We built this tractor back in 2011. I’ve since gone through multiple variations and unique tractors and this remains one of the best designs we’ve used. I originally published this on a Blogger blog but am collecting all of it into one post here on my website.
This part first published 3/28/11 and the rest followed over the next couple of weeks, current notes in italics:
It’s been a long-time goal of mine to raise meat rabbits on pasture. Working out the details has taken forever! There are so many things to consider with pastured rabbits because they’re so adept at escape. After hours and hours of looking at hundreds of chicken tractors, I think we’ve finally figured out how to make our own rabbit tractor.
I plan to start small with 2 does and a buck and since no one pastures rabbits I have no idea how much space to give them. I figured a good start would be 4’x12′. 4′ wide will fit between our planned raised garden beds. We’re going to move the pen every day or as needed to make sure they have plenty of fresh grass.
This size turned out to be a good size for 2 does and their litters, moving every day on great pasture with free choice alfalfa in a feeder on one wall.
We started yesterday with the base. There are many possibilities for a bottom, but it needs to be something the rabbits can’t dig themselves out of, while still providing soft footing and access to the grass. We used 2×4 wire since we already had some.
2×4 wire is ideal if you have a perfectly flat pasture surface. If you have kits, they can fit out under the sides with even the smallest dip in the grass. I would now use rabbit clips to attach a 6-8″ wide strip of 1″ hardware cloth to the 2×4 wire around all edges. This will prevent kits from escaping while still allowing for a more limited grazing around the edges.
***Building the rabbit tractor took a lot longer than I expected…somewhere close to 8 hours altogether I think. We had to do a lot of figuring with the cattle panels to come up with a height that is both roomy and sturdy – 16′ was too wobbly and would have required supports.
We ended up with 12′ cattle panels, because that left us with 4′ to use elsewhere. If I wasn’t worried about wasting some, I would probably go with 14′. 12′ makes the total height inside just about 5′. I’m 5’4″ and only have to duck a little bit but it would be nice to stand up straight.
The next version we made used 13′ cattle panels, which allowed me to stand upright but results in 3′ of cattle panel left. It’s hard to do much with 3′, so if we did a standing height tractor again, I’d stick with 12′.
The frame is 4′ wide by 12′ long and we used 3 cattle panels which are 50″ each. That gave us a little bit of an overhang out the back which I’m hoping will keep the nest area a little less drafty.
For the nest area in the back we used a cut up piece of cattle panel that ended up being 40″ x 50″. It’s held on with wire ties on the sides, but in the back we bent the long pieces of the open section of cattle panel down to add strength. Both my kids can sit on it.
I wanted a nest area off the ground so they could have options in our hot summers. They can go into their nest box, or lounge on the plywood, or go under the plywood where the tarp doesn’t reach so it’s shady but has better airflow.
I really like the platform and so did the rabbits. Not only does it provide an area for them to sit on, which they love, it also gave me a place to sit when I went to visit with them. It made moving the tractor much easier too, because the rabbits quickly learned to jump up there when moving, keeping feet safe from the motion of the wire.
This is Benny, our gone wild Lionhead who lost most of his lion head this winter. We got lucky and caught him while he was eating so he’s in a cage inside the rabbit tractor as I write this, being bait to lure Joon in too.
1″ square hardware cloth is wired in with rabbit clips 3′ high around the entire tractor, and to the top at the end where the nest box is. We made sure it was very very secure so no predators can pop through the wire. We really don’t have predator problems here, but if we ever do the rabbits will be safe!
In a subsequent tractor, we skimped and used 1″ chicken wire. My German Shepherd, who obsesses over everything but rabbits most of all, ran laps endlessly around that tractor when he was outside. One day, I found him inside with my rabbit buck, who was unharmed (although a little soggy from dog slobber) but shaken up over the incident. Hardware cloth is definitely the way to go for wiring the sides.
We also laid down 2×4 wire on the bottom to discourage digging. Hopefully we don’t also discourage nibbling but the spaces are large enough I think it will be OK.
When it was all put together, it turned out to be about 150 lbs. I wouldn’t have thought 150 would be too much to drag but it doesn’t want to move. I’m pretty bummed because I thought it would turn out better that way. We’re going today to see about getting some wheels at the hardware shop. I’ll update with how that turns out.
The wheels helped a lot, but it was still heavy to move. Kids wouldn’t be able to do it, but you could easily hook it up to a riding lawn mower or 4-wheeler (yes, 4-wheeler, all you quad people) to move around. My own personal preference is to make something that can be moved by hand, because my ultimate goal is to be able to live without power tools/equipment.
All in all, I like the design but next time I want to try with PVC pipe and chicken wire. This thing is too heavy!
The total cost for this came to about $150, if I remember right. Many computer changes later and I’ve lost the original, fully detailed article and cost breakdown, but cattle panels are $22 each, 2×4″ wire is about $1/foot (12′ on bottom) and hardware cloth is around $3/foot (24′ total), I think.
Fast forward to today.
We used this tractor for a number of years. The main problem I had with it was its lack of scale. You cannot grow a good number of rabbits when each group of two does requires a 4×12′ tractor. We’re aiming for larger production though, so I think for a small family, this would be a great way to do it.
I also would have loved to use something like tin roofing instead of a tarp that breaks down after a year or two, but the extra weight would have made moving this one impossible without a couple of people or mechanical help.
We sold ours when we moved, but in the year and a half we’ve been here, I’ve wished we had it multiple times. I’ll write another blog post about colony raising rabbits, which is another method we’ve done with mixed results, but this spring we’re building another version of rabbit tractor and going back to that model of raising.
I’ll post another post about that, along with detailed pictures and instructions once we figure out the prototype.