Rabbits and Chickens: Winter Care
The recent cold snap ought to get you going with a number of tasks designed to stay warm this expected frightful winter, that is if you want to listen to the Weather Channel. I have written several articles on taking care of this that and other things in the house and garage, but now we need to address-if you have forgotten- the care of outside pets and livestock i.e.: rabbits and chickens which so many people have started to keep.
Let’s start with bunnies. These little creatures are not as winterized as you are told in the books and articles crafted by apartment living B2L’ers. Bunnies require a nest box. I prefer an enclosed box with a suitable size 5” hole to egress and exit. I fill this box with warm hay-thick- so they can arrange the hay, as they want and then I stuff more hay inside the box to let them pack it down somewhat thicker.
Some bunnies will nibble on the hay; some like to make tunnels, most just pack it down and lay back with their feet tucked under. Some will poop, which we call bunny berries in the nest box; some are very clean and go outside. Some will poop on top of the nest box. We must remember a wild rabbit living in a hole in the ground will usually have piles of poop in different tunnel locations as a backup food reserve. This may sound disgusting, but you are not a rabbit trying to survive several feet of snow with no greens.
Although I have a backup food feeder in each cage filled with bunny store bought food, I find that the hay is usually nibbled on as a natural diet and provides basic energy.
As far as the bunny berries go I rake it out and add it to pile under the cage for next spring in the garden. This is great soil building fertilizer.
If you do not have access to hay you can use shredded paper in vast quantities. Leaves generally do not do well, breaking down to dust.
I have seen small flat red rubber animal cage heat pads, however, if I were to install such a small heat pad I would place a screen over it, as bunnies like to chew.
The water ½ gallon plastic jug with the metal spout is ready to freeze up. You can now clean out with a bleached rag the small electrical heated cups so that the bunnies will have fresh heated water each day. Check these heated cups each morning as some bunnies drink more water than others. If you are using unheated bowls and cans you can bring out heated water in a thermos and fill the non-heated bowls each morning. Note that bunnies like warm water and I believe it is an aid to warming them up.
Windshields to keep the drafts off are important and hopefully they have some sunlight.
You will not be breeding the does until next February or March and by then as the weather improves the baby bunnies, once scurrying about are drying off the mother rabbit can be moved to their much larger communal cage. Once sexual maturity sets in the males who are chasing the baby does; yes they are young but quite vigorous, can be sexed and separated in the larger cages. Electrical heated water bowls for the doe cages are at this writing expensive and last about three years in below freezing weather. The life of the bowls is increased with constant filling. Another alternative, especially with dozens of baby rabbits is to use a heated dog watering plastic bowel. These work very well and if the mother rabbit has a big enough cage you can use these too.
Chickens are not keen on the bitter cold either. Note that the short combs on some varieties of chickens tolerate bitter cold and the varieties with a stand up red comb will blacken in the cold and show signs of freezing. With your warm chicken house filled with a deep floor litter of wood chips or better yet-hay, they will scratch around inside while the deep snow is outside. A little scratch feed thrown on the floor litter keeps them active and warmer.
With young chickens and bitter cold the front window is closed up keeping drafts out. I have often set up the brooder electrical red infrared lamps (they sell clear lens lamps too but they agitate chickens.) I have a gas brooder that could be used, but I have never connected it. Maybe this winter I will.
Chickens need to be on the roost poles at night-not in the nest boxes as nighttime is when they clear their bowels and you wind up with a messy nest box.
All this implies you need to be out early in the morning to feed them, and of course close them up for the night. I used to let the birds self feed but they get too fat. I suggest to morning feed them until they have cleaned up the trough, then again when it gets dark and they are ready to roost let them stuff themselves so that the “crop” (that is the big bulge filled with food on the neck, under the throat) is filled and they can gizzard grind it through the night and be warmer.
Do go back through the archives and review my chicken articles. I do not want to repeat over and over.
Happy bunnies and chickens is our goal.
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