Creative Hay Management

Making Hay Holders and Accessories

by Barbara Ray

Most of us who want to use some type of hay holder do so because we don't want to put the eating hay into the litterbox and we want less hay waste and easier hay clean up. The types of rabbit litter I prefer to use include pelletized newspaper, pelletized plant fiber, or wood stove fuel pellets. My personal goal is to reduce the hay waste and the hay mess and have easier and faster clean up. Here are some methods I have successfully used.

Creative hay rack examples Buy,create, or adapt a hay rack that can be attached to the cage or pen from the inside. The commercially made hay racks for use outside the cage are not very effective and most bunny people don't like them. Some pet stores and internet pet supply companies sell commercially made hay racks for inside the cage with the U or V shapes. The commercially made ones are way too small for my two buns' (who are very big hay eaters) needs . So I have created several different hay holders. I've used a U shaped plate rack that I found in the housewares section of a store last year. The spacing of the vertical wire bars was a little too close so I used wire cutters and cut two or three of the bars off. I've also made some racks from the kind of metal shoe rack that curves up and down. I cut two sections of about eight inches, wired them into a V shape by attaching a bendable piece of wire at the bottom of the V and another piece of bendable wire on each side to hold it into a V shape. You can use lots of different kinds of stuff that can be found at thrift stores and yard sales to create a hay rack. Just be sure that the end result is a U or V shape that has some vertical bars that are more than 1 inch and less than 2 inches apart so the buns can easily get their mouths in and be able to pull the hay out.

Clips for attaching a hay rack For a hay rack to be successful you must have a secure way to attach the hay rack to the cage or pen. Do not rely on the hook that the commercial ones use to put over the cage or pen bar. Most bunnies can easily figure out how to pull the rack off. I use sturdy metal "leash clips" - the kind that comes on most pet leashes. These sturdy metal clips can be purchased new from a hardware store. I rarely have to buy new clips. I usually can find them at a thrift store or yard sale. Look for old leashes being sold cheaply. An even better source is old purses, tote bags, or travel bags. Usually the purse or tote has a strap that has two clips. Often the purse or tote has a broken zipper or is torn or damaged, but the clips are in perfect shape, and usually the cost of that item is very cheap. I've collected lots of clips attached to things, sometimes in a free box or at an "as is" store for a quarter. Simply cut the clips off the strap or leash. I use two clips at the top of the hay rack and one or two clips at the bottom of the rack. I attach the clips from the outside of the cage or pen. I've not yet met a bunny that can undo those clips. For best results be sure to use sturdy metal clips, not flimsy metal clips or plastic clips. Some people use bendable wire to attach a hay rack to the cage. Some people use cable ties (plastic strips that loop into a locked position and are used to bundle cords together.) They are commonly found in automotive departments and electronic departments. I prefer metal leash clips because they are more versatile. They can easily be unclipped and moved for cleaning or reorganizing the cage or pen.

After you have some kind of hay rack and it is securely attached to the cage or pen, the next helpful suggestion is to also use some kind of barrier to keep the hay from falling outside the cage or pen and to minimize the mess of loose hay everywhere. I have used several kinds of barriers. There are two ways to do this. Put a barrier inside the cage between the bars and the rack, or put the barrier outside the cage. Here are some simple ideas: a piece of Plexiglass, thin plywood, cardboard or a piece of clear plastic rug runner. I prefer the clear plastic rug runner. I can easily cut the size needed, then easily cut through it to create a small opening for the hay rack clip holders. The barriers can easily be attached to the cage bars with a twistie wire or leash clip. (Plexiglass or plywood would need to have holes drilled in the top corners for attaching to cage by wire or leash clip.) Plastic rug runners can be purchased new at hardware stores, discount stores, home improvement stores, and are often sold by the foot. Warning: if your buns are plastic chewers you should position the plastic or plexiglass outside the cage and out of their reach or use something else as a barrier.

Place a hay bin below the hay rack The next trick to keeping hay manageable is to have some kind of bin under the hay rack to catch the dropped hay. This made a big difference in my cleanup time. I have used several different kinds. All have these things in common: they fit directly below the hay rack, they are securely attached to the cage or pen bars, they are at least as long as the hay rack. I've used various hard plastic containers from thrift stores that are rectangle shaped. Some people use a glass loaf pan or a metal loaf pan. The container you use should have these features: deep enough to catch hay, long enough to be under the entire hay rack, and wide enough to allow a bunny head to reach in to eat the dropped hay from the rack. My personal favorite is to use a section of plastic rain gutter with two end caps. I measure the size I need, cut the plastic gutter, glue on the end caps, drill two holes near each end, and use a piece of bendable wire (or cable tie) through the hole to securely attach the gutter to the cage bars. I've noticed that my buns like to eat the smaller hay pieces that fall into the gutter. I scoop out the leftover uneaten gutter hay at least once daily. Warning: if your buns are plastic chewers, you might look for some kind of ceramic, glass or metal containers (like a bread loaf pan), or a metal rain gutter.

Since many buns like to eat and poop at the same time, I push the litterbox next to the hay gutter. Now the hungry buns can easily and happily sit in the litter box, eat hay from the hay rack, and also eat fallen clean hay from the hay gutter.

Regardless of how much you organize, there is always some hay that strays. If you have carpeted areas I recommend investing in a small electric hand held vacuum (like a Dirt Devil) that you keep handy. I've tried the cordless type hand vacuums and they do not work well for me. In uncarpeted areas I use a small broom that attaches to a dustpan and is kept nearby.

Many buns respond better to hay if it seems "fresh" to them. This may include hay that has recently been taken out of the hay storage box and put into the hay rack. To some buns, hay that has been moved or handled recently is sometimes more appealing to them. I've found that my buns have more interest in hay and actually eat more hay if I do not overstuff the hay rack (which means putting fresh hay in more often), clean out the hay that has dropped into the hay bin (by removing it and discarding it daily), or if I just handle the hay and move it around.

Hay is absolutely essential for your rabbit's diet and health. But hay can be messy and annoying. Finding a system of hay management that works for you (the caretaker) and your bun (the hay eater) can increase hay consumption and decrease hay waste, frustration, and time spent cleaning up. This system evolved over a period of years. I have used this system with a variety of buns, different sizes, breeds, ages and habits. Almost all of them have easily adapted to this system.

Be creative and enjoy discovering bunny care shortcuts!