Adding a bun to the warren
In April 2017 Pepper's Warren gained a seventh rabbit - Cayenne. She is a Dutch and therefore exempt from the "no more rabbits"-rule; after all, she is a homage to Pepper and, by her name, to Chilli too.
Initially we need to know that the new bunny is healthy, vaccinated and neutered. At Pepper's Warren, newcomers also get a course of Panacur, as our bunnies unfortunately are susceptible to suffering with EC and although the parasites are present in all rabbits and most often cause them no grief, we like to be safe rather than sorry. Cayenne was also treated for mites. New bun will then spend a few days in a separate room, to get used to her new mama and daddy and the routine and noises of the house. In the case of Cayenne, she also had to endure mama's touch, which she did not like as she had not been handled in the past and is very wary of humans. Unfortunately, this is the case with a lot of rabbits and will take time and patience to overcome. Handling is not done to satisfy some need for cuddles (although us hoomins very much appreciate Cocoa's willingness to provide cuddles) - but it's important that a bunny is willing to be handled without too much stress; for nail clipping and other welfare issues if nothing else.
Thus started another bonding process and here are some methods used at Pepper's Warren. These will not work with everyone, or every bunny, so if in ANY doubt, please consult an experienced rabbit owner or a rescue centre. Many rescues will bond for you!
Bonding should always be done in a neutral environment, if at all possible. In other words; in a house or a room where none of the bunnies have ever been before. This takes away any territorial attachments the rabbits have to their normal living quarters.
**Please take time to learn the language of rabbit before attempting to bond**
Same space - Newbun should be put in the same space as the rest of the warren, but safely. Cayenne was in a dog crate next to the bunnies' area for a few days - this allows everyone to be within sight and smell of each other but protects the newcomer from nips and scratches. Don't be surprised if the dynamics in the existing group start to get mixed up too. There may be chasing among longtime friends and when Cayenne arrived, Juniper felt the need to spray Cicely occasionally (yes, with his pee; this is an act of dominance and marking of territory).
Carrier - Next comes "the real test"; putting buns together. This can be done in stages, by putting the newcomer into a carrier with one (or two) from the warren. When Basil arrived he got to meet Cocoa and Cicely first, Cocoa being the placid, peace loving bun that he is (he is the boss, after all!) and Cicely showing signs of not minding Basil's existence. This is where knowing your rabbits is vital, and knowing how rabbits communicate, to be able to see and interpret their reactions to each other.
When using the carrier, take the buns for a ride or a walk and then swap the newcomer with another bunny from the warren. Keep these sessions short, about 20 mins per bunny so no one gets too stressed. This way new bun gets to meet everyone in a neutral, albeit stressful environment. If there are no squabbles in the carrier, you can try putting all buns together is a fairly small, neutral area. There will be chasing and maybe some nipping too; this needs to be monitored carefully so it doesn't get out of hand. Human should not always intervene, rabbits will work it out themselves, although sometimes a spray from a water bottle or loud rattling of pots can be useful to break up the scuffle. There are also calming sprays available on the market that can be used to bring down the tension.
Another method is to put the bunnies in a DRY bath tub - a very neutral area and strange to them with its slippery surface. They need to be monitored carefully in this environment!
Hutch - in the case of Cayenne, we skipped the carrier stage and went straight to the hutch. This means all buns are put in a hutch which, by all accounts, is too small for even two to live in comfortably. This means they are forced to be in a tight space all together and thus work out their differences before being allowed to roam the house. I am sure there are scientific explanations to the efficiency of this method; perhaps to do with real warrens in the wild or the territorial nature of rabbits, but unfortunately yours truly is not enlightened in such matters! All we know at Pepper's Warren is that this method seems to work well.
Bear in mind that this method is fairly stressful to buns and will need monitoring. Which is why mama stayed downstairs in a sleeping bag over night when Cayenne was introduced, to make sure no one got hurt. Altogether they spent three days and two nights in the hutch with one period of being fenced off in their area while the hutch was cleaned. Initially Cayenne was isolated (by Juniper) but eventually she was huddled up with Cocoa and Basil and Juniper had given up trying to get to her.
Space invaders - once it looks like all buns can tolerate each other, it is time to let them into their own area. We always have the area restricted for a few days and slowly increase it until eventually they have the run of the house again. The bonding process can take anything from five days to five months, depending on the number of bunnies and their personalities. And as we know, sometimes they all get upset again, as was the case with Juniper and Basil, and have to go and have some "hutch-time". This was much to do with Parsley's hormones, though, so it's a good idea to neuter first before starting to bond.