Where the Rabbits Roam

pets trim up and provide fertilizer for lawn

Kinzy Janssen, photos by Andrea Paulseth

Most homeowners do everything they can to keep rabbits off their lawn, not to mention their gardens. Remember Mr. McGregor?

    But Eau Claire East Hill residents Jessica and Josh Miller make sure their pet rabbits, Shamrock and Cassiopia, have as much access to their yard as possible. A circular rabbit pen – which is actually two connected dog pens – provides a sizable area for them to roam. Even better, the rabbits munch the grass, dandelions, and clover within about four days, after which the Millers move the pen so they can tackle another area.

    “They don’t really mow it,” says Jessica. “We keep areas for them, but it’s not like they’re going to level the whole yard.”

    However, the rabbits do provide the lawn with organic fertilizer. Josh showed me a curved strip of extra-tall grass, left over from the rabbits’ previous domain.

    The set-up is definitely mutually beneficial, even if Shamrock and Cassiopia aren’t direct replacements for a lawnmower.

    “It’s free food,” adds Josh. “They fill up on grass so we can feed them fewer pellets.”
“You can’t get anything healthier than that – anything grassy,” says Jessica. “And they’re happy in the exercise pen. They run around real fast and do happy jumps.”

    Relatively exposed to the elements, the Millers take several precautions. They cover the pen with a tarp and bungee cords on sunny days, making sure they’re shaded and comfortable. Recently, Josh noticed a red-tailed hawk circling the area after spotting a wild rabbit diving for cover. Thus the tarp is protective against unlikely predators, too. They also refrain from putting any chemicals or pesticides on their lawn, and regularly treat them for fleas and ticks -- a necessary move with animals so frequently exposed to grass.

    At night, Shamrock and Cassiopia stay in a multi-tiered cage in a shed, outfitted with hay, water, and pellets. The attic is their home during winter, where they can satisfy their urge to chew with carpet they don’t care to save.

    Jessica and Josh are quick to express the amount of work involved with owning rabbits; they stress that they aren’t ideal pets for children. Besides that fact, their seemingly cuddly bodies aren’t equipped for cuddling. “They have delicate backs and don’t like to be picked up,” says Jessica. “They squirm and struggle, and they can hurt themselves.”

    The unexpected upkeep, coupled with the notion that rabbits can fend for themselves in the wild, can lead to abandonment. The Millers acquired both of their rabbits from rescue shelters.
But yard-conscious people need not swear off rabbits. Consider living in harmony with something that will happily remove weeds and shorten and/or fertilize your grass.