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Rabbits and Very Cold Weather

Our recent arctic blast left me worrying over my rabbits. Those of you in colder climates are probably laughing at us, but here in MI we experienced lows in our area of -15 (F) with the windchill near -40 (F). That has to be the coldest I’ve ever experienced in my life, and was certainly the coldest I’ve experienced having to care for animals in the backyard. It’s not unusual to experience temperatures to dip a little below 0 with a windchill, but this was more than just a little! While I was worrying about them freezing, experienced breeders were telling me with the preparations I had in place, they would be just fine. The rabbits live outdoors year-round, so they were already fat and fuzzy to weather cold temperatures, and bringing them inside could shock them with such a temperature difference. I also don’t have any indoor cages, nor an area to house so many rabbits indoors, and I have dogs and cats indoors that would likely stress the rabbits out so I had to do the best I could with keeping them outdoors. I had no garage, and every hutch was already stuck firmly in place from previous and recent melting/freezing so moving the hutches to a different location, if I had one more favorable, wouldn’t have been possible.

Every winter, I cover the mesh sides of their cages with old feed bags to break the wind and bed their hutches deep with straw, but I felt like this just wasn’t going to do for the cold blast we were expecting so I made a few other changes.

My hutches have a nesting area attached to each main hutch that is just big enough for the rabbit and a litter of kits, if they had any. It’s fully enclosed with a small doorway they can hop through to access it. I give my rabbits the coldest months of the year “off” so there were no babies to worry about. This nesting area is great for cold weather because we bed it deep with straw and the wooden walls of the hutch contain heat and break the wind. Each hutch was bedded deeply with straw – deep enough for the rabbits to burrow in if they wished. Some people get straw and hay confused – rabbits eat hay, and need straw for bedding. It’s warmer.

We got a lot of snow before the cold temperatures blasted through, so I was able to create a windblock under each hutch, and I let the snow pile up on the rooftops of the hutches before throwing tarps (and the colder temps) to help with insulation. My hutches are end to end in two rows, so when I threw the hutches I put them long-ways over the hutches and the sides still touched the ground with extra, so I packed it snug against the windblock I created and laid firewood all along the ground and on the top of the hutches to keep the tarps in place.

I allowed the rabbits to eat on demand and went out to fill their feeders as needed, several times a day. I changed their water several times a day to ensure they had fresh water and food whenever they needed it. Twice a day I have them a little handful of black-oil sunflower seeds. I didn’t leave their hutches uncovered for long, I was mindful to cover their hutch with the tarp whenever I wasn’t directly dealing with them. If I had to walk away to refill the feed scoop, I’d cover their hutch before walking away to retain as much heat as possible.

The morning following the coldest temperatures I came out to find the rabbits were in the main hutch area and not even burrowed in their nesting area as I had anticipated finding them to stay warm. They were perfectly fine and remained perfectly fine through the cold spell. I know in some areas of the country these temperatures are routine and normal – but none of us are acclimated to such weather! So, keep laughing if this is the norm for you… But for the rest of you, if you experience an unexpected blast of cold temperatures maybe this will help you prepare your hutches so your rabbits stay comfortable throughout the whole ordeal.

Something to keep in mind…

  • Crocks or bowls are favorable in cold temperatures because even if they freeze, the rabbits can still lick the ice until you are able to thaw the water (such as overnight). Water bottles with the metal nipples not only offer no option for licking water, but they freeze very quickly in cold weather.
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