Raising Rabbits in the Northland

Discussion in 'Rabbits' started by moonwolf, Jun 26, 2005.

  1. moonwolf

    moonwolf Well-Known Member

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    Hi all,

    Living in zone 3 with january and february temps that go down to between -30 and -40, I was wondering how people who raise rabbits cope with the climate and keeping them alive and healthy?

    I also read some posts a while back about raising rabbits within a greenhouse in winter to moderate the temperatures for them. I also have read that keeping redworms under the rabbits help to reduce the odors and break down the ammonia? (or nitrogen?) concentration.

    Anyway, what other hints for raising some rabbits in the northern areas such as in the states would be northern minnesota?
     
  2. BearCreekFarm

    BearCreekFarm Well-Known Member

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    Hey Moonwoolf, we must be neighbors- we are in zone 3 in Minnesota. We started raising rabbits last January. We keep them in wire cages inside an insulated railroad car which sits directly on the ground- no wheels. We leave one half-door open year round. We had no problems with the adult rabbits, but we were breeding and we lost our first two litters (the bunnies froze). After that we started pulling the nestboxes and keeping them in the basement, returning them to the does for feeding twice a day.

    We just set up a new rabbitry inside an old dairy barn, I think it might get even colder in there than it did in the rail car, but we are going to build different nest boxes for the does for winter use. We got one from a neighbor which is a plywood box with a hinged lid and a round hole cut into the front. It hangs on the cage in front of the cage door, which is then left open. The entrance hole is several inches above the floor of the box so the bunnies won't be able to fall out of it. The box itself is approx 12"x12", so it can hold a lot of nesting material. We are hoping that the bunnies will be kept warm enough in these- we might also try an electric light bulb or a heat mat under it for the first few days for extra heat, we'll decide when we see how cold it is in the rabbitry when the time comes. But, I definitely do not want to haul nest boxes in and out of the basement next winter.

    I just put some redworms under our rabbits last week, but I am not sure if they are still alive or not- we used sawdust as bedding and it may have been toxic to the worms. Our chickens also got in there a few days ago and may have eaten the survivors- I have to go out and dig around in the bedding tomorrow and check :grump: Worms are definitely the way to go, though, but take my advice and don't use sawdust as bedding unless it is well aged. I knew it could be toxic but thought ours had enough manure in with it that the worms would be ok- maybe not.

    We are discussing the possibility of making some kind of indoor chicken tractor to use for housing the chickens inside the rabbitry during the winter. We might also house a couple of feeder pigs in a pen adjacent to the rabbitry. Using the deep litter system these might add some warmth to the rabbitry- although, the area above the rabbits is open and the old barn has a high arched roof, so not sure we could keep any heat in where it would do the rabbits any good anyway. We considered using visqueen to try to keep some of the heat in, but with rabbits you have to be careful of condensation- too much can cause respiratory problems. Just kicking some ideas around- we'll have to see what works when the time comes. But, I think you should be ok with adult rabbits as long as they are dry and you can keep the wind off of them. If you are going to breed, you will have to be careful with the bunnies. We asked for and were given advice before we bred our does last winter- were told that the does would make nests and the bunnies would be ok- that was not the case here and we were distressed over losing the two litters, so, take all advice with a grain of salt.

    Good luck- we really are enjoying our rabbits- great eating, great manure/compost for the garden, and as soon as I can find some old sawdust we are going to re-stock the worms, lol!
     

  3. BearCreekFarm

    BearCreekFarm Well-Known Member

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    Oh yeah, one other thing- regarding watering- last year we used metal water pans which came with the rabbits. The water froze very quickly- we thought we were refilling them often enough (2-3 times a day), but based on how much water they have been consuming this spring I now wonder whether they got enough. Right now we have a great automatic system (I call it a semi-automatic system). It consists of a 5 gallon bucket for a reservoir which we fill daily with a hose, flexible tubing run to each cage, and a drinking valve in the cages. It really works well. We got it from Tango (another forum member), who used it with her rabbits in Florida. We love it, but, it will not work here in the winter because the water will freeze. So, for next winter we are going to upgrade to a different system which uses pvc pipes, valves which fit directly on the pipes, a bucket with float system, and a heating system to keep the water from freezing, and a recirculating pump. It is a bit pricey, but I don't know how else to keep these rabbits supplied with enough water during the winter- even if they got enough water from the pans I hated having to chip out the ice 2-3 times a day. And, if we are ever away for the day, even to go ice fishing, there is no way we could get anyone to come over and do that thankless task for us, so it really isn't an option. We muddled through last winter, but we only had the rabbits part of the winter so it wasn't so bad, but bad enough that I won't do it again.
    You can check out the system on bassequipment.com.
     
  4. Jennifer L.

    Jennifer L. Well-Known Member Supporter

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    Can't wait to read more replies to this thread!

    My neighbor keeps his (actually his sister's) pet rabbit in an elevated outdoor cage all year. He simply puts a big wad of hay in there, the rabbit makes a nest in the middle and waits out winter. He waters twice a day when he feeds the other animals and the rabbit knows to come out and drink his fill when the water is available.

    Last winter I had only one rabbit and she stayed in an unheated cement floor chicken pen with a batch of chickens for company. She lived under the lawn tractor for the most part, and when I moved the tractor in the spring, found a large wad of fur up under the mower deck where she'd made her own warm nest for the winter. She came through fine and it gets pretty cold here (Zione 4)

    I've read that rabbits handle cold very well and that it's the heat that does them in. I can believe this as I lost my first buck in the heat wave earlier this month. He was older and couldn't take it, and me being inexperienced with rabbits, didn't realize he had a problem. So now Bunny Coolness is the by word here.

    Jennifer
     
  5. Jennifer L.

    Jennifer L. Well-Known Member Supporter

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    Oh, something I wanted to add: Animals in cold climates don't need or expect water to be available to them 24/7. Nature doesn't work that way. Just keep a schedule going so when the animal expects the water, they'll get it. You don't want to jerk them around on when the water will be there for them or it will be harder on them. (that goes for all animals, not just rabbits)

    My thoughts on it, anyway.

    Jennifer
     
  6. JAS

    JAS Well-Known Member

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    We are not too far from you, South Dakota, zone 4.

    I have rabbits in the chicken coop (not insulated or heated), in a similar small building and in outdoor cages. The winters have been mild lately, so I have not had to deal with really bad weather, about -30 at the most. The rabbits did fine. I lost one litter to the weather with a first time mother. My biggest problem was predators--weasels--killing the kits. I ran tap hot water out to the rabbits twice a day, I use crocks so I can knock the ice out easily without breaking the container. The rabbits would come running and drink their fill, like us with coffee in the morning :) .

    I also supply boards for the rabbits to rest on and to keep off the wire.

    Another thing that helps is to put hay on the top of the cages. The rabbits can reach up to pull some through if they want and it also insulates the tops. The outdoor cages I have covered with tarps and I make sure they are not exposed to wind.