smut is a black spot on the side of the rabbit's nose, and a spot on each side constitutes the double smut. Some of these are very beautiful creatures, having a white silvery fur, with rich, glossy, black spots, and they are generally large sized rabbits.
Food. This is an important matter; rabbits eat a very great quantity ; you must not think that because they are little animals, they require only a little food; they want much more than you do, in proportion to their size: and to give them proper kinds of food, in sufficient quantity, and at a low expense, constitutes the chief question as regards their profit. How often do we hear it said, and how generally true is the saying, "Oh ! my rabbits never pay, they eat their heads off, etc," meaning that the expense of the food consumed, more than counterbalances the advantage gained. Now, this arises from want of knowledge. For the greater part of the year, rabbits may be kept almost entirely upon food procured from the fields or garden. Although green food is naturally the food of rabbits, yet, because when injudiciously supplied It scours, and gives them the rot, it is erroneously supposed that it must be almost entirely witheld. It is true, that if it be given to them in a wet state after rain; if it consist of one kind of vegetable only; or if it be of a watery kind, a bad effect takes place ; but when the green food is given in sufficient variety, and with a small supply of good dry hay or oats daily, there is not the least fear in giving an unlimited quantity.
We will now give a list of many of the vegetables that are good food for rabbits. All through the summer there will be an ample supply from the garden and hedges. Dandelion, groundsel, sow-thistle, dock-leaves, peas-haulm, lettuce; strawberry, raspberry, and currant leaves; carrot, parsnip, potato, and horse-radish tops; all kinds of grasses, celery; French beans in the pod, vine dressing, apple parings, etc., etc. But we need not further enumerate, when there is scarcely any vegetable which rabbits will not eat; but before all other things they prefer parsley, carrot tops, French-beans, bath-leaves, stalks, and pods.
As soon as the peas and kidney-beans have done bearing, let them be pulled up and given to the rabbits, together with all the pods not wanted for use. In the autumn, when green food becomes scarcer, we give the waste scarlet-runner stalks, of which they are very fond ; also the leaves which now fall in abundance from the apple and other trees; and when the garden supplies fail, there is generally plenty of marsh-mallows, docks, ground-ivy, and grasses from the hedges, to form an abundance of green food for some time longer.
In the winter, carrots, parsnips, swede and common turnip, together with brewer's grains, mixed with toppings or pollard, supply the lack of fresh vegetables. We never use grains in the summer, because they so soon turn sour and mouldy, and much better food can then be obtained
We must not omit to tell you that rabbits like the young bark of trees, for this reason we supply ours in the winter with small branches and twigs, which they cither strip or entirely consume. We throw to the young ones the prunings of vines; currant, apple, and other trees; except such as laurel, and evergreens said to be poisonous. Nibbling these twigs is excellent amusement for rabbits, and beside keeping them in health, serves as a portion of their food.
Here, then, we have shown that there is do need for starving rabbits, when there is such an abundant variety of food suitable for them, and at all times to be procured. One writer observes, that when rabbits die, ninety-nine times out of the hundred, starvation is the malady And particularly short-feeding the doe, while, and before the has young ones.