The Accidental Smallholder Forum

Livestock => Other => Rabbits => Topic started by: Womble on September 25, 2020, 09:55:19 pm

Title: Warrening?
Post by: Womble on September 25, 2020, 09:55:19 pm
Hi folks, I was talking with a friend earlier and bemoaning the fact that we have no rabbits on our land that we can shoot occasionally for meat. He said "So why don't you try warrening?". Apparently this involves setting up a fenced enclosure and then letting rabbits live semi-wild within it, whilst making sure they have enough food, then taking some for the pot every now and then to control numbers.

However, I've consulted all of my smallholding / self sufficiency library and can't find anything about this method. All the books describe much more intensive methods involving cages, controlled breeding cycles, etc etc.

So, does this sound feasible? We have a patch of rough ground around a wee hillock which we could fence off easily enough, but would it work?  Also what kind of rabbits would we want? Should we try to import some wild ones, or use meatier domestic breeds?  Or should we put wild does to a commercial buck, as some kind of rabbitty terminal sire?

So many questions!

So, TAS hive mind, tell me - is this a possibility, or am I warrening down the wrong hole entirely?
Title: Re: Warrening?
Post by: arobwk on September 25, 2020, 10:20:46 pm
Interesting question! 

I will also look forward to any replies/advice !
Title: Re: Warrening?
Post by: Fleecewife on September 25, 2020, 10:57:11 pm
Ha - shades of Watership Down  :o

I think it sounds a great idea, except using a big boy sire - within weeks he's going to be in competition with his sons and thus water down his own super-genes. Oh for a sex linked rabit breed.

You would need to find out which breeds are hardy enough to live outdoors year round as I think some would not cope.  Or you could use wild rabbits and select the biggest to continue breeding, each time you cull some for the table.   You would perhaps need to supplement their food, especially in the winter.  I wonder how large an area you need to support a certain size of warren.

To earn a bit extra from the venture, write it up in monthly instalments and see if the smallholder mags would pay a worthwhile amount to feature your unfolding tale.
Title: Re: Warrening?
Post by: Womble on September 25, 2020, 11:22:15 pm
I think it sounds a great idea, except using a big boy sire - within weeks he's going to be in competition with his sons and thus water down his own super-genes.

Well, you say that, but I was thinking, if you started out with a trio to begin with, it would be pretty obvious which one big boy was, and then you could just only keep females for (line) breeding until you had as many breeding does as you wanted? We already did that with ducks and it worked out ok!  ;)

TBH the whole thing sounds more and more ridiculous, the more I read about it..... and hence the keener I get!! The tricky thing is knowing which parts of intensive breeding are actually required, and which parts have become custom and practice because for example they increase yield or avoid problems which wouldn't occur anyway in this kind of setup.

We're currently doing something similar with natural beekeeping ( On the surface, it looks completely unproductive - for example instead of harvesting honey in the autumn and hoping you leave enough reserves for the bees to survive the winter, you leave them with all of it over winter and then harvest whatever is left come Spring. However, when you look in more detail, it just seems like a better and more harmonious way to bee all round. So, who knows? Maybe our warrening adventure could be similar - or maybe it will be a total flop! (and at the end of the day, if nobody else is doing it, there is bound to be a reason why). I'm not sure about writing it up for a magazine, but if we go ahead, we'll write it up here for free and you can all have a laugh at our expense!!
Title: Re: Warrening?
Post by: Rosemary on September 26, 2020, 07:12:32 am
I remember seeing something about this years ago but it wasn't smallholding, it was done by the monasteries. Better bet a tonsure  :innocent:
Title: Re: Warrening?
Post by: Womble on September 26, 2020, 07:26:29 am
Cool!  We've already perfected brewing incredibly strong Belgian Trappist style beers, my lockdown haircut is decidedly monkish and the Shepherdess has taken a vow of celibacy..... so I reckon we're already most of the way there on that one, Rosemary!

Will trade strong beer for rabbits!  ;D
Title: Re: Warrening?
Post by: Steph Hen on September 26, 2020, 07:36:10 am
Sounds great to me. (Im talking about rabbits, I’m not sure where the celibacy or hair thing)

I’d stick with wild rabbits personally: they’ve proven themselves in Britain.

I don’t know much about rabbit genetics but guess you may need a few introductions from different places initially and may need to shoot the bucks selectively and keep reintroducing new bucks for blood lines?

ferreters should be able to supply some because the ferret just chase the bunnies out of the holes. So if you go along with some boxes they’d maybe give/sell you the first half doz of the day and supply an occasional good looking buck in the future.
Title: Re: Warrening?
Post by: chrismahon on September 26, 2020, 09:24:03 am
Won't they just tunnel under the fences and escape?

They do a lot of rabbit breeding here, but they are just kept in cages. Tried pork and rabbit sausages last week and they were delicious, so we've bought more.
Title: Re: Warrening?
Post by: landroverroy on September 26, 2020, 11:38:03 am
I would have thought that if they do escape they are going to come back for the easy food supply? But you'd have to control the numbers pretty effectively if you have near neighbours, or in no time the entire surrounding would be overrun by rabbits.
Title: Re: Warrening?
Post by: Womble on September 26, 2020, 07:41:13 pm
I had thought about escapees.... but given that there are hardly any rabbits around here at the moment, I doubt we'd end up over-run with them, and as Roy says, I'm hopeful that if they broke out, they wouldn't go far at least initially, if that's where their burrows were.

Truthfully though, I honestly don't know, and am kinda hoping that somebody who does will come along sooner or later to tell me why this is all a thoroughly awful idea!
Title: Re: Warrening?
Post by: Steph Hen on September 26, 2020, 08:06:00 pm
Nah, just give it a go. Otherwise, go and ask on ‘the hunting Life’ forum. Some of them are bound to have done this. Good luck!
Title: Re: Warrening?
Post by: Fleecewife on September 26, 2020, 11:27:36 pm
I have a feeling the old warrens, such as owned by monks, did have some kind of wall, berm or barrier to keep the rabbits in.  That was more because times were colder and the rabbits were more recently imported from Europe, than for fears of overpopulating the local area.  I have a dim recollection of seeing a diagram of a warren in a book, but it would have been at least half a century ago so I don't remember the details.
Title: Re: Warrening?
Post by: Womble on September 27, 2020, 05:39:30 pm
I found this link ( from English Heritage, and it's really interesting:

In the Middle Ages, if you wanted to invest in a luxury business, rabbits were a safe bet. Rabbit warrens or farms were an excellent way of gaining an income from poor, sandy or heath land.Rabbits are not native to Britain. Their bones have been discovered on Roman sites in southern and eastern England, and we know that the Romans valued rabbits for both their fur and their meat. But they seem to have died out here after the Romans left – there is no Old English word for rabbit.

It was the Normans who reintroduced them in the late 11th or 12th century. Ill-adapted to the English climate and easy prey for native predators, rabbits (or coneys, as mature rabbits were then known) had to be kept in special areas or warrens – often walled or fenced to prevent them from escaping. Their rarity meant that their meat was prized as a delicacy, while their fur was used for trimming clothes. In the 13th century one rabbit was worth more than a workman’s daily wage.


It wasn’t until the 18th century that rabbits began to be seen as a food for the poor, since by then they were ubiquitous in the wild.

Only in areas like the Brecklands and Dartmoor – where the dry sandy soil may have been poor for crops, but was ideal for burrowing – was land still given over to rabbit farming. The area surrounding Thetford Warren Lodge was one of the most productive rabbit warrens in the Brecklands all the way through until the early 20th century.
Title: Re: Warrening?
Post by: Fleecewife on September 27, 2020, 07:11:13 pm
It mentions Thetford Chase and there are still lots of rabbits there. One year about 10 years ago was a bad year for myxie, and the stink of rabbit decomp driving along the A11 was extreme.  Myxie is something which could still wipe out your warren.
Myxie apparently changed rabbit behaviour in some places by making them abandon their burrows and live on the surface like hares do.
Title: Re: Warrening?
Post by: Scarlet.Dragon on January 01, 2021, 12:25:51 am
VHD/VHD2 is prevalent in many areas now and likely the reason we've seen such a decline in our rabbit populations.  I remember they used to be like carpets around here, now if I see half a dozen I think we're doing well.
Title: Re: Warrening?
Post by: GBov on January 13, 2021, 01:24:13 am
When you think about it first it seems like a good idea, esp as it has been done in the past, but there are several reasons why it really should not be tried now.

1) To keep them in your fence MUST be dug down at least 4 feet and more is better. Rabbits dig.  They dig all the time and never stop, going deeper and farther, and did I mention they never, ever, stop digging?

2) When confined on the same earth pathogens build up faster than resistance breeds into your stock.

3) Most does and none of your bucks will know how to dig a burrow and getting underground is the first step to keeping safe from above-ground predators and the weather.  The does will, if they survive the elements, start to dig but you will lose many of them to cold and wet.  Does dig, bucks do not. 

4) RATS!!!  Sad to say, even in cages, kits are often carried away by rats to be eaten later.  Rat proofing a colony situation can be done but it is costly and very, VERY hard to do!  Rats are the single largest reason colonies fail.

5) Even the very best buck will not be able to catch the interest of wild does, he is not the right stuff for them.  The other way round might work but remember, rabbits breed for the conditions and what you will wind up within a very few years is a huge expense and lots of effort for what look like wild rabbits.  Working with wild stock, a 50/50 mix, or purebred, you will end up with little brown rabbits.

6) Handling and dispatching a rabbit that is tame is an easy (and stress-free for the rabbit) job but trying to catch or shoot in the kind of setup you have described will be neither easy nor stress-free, for anyone, you included.

7) Breeding in a controlled environment is enough of a challenge for any new rabbit keeper so adding in mud, disease, rats, and preditors is a one-way road to heartache.

8) And last but not least, rabbits are bottomless pits so even 2 or more acres of good grass will soon be gone and you will be feeding huge numbers (if they actually do well) with very little return.  The market for meat and hides is small.  How many rabbits do you actually want to eat?

If caged rabbits do not appeal to you then you can try a colony setting or a modified colony set up or go with properly huge cages and the breed of your choice.  All rabbits are made of meat, after all.

Anything you could ever wish to know about colony raising of rabbits - pros and cons - can be found here as well as just about anything else rabbit related you could ever need.  Members range from hundreds plus meat breeders to a single pet bunny so realistic and reliable advice can be obtained without activating the "OMG how could you EAT a FLUFFY BUNNY!!!" crowd.

Rabbits are endlessly fascinating and fun to raise but really, don't set yourself up to fail.  It isn't fair to the bunnies.

Title: Re: Warrening?
Post by: Womble on January 13, 2021, 09:13:15 am
Hi @GBov , thank you for taking the time to write such a detailed response - it's much appreciated, and the information has been noted.

IME, the best response to "OMG how could you EAT a cute {sheep / lamb / duck / rabbit}" is "is this a rhetorical question, or are you looking for recipe ideas?"  ;)
Title: Re: Warrening?
Post by: SallyintNorth on January 13, 2021, 11:11:06 am

IME, the best response to "OMG how could you EAT a cute {sheep / lamb / duck / rabbit}" is "is this a rhetorical question, or are you looking for recipe ideas?"  ;)

 :roflanim: :roflanim: