Saturday, April 21, 2012


Posted and written by: riseandshinerabbitry

As with any livestock winter can present many challenges in proper care. Rabbits are very adaptable to cold temperatures much more than the heat. Cold weather will invigorate your rabbits and bring out their natural playfulness. Temperatures below freezing for extended periods of time and strong winds that lower the wind chill temps cam be a problem for newborn or young rabbits. They can withstand very low temps as long as they can remain dry and find insulation from the cold to conserve body heat(using a nest box full of straw or putting large amounts of bedding in their cages). The key to winter housing for rabbits is to avoid the drafts and swirls of winter air which can stress your rabbits and reduce their natural immune system. If you have no enclosed rabbit barn, plastic sheeting should be stapled to the back and sides or temporary wood sides and backs should be used. You must remember to cover, close to the ground to prevent updrafts into the cage but leave some space for the rabbit to get fresh air,stale humid air is very unhealthy for rabbits.

I have 25+ cages outside they have a roof over them and have the back covered. In the winter i cover the sides and bottom of the front of cage with heavy plastic i leave a gap at the very top and bottom for airflow and in bad weather will put a roll down cover in the front,will also fill a nest box with straw and put in the cage for the rabbit to keep warm. I have also made some “ARCTIC WEATHER CAGES” that i only use in the winter that has three sides covered with plywood and the bottom front with plastic. I have the sides and back walls double thickness with insulation between the plywood i have had litters in these all winter long with never any problems with no additional heat! In my own experience young rabbits seem to grow better and have less health problems in cool or cold weather. I have only had problems with rabbits in the cold when the kits clung on to their mothers teat and got pulled out of the nest box and into the cold after nursing.

It gets cold here some times -12 to as low as -20. I have herd from other breeders in cold climates and they also breed all winter long. I have also made some insulated closed nest boxes that work great in the outside hutches but you got to keep the bedding clean and dry if wet it will freeze and freeze the kits so more management is needed. I have seen some really good ideas people have come up with Christmas tree lights in nest boxes, lights under the nest box, heat lights above the boxes,commercial nest box warmers(i refuse to use power unless i make it here for rabbit production). My rabbits are all receptive to breed in the winter without added lights or heat(selective breeding for your area works awesome) but if you have problems breeding your rabbits in the winter try running lights to extend the light period for 14 to 16 hours a day (you could rig up some of the solar path lights) Breeding through the winter can present problems,kit are born without fur the doe compensates for this by pulling lots of fur and covering the kits. I use my wooden nest boxes lined with cardboard i put a inch of shavings on the base of the nest-box and cover with another layer of cardboard sandwiching the shavings between the cardboard to keep the floor of the box insulated.

I have seen breeders that take the nest boxes into the house put the does name or number on the box and then bring the boxes back to the does cages 1 or 2 times a day to let her feed her kits with great results,you usually only need to worry for the first 2 weeks then the kits get enough fur to survive the cold temps and will often huddle together for added warmth then you can leave the boxes in with the does.

WATER-Is the main concern in the winter because of frozen water crocks. I use water bottles all the time except in the winter I switch over to metal crocks(metal does not crack due to the expanding ice). Some breeders still use bottles and have spares to swap out the frozen bottles. I Have found that the metal tubes freeze to quickly and the water in the bottles is still not frozen but the water is not avail to the rabbit because of the frozen tube. The metal crocks are easier to thaw out than plastic or glass, it takes a 5 gallon bucket of hot water to thaw all of my crocks. I drop a few crocks in the hot water and the ice pops out i put the ice in a separate bucket to make the hot water last longer. Some people use hammers to smash out the ice or just have spare crocks. Your diligence in making sure they have fresh water greatly increases their comfort level and chances of survival. Rabbits will not eat if there is no water available so you should make sure to provide fresh ice free water at least 2 times a day once in the morning and again in the evening ,preferably more often if you can.

FEED-It takes more energy for a rabbit to keep warm they are burning more calories during frigid temperatures trying to generate more body heat. Hay and feed should be slightly increased as they will need the extra calories in the winter to maintain their body weight. It is important not to overfeed!Feed to maintain their body weight. Rabbits that gain weight in the winter will not or will have problems breeding in the following spring I have some friends in Alaska that feed a condition mix in the winter(2/3 crimped oats,1/3 crimped barley plus a few black sunflower seeds)to keep them maintained at the proper body weight.

HEALTH-A rabbits body temperature is 101.5 to 103 degree Fahrenheit. When their body temperature drops below 100 degrees rectal temp it must be warmed up immediately or hypothermia will set in and kill the rabbit. The way to warm a rabbit depends on the severity of hypothermia. Mild hypothermia is when the temps get to 86-89 degrees-Treatment would be packing the rabbit between warm water bottles wrapped in a towels until body temp returns to normal. Warming the rabbit to quickly will put the rabbit in shock. Moderate hypothermia 71 to 77 degrees and Severe hypothermia 32 to 47 degrees. Begin treatment by bringing rabbit into a heated room and allow to warm naturally and then use the water bottles as recommended for mild hypothermia to get the rabbit back to normal body temp. Avoid rubbing the rabbit as this can increase the flow of cold blood into the core of the body increasing the depth of hypothermia. If the core body heat is lost the rabbit will enter a kind of suspended animation were the normal body functions slow down. In many cases,the animal will survive if you follow the procedures as listed. I have never seen a case of hypothermia in any of my rabbits. If you take care to feed and water your rabbits no matter how bad the weather is!(it is up to you to take the responsibility to care for your herd)Your rabbits will handle the winter weather fine. Keep an old towel on hand to dry your rabbits if they get wet from unexpected winter storms. I have never lost any rabbit in the winter other than the young kits that have been dragged out of the nest box when nursing. Hope this answers any of your winter rabbit needs. If any questions or other good ideas feel free to post or email me!

Raising Meat Rabbits To Save The World

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