Jan 28, 2014

Waste Management

Today's topic is one that is not often discussed, but everyone who raises rabbits needs to deal with.  To put it politely, it's "waste management".  This won't be a comprehensive discussion--I haven't actually composted rabbit manure, only tossed it straight on the garden--but I'll go over methods that I've used.

The  main thing to remember is that whatever method you use, you need to contain the manure at least once a week, especially in warmer months, when flies are out.  This is because the life cycle of a fly is as little as 8 days from egg to adult (blow flies are only 143 hours, which is just over 5 days).  If you don't keep ahead of them, you'll have a lot of flies, which increases your risk for fly strike.

Besides flies, it's still important to keep the area clean in order to keep ammonia levels down.  Anyone who's ever kept a rabbit inside their home knows just how quickly ammonia smells can build up in just a few days. Ammonia can cause respiratory issues with rabbits, besides just being unpleasant to be around. It takes me about three days to notice ammonia smells from my house rabbit's cage, which has ammonia-locking cat litter in the tray.  So unless you have an extremely well-ventilated area and very porous flooring (e.g., well-drained dirt), you'll want to clean up just to keep ammonia down.

For people who have cages that are allowed to drop directly on the floor, or dirt, things are a fair bit more simple than for people who have to deal with trays or stacked cages.  If you have single-tier cages with plenty of clearance underneath, it's as simple as shoveling it out into a container or delivery vessel (e.g., wheelbarrow).  In the past, I've dumped directly on the garden, dumped into a wheelbarrow or wagon and dumped that into the garden.  Currently, I shovel everything into feedbags, which I can then sell, give away, or use in my own garden.
Shoveling manure into feed bag.
Using back of rake to scrape under cages.
Right now, most of my cages are in two- or three-
tier stacks, and while the bottom level doesn't have tray, it has a rather low clearance below the bottom cage (maybe six inches).  I've found that the most practical method for getting everything cleaned out from under the bottom cage is to use a short-handled, flat-backed garden rake.  I could probably use a short-handled hoe, but I don't have one, and I find that the tines on the rake are handy for breaking up piles.  Once I have everything scraped out from under the cage, I can shovel the pile into a feed bag (or wheelbarrow).
Plywood floor under cage after scraping.

No matter how well you scrape, you'll never get everything off the floor, but you can get close.  If you really want to get clean, you'd probably have to use a scrub brush with soap, water, and maybe a little CLR to get rid of the calcium.  Who wants to do that?  Just remember that the floor will never be the same after you've kept rabbits on it.

Square-nosed shovel fits squarely into trays.
If you have stackers, you most likely also have trays (although some crafty people have rigged up slanted dividers to direct manure behind the cages instead). When I first had trays, I would just dump the trays directly into a wheelbarrow or onto the garden, and scrape anything that stuck after the initial drop.  I've noticed that the trays don't get very clean that way.

Tray that's never been dumped--
only scraped clean with a shovel--
since it was purchased a year ago.
Notice it still has some galvanizing.
My favorite method for cleaning out trays is to use a square-nosed shovel.  A square-nosed shovel fits nicely into the corners of the tray, and allows me to scrape the entire thing clean.  Of course, it still won't be completely clean, but it's much better off than when it's just been dumped out.

Pile of manure in back corner of tray.
Occasionally, you run into tricky situations with clearing out trays.  I have a few rabbits that insist on using one of the back corners for their potty station.  While it's nice that they have one spot, it can make things difficult for removing the tray, especially when clearance for the tray is narrow.  Clearance is usually only an issue in hutches.  Commercial-style stackers usually don't have a lip hanging underneath the cage which would catch the pile.

Rotated tray so that the pile came out first.
If that tray is over another cage, I try to avoid dumping it into the cage underneath (no one wants to get showered with rabbit berries, and they certainly don't want it in their feeder).  I have a plywood board that I can slip on top of the lower cage to catch (or at least redirect) any spills.  Then, since it's in a hutch, there's room to rotate the tray so that the pile comes out first, rather than at the back of the tray.  The result is that the lip under the cage pushes the pile back into the tray instead of out (and likely into the lower cage).

Sprinkling stall freshener on tray.
No matter if you use trays or just scrape floor or dirt, it's usually a good idea to spread the trays (or floor) with some sort of odor control.  I use a stall freshener, like the kind that horse-owners use.  I could probably make some, myself, if I had a grinder.  It's essentially just ground up corn cobs soaked in essential oils (citronella, clove, peppermint) and garlic powder, which keeps the smell down and prevents flies.  During the warmer months, I also dust the trays with diatomaceous earth, which works mechanically to kill bugs.

These are by no means the only ways to do things for rabbit waste management, but it's what works for me.