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Growing worms in rabbit litter (wood pellets from the bunny's litter box)

 
Julia Winter
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Has anybody grown worms in rabbit litter? We have one pet bunny, and she has a litter box that we keep supplied with wood pellets. During the summer I could use the mix of bunny pee, bunny pellets and wood pellets as garden mulch (the wood pellets sort of "explode" into wet sawdust with the addition of water), but now that the Wisconsin winter is setting in, I'm wondering about vermicomposting. I have about a dozen hens, and worms would be a lovely addition to their diet.

This would be different than the usual vermiculture in that I could probably fill a box pretty quickly, and I won't be putting food scraps in there because we give those to the chickens. I feel like the mix from the bunny box should be "complete," but as I've never done this before, I'm wondering if any of you know more than I do! This will be indoors, in a three-season room, meaning it stays colder than the rest of the house, but never freezes.
 
Julia Winter
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O.K., so in the absence of input, I have forged ahead. I did a little searching for info, and it seems that rabbit urine may be hard on worms. So, I shredded office paper and newspaper and added that, plus a fair amount of water to dilute the urine and "explode" all of the wood pellets. I let it sit a while to become evenly moist, then loaded it into a plastic bin with drainage holes. The bedding mix also has some timothy hay in it. I went outside and dug to the center of a compost bin where I collected a couple of handfuls of compost and many red wriggly worms (species unknown). The bin is filled to the top and the compost and worms was mixed in to the middle. Our bunny gets apple tree twigs as a treat, so I had a few of them to mix in and I used them to make a bunch of air passages since I haven't bothered to drill holes in the sides of the box. I figure the worms will travel to whatever part of the mix they like.

Now, we wait. Some day when I have time (probably next year, ha!) I will excavate and see if I have a lot more worms.
 
paul wheaton
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I got your request for me to pop in and look at this thread.

You probably are not going to like my response.

It sounds like you are raising your rabbits in a hutches, right? So ... I don't like that.

Next: you have a build up of poop and urine? I think that comes from raising the animals in too confined a space. To me, it's a red flag. Rather than finding a way to deal with the excess of poop and urine, I would explore raising rabbits in such a way that this problem never occurred. Preferably something with paddock shift.

 
Thea Olsen
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Paul, she's talking about 1 pet rabbit, using a litter box. That's what I have too (except that I have 2). Build up of waste is dealt with by cleaning the litter box, just like people do with cats. I'm all in favor of a paddock shift system for livestock, but that's not what we're talking about here.
I haven't tried vermicomposting used litter, because I either use it directly as mulch or put it in the compost heap. I put it outside year round. I'll be interested to hear the results of this, because I've read that rabbit urine can be harmful to worms, but I've also heard of people getting great results putting worm bins directly under rabbit hutches, which seems like it would expose the worms to urine a lot more directly that adding used litter to the worm bin. I was going to try it years ago when we lived in an apartment and had no place to compost outdoors, but we didn't end up staying there very long.
 
paul wheaton
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So then I move on to talking about cats: I have to say that I loathe the idea of fooling with a litter box. Therefore, cats that hang out with me need to do their business outside.

I have never thought of having a rabbit as a pet indoors, so I suppose my stuff is of little value. (I tried! )
 
Julia Winter
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Well, thanks for trying. Thea is right, this is one indoor bunny who hops into the litter box to do her business. (We adopted a brother/sister pair from the Humane Society, but the boy died of an intestinal blockage not long after we got them.) Not many people know that bunnies will use a litter box, but they will! She is 100% accurate in where she pees, the (very) occasional dry round poop will get left somewhere.

I'm pretty confident that after adding enough water to expand all of the dry wood pellets and moisten the shredded paper the urine will be sufficiently diluted so as not to harm the worms. My main curiosity now is how much "free" protein for my hens I can get out of this. Also, it seems that vermicomposting is the only sort of animal based management of waste food that is do-able in a modern city. Walter Jeffries knows far more than I, and he says you can't feed post-human food waste to hogs (I'm thinking of plate scrapings from restaurants or school cafeterias.) I'm interested in learning more about worm culture so that someday I could start diverting school food waste from the current waste stream. (I live close to several schools.)

As for our cat, we have a Litter-Robot, which has changed our lives for the better.
 
Thea Olsen
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I hear ya about cat litter boxes, Paul. Cat poop is gross. Rabbit litter boxes are not nearly so icky.
 
Miles Flansburg
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I will be interested in hearing how this turns out also, I did not know that the urine might harm worms. Excellent experiment.
 
                                          
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Julia Winter wrote:Has anybody grown worms in rabbit litter? We have one pet bunny, and she has a litter box that we keep supplied with wood pellets. During the summer I could use the mix of bunny pee, bunny pellets and wood pellets as garden mulch (the wood pellets sort of "explode" into wet sawdust with the addition of water), but now that the Wisconsin winter is setting in, I'm wondering about vermicomposting. I have about a dozen hens, and worms would be a lovely addition to their diet.

This would be different than the usual vermiculture in that I could probably fill a box pretty quickly, and I won't be putting food scraps in there because we give those to the chickens. I feel like the mix from the bunny box should be "complete," but as I've never done this before, I'm wondering if any of you know more than I do! This will be indoors, in a three-season room, meaning it stays colder than the rest of the house, but never freezes.


Hi Julia, I to am in central Wi. East of Wausau. For the winter we have built bunny cages in our basement so keep the does breeding through the winter months. I was thinking about making a smaller mesh tray under the main wire cage to catch the rabbit poops so it don't mix in and sit in with the urine and try to farm worms to feed my chickens the wormy treats through the winter months. No reason to let them free range in the snow when there is nothing for them to eat. But I'm still in the planning process. How is this working for you? I'd like to hear more about your experience with vermiculture.

Brenda
 
Grant Fulcher
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IMO its much easier to just transfer the rabbit poop to a worm farm. They are super easy to build or buy from any aquaponic distributer like the aquaponicsource.com etc.

My question to you is how did you get your rabbit to potty in a litter box? My rabbits are not pets, they are for breeding dinner but my 7 year old chose a cull to be a pet, sigh/ugh, and I would perfer to keep it inside since my working rabbits fill my kennels, I cant imagine keeping one inside b/c of the pee.... are females easier to keep inside as a pet since males tend to spray?
 
Thea Olsen
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It's pretty easy to litter train them. Here's an article about how: Litter box train your rabbit.
As far as male vs. female, pet rabbits, like pet cats and dogs, are best spayed or neutered. Neutered male rabbits generally don't spray (I've never had one spray) and spaying prevents uterine cancer, which is otherwise very likely to occur in nonbreeding females. Altered animals also tend to have better litter-box habits. I've been told that male rabbits are often friendlier as pets than females, especially intact females (which can be rather obsessed with the desire to reproduce), but I can't speak from experience because I've only ever had males-although I'll probably get a female next because my 2 bonded males are more likely to accept a girl in their territory than another boy.
 
Russ White
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Getting back to the worm growing. I used to buy night crawlers from a lady who raised rabbits. She would place worm poo in barrels, then put in night crawlers, they would turn the poo into casting for her garden. They were nice big fat worms for fishing. Her garden always looked great. She also made quite a good profit from the worm sale.
 
Kirk Marschel
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I'm currently raising some rabbits here in Minnesota, it's winter and the rabbits are indoors. I vermicompost the rabbit litter (wood shavings, hay, urine, feces, and whatever else is in the drop tray) but I add a buffer to it. When I clean out the trays or cages, I scoop out the litter and dump it into a 5 gallon bucket. I let it all sit for a while before I add it to the worm compost. That way the rabbit urine has some time to break down a bit. I'm loving the new vermicompost input stream, and if it all works well enough perhaps the rabbit litter will replace the coir one day?

I'm also looking into either then use that compost as mushroom medium or soil amendment for something to grow for the rabbits to help tie in the resource stream?

-Kirk
 
Julia Winter
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Update: a lot has happened (I got laid off and we are moving to Portland!) and through the whole winter the green bin full of rabbit litter and shredded paper sat on the bunny porch (where it gets cold but never freezes) under a table. I added things until it was full and then mostly left it alone, very occasionally watering it when I remembered it was there.

Yesterday I hauled the thing out to the chicken coop and up-ended it. It came out in a block, with the bottom quarter significantly wetter than the top quarter. None of it had gone anaerobic, as it did have drainage. I poked at it a little and confirmed that there were still worms. Hurray!

I'm very busy getting ready to sell my house, so I didn't have time to observe closely, but once I cracked the block open with a garden knife, the chickens saw what was up and they proceeded to pick and scratch through all of it. It's now another layer in the chicken pen.

I declare this a success. In Portland, I won't have the issue with snow cover, but I may still fill up suitable containers with rabbit litter (and some other things to buffer the urine: Kirk, you said you add a buffer--what do you use??) and grow some worms. I didn't even buy worms for this, just pulled a few from the garden. It was definitely adding value.

Of course, in Portland I fully intend to feed black soldier fly larvae/pupae to my chickens, assuming we find a place where we can have chickens! I see that as a great recycling opportunity for restaurant/cafeteria waste. But, that's a topic for a different forum.
 
Kacy Wallace
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Not sure if anyone is still interested in this idea, but I have had some success doing it. I have two galvanized steel watering troughs full of soaked and shredded cardboard, newspaper strips, organic food wastes and pretty much anything else you might try to vermicompost. On top of each trough is a rabbit cage with a wire bottom. We feed the rabbits all of our garden weeds (some of which fall through the cage into the worm troughs). The cages are about 1/4 the size of the trough. I gradually move the cage down the length of the trough over time to evenly incorporate rabbit poo, urine and fallen food. I occasionally add some calcium carbonate to mitigate any chance of having too much green matter and rabbit urine, but I'm not sure this is necessary. I think filling the bottom of the worm trough with soaked and shredded cardboard provides a safe retreat for the worms.

I'm sure the process would be much more complicated if you were breeding rabbits commercially. It works perfectly for my application though. I spend significantly less time cleaning the rabbit cages and feeding the worms. Closing the loop!
 
Jason Warren
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Thank you Kacy for sharing your story. It helped me with my design. I'm planning a 3 tier system: Rabbits, Worm Bin, & Duckweed tank. My thoughts are that the rabbit poo and urine will drop into large worm bins. The bins will have a drainage at the bottom that will then flow down a tube to the duckweed tanks. I can hose down the worm bins as needed to wash nutrients down into the duckweed tank or just neutralize the rabbit urnie. This whole setup would be in my greenhouse. I heard that ammonia is a problem with keeping rabbits in the greenhouse, I'm trying to devise a way to deal with the waste in a way that works in conjunction with my greenhouse.

I appreciate any thoughts from you or anyone else reading this post.

Best Regards,
Jason
 
Wayne Chin
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Julie;

I have experience with litter box trained house bunny, vermiculture and composting. My advice is to create a standard compost bin and add the bunny waste to this for a few weeks before adding it to the worms. From my experience the worms prefer their waste a little pre-composted first before invading it. This intermediate step also solves your rabbit urine problem. If you can get a supply of horse manure, add this to your compost bin to enhance the quality of your compost for your worms. We used the compost bin for years to dispose of Freckles' waste and turn it into garden food long before we saw the advantages of pre-processing fresh veggie waste and bunny litter into compost before feeding the compost to the worms.

Composting your rabbit waste first creates an ideal bedding and food source for your worms that will explode the worm population. Be sure to cool down the compost with water before adding it to the worm bin
 
Julia Winter
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Wayne, the reason I did my experiment was that I was in Wisconsin and needed a way to manage the litter box stuff when the outside was frozen.
 
Wayne Chin
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I did understand your climate was frozen north. There are indoor composting options as well such as in a garage, barn, greenhouse, covered area etc. I have even seen small quantity indoor compost kits for kitchens for sale. Though I would prefer to experiment and build one myself if I were in a cold climate. Composting slows everywhere in winter and it will be slower in a frozen climate. However, composting does not stop due to cold air temps. Compost piles are used inexpensive heating for greenhouses to over winter in frozen climates. Do a search on "Cold Weather Compost" and you will see images of steam rising from the interior of outdoor compost piles surrounded by snow.

Since frozen weather composting is not my direct experience, all I can say is it is a viable option and I recommend seeking advice from experienced practitioners.
 
Julia Winter
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Yeah, you "understand," but you don't really understand the uncomfortable physicalities of dealing with a continuing production of organic waste when you really don't want to haul it 100 feet through two feet of snow to your (possibly steaming, but it's way over there!) three bin >170 cubic foot compost system. My biggest compost piles (close to 4 foot cubes) would steam in the late fall and late winter, but not so much in December/January/February. The top few inches (actually the outer few inches all around) would freeze solid and get buried in snow eventually. In the spring, if I wanted to jump start the thaw, I would go out and break off the top (white) cover, exposing some nice black material to the southern sun. Still, my goal here was to stay indoors a bit more in the winter.

This is why I undertook the experiment, so I could have somewhere to put the rabbit stuff without putting on snow boots! It was successful, actually--the worms did not die from exposure to the rabbit litter, they survived and multiplied. I fed them to my hens in the spring. I recommend trying this (don't forget the extra carbon from shredded paper and extra water to dilute the urine!) to anyone else who has a house bunny and lives where it gets really cold and icy for months at a time.

You are absolutely right, the composting process can generate significant quantities of heat. Will Allen at Growing Power in Milwaukee utilizes waste from breweries (it is Milwaukee, after all) and other urban sources to heat his greenhouses.

This picture was taken in January of 2012. I got it from this web page. He piles it up against the north walls on the outside of the greenhouses, and I believe also inside the greenhouses. I know that he's doing a lot of vermicomposting in the greenhouses, and that the finished worm castings are his most profitable product.
 
Wayne Chin
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You got it to work w/o issues and you are happy with the results...you-go-girl!
 
Andrew Greaves
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i want to build a rabbit hutch right over the top of my worm bin and i live in phoenix. most of the talk here is all about how to do this in a cold climate. what changes would you make so that it would work in zone 9b?
 
Joe Camarena
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Andrew, it would be cool if you started a new thread. It will help all the warm weather folks with their worm bins. Can you post some pics? What kind of worm bin will you be using?

Joe
 
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