Deep Litter Method for Rabbits

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Mathurine in her deceptively empty cage. She has just demolished a pound of wild greens and the remnants have been folded into the bedding

Lately I’ve been trying something new in my rabbitry, the deep litter method.

Many people use this method with chickens, pigs or cattle; but it isn’t something you would normally think to use with rabbits, unless they’re conveniently on wire like mine.

My cages used to be about a foot off the ground, and this meant I needed to do a thorough cleaning every week. More often if there were growing litters. Most of my bunnies are currently housed over a concrete floor, and I use pine pellet bedding underneath to absorb the urine. This works great because wood pellets require a good nitrogen source to start breaking down properly, and the urine provides that. It creates amazing compost in a very short time.

Not long ago however, I raised my cages up another foot. Not only did this make it easier to clean underneath them, but I noticed that if I just stirred up the litter daily with my garden hoe and kept adding more pellets to wetter areas as needed, that the bedding was beginning to compost under the cages. There was a lovely earthy smell in the barn and pellet use was cut down to about one tenth of what I was using before. The 6″ to 12″ thick layer is also much better at absorbing urine and water spills.

Another added benefit is it’s pretty much ready to go right into the garden once you do finally clean it out. I plan to leave a 2″ layer of old material underneath once I do this, in order to reinoculate the new bedding. I’ve read that commercial chicken farmers actually have a lower mortality rate for new chicks if they are introduced to well-aged deep litter bedding as opposed to a freshly sanitized clean environment, because the good bugs establish slowly and fight off the bad bugs, which establish more quickly. It makes sense to me.

Everything that falls into the bedding gets mixed in and helps the breakdown process along. Hay, straw, bits of vegetation that the rabbits drop, feed pellets, shredded paper and fur. Since I get a lot of free used coffee grounds from the local Starbucks, I sometimes sprinkle a few cups over the top.

In some areas, when I fluff up the bedding I find colonies of maggots. These spots have the blackest and richest looking compost in them, and I will sometimes scoop a bunch of it out and toss it into the chicken coop for the girls to pick through. The maggots are a great and free high protein treat for them.

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