Thursday, January 10, 2008

Winter Rabbit Care

In our limited homesteading adventures, I'd have to say that I think the rabbits have been the most rewarding of the animals we have. They are fairly easy, and can produce a lot of meat in a hurry. They are great animals for urban or rural homesteaders. Like any animal, though, the require a bit of different care in the winter months.

Our rabbits are in wire hutches outside. They get a nice thick coat of fur in the winter, but we provide them a little extra shelter. Tim made them some small boxes from scrap wood we had. He also took old feed bags and stapled them to the frame of the hutches. This helps cut the wind. We decided to not put any on the front of the hutches, but that could be done also. We talked about stapling the bags at the top, and using Velcro or something that could be easily undone on the bottom to provide easy access for feeding.

Feed & Water
Feed requirements really don't change. We give them as much as they want to help keep a layer of fat for warmth. I have noticed though that they eat less if water is not plentiful. Water really is the issue in the winter. The nozzles on the water bottles freeze quickly, and it can be a challenge to keep an adequate water supply.

Our solution is to alternate water bottles with bowls. The bowls do not freeze as quickly, but they get dumped. Ideally, we would purchase heavy crock bowls, but right now we mostly use recycled food containers. In the morning we bring in the frozen water bottles to thaw, and put out the bowls. In the afternoon we switch them. You can purchase heated water bowls, but they are quite expensive. If we are really having trouble keeping the rabbits' water thawed, I will put a handful or two of snow in the hutch.

We have chosen not to breed during the winter months. Kits are born with no fur, and mother rabbits do not lay with their babies to keep them warm. Kits are susceptible to the cold for about the first ten days. After losing an entire litter in a late frost last spring, we are hesitant to try again in the cold. When we have a our new building I hope to set up a rabbit nursery of sorts in there with one pen for kindling and new litters. By using a heat lamp, we could probably raise litters all winter outside, but we have decided not to try this.

This has been our experience thus far with rabbits in the winter. Keep in mind we are in West Virginia. We do get cold and snow, but it usually doesn't last for long. For an example when I started this post the first week of January our highs were in the lower twenties with lows around zero. Then earlier this week temperatures were reaching 76! Today the low is near freezing and highs are in the 40's. It is crazy weather. If we lived some place where the temperatures remained below freezing, we would have to either have the rabbits in a building or purchase the heated water bowls.

We enjoy raising rabbits. They do require a little extra work when the weather is cold, but I think you find that with most animals.


  1. how much of a pain is it to keep them clean? I took out a couple of books, and they were talking about using a blowtorch to sanitize with flame etc etc. . . it started to scare me!

  2. You make me want to give raising rabbits a try... the previous owners of our house had a rabbit hutch, but they took it with them. I'm sure my husband would love the building project, though, if I asked nicely :)

    Do you raise rabbits for meat, fur, fun, profit, or 4-H?

  3. Jenn,
    A blowtorch?! With the wire floors there really isn't much too it. Most of the mess falls under the hutches. Any that is left in corners or on their sitting boards can just be scraped or hosed off. Nesting boxes we dump out and sanitize in the sun. I suppose if you had a sick rabbit die or something you'd want to sanitize the whole hutch. I'd think bleach water would do the trick.

    Oh and the other nice thing sis the manure is mild. You can put it directly on the garden or yard. It won't burn the plants, and dissolves after a good rain or two.

    Tim built ours. It wasn't too complicated. He posted about it here if you are interested.

    We raise them for meat, and 4-H mainly though they are fun, we'd like to sell a few, and we did once try using the fur, but then never finished the project.

  4. As far as cleaning under the pen, rabbits will often "bucket train". Place a 5-gallon bucket under the pen to collect the manure in. They will eventually start going over the bucket. Rabbits can also be paper, litter or crate trained to live indoors.

    I'd be cautious about the heavy crock bowls in the winter. We had them for one of our dogs and they'll crack when the water freezes in them. The heated bowls sound cool!

  5. is a link to our rabbit houses

    A mom rabbit only goes to the nest once every 24 hours to feed the babies. They need a closed in area to make a nest in. We put straw inside and around 24 hours before giving birth the mom will pull fur to line the nest for the babies. We had temps down to 14F for a several days and the babies did fine. You seem to enjoy raising rabbits too. I think they are so fun and easy to care for. We have 10 going to new homes next Saturday.

  6. I haven't read all your posts on rabbit husbandry, so I'm not familiar with your entire setup, but if you use a removable litter box, you can take the entire litter indoors during extreme cold.

    We return the litter box to the doe for about 15-30 minutes in the morning and evening during feeding and watering times so she can feed her litter. We've found the does are more than willing to tolerate the absence of their litter, and readily feed the litter as soon as the box is returned to her cage.

    This can be tedious but it does allow you to raise a healthy litter during the coldest months of winter.

  7. Peggy & Annon.
    Thanks for the suggestions about breeding. I think we are going to give it a try.

    Any solutions to winter watering?

  8. Thanks for sharing winter rabbit care.