Is it possible to have a decent-looking lawn by keeping rabbits instead of mowing?

This may sound more like a sit-com character’s [no pun intended] hair-brained scheme, or the fever dreams of a suburban fool, but I’m asking this in all seriousness. It just seems to me that the age of the Great American Lawn may be on the wane, and many of our teeming millions of homeowners – be they stressed-out and overworked young careerists, or aging, soon-to-retire Baby Boomers – who are unhappy with the demands of lawn care would welcome cheap, environmentally friendly, easy-maintainance alternatives more in keeping with the changing prerogatives of our times.

Is it possible to have a decent-looking lawn that is kept in check by a warren of cute widdle bunny rabbits, or would you end up with an ugly, scraggly ex-lawn that is nibbled to the dirt in patches, grows unchecked in others, and has holes and tunnels running throughout?

Let’s assume optimal conditions: a stone perimeter wall deeply set into the ground and running fully around the, say, one-acre property with gated access (so that no rabbits can escape and no four-legged predators can get in), a goodly number of shade trees and bushes breaking up the homogenousness of the lawn and offering the rabbits cover from winged predators, a fountain or fish pond for water, a truckload of dirt or clay dumped in a corner where they can dig out a home, and zoning conditions that permit a fair degree of latitude with respect to landscaping choices and small-scale animal husbandry.

What would be the optimal ratio of rabbits to acreage? Given that rabbits tend to breed like, well, rabbits, let’s further assume that our yardwork-averse homeowner is prepared to do some snaring or hunting and cultivates a taste for Hasenpfeffer.

Would we get similar results with a coop’s worth of free-range chickens instead? They can get by on mostly grass and bugs, can’t they? (And they couldn’t really fly away either, could they?) Bird flu notwithstanding, I can think of three benefits WRT chickens: the eggs, their keeping insects in check, and, if you have a rooster, a 365-days-a-year alarm clock that won’t let you down in the event of a power failure. OTOH, this option would definitely be limited to those living in the sticks…

I used Guinea Pigs in a cage with no floor. So long as I moved it regularly, they trimmed the grass evenly.

The drawback was all the little turds, though.

  1. Rabbits will nibble one spot of grass right down to dirt before they move on.

  2. You’ll have a yard full of rabbit poop in pretty short order.

Cute rabbits are no good. Back in good ole’ days my Grandma had rabbit farm. Once number of little furry prisoners escaped their captivity and set up colony in the backyard. They digged up whole underground city for them. Actually independent Rabbitstan survived for years, full of big, nice holes.

Even miniature pet rabbits have very strong digging instinct. Put them on the soft ground and blammo! - you’ve got hole in your nice lawn.

There is solution, though. Goats. Properly fenced goat is natural born lawnmower.

Now, let’s talk sheep.

What you’re looking for is a goat. Of course, you’re still dealing with turds - just larger goaty ones.

Dunno about rabbits, but chickens are damn good eatin’!

We used to have a pretty good-sized chiken pen. The outer reaches of it were grassy, but everything near the coop was scratched and trampled into dirt. I’d think they would be pretty hard on the turf. I haven’t actuall known wild bunnies to exfoliate a section of grass–sheeps are rumored to do that though. Maybe don’t do this with sheeps. Grizzly bears eat mostly grass, I think. I just might have to give this rabbit thing a try.

Rabbits aren’t recommended and won’t do a good job. They just nibble and they will attractive foxes, coyotes, and funny talking hunters. Don’t think about goats either. They just randomly rip and chew and you might find your smaller possessions missing.

What will work quite well is sheep. They make a nice, low, even cut and some farmers have let them graze on their lawn with good success. Sheep are incredibly stupid herd animals so grown ones don’t have much value as pets but they are cute and lambs are adorable (and tasty). Shearing is much harder than it looks however. Make sure someone in the family knows how to spin and knit.

The wall wouldn’t protect from one of the major predators of rabbits: hawks.


What will work quite well is sheep. They make a nice, low, even cut and some farmers have let them graze on their lawn with good success. QUOTE]
Second the sheep. Goats, on the other hand, make terrible lawnmowers. They are more browsers than grazers, and will eat all your bushes before they touch the grass. However, if you fence a group of goats into a brush-filled area, they will clear out the brush very efficiently.

One old wives tale I’ve heard is that if you drink the milk of goats that are eating poison ivy, you will not develop symptoms if you come in touch with it.

Although sheep would probably do the best clip job, it’s hard to imagine widespread acceptance of such a wool-gathering idea in the 'burbs. I know I stipulated lax zoning and all that, but I was thinking of rabbits, which are smaller, less conspicuous, vewwy vewwy quiet, and tend to crop up naturally in many a suburb, anyway.

But Slithy Tove’s comment on guinea pigs got me thinking. What if you adapted a large (say, 8’ x 8’), low-slung wire rabbit cage on wheels (complete with floor, so they can’t escape) with the following:

  1. photovoltaic panel array on the gently-sloped roof
  2. motion detector
  3. computer video camera
  4. bare-bones CPU in weatherproof housing with large battery backup, loaded with pattern-recognition software and a program for timed, gradual motion at, say, three-hour intervals during the day)
  5. electric motor to power them wheels (what, you were expecting hamsters?)
  6. water trough, receiving any rain run-off from the roof, via a really cute little PVC gutter system

The idea being, during daylight hours, the cage moves itself over another eight feet (or whatever the size of the cage is) every two or three hours or so, provided that the rabbits are moving about anyway and that the grass has indeed been nibbled down (hence the camera and pattern-recognition software). No burrowing, no over-grazing, no predation, and easy population control.

Or, one can hold out for something simpler and cheaper, like an production-line version of this. Unfortunately (or fortunately, for the squeamish), there are no organic food by-products with a Roomba-like equivalent of a lawnmower.

I’ve seen ammo dumps with underground bunkers where the grass was kept in check by small herds of goats. It seemed to work well for everyone involved.

As someone who not only doesn’t mow his back lawn enough but also has about six rabbits living in his yard (mainly because they like to hunker down and hide in the grass), I can say that they make little to no effect in the lawn. What they do do is eat the weeds. They bounce around, ignoring the bluegrass and searching for some native broadleaf vegetation to go to town on.

I guess they might eat the turfgrass in a pinch but I’m not sure if they’re well suited to it.

Or if you don’t have someone in the family who spins and knits, I’ll be happy to take the wool off your hands.

You know…if you decide to go with the sheep.

If you do decide to keep rabbits, you could easily control the population by releasing a strain of myxomatosis out in the wilds of your back yard. Tada! Hell, if it was good enough for an entire continent, it’s good enough for you!

What about llamas?

Wait, this is your solution to making lawn care easier than throwing Scott’s on it and mowing it?

As someone who’s kept un-penned rabbits in his back yard for about 15 years, I can tell you they aren’t much help in the lawn mowing department. However, in the keeping weeds down and completely devastating any and all rosebushes, they’re the aces. They do have one other redeeming quality (besides being as cute as the dickens) - Fertilizer. I never fertilized my back yard, but it was incredibly lush and green year after year. I fertilized the front 4 or 5 times a season, and never got anything close to the results of a handful of rabbits and some alfalfa pellets.

As far as the burrowing goes, I never really had a problem with it. The rabbits dug plenty of them, but all underneath the deck or toolshed (where they spent most of the day).

I also never had a problem with hawks or coyotes, but there was one time when there was a fresh litter of bunnies just old enough to start exploring the yard, that a neighborhood tomcat decided he wanted fresh baby bunny for dinner. The buck, good old Mopsy, chased him around the yard, kicked him in the face and peed on him before the cat managed to escape up a tree and over the fence. My wife and I laughed so hard we almost peed ourselves.

Our biggest problem was population control. They will have a litter of 7 or 8 every six weeks! We had close to 40 rabbits at one time. None of our friends wanted any and I’d already “donated” quite a few to the local state park. Then we discovered that pretty much any vet can spay or neuter a rabbit for the same cost as a dog or cat. We stabilized the colony at three, and it worked out pretty well.

We use the sheep in portable fencing to graze the lawns, but they won’t replace a lawnmower…too fussy. They refuse to eat thistles and nettles and many other grasses so without occasional mowing you’d have a patchy thistle grove in front of your house by mid-June. They do, however, make it possible for me to maintain nearly 3 acres of manicured lawn without spending all my time behind a mower, and they poop little raisins which immediately fall through the grass to the ground beneath. Now, if I were abandon my mono-culture and get a few goats to graze after them I might have even less mowing to do. Goats love thistles and nettles. The answer may lie in an intensive rotation schedule by two or more grazing species who don’t share sensitivity to the same parasites.

And I spin and knit, so they have other advantages as well.

IF you have the goats properly fenced in an area containing only grass, they will do a reasonably good job of converting grass to little brown pellets.

On the other hand, since goats naturally prefer to browse (as Long Time First Time already mentioned), your trees, bushes, flowers, and other non-grass vegetation will suffer greatly. Our goats ate the bark off of a large apple tree, killed several small trees, ate a lilac bush to the ground, and generally terrorized all of the large plants. They only went for grass when there was nothing else available.