Rabbits: Winter Care
Yes I am still raising rabbits. I raise rabbits as I have mentioned in previous articles (see archives) for their wonderful garden fertilizer and food. I am in my last year of this decade experimenting with rabbits and observing their life and have updated my thinking about management.
Let us first talk about food. I have 18 breeders this year and am experimenting on hay feeding some and commercial feed for others. 18 rabbits consume about 40-50 lbs. a week of commercial feed; that is about $12.00 a bag of quality feed. Hay for me is no cost as a big round bale in the barn supplies all I want. The question is growth of the rabbits.
It is my opinion that rabbits do better if they have a constant source of food. A ration of commercial feed is an average and an average ration may not be enough for some bigger or even smaller rabbits. This applies also to water, as some will drink more water than others- especially males, then when the females produce kits (baby rabbits), they consume a great deal of food and water.
Rabbits need to have their entire gut “stuffed” and a little here and a little there with rationing the feed, makes them all the more hungry that runs up your feed bill. All of my rabbits are in separate housing and each rabbit has its own big 1’X6” x 2’ nest box stuffed with hay. I find it easy to lift the nest box door and stuff hay in. They will, like all other farm hay eating stock, eat the seed heads and drop the chaff and end stalks to the bottom, which makes up a warm nest as it accumulates in thickness. Keep in mind that the floor is a plastic grid of ¾” holes; in the wintertime I place a board inside to keep the hay bedding from falling through. In the summer, long after the baby rabbits are in their own hutches, I remove the board for waste to drop through that adds to the compost in the garden.
As far as commercial pellet feeds go I believe in free choice which means a large screened bottom rabbit feeder, which averages in the winter time before breeding, a filling every 6 days. Watering is daily.
I store rabbit food pellets in 35-gallon metal or plastic clean trashcans. Wild animals are not interested in eating pellets and I can set the bags right along side the hutches, as there is a roof over all the hutches. (See Rabbit hutch construction archives photos).
If I combine hay and pellet feeding which is a winter option that I use, some rabbits will just eat the hay, some just pellets, some both. I find the weight gain proportional to the intake of either although I like to indulge them a bit.
Garden produce in the form of golden beets, mangles, and garden corn- cobs (with corn attached), sunflowers heads, and squashes are favorites, and save on the commercial feed. I really look at commercial rabbit feed as a convenience food for me as it saves labor.
Is it all worth it? Better than TV. Besides the garden fertilizer is really, really good stuff. Plus the meat is the best of organic quality white meat. This is supposed to be healthier for you.
This March 1st I will start breeding the females, alternating between two or three males. I place the female in the male hutch and let them go at it overnight. The next morning is Ho-Hum, and I place her back in her hutch; then have a go with another female. Buy the way, female rabbits are called: does, males: bucks, and baby rabbits: Kits. After 30 days or so all the baby rabbits-kits are bounding out of the nest and exploring hay and feed and water sources. They are about the size of a tennis ball and can jump with accuracy two or more feet. About a week after they are self feeding I place, after careful sexing who is who in separate larger hutches where they will grow fast. If I make a mistake in the separation of the sexes, well that is a big mistake, as one male in the female hutch, even as he is only six weeks old will be impregnating everybody. If you see rabbits climbing and chasing others it is most likely a male. Move him fast.
You do not want summer breeding; you want early spring breeding as the summer rabbits do not grow as well. Wherein March 1st breeding will produce a nice rabbit for the pot in the fall, a summer-bred rabbit is too scrawny. Then you waste feed and time into the next season. Think management.
The female baby rabbits all growing together as they are the same age and development cycle will get along with each other until maturity towards fall. When they start biting each other you have to separate them or the bites will lead to infection and a dead rabbit. Some rabbits are dominant: some are passive. They all want hidey-holes
and they will try to hide under feeders and portable nest boxes.
Growing male rabbits are all in a dominance quest so you have to select early the most dominant, and best of potential breeding stock. Dominant males will bite the testes of submissive males, and these rabbits die, or do not grow properly.
There is a myth about rabbits loving it cold and miserable. Male rabbits will sit on top of their nest box, “on the lookout for females and predators”; just like wild rabbits.
However, you can see him shiver in the cold. The females are smarter as they stay inside the hay filled nest boxes. When it drops to about 10 F degrees he stays inside though.
If the pellet feeder remains full then the rabbit’s eating hay and you need to keep stuffing hay in the nest box. Be attentive to their needs.
Rabbits get thirsty and drink about ½ a pint of water each in the winter, some more. I use heated hutch rabbit stainless steel bowls. I average replacing one or two a year because of not enough water in the bowl. You have to keep watering your rabbits. They cannot eat ice- they need warm water with all that dry food. However, in the large growing pens I use a 1-½ gallon heated dog waterer with good results. Fill it daily. Clean out all water drinking sources too. I use a bleached dipped rag, wiping the bowl clean and wiping it again before putting water in it.
During the summer season I use the drinking spout bottles- the gallon size for each hutch, sometimes two bottles for the extra lactating needs.
If you have not culled your meat stock fryers by Xmas, you had best start soon as once the baby rabbits are produced you will have run out of hutches, and spring planting will be here before you know it. Older does that do not produce an average of seven kits can be designated to be roasters, or stew meat, like they do in Europe. That opens another hutch for a quality kit to be raised in a new cleaned out hutch and ready for breeding next March.
I might add for the hobby person that you can raise a doe and a buck together after they reach maturity and the buck will be sweet and wonderful with the kits. However as soon as the kit males reach 6-7 weeks and become sexual he will start killing them. Inbreeding with the young females is most likely; then you have more problems. The goal of life is to pass ones own genes and many animals including humans think way deep in their Limbic Cortex of a brain that that is the right thing: Sell off, or kill the young males and reserve the females for more gene passing. Separation is the rule. You can always expand and build more hutches for your empire.
Selling baby sexed rabbits is easy at early Easter time in many Farm Stores. Charge accordingly, as they are a loss leader to promote sales of fixtures and feed. Currently in the farm stores Easter baby rabbits sell at $15.00 each and Pet Stores for $25.00 or more. If your child wants a pet rabbit and is above age 7, you can get them started. Otherwise a stuffed squeezable toy is better for the small child. Rabbits are the most abused pets in the industry.
Our lead in picture is Old Time German Rabbits that are being introduced to North Korea as a potential protein food source (see archives).
Copyright: 2011, Back2theLand.com, Mark Steel