We have kept rabbits for a lot of years, and we've seen a lot of rabbit hutch plans. Some of those plans worked really well, and we continue to use them or variations thereof, many years after first building them. Other plans proved to be rather flimsy or poorly designed, and didn't last very long. We offer a collection of plans here which should provide years of service with only minimal to moderate maintenance. But before we get into looking at the actual plans, let's talk about some basic design principles, and typical rabbit hutch construction materials.
Rabbit hutch plans are all variations on some basic principles. One principle is the amount of space needed by a typical rabbit. While different rabbit breeds vary in size and weight, all rabbits need similar features in their housing:
1) enough room to lay down, sit up and turn around. Don't forget that a rabbit's ears are often one-third to one-half their body length, and normal rabbit behaviors often require that their ears be upright. Rabbits also use their ears to help regulate their body temperature, particular in hot climates. So allowing room for their ears to be upright is a requirement, not a luxury. Minimum cage measurements for a moderate-sized rabbit would be 18" tall x 18" deep (front to back) x 24" long (side to side).
2) A feeder and waterer, both of which must be easily accessible for daily feeding and refilling. Many readily-available feeders and waterers are designed to be hung from the sides of a wire panel, and go through openings in that wire panel so that they can be refilled without opening the cage.
3) An access door which is located such that the rabbit owner can reach into all portions of the cage, and large enough for the rabbit to be put in or taken from the cage without banging the rabbit against the sides of the opening. A typical opening size would be 12" square. Some cage doors open into the hutch, while others swing open outside of the hutch. either approach works but some owners have a strong preference for one or the other. The cage access door will need a latch that the rabbit cannot accidentally open.
4) All rabbits need shelter from both intense sun, rain and snow, and wind. There are a lot of different ways to accomplish this, and any given solution needs to take into account the local conditions. In general, a roof with generous overhangs is sufficient to provide adequate shade and protection from precipitation, while an enclosed area of the hutch, or a solid wall (or two) will provide adequate protection from wind.
5) Any materials used in the construction of the hutch must be durable and easily cleaned. Two of the most common materials are wire panels for the walls, floor and cage top, while wood is typically used as a frame around the wire cage. Wood is also used to provide a roof over the cage to provide shade and shelter from rain and snow. Both wood and metal wire will require maintenance over time. Different designs will feature different specific options or requirements for that maintenance, but all designs will need to allow for cleaning the cage floor from manure and urine buildup. Even wire mesh floors which allow most urine and manure to pass through, will slowly build up a mat of shed hair, spilled feed, and dried manure which didn't pass through. If that mat is allowed to build up, urine will collect on the surface. These materials will need to be cleaned from time to time or even metal wire will quickly rust away.
With these guidelines in mind, let's take a look at specific materials which will help us design a rabbit hutch or cage which will provide years of good service.
Rabbit hutches can be made, and have been made, using a wide range of materials. Since these animals have been kept domestically for hundreds if not thousands of years, the sheer number of options which have been tried at least once, is without count. Having said that, some materials are definitely more suitable than others. We offer the recommendations below as a result of what we've tried here, and what we've seen other people use. I'll also try to point out why any given mateerial seems to work well, or not, since different circumstances can yield different results. I'll also try to provide some alternatives just in case a prospective rabbit owner doesn't have ready access to conventional materials.
The materials we've used, AND been very pleased with, includes the following:
1"x 2" and 1/2" x 1" welded wire mesh (rabbit wire)
These two sizes of wire mesh are the conventional materials of choice for modern all-metal cages. The 1" x 2" wire mesh is used for the sides and top of a cage, while the 1/2" x 1" wire mesh is used for the floor. Both types of wire mesh are available in rolls for folks who want to cut out and assemble their own cages. Pre-cut panels of both materials are also readily available in kit form, such that they need simple assembly prior to use. We'll offer a list of vendors at the bottom of this page, who sell this type of wire by the roll or in kit form. Most hardware stores and home improvement centers do NOT carry this specialized type of wire mesh.
J-Clips and J-clips pliers
Whether the wire mesh panels are in kit form or cut manually from a roll, they are generally joined together using fasteners called J-clips, via a tool called a J-Clips pliers. The J-clip is a very small piece of sheet metal, perhaps 1/4" wide by 1/2" long, which is formed into a J shape. That curled form is fitted into the J-clip pliers. Once in the pliers, the J-clip can be used to loop around two wire segments from adjoining wire mesh panels. The J shape allows the pliers to capture those two wire segments within the loop, and squeezing the pliers together wraps the rest of the J-clip around the wires to bring them together and create a semi-permanent joint between them. J-clips can be removed later, but it's a bit of a hassle to do so. They also can rust, allowing the two wire panels to fall apart. Yet the wire itself typically rusts faster than the J-clip will. Once a person has some practice, J-clips are very fast to apply and cages go together very quickly. They are currently the single most common way to assemble all-wire cages.
Fir, Pine, Hemlock and other Soft Woods
Many rabbit hutch plans call for a wire cage held within a wooden frame of some kind. The vast majority of wooden frames are made from pine, hemlock, fir or other soft woods, in standard dimensional sizes. More specifically, the frames can be made from whatever dimensional lumber is easily available at the nearest hardware or home improvement store. That being said, anyone with a woodlot and/or woodshop, can make a very nice hutch out of whatever woods are easily available. The only guideline for suitable woods, is to make them as moisture-resistant as possible, and ensure that toxic wood species are not used where rabbits could gnaw on the wood.
This might sound like an odd material for a rabbit hutch, but it can work quite well as part of the framing. Like wood, PVC tubes can be easily cut and shaped with standard hand tools or power tools. They cannot be joined with nails or screws like wood, but PVC joints are now readily available at hardware stores, home improvement centers, plumbing and electrical outlets, and online retailers. In some ways PVC is easier to work with than wood because most of those joints are merely slip-fit. PVC is also impervious to water damage, and it's not a material that rabbits will readily try to chew. However, if a rabbit hutch is going to be exposed to direct sunlight, the UV-resistant gray PVC tubing should be used. The white tubing will break down and become brittle in direct sunlight after only a year or two.
2" x 2" woven field fencing
This form of field fencing works quite well for two very different rabbit housing purposes - first, it works very nicely to fence rabbits in, or fence them out, of any given area. It comes in 2', 3' and 4' width providing a nice range of fencing options, and it's rugged enough to provide years of good service. Secondly, it can also be used along the ground as a base upon which a rabbit field pen can be moved. In that instance, it provides relatively large openings for grass to grow through, it lays low enough that field pens can be dragged over it, it's large enough in diameter that the rabbits can't bite through it, and it very nicely discourages digging. However, it is not suitable for use with young rabbits because they can slip through the 2" x 2" openings. We didn't think they'd be able to, but they can readily squeeze through it resulting in a small herd of young rabbbits loose outside their pen. Which is the start of a very long afternoon trying to gather them all up again. This type of fencing can also be used to create entire field pens. The pens need to be either fairly narrow or supported by some kind of frame, otherwise they are rather floppy. Also, rats and mice can readily go through the mesh to pester the rabbits, so it may be unsuitable if that's already a problem.
Some folks will not agree with the following list of materials to avoid. In some cases, they have been used with great success. However, we have learned to avoid them after multiple failures or problems. We offer the below as cautionary information. Anyone building a rabbit hutch will need to decide for themselves if these materials are suitable for their particular circumstances.
Chicken wire was traditionally used for many, many years for rabbit hutches, and it worked OK. However, it is rather flimsy compared to newer rabbit wire (described above). The chicken wire is so thin it rusts very quickly, it can be pushed through with moderate force, it can unravel and leave large gaps in the mesh, and it cannnot be fastened very well to itself. To fasten chicken wire to wood, it must either be clamped between two pieces of wood (and thus is very hard to remove and replace) or staples have to be driven into the wood (also very hard to replace). If chicken wire is the only wire mesh available, it can be used but it will need replacement sooner than with rabbit wire.
This form of wire mesh is similar to rabbit wire, but the wire is thinner and the mesh openings are smaller. The thinner mesh means this wire will rust out much faster than standard rabbit wire. Sometimes folks will want to use hardware cloth for the bottom of an all-wire cage. However, the openings for 1/2" and 1/4" hardware cloth are both too small to allow for adult rabbit pellets to pass through, resulting in a nasty mat of manure (which incidentally only speeds up the rust). Sometimes the smaller mesh openings are desirable, for instance with nest boxes where the little kits could squeeze or fall through larger openings. However, if using hardware cloth particularly for kits, be very careful when cutting the edges because most cutting methods leave behind very sharp edges on the mesh. Those edges can easily cut adult human skin, let alone tender little kit skin. If necessary, tape the edges or otherwise ensure the kits can't come in contact with them.
Plywood, OSB and Particleboard
A lot of the rabbit hutch plans floating around the internet make use of plywood, OSB and/or particleboard. These three types of wood panel are cheap, easy to cut, easy to fasten, and can be used to create a secure cage, very quickly. However, they have some fundamental flaws which make them unsuitable for rabbit hutches. First of all, they are generally quite easily damaged by any form of water or other moisture. They can withstand the occasional sprinkle but they will warp, sag, tear or otherwise disintegrate if they repeatedly get wet. Even if a rabbit hutch is covered and protected from the elements, these materials will get wet simply from having the rabbits nearby. Rabbits will spill their water, and/or spray the walls of their cage with urine for scent-marking, either of which will start to damage these types of wood panel. Secondly, rabbits will sratch and chew on any type of wood they can reach. At first, the damage won't be significant, but over time the rabbits can chew right through even 1" exterior grade plywood. That gets expensive, fast. And third, the glues which are used to form these panels, aren't great for rabbits to eat. Even if the gnawing damage didn't result in structural issues, simply ingesting that glue can make the rabbits sick.
This section presents a variety of rabbit hutch plans, created by different individuals and available free for download. Some of these plans are very specific, with lists of materials and careful measurements. Others are detailed drawings of a completed hutch designs, but without many measureements and without lists of materials. I offer a variety of designs as a way to sample all the different options. I encourage rabbit owners to take design elements from several of these plans to make something which will work for any given set of circumstances.
The first set of plans comes from Louisiana State University's AgCenter website, which offers a wide range of livestock housing plans. This set of downloadable rabbit hutch plans offers three different actual designs, all using wire cages within a wooden frame. The cages are suspended above the ground and the hutch is not intended to be moved frequently. Capacity: 3-6 adult rabbits and their litters.
The second batch of plans all come from North Dakota State University, which also offers a wide range of livestock housing plans. We offer three such rabbit hutch plans here:
GRIT magazine came out with a nice set of plans that are appropriate for first-time rabbit owners. The article not only provides the plans, but also a list of materials and step by step instructions.
Purina Mills, a major manufacturer of pet foods and livestock feeds, has a section of their website dedicated to rabbits. They have a nice set of plans for a small hutch, complete with list of materials and step by step instructions. Capacity: 3-6 adult rabbits.
A small homesteading farm called Vela Creations has a very nice blog entry on rabbits as a fantastic small-scale meat source. Their blog entry provides a nice set of plans for small field pens for rabbits. These field pens are only one form of rabbit housing in use on their homestead, and they talk about when they do (and do not) graze their rabbits.
More and more folks aree interested in putting rabbits on pasture, for a variety of reasons. This topic is big enough that we didn't want to limit it to a few paragraphs on this page. Instead, we have created an entire page dedicated just to keeping rabbits on pasture. That page provides a great deal of information on pen design, nutrition, safety, and productivity. Also see the Additional Resources section below for some related PDF downloads.
The following are businesses that we have worked with to acquire various rabbit hutch building materials and other rabbit supplies. We are not dealers for any of these businesses, and we don't have any business relation with them. We simply offer a list of these dealers as sources of rabbit cage materials and equipment.
This is one of the oldest and best-known suppliers of rabbit cage equipment. They sell a huge variety of rabbit cage materials, including many sizes of rabbit wire by the roll. They also sell rabbit cage kits, rabbit feeders, rabbit waterers, nest boxes, etc. If folks don't want to mess with building anything, they sell completed hutches too.
This family-owned business offers a variety of feeders, waterers, cage supplies and other equipment. They have a nice line of rabbit transport cages which are very handy for bringing a lot of rabbits to shows and exhibitions, without taking up a lot of space.
These folks don't have a lot of rabbit equipment per se, but they are very very good at fencing. If a rabbit owner wants to create some portable or semi-permanent fencing to keep rabbits in (or out) of specific areas, these folks can help with recommedations for what will work and what won't.
The following reports and articles generally include some rabbit hutch guidelines, but they also provide a great deal more than just plans. So I've included them as additional resources for anyone who is either building a hutch for the first time, or redesigning/replacing existing rabbit equipment.
This PDF article from the University of California-Davis provides a lot of good care information for newbie hobby or small scale commercial rabbit owners.
Iowa State University has their own PDF booklet for new rabbit owners, featuring information about housing, diet, basic health issues, etc.
This nice little booklet from the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association provides pastured rabbit information, including field pen guidelines along with other care information for rabbits on pasture.
The Southern University Ag Center (SUAGCenter) also released a very detailed PDF report on some field trials for pastured meat rabbits. Their preliminary findings indicated that the age at which rabbits are put on pasture affects their survivability, with older kits handling the transitionn better than just-weaned kits.
SARE funded a research project which studied the feasibility of raising meat rabbits in field pens. Their resulting PDF report looks at what worked and what didn't with that setup, including field pen design issues.