Friday, March 27, 2015

Housing Winter Rabbits in Cold Climates

Here in Alaska, we raise rabbits, ducks, and chickens for food. By mid-February, we had more animals than housing, but, for various reasons (like age, body heat, and pregnant rabbits), we did not want to “dispatch” any. This prompted some new housing ideas for the rabbits that worked out exceptionally well, in, of all places, in the chicken coop and greenhouse.

Rabbits in the chicken coop:
Because we know a woman who houses her menagerie of goats, poultry and rabbits in the
Zen (the rabbit) is on watch while the ducks nap
(note their heads tucked in, feeling safe) 
same enclosure, we decided to install two of the female rabbits in the coop with our harlequin ducks and Rhode Island Red chickens. One ran away the next day when we opened the run for “duck recess.” Her distinctive foot prints traveled extensively throughout the snowy yard. She successfully evaded predators (including an owl that killed one of the ducks). Ultimately, she settled under the hutches of the other rabbits, where she created a snug, straw filled burrow under their raised building. I hear her banging around as I tend to the other rabbits. When I feed them, she waits below their wire floors, much as my dog used to sit below my children's highchairs, assured of bits and pieces, sure to fall below. She looks healthy and content and has never chosen to return to the coop.

The other rabbit remained with the poultry. She has such equanimity that I named her Zen. At first it was startling (and delightful) to open the lid of the nesting boxes and see not only laying hens but a rabbit – popping her head up to look around! Clearly, though, she is “one of the guys.” She eats and drinks out the same bowls as the birds, and enjoys many of the same snacks, like green peas and birdseed. The rabbit and chickens will gather round me to eat out of my hand. During cold weather, she enjoyed a quiet siesta inside the coop, in a soft depression that she skootched into the straw, while the noisy ducks are outside, hoovering up the snow and digging into rotted tree roots. On sunny afternoons, I raise the nesting box lid, and each box is occupied by a duck, a chicken, or a rabbit, enjoying the sun on their face and the wind-blocking boxes around them. They look like commuters on a train, or kids in a school bus.. As the snow starts to recede and lay bare tempting patches of brown around the trees, Zen follows the ducks' peregrinations, ultimately spending most of the day with them - they guarding her or she guarding them!  She is not the far flung explorer that her erstwhile rabbit companion turned out to be. Zen is more of a companionable homebody.