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Free Range Bunnies: A Story of Rabbit Emancipation

Mama Grey comes to see if I have any bunny treats.
Mama Grey comes to see if I have any bunny treats.

Is it Okay to Let My Bunny Roam Free?

Setting my bunny free from its cage is one of the most enjoyable experiences I have had since owning pets. It has always seemed sad to me that rabbits are almost always kept in cages. Imagine a dog or cat spending their entire life suspended in a cage, their feet never once touching the ground. Most animal-lovers would despise such an idea. Yet it is perfectly acceptable to do this to a rabbit. Bunnies love to hop, raise up on their hind legs, stretch, run, kick, and dig. Who am I to take away these bunny liberties?

After deciding I was not going to abide by the “cage your bunny” rule, I was still a little nervous about bunny’s first adventures on the ground. Obviously predators are the first enemy of a free bunny. What about diseases? Pests? Off to the internet I went, determined to see what Google had to say about this. Interestingly…not much. Through my own searches, I found lots of good information about rabbit care. That is, rabbit care for people who raise them in cages or inside their homes. Yes, it seems popular nowadays to litter box-train your bunny and let him roam around your house like a cat! Sounds like fun, but animals living inside my house is not an option for me right now. I already have a boyfriend and he is enough to clean up after. Where are the articles on raising bunnies out of their cage and outdoors?

Well, this is my attempt at adding one. I still have not found all the answers, but I have some interesting observations to add to the subject of free-range bunnies. I look at it as an ongoing experiment. Yes, my bunnies are more at risk to predators and disease since they are no longer confined to their cage. But I like to think that even if they meet an untimely death, they at least got to (literally) “kick up their heels” in life. Bunnies absolutely love life on the ground, and why wouldn’t they?

I got my first rabbit to use in Easter photos with children. After doing this for a couple years, I learned that rabbits are much easier to handle when they are young. My first rabbit was a female, who is pictured above and below. I have begun calling her “Mama Gray” because of her lovely color and because she has since birthed multiple litters. She started out in a cage all alone.

Nothing is sadder than a bunny frown.
Nothing is sadder than a bunny frown.

The Sweet Taste of Freedom

Next Easter, I aquired 2 more baby bunnies and put them together in a cage beside Miss Gray. They were 2 white ones, and I was not sure yet of their sex. They aquired the names “Stew” and “Gerald” from some of my friends. After a long steamy summer of panting and almost dying in their cages, autumn finally came and the growing fur balls began getting frisky. Stew had begun chasing Gerald round and round the cage relentlessly. I began to think Gerald was a girl and was obviously being tortured by Stew’s insatiable adolescent yearnings. Finally it was just too much. “That is enough of that, mister. Your horny butt is being set free!” I proclaimed as I let Stew’s fuzzy white feet get dirty for the first time. It was liberating to watch and wonder what his little bunny brain might be thinking as he explored the world for the first time. The taste of a leaf, the smell of bark, the feeling of nails scratching the soil, the freedom to run in any direction for quite a long time without stopping. How exhilarating it must be!

Stew had been liberated! After a few days, he had survived quite well, though his coat was no longer virgin white. You see, all along, under Stew’s cage, there were other animals living. A pot-bellied pig, a rooster, and 5 hens also call this area of dirt and trees home and were interested in meeting Stew. Even though Stew was not in a cage, he was still in a fence. The fence is about 50 x 40 feet and keeps the pig from roaming the yard. [I would allow this, if I could find a way to train my pig from peeing on my porch. Shoo-wee!] The fence is not buried though, so I figured it would not keep Stew contained for long. To my surprise, he did not venture out of the fenced area for about 4 months.

Rabbits love pellets and hay even when they have their choice of grasses.
Rabbits love pellets and hay even when they have their choice of grasses.

A Free Life

Soon after Stew, Gerald and Gray were set free of their cage. I found that the initial caging taught the rabbits to associate me with food. When I went outside to feed them, they would hop up to me. I began feeding them by hand anytime I could so that they would stay moderately tame. I recommend hand-feeding (or holding the cup they eat from) as early and as frequently as possible.

I knew they needed a home. We adapted an existing shelter to include a front wall and a small opening that was big enough for bunnies but would keep hens and pigs OUT. It also had a hinged access door for cleaning out poop, and putting in food and water.

It is true that rabbits can easily be litter box trained because they usually choose a designated pooping spot. You can watch for this spot (usually a private corner somewhere near to their food) and place a potty there. (Any container that will not easily be tipped over should work.) The trick to this is to let the bunny choose the spot. Then try not to invade their space very much. Bunnies like their privacy. You could try attaching a food dispenser in a way that you do not have to invade the space to feed. Also I have found that in the spring and summer, when there is plenty of grass growing, I barely need to feed them. I still provide pellets in a number of ways. If they hop up to me, I hand feed or pour some feed on the ground in front of them. Sometimes I toss some pellets around on the ground inside the fenced area to encourage them to come back to "home base".

I have found that "home base" is best established by initial caging or fencing for the first month or two. Babies that grow up on the ground and have never been caged tend to stray further from home, increasing their chances of being eaten or lost to the unknown. Although it does depend on the personality of each bunny. Some of my buns that were never caged are still in eyesight 90% of the time, though they do not approach me to be fed. I do believe having multiple buns (at least 2) also increases their desire to hang around.


Rabbit house with access door open.
Rabbit house with access door open.

Buns Gone Wild

The bunnies seemed to enjoy getting to know each other and the other animals. I learned some interesting things about bunny behavior. Here are some things you may not know.

1. Bunnies, like other animals, have distinct personalities. Some are more shy than others. Some like to be touched and some do not. Some like to share food with a pig and some do not.

2. Bunnies are social. They love to hang out with each other. When they greet another bunny, they touch noses. I have also seen 2 male bunnies fight to the point of injury. However, the injured buck still stayed with the group.

3. Bunnies are nocturnal, meaning they are more active at night. During the day, my rabbits love to munch grass, then stretch out in the dirt in a cool, safe spot. They are cold-weather animals, and prefer temps around 60 degrees. Letting bunnies dig dens in the ground gives them a place to hide and also an escape from the blistering southern summer heat.

4. Some plants taste yummy to rabbits and some do not. Coleus is especially yummy. Daffodils are not. Some plants may be harmful if eaten and should be removed. I have many decorative plants that I have not removed. I think the rabbits may know which ones are harmful. So far, so good...

4. Male rabbits spray urine all over everything if they are not neutered. They also rub their chin on everything to mark their scent. Both sexes love to strip bark from small trees and chew on roots or anything woody. So far, I have not had any buns get sick from doing this.

5. Female rabbits can have babies every 28 days. They can get pregnant on the same day they give birth. When a rabbit starts pulling out her fur, or running around with leaves or hay in her mouth, it means she is trying to make a nest for her babies. Babies can be born underground and not be seen for weeks.

6. Bunnies can be quite capable of holding their own in a fight. I have seen a bunny do a flying ninja kick to a pig face accompanied by an aerial twist. I have also seen a confident male bunny chase a large rooster around a yard.

My bunnies have now been living, breeding, and roaming free in my yard for over a year. They go in and out of the fenced area as they choose. Why have they not been eaten by predators? Truthfully, I am surprised every morning that they survived another night. I think these are the key factors:

-I live on a large farm at the end of a dead end road. I do not have a public road or a neighbor in sight. I do not have the danger of a hungry neighboring dog.

-My own dogs are extremely passive and have been trained to leave rabbits alone. Once I caught my cat chasing a bunny and yelled out loudly to break it up. So far, it hasn't happened again.

-One of my dogs is a self-trained guard dog. During the night, he barks at nosy visitors, and chases them away. He has no idea he is keeping rabbits from becoming tasty treats, he is only doing his dogly duty.

-Rabbits are naturally afraid. They know to run and hide when they hear a hawk. I have allowed them to find refuge in certain areas like the rarely-used barbeque pit out back. Do not shut them off to areas they choose for hide-outs.

-I do not use any pesticides or chemicals on my property that could be harmful to animals.

I understand that not everyone has these perfect circumstances for letting pet buns run wild. But I do think it could be considered more often, with some adjustments to the environment. If your yard is not protected, consider a fenced-in area with a top and buried sides. Remember that free-ranging bunnies is not typical because rabbits are prey animals. However, rabbits are social and curious creatures that deserve more than a boring cage their entire lives.

Nothing thrills me like watching bunnies lounge together next to a shade tree. They must love the feel of the cool dirt on their bellies, the endless choice of grasses to munch, and that tingle of excitement when they hop-kick through the air. Free at last!

How Does Your Bunny Live?

My bunny spends most of his time:

  • In a cage or hutch, off of the ground.
  • In a cage or fenced area on the ground.
  • In a cage or hutch inside my home.
  • Roaming free in my home.
  • Roaming free outside my home.
See results without voting

Comments 9 comments

Ghost32 3 years ago

I voted, but cheated, and must now confess: Our bunnies do roam free outside our home--because they are wild desert cottontails. We have a rabbit hide for them, a 20' stick of 6" PVC pipe with bends at each end and buried in dirt over the center section. And like yours, food is the big kicker. So far, they're going through 12 pounds of Walmart carrots per week, supplementing whatever else they get from the wild (where they're browsing for most of the day).

We're also friends with the local pack of coyotes, which in interesting "impossibility"--buddying up with both buns and predators. Mostly, it works. Generations of rabbits have come to realize we're the good guys, and the individuals that hang closer to the house tend to live longer before joining a feral canine for lunch.

Of course, there are also rabbit eating reptiles and red-tailed hawks in the area, so it ain't easy being both cute and yummy at the same time.

Awesome Hub, great photos. Voted Up and More.


spiritwood profile image

spiritwood 2 years ago from Wales, UK

what a gorgeous hub this is!free ranging house bunnies- huge giant french lops. they were amazing animals :)


Ginny 2 years ago

My two buns were first free range indoors but the mess and bunstruction was too much so I moved them ouside to one of the chicken pens. Then I had to put chickens in it so I put them in the garage, they got out last night and stayed out. Haven't seen them today yet, but wanted to know how far they might go. Now I will at least put thie "cage" outside in a big wooden "box" with doors and all their stuff there so maybe they will come home and be free range outdoors. We have LOTS of predators which worries me. I was hoping they would do what the chickens do and free range until supper then go back in the pen/coop area. If I thought they could just live with the chickens I'd let them. So I'm on here trying to figure out what to do for them so I see them again. Yesterday they had a blast and when I called them they would show up. So far today, I haven't seen them at all. Of course naming them Freedom and Liberty probably just added to their need to be just that. Also, Freedom was pulling her fur but they are both females so I don't know why she would think she is building a nest. Any help would be great!


wonderdawn 2 years ago

Hey Ginny! Love your buns' names! From my experience, bunnies live great with chickens. They love corn too :) I have seen a chicken peck a bunny square on the head for eating its corn, but they don't seem to mind much, they just move along and keep eating! I have read that sometimes females pull their fur even when they are not pregnant. It is a "false pregnancy", a psychological thing. I guess some femmes want to be pregnant so badly that they imagine it to be true. If you have lots of predators, I think putting their shelter box in with the chickens is a great idea. They are probably just checking things out and will come back. They will get used to your feeding schedule and food may lure them in with the chickens. I have noticed bunnies sometimes do not smell or see food as easily as you would think, so good luck! Also, rabbits are more active at night (especially in the heat of the summer) so they do not "go to roost" like chickens. They may dig holes too. Especially the one who thinks she is building a nest.


Ginny 2 years ago

Thanks for getting back to me! I have seen the girls, everyday so far and usually a couple of times a day but they won't let me get close enough to catch them. They are living in our woods but very close to the rabbit house I put together for them, which is near the chicken coops and they hang out under a big pine tree with the chickens when the chickens are out, so we're doing well so far. I can't get this rabbit house into the chicken pens as it's too big and having just gotten a cast off I can't build one but hope to before winter. I figure when the 18 chickens are big enough for the main coop I will give the buns back this area they were in and build their own place for winter there and they can share the pen with the chickens, but not the coop. I think it's great to let them free range and everyday I am feeling better about it.

I like your box and mine is similar but I need to put a small hole in it for them. I don't think they go in it right now as a small pen is up against it and I'm sure they think if they go in, they are stuck.

Ditto, ditto, ditto to your entire blog about this subject. In just these few days I have enjoyed and we have experienced so much of what you type about. We don't have a fence though, and what I have learned is the road worries me more than predators! They seem fascinated with it so I chase them back to the back yard. We live on 60 acres of woods, blueberry fields, but also the 2 lane highway out front that is very busy during the day. We live in Maine so winter will be an issue.

Thanks again for starting this subject and continue writing about it, maybe more people will do it!


wonderdawn profile image

wonderdawn 2 years ago from Vanleer, Tennessee, USA, Earth Author

This is a great link to an EXPERT on bunnies. I am saving her for future rabbit questions:

http://en.allexperts.com/q/Rabbits-703/revolution-...

In this link, she is responding to a question about bot flies/using Revolution on an outdoor pet rabbit. Since writing this hub, I have encountered bot fly larvae (also called "Wolf Worms" here in southern USA) with my cage-free bunnies. Not sure if they are prevalent in Maine, check with your vet. The worm forms a visible sore on the bunny. It can often be removed safely, if you get it without it spreading. It is sad but true that free range bunnies experience more dangers. I still believe that buns deserve a free life. But I have not yet found any prevention medicines for outdoor parasites.


Alycea 2 years ago

Thanks for the insight and info. I take care of 3 little dwarf rabbits who now live outside, though in a large enclosed area. We also have ducks and chickens. They all look after each other, with our Cockerel being the head of the pack. Interestingly our chickens will visit and even fly up on to the edge of the rabbit enclosure, but never go in. It is very obviously the rabbit territory and the others don't invade. The rabbits have gotten out a few times, but never stray far from the enclosure. We keep them in an enclosure, and in a large rabbit hutch during the night, as we do have foxes in the area. All our animals go in for the night, but during the day have the run of the grounds.

Of our 3 rabbits, 2 are female. The male has been neutered. They all look after each other, grooming each other, sleeping or napping snuggled together. They also greet each other with nose bumps, as well as human visitors. They are amazingly sociable creatures. I get greeted with great excitement when I visit (as they know that I generally bring a treat). I often take a book to read down in the enclosure and they like to hang out with me, which also generally brings the ducks and chickens around (also looking for treats), so I am generally surrounded by 12 animals.

We made the enclosure using hurdles, made from branches fastened together and small hole chicken wire, sort of like see through walls. We then extended the enclosure further when we were given one of those large trampoline nets, almost trebling the space. We think we have reached the optimum size now as the rabbits seem to be very content with it. We move the rabbit enclosure about once a week to give them new sources of grass, as this is their favourite food. They do like hard food and hay, but generally tend to only eat this at nights or if the weather outside is not so nice.

It has been a slow process of moving them outside, watching and seeing how they adapt. They went from a small cage inside at night to their hutch outside during the day. The outside cage was about twice the size of the inside one and it became noticeable that they didn't like being cooped up at night in the smaller cage. We then increased their inside cage and then we tried extending their outside hutch, allowing them to go outside around it in a small enclosed area. They so obviously loved the extra space that extending the cage became rather addictive. But the increase in running, jumping, binkying and then relaxing so completely was so noticeable, they were so very obviously happier with the larger area.

I read at the beginning of taking care of my little charges that if you watch rabbits they will talk to you with their actions, and how right this has been. Their eyes in particular are so expressive, but also their body language, how they greet you, the odd noises they do make (like their equivalent of purring, or humming when they eat) and just generally how they act around you easily tells you what they are feeling, from hapiness, to joy, to contentment, to having a tantrum (we had a lot more of these when we had the smaller cages - now they are virtually non-existent).

Phantom pregnancies was mentioned and I wanted to add that we had a few this spring and summer. Both our females went through it, first one, then the other, then a month later again. It was definitely a 28 day cycle. They both built amazing nests, took them about 24 hours, then sat on the nest for a few hours and that was that. They then got off and ignored the nest and went back to normal, no residual affects.

I have been surprised and a little frustrated by how few people let their rabbits outside, or seem to be afraid to do so. My rabbits so obviously love the space they have to explore and exercise in. I do worry about them, as I do with all our animals since we do have foxes in the area, but at the same time they are so very obviously happy as they are now, outside, and there is no way I could take that away from them.


Savi 3 months ago

I don't know how to train my bunny to stay in my back yard so I have to chase her around the whole thime


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wonderdawn 2 months ago from Vanleer, Tennessee, USA, Earth Author

Savi, as I said in the article, it is best to have your bun caged for a while first so that she associates you with food. Feeding by hand or holding her food container is recommended. The more tame your bunny is when you set them free, the more likely they are to stay nearby and to come back to you. If you do not have a fence around your yard, your bunny will have no way of knowing how far you want it to roam. When you set a bun totally free, you will not get to choose how far it goes. If you can't stand letting your bunny out of sight, or if you think it is too risky to let the roam, you are better off keeping her in an enclosure or inside.

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