If you follow my blog or my face-book page you already know what GMOs are, but here is the basic definition -Genetically modified foods (GM foods, or bio-tech foods) are foods derived from genetically modified organisms (GMOs), such as genetically modified crops or genetically modified fish. GMOs have had specific changes introduced into their DNA by genetic engineering techniques. These techniques are much more precise than mutation breeding where an organism is exposed to radiation or chemicals to create a non-specific but stable change. The scientist at Monsanto started inserting genes from bacteria and viruses into crops. That’s were they got a crop that could either survive a application of the company’s herbicide glyphosate (roundup) or produce its own insect killing pesticide. Coming soon the USDA will be approving Agent Orange resistant crops (this have been proven in studies after Vietnam to cause cancer and birth defects).
Research has shown lower levels of nutrients in crops sprayed with Roundup. These crops are specifically engineered to tolerate the herbicide Roundup, whose use has increased with the release of Roundup-Ready GM crops. Glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, decreases nutrient availability and uptake in plants. Some of these nutrients help plants and animals fight disease. Recent studies have shown a link between high rates of spontaneous abortions and infertility in livestock fed GM Roundup-Ready crops.
We know very little about the effects of genetically modified organisms on livestock and human health. Researchers in Italy have performed a study on some of the effects, and their results were released last year. They fed one group of pregnant goats rations with non-GM soybean meal and another group with GM Round up sprayed soybean meal. The mothers received this diet for two months prior to the birth of their kids. Then the offspring were fed milk only from their mother for 60 days. The results showed DNA from the GM Roundup-Ready soy in the blood, organs, and milk of goats. Also, the kids of the mothers fed GM soy had substantially higher levels of an enzyme, lactate dehydrogenase (LDH), in the heart, muscles, and kidneys. Similar metabolic changes have been found in studies of GM-fed rabbits and mice, as well.
The word is spreading that rabbits fed pellets from company’s that use GMO grown products in the manufacturing of their pellets are getting sicker. Laboratory GMO fed rabbits have had organ damage, reproductive failure, high death of kits, stomach legions, smaller bodies and organs, low immune responses, and higher death rates. There is no actual facts that I have, just resource’s and articles I have found.
The way a rabbits digestive system works is that the beneficial bacteria that needed in the gut must flourish and adapt to their food source. If this bacteria is off it will cause all kinds of digestive problems such as enteritis, bloating, wasting away and more! If the bad bacteria starts flourishing this can cause coccidiosis and other problems. Last year I have had a rash of emails, phone calls, people stopping by the rabbitry to ask questions about problems with their rabbits. The only common factor in all these cases is the use of GMO pellets. Not just in one area (from California to Maine) or season (Spring to winter)! I do not believe that they are stress related. I am lucky to feed the lowest amount of pellets I have too, to keep my rabbits productive and healthy. By feeding rabbits a more natural diet and keeping a closed herd, has been the best thing for me and my rabbits.
A result in tests done on rabbits fed gmo soy-meal was released found Roundup Ready Soy Changed Cell Metabolism in Rabbit Organs, Rabbits fed GM soy for about 40 days showed significant differences in the amounts of certain enzymes in their kidneys, hearts and livers. A rise in LDH1 levels in all three organs suggests an increase in cellular metabolism. Changes in other enzymes point to other alterations in the organs. When cells are damaged in mammals, LDH levels are elevated. It is a key indicator of cancer, and LDH remains elevated after a heart attack. Increased LDH is associated with several other health disorders
A German farmer who had 65 cows die after he fed them genetically modified Bt corn has filed criminal charges against Syngenta, alleging that the company knew the corn could be lethal to livestock, and covered up deaths that occurred during one of their clinical feeding trials. Swiss bio-tech Syngenta committed a grave criminal offense by deliberately withholding the results of a feeding trial in which four cows died in two days. The deaths prompted the company to halt the test. No health problems or deaths were reported in the control group, which was not fed the genetically engineered Bt 176 corn.
Thousands of livestock deaths have also been reported across India, as a result of grazing on genetically engineered crops and feed.
Alfalfa is the number one forage crop in the United States. In January 2011 the USDA approved the release of genetically modified (GM) alfalfa, raising the prospect that some non-GM alfalfa will be contaminated by GM alfalfa by cross-pollination from bees (could this also be the health problem bees are having?). Soon the first cuttings of GM alfalfa will be harvested and fed to livestock and be in your rabbit pellets with the GMO soy products. I have been called a conspiracy theorists but is this a way to control the food supply. You will not be able to raise any animals without the use of GMOs. This is why I push the Natural diet for us and our rabbits! Please comment your thoughts and ideas!
Wild rabbits not only eat a healthy diet of fresh grass, but they also have access to a wide variety of wild plants which they can eat to balance out their diet and keep themselves healthy. When we keep rabbits in captivity we remove them from both their natural diet and the herbs they would naturally eat if they were feeling sick and need to self medicate. Providing rabbits with a range of herbs and greens that they can choose to eat, or refuse, gives them the opportunity to balance their own diet according to their natural instincts. Rabbit are ideal patient for herbal medicines because they are herbivores and eat their herbal medicine treats with enthusiasm!
One of the most important daily chore in your quest for raising rabbits is observation. Daily observation can easily detect illness or disease in your rabbits that can be found early and contained before all of the rabbits are affected. While you do your daily chores, simply stop, look, and listen. Stand quietly or listen carefully while you do your chores. You’re listening for sneezing, coughing, or labored breathing. A few sneezes here and there are common and normal. A rabbit that sneezes repeatedly needs closer attention. Look closely at the face and ears of your rabbits. Ears should be clean and free of mites. Mites will cause the ears to fill with yellowish nasty crust. It is very simple to treat but only if you know notice it. Noses and eyes should be clear and free of discharge. It only takes a few minutes longer doing your chores to check your rabbits daily for illness. This will also save you lots of time treating when prevention or cure is simple. The number one to keep you rabbits healthy is observation
I believe that most of the health problems rabbits have are brought on by an imbalance in their immune systems that allows the bacterial and parasitic disease to get a hold in the rabbits system. The best herb I believe for balancing the rabbits immune system is Echinacea it can be grown in any backyard and is available in most health food stores.
There are some preventive measures that will help you in your quest of raising rabbits, these will save you from many troubles. sanitation Keep cages clean, wire brush any dropping that get stuck and clean cages thoroughly between litters. Clean cages mean clean rabbits! I have never seen a rabbit die from good sanitation practices. Ventilation- air should be moving to keep fresh air to your rabbits if it smells to you it smells worse to the rabbits. Apple Cider Vinegar- Use as an additive to their daily water giving it continuously or in 3 month cycles (3on, 3off, 3on,etc.). Dosage: Add 1 to 2 tablespoons of ACV to a gallon of water. I have an earlier post in the January archives with lots of good information on Apple Cider Vinegar For Rabbits check it out. Grapefruit Seed Extract- 5 to 10 drops GSE to 1 gallon water 2 times a year for 2 weeks as a preventive wormer (I also use this when I get a new rabbit while the rabbit is in quarantine “just in case”). Echinacea- I use a few of the stems and leaves on top of their daily food as a preventive immune system booster. There are more but these are the best preventive measures I have found and use.
I know that pure breeds are more prone to suffer illness than the crossed breeds. This is mainly because of breeders trying to perfect a breed, in most cases the breeders do not take into consideration health risks, and inbreeding, to achieve the perfect rabbit. I have never have had any trouble with my crossbred meat rabbits. They seen to have a natural preventive built-in with the hybrid vigor! More on crossing rabbits to come!
Here are a few herbs and what they are recommended for. Most of these I have used on my rabbits. These are listed in order by herb name. Natural remedies work great for small ailments. I have seen the effects for treating GI problems, Nest box eye, Diarrhea, ear mites, etc. with natural means work. You should ALWAYS be feeding lots of good grass hay, tonic weeds like plantain and dandelion, raspberry, blackberry, strawberry leaves, willow twigs and leaves if they are available. These things will contribute to your rabbits’ good health, but they are not cure-alls. Just a reminder that seeds purchased for planting are not safe for rabbits. Most of them have been treated with fungicides etc. Stick to seeds purchased as feed or ones you have harvested yourself.
BIRCH – Chewing, pain relief, anti-inflammatory, diuretic.
BLACK OIL SUNFLOWER SEEDS – Coat Condition
BLACKBERRY – Used for pregnant does, summer cooling, stimulate appetite, diarrhea and safe introductory green for young kits use leaves and fruit,this is a very soothing to rabbits and can help cool rabbits in the summer heat by increasing circulation, awsome addition for pregnant does in the hot summer
BLUE COHOSH- Works in the same ways as Shepard’s Purse. It can be used if doe has a hard time birthing or kit gets stuck. It will dilate the birth canal. Do not give while pregnant, wait until doe is due. It will induce labor. Also it will help in healing once kits are born.
BORAGE – Laxative, Increases milk flow of nursing does, helps with fevers, reduces stress, A great treat after a doe gives birth,plus you can check her litter while she is busy eating her treat
CHAMOMILE – Pain relief, calm nervous rabbit, one of the best eye wash for weepy eye Chamomile tea and honey!!!!! Just make a cup of tea, a little stronger than you would drink it and add a teaspoon of honey. I use an old syringe w/o the needle to squirt into the eye. You can also use as a compress and as a wipe for the eye. It will work wonders. Both chamomile and honey are anti-everything! microbial, fungal, and with antibiotic properties. Let the rabbit eat some before you treat for eye problems because of its pain relief and calming effects will make the rabbit easier to handle
CHICKWEED – Anti-inflammatory, healing of cuts, molt
CLEAVERS – Healing of cuts, laxative
COLTSFOOT – Respiratory expectorant
COMFREY – Healing, bone formation, ill rabbits, stressed and weak rabbits, if you have a rabbit off feed try a few leaves of comfrey this is one of my favorite herb tonic for rabbits! You can cut it down and dry it like hay to store for winter use (can be cut down up to three times here in Maine) They also love the freshly harvested leaves(I have never wilted it) . The plant has a calming effect on rabbits Comfrey is a good source of vitamin A and good for pregnant and nursing does. It is a digestive aid, helps with wool block and is used for many other things. It supports the immune system, good for the stomach, feed as a general tonic. In extreme doses, comfrey can cause diarrhea. This is its effects working too hard and if left unnoticed, the rabbit may dehydrate. When used with common sense, Comfrey is one of the best herbs for rabbits.
DANDELION – Blood purifying, respiratory ailments, anti-inflammatory, bladder infections, diarrhea, milk flow of nursing does, good treat for does after having a litter. Some rabbit respiratory problems, such as pasteurellosis, can eventually cause serious problems including head tilt, loss of balance and death. There have been tests on rabbits that were treated with dandelion’s showing that it is effective against pneumonia, bronchitis and upper respiratory infections. Use fresh leaves, flowers and dig up root, the root can be dried to make a weak tea to add to the rabbits water. Well known for its curative powers. The bitter milky sap stimulates the working of all glands, including the milk glands of lactating does. The plant has both laxative and astringent qualities and regulates constipation and diarrhea.
ECHINACEA -Immune system stimulant and broad spectrum antibiotic. In the lower doses it’s the stimulant and in higher doses acts as an antibiotic. Anti-inflammatory with anti-viral properties. It can be grown in nearly every backyard and easily available at most health food stores. Echinacea is a great preventive herb to use for your rabbits. I feed a few leaves every now a then to my rabbits daily greens mix to boost the immune system and fight infection. Research has shown that echinacea increases production of interferon in the body. It is antiseptic and antimicrobial, with properties that act to increase the number of white blood cells available to destroy bacteria and slow the spread of infection. It is also a great herb to dry and add to your winter hay blend! You can also get the capsules at heath food stores add 4 capsules of the echinacea to one gallon of water and boil and cool store in fridge and add 1/4 herb water to 3/4 water and fill water bottles, crocks, ect,
ELDER FLOWER – Respiratory expectorant, fevers
EUCALYPTUS – Dried and powdered, and sprinkled repel fleas
EYEBRIGHT – Weepy eye wash
FENNEL – Bloating, gas, milk flow of nursing does
GARLIC – Immunize against disease, antiseptic, antibiotic, bloating and gas, wormer, respiratory expectorant. This stuff works it is just hard to get a rabbit to eat it!
GINGER – Infertility in bucks
GOATS RUE – Milk flow in nursing does
GOLDEN ROD – Anti-inflammatory
GRAPEFRUIT SEED EXTRACT- As for worming rabbits, grapefruit seed extract does the job well and is all natural. 10 drops in a gallon of water for 2 weeks..or longer if there is a known bad problem. This also helps to worm them and along with raw pumpkin seeds this mix should clean out your rabbits. I regularly run grapefruit seed extract through their water at least 2 times a year with a few raw pumpkin seeds on top of their food and have never had a problem with coccidiosis. I also use it when I bring in new stock this has many uses as a bactericide, fungicide, anti viral, anti parasitic
LAMBS QUARTERS- Another good wormer for rabbits I only feed lamb’s quarters only when it is young rabbits will reject it as it gets older. In spring it is very useful because it starts early when greens are a bit limited
LAVENDER – Circulation problems, nervous stress, exhaustion, induces labor. To bring on labour or expel placental material etc. in problem kindling’s. Use with caution. sparingly. in extreme cases only. The flowers are actually a mild tranquilizer, acting upon the heart in easing blood pressure rather than acting upon the brain as an anti-stimulant. Great for stressed out rabbits.
LEMON BALM – Anti-bacterial, antiviral, bloating and gas, diarrhea, reduce stress
LICORICE – Good for gastric inflammation and coughs.
LINSEED – Laxative, helps with molting
MARIGOLD – Bruises, slowly healing wounds, ulcers, skin diseases, digestive problems
MARJORIM – Coughs, inflammation of mouth, throat. Digestive problems, uterine discomfort, calm nerves
MEADOWSWEET – Weepy eye wash
MILK THISLTE – Helps take ammonia from the blood and protects both the liver and the kidneys, increases milk flow in nursing does
MINT – Firms loose stools, decreases the milk flow of does during weaning, Good herb for treating mastitis. Safe as food for dry does and bucks DO NOT FEED to lactitating does. Used for colds, eye inflammation, liver stimulant, and used to relax the muscles of the digestive tract and stimulate bile flow so mint is useful for indigestion, gas and colic. Avoid prolonged use, it can irritate the mucous membranes. Do not give any form of mint to young babies. Should be harvested just before flowering.
MOTHER WART – Weepy eye wash
NASTURTIUM – Strongly antiseptic.
NETTLES – Increases milk flow in nursing does
OATS – Feed sparingly in summer though. Good for digestive problems, diarrhea, kidney and bladder problems. Small kits may not be able to swallow oats and may actually choke on them.
PARSLEY – Enriches the blood, urinary problems. Roots are used for constipation and obstruction of the intestines. Good for the cure of inflammation of bladder & kidneys, digestive disorders, fertility in bucks, productivity in does
PAPAYA- When I used to raise angoras (Still have some fiber males) I would give them a papaya enzyme tablet every couple of days to help keep them from getting wool block. We always have had healthy rabbits. The enzyme helps to break down the hair in the gut, and keep things moving. I have also given them to the meat rabbits. The rabbits love them, You can get the tablets at most health food stores.
PINEAPPLE- Bromelain, the actual enzyme in the pineapple, is most abundant in the stem of the pineapple, the center part that we throw away. Fresh pineapple are best as the enzyme will be removed once frozen or processed. Bromelain is good for diarrhoea. It will reduce intestinal fluid secretion and is suggested that bromelain has mucolytic and digestive properties. So it’ll dilate the mucus coating of the GI tract as well as helping to breakdown proteins good for gut mobility and helping with hairballs good to give to rabbits during a molt
PLANTAIN – antimicrobial, antispasmodic, healing of cuts, respiratory expectorant, fevers. Great as a safe introduction of young kits to greens, works great for diarrhea. This is something I feed in my daily green feed mix. Leaves soothe urinary tract infections and irritations. Good for gastric inflammations. Juice pressed from fresh leaves is given orally for inflamed mucous membranes in cystitis, diarrhea and lung infections. Use the juice for inflammations, sores, and wounds. Plantain does not cause digestive problems. The plant regulates the function of the intestines and is generally good for the mucous membranes. Useful in the diet of weanling’s and can be harvested and dried for year round use.
PURSLANE- Purslane contains more Omega-3 fatty acids than any other leafy vegetable plant know of. There was a study where they fed Purslane to rabbits with high cholesterol and it lowered it.
RASPBERRY – Prevention and treatment of kindling problems like retained afterbirth. Improves condition during pregnancy, ensuring speedy and strong birth. Feed during the last two weeks of pregnancy as a great preventive prenatal supplement. Also wonderful cure for digestive ailments including diarrhea, infertility in bucks, fevers. and a safe introductory green for young kits
RED CLOVER – weepy eye
ROSEMARY – Lowers blood pressure, Ideal for exhaustion, weakness, and depression in rabbits. The stems and leaves invigorate the circulation, stimulate the digestion, and are good for cold conditions. Harvest fresh dry or grow inside for year-round use.
SAGE – dried and powdered, and sprinkled repel fleas, dry up does who’s kits have been weaned. Reduces lactation when weaning, digestive stimulant and a uterine stimulant. This herb should be used with caution and should be avoided during pregnancy.
SASSAFRASS – dried and powdered, and sprinkled repel fleas
SCOTCH PINE – bronchitis, sinusitis, neuralgia, rheumatism.
SHEPHERDS PURSE – Uterine disorders, A strong medicine for diarrhea. Use sparingly.
SORREL – Very cooling and soothing, it is a much cherished treat in the summer.
STRAWBERRY – Whole plant is antiseptic and cooling. Leaves are rich in iron and are supposed to prevent miscarriage. Externally used for inflamed areas, rashes and sore eyes.
THYME – Good for diarrhea The stems and leaves are ideal for a useful as a digestive remedy, warming for stomach ache, chills and associated diarrhea. Expels worms. Harvest before and during flowering in summer discard the woody stems
WILLOW – Intestinal inflammation. Willow twigs and leaves. Useful winter food, easily gathered and stored. Also a pain-reliever and possible natural coccidiostat.
If while treating your rabbits or at any other time your rabbits stools are soft and sticky, a temporary change of diet can be beneficial. Remove the pellets and grain, feed grass hay and some of the beneficial plants. These plants will aid in firming the stools but they are also part of a healthy diet and will not cause constipation. You do not want your rabbits to go from one extreme to the other. The four best plants for this are plantain, raspberry leaves, blackberry leaves and strawberry leaves. All these are useful plants for a food source as well as a medicinal. You don’t need to worry about feeding too many. These are also good plants to dry and add to your winter hay blend! A combination of any of these and the grass hay will usually solve the problem within a few days.
On the other hand, if a rabbit is exhibiting watery stools rather than merely soft, a stronger medicine may be needed. The dietary restrictions should be the same, but shepherd’s purse can be added to the greens listed above. Shepherd’s purse is an excellent medicinal plant, but it is very strong and you don’t want to feed too much. A small handful of leaves and stems twice a day for three or four days should fix things. As the rabbit is getting better, reduce the amount of shepherds purse and then stop but feed the greens listed above and grass hay for another day or two. Reintroduce grains or pellets slowly.
EAR MITES-(EAR CANKER)- Any type of food grade oil may be used- olive oil, corn oil, almond oil, ect. A few drops of tea tree oil mixed in to any of the oils listed will help the healing process the oil serves 3 purposes -soothes the skin, smothers and suffocates the mites, and speeds the healing process. Put 6 or 7 drops in each ear massaging the base of the ear to saturate the inner ear completely. The rabbit will shake out the nasty stuff after a few treatments. Treat for the first 2 days than every other day for 14 days after this, 2 times a week for the next 2 weeks ear mites have a 28 day life cycle so you must treat up to the 28 days to make sure all the mites are killed. I make a mix of mineral oil with a few drops of apple cider vinegar, 5 or 6 drops of camphor oil and rosemary oil in the store bought mineral oil container and use a few drops in each ear as a preventive when I trim the rabbits nails.
EYE INFECTION / WEEPY EYES- Eye problems are not uncommon in rabbits, dirt or other debris can get lodged in a tear duct(happens more often to kits in the nestbox) and if not washed out can cause a bacterial infection wash with saline or any human eye wash(remember they have all probably been tested or rabbits at some point)take a few drop of tea tree oil and smeared it around the inflamed area tea tree oil is a natural antiseptic and is very good at curing microbial infections. See CHAMOMILE above for more info
GI PROBLEMS- Rabbits need a high fiber diet for their best intestinal health. Grass hay is great for the healthy movement in the rabbits digestive track. If a rabbit is not eating there is a problem! If their poop pellets get small and dry or none at all it is a sign of wool block or GI stasis. You have to get the gastric tract moving again. Get some 100% canned pumpkin NOT the canned pumpkin pie filling (it has spices in it the will hurt your rabbits) Suck some up in a big syringe (remove the needle). Then put the plastic tip of the syringe into the side of the rabbits mouth and very slowly squeeze some out a little at a time give about 2 teaspoons for each dose wait about 3 hours and do it again you can give it 4 to 6 times a day every day until they start eating and pooping. Slippery elm bark in its shredded bark form fed to rabbits should help with GI problems if the rabbits will not eat it grind some up as a powdered form in its water mix 1 teaspoon in the drinking water 3 to 4 time a day. I have always had good luck feeding a few comfrey leaves and in a few days they are back on the regular feed schedule
KIDNEY OR BLADDER PROBLEMS- Any diuretic that will increase urine flow is good for the urinary tract in rabbits. This helps to keep bladder sludge down(caused from high calcuim intake). Dandelion root tea in the water with cranberry treats several time a week will help with any problems.The cranberry prevents bacteria from attaching to the wall of the bladder so it get washed out with the urine.
PREGENCY TONIC- Combine the following- dried, raspberry leaf, nettle, and goats rue (Galega officinale) in equal parts, and half part Milk Thistle (Silybum marianum). All organic either grow your own or get it from a health food store
Feed: 1 Tbs. per day at feeding time, to pregnant Does beginning one week before kindling through the first month. These herbs help ease kindling, offer nutrition and support lactation. Just sprinkle 1 Tbs. over their food, once a day.
If I have missed anything let me know I would be glad to add it to this post! Some of this information I have gotten from other sources online or old rabbit books. I have used most of these herbs on my rabbits over the last 30 years, use with caution and know what you are feeding your rabbits. Hope you enjoyed this post! Check us out on Facebook for daily rabbit information! JOIN THE RABBIT REVOLUTION by subscribing to our blog feed to get the new posts as they are added! Check out the podcast section of the blog page! Will be doing more podcasts in the future lots of good information!
Winter is now approaching and so the issue of raising rabbits in cold weather is on many rabbit breeders minds. As with any livestock winter can present many challenges in the proper care of these animals. 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 can be a problem for newborn or young rabbits.
Make shure that the location of your rabbitry, be it in a barn, shed or hutches should be located in a sheltered area. This will be a added protection from the wind, especially north winds. It should have a roof of some kind and, depending on the kind of shelter, will need protection on the sides. Wooden hutches with wire bottoms and wire fronts are great for cold weather because they offer protection on the top and three sides. For maximum storm protection, a heavy canvas cover can be made for the front of the cage that will be rolled up during nice weather, but that can be put into place during wind, storms, and at night.
Rabbits 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). Most meat breeds of rabbits have a thick coat which is a exceptional insulator against the weather, but if water reaches their skin they will be unable to stay warm. 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. It is important not to completely block ventilation in you rabbit barn,shed or hutchs. Ventilation in the rabbitry is just as important in the winter as it is in the summer. Insulating a barn for the winter will help keep the barn a little warmer. A balance between shelter and ventilation is important!
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, sometimes in really bad weather I will also fill a nest-box with straw and put in the cage for the rabbit to keep warm. This would be similar to a wild rabbit going into its den during extreme cold. I have also made some “ARTIC 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 foam 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. Most other rabbit breeders tell me that litters can’t be born outdoors when the temperature is below freezing. Well, here in Maine, my does haven’t heard about that (don’t tell them either!), and produce young year round, freezing weather or not.
As long as plenty of nesting material is provided and the mother covers her babies with fur, the bunnies won’t freeze. The nesting material I’ve found most suitable for winter use is wood shavings and straw, which mix well with the fur and can be burrowed into for warmth. One reason I don’t have problems with does losing litters to cold weather is that I cull any female that doesn’t pull out enough hair to make a good nest. We’ve been raising rabbits for about 30 years and have lost an occasional kit in the winter but never an entire litter. By observing your rabbits and culling you can make your bloodline do what you want.
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 heard 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 bought power to raise rabbits, unless I make it here with the wind and sun. I am working on methane production next).
My rabbits are all receptive to breed in the winter without added lights or heat (selective breeding for your area works awsome) 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, kits 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 cardbord. By sandwiching the shavings between 2 layers of cardboard to keep the floor of the box insulated.I also line the sides with cardbord. 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 usally only need to worry for the first 2 weeks then the kits get enough fur to survive the cold temperatures 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 will still not be frozen but the water is not available to the rabbits 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 they need the food calories to keep warm. 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 breed and if you do not breed in the winter they 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. My winter herbal hay mix that I make up (will do a post on this in the spring) has dry basil leaves added, this herb acts as a warming and uplifting tonic for nervous rabbits or added benefit in any cold conditions.
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 rectal temperature. 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 had 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.
Cold weather can be deadly for any animal, but with a few precautions and your rabbit’s naturally well-insulated body, the animal can live warm and comfortable in even the coldest climates. Rabbits survive in the wild further north than most other animals, but your rabbits relie on you to give it the benifits that allow their wild ancesters to live throughout the year.
Hope this answers any of your winter rabbit needs. If any questions or other good ideas feel free to post in the comment section or email me! firstname.lastname@example.org
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