Most people have a winter sport that they enjoy, like skiing, snowmobiling, and snowshoeing. Here at the rabbitry we have water-crock thawing. Taking the hard water out and putting the liquid water in. This is something that you have to deal with when raising rabbits in a cold climate.
The picture on this post was the beginning of the ice crock pile of 2013! The hardest part of raising rabbits in the winter is keeping them watered. As long as you give them fresh water twice a day, they will do fine.
I use water bottles most of the time except in the winter. This is when I switch over to metal crocks (metal does not crack due to the expanding ice and thaws easy).
In the past I would still use water bottles in the winter. By having lots of extras I would swap out the frozen ones a few times a day. You can even cover or wrap the water bottles to insulate them to slow down the freezing process. These can be made by the DIYer from old wool socks, sewn up from old sweaters, or knitted or crocheted from yarn. You can also buy these covers http://www.homeandroost.co.uk/product/scratch-newton-water-bottle-snug-cover/ . During this time I found that the metal tubes freeze too 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, so I switched to crocks
There is now some heated water bottles available, this looks like it would work if you only have a few rabbits. Heated water bottle If you do like using water bottles in the winter I have seen a setup with a metal barrel with a light hanging down inside the barrel to keep the extra bottles thawed and in the rabbitry here is the You Tube link
My personal favorite is the metal crock they are easier to thaw out than plastic or ceramic, Aluminum Crock http://www.tractorsupply.com/en/store/home-rig-housetrade%3B-rabbit-feeder-pan?cm_vc=-10005
It takes me less than 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. I wear dishwashing gloves and my hands stay warm and dry. If my rubber gloved hands do get cold, by putting them in the warm water they warm up quick. By putting the ice in a bucket I keep the extra moisture out of the rabbitry. I will dump the removed ice blocks were I want the extra water in the spring thaw.
I have a method to my crock watering in the winter. I only have to unthaw my crocks fully, once a day usually at night. After de-icing in the evening, I fill the crock 1/2 full they will drink their fill before it freezes. In the AM I fill the crocks to the top (at this time there is a small layer of ice on the bottom of the crock left from the evening water) and again they drink their fill. Later in the day my wife makes her rounds with hay topping off the crocks again. Then the process starts again in the evening as I de ice and water again. I like this method and works great for me. Some people use hammers to smash the ice out of the crocks (technically know as clunking), or just have lots of spare crocks bringing the frozen ones into the house or basement to thaw.
We can loose power here in the winter, sometime for as long as a week. During this time I can still heat water to thaw my crocks with propane or wood. I have also thawed the metal crocks with a small propane torch, by heating up the bowls bottom and side slightly the ice falls right out.
If you have a well you need power to pump water to your house. I think ever homestead needs a well bucket you will never have to worry about power. I have 2 wells. 1 shallow well and 1 deep, this bucket is awesome in my shallow well https://www.lehmans.com/p-1384-lehmans-own-galvanized-well-bucket.aspx
I have made one for the deep well out of PVC, just be careful of the pump wires when using this works same as the other bucket just narrower for the well casing http://www.truthistreason.net/how-to-diy-well-bucket-using-pvc-pipe
Here is a great idea for making a solar thawing Hot box http://tinyhomesteaders.com/2012/11/21/the-solar-hot-box-melting-waterers-efficiently/
I have used some black rubber crocks that I can pop the ice out of I liked these, but the rabbits liked to chew on them and they only lasted a few years. http://www.tractorsupply.com/en/store/fortex-round-feeder-1-2-gal-capacity-black
I am not a big fan of the auto watering setup I have used these in the past and even in good weather had issues with them not working properly. You do not know how much each rabbit is drinking this helps you to observe and know if a rabbit is “off”. There are many breeders who love this setup, I am just not one of them. They now also have the ability to keep fresh water to your rabbits all year round. Bass equipment sells a couple different systems to freeze proof a watering system. One has a bucket with heater and circulating pump or heat cables to run through pipes in an auto watering set up. Heated auto water setup I have even seen some homemade setups that do work in the winter.
There are some breeders I know in Alaska, they run their rabbits in a colony setting for the colder months and use a regular large metal chicken waterer with a base heater and this has worked for them just fine. In the spring they return their rabbits to the hutches and cages.
I have heard that by adding two or three drops of glycerin into the rabbit’s water bottle. This sweet syrup will prevent the water from freezing as fast. Medical glycerin can be purchased from a pharmacist while vegetable glycerin can usually be purchased from a grocery store’s baking department. Just make sure you rabbit continues to drink the water with this added flavor included. I have never tried this method, if anyone has I would love to hear the results. I do not like the added sugar to their diet I would rather take the time to thaw my crocks.
Your diligence in making sure your rabbits have fresh water will keep your rabbits happy and healthy. Rabbits will not eat if there is no water available, and in the winter they need the extra 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. If you have any other ideas or comments please let me know as I update my posts all the time. Here is a link to my winter care for rabbits post https://riseandshinerabbitry.com/2012/02/20/winter-care-for-rabbits/
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