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Waterers for rabbits during the winter - where it freezes solid for 5-7 months

 
Cathy Giesell
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Location: Jump River, WI
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Hi all,

I was wondering what worked best for water set-up for rabbits where its cold enough to freeze for 5-7 months? This will be our first winter with rabbits and they will be outside. in a good enclosure, but water will still be able to freeze.

Thanks!
 
Cathy Giesell
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Location: Jump River, WI
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We will pasture them the rest of the year, but need watering ideas for winter if anyone has had experience with freezing weather from October to the possibility of May or anywhere in between. It looks like it will be a really wet winter, with lots of snow through most of that time. Anyone? Let me know what you all do.   Thank you!!
 
Marla Kacey
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I use a little heater to keep the rabbit house over 32F.  Shattered bottles cost more than the electric bill where I'm at.
 
Craig Dobbelyu
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from a post I made in  this forum about eight months ago:



For water, I keep twice as many bottles as I need. I keep one set in the house, thawing out while the other set is being used out with the rabbits.

I fill them with warmish water in the morning so that the rabbits can get a good drink before it freezes. Usually it's good for an hour or so in the depths of winter. I bring in the frozen ones from overnight and set them in a bucket half-filled with water. There, they can thaw out. By the afternoon, they are ready to be swapped again.

The process happens once more before bed. I've read a few places that rabbits will eat snow and ice in a pinch but (like humans) they burn more calories eating ice than drinking water. That being said, I will often place a snowball in the cages with my growers. It's fun and it occupies them. So all in all, it takes an extra few minutes to swap out bottles like this but it does work even when it's -30F.

Also, the typical watering fixture will fit on your standard one or two liter drink bottle. In the summer I'll attach larger bottles so I don't have to fill them as often. In winter I use smaller ones, because they will never drink a whole liter of water in less time than it takes to freeze. I put two bottles on my grower cages to minimize competitiveness.

Good luck

ps.

Heated waterers are way more hassle and expense than they are worth... IMO
 
Cathy Giesell
Posts: 21
Location: Jump River, WI
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Thanks Craig! That's a lot of great info.

I do think I'd like to invest in heated waterers as I don't think I will always be able to check on them as often to ensure they have unfrozen water all the time.  I will post pics of their new pen when it is finished.  It will be fully enclosed with vents at the top so they don't have a draft. It will have insulated windows on the NW side and S side. I only have 4 rabbits or will have 4 rabbits, we want to get another female plus maybe another male. Anyway, we don't plan to have too many at any given time unless we have kits and they will only be around until butchering age. So heated would be best.

I've found this: http://www.farmandfleet.com/products/657050-allied-precision-teflon-coated-utility-de-icer.html heater so far, but I don't like that its teflon coated. Any others that are good, but not with a toxic coating? What do you all think of this set-up: 
  , there are two parts? We can get down to -20 on some days in January and February.

And I'm not sure what the heated water bottle looks like at the farm store. So anything anyone doesn't recommend would be great, she is trying to talk me into watering bowls or poultry waterers where they are half covered so they won't fall in. I want to know everything I shouldn't get before I go look.
 
Marla Kacey
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Location: Wyoming Zone 4
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It looks like those heaters are made for buckets or barrels.  Unless there is a constant drip at the individual waterers, there is likely to be freezing in the tubing.  JMO
 
Cathy Giesell
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Location: Jump River, WI
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If you watch the video he uses it in a 5 gallon bucket, though I wouldn't have it outside like he does and it looks like it doesn't get too hot to melt the plastic. If we use something like that it will be in a 5 gallon bucket and in the video it looks like he has the water moving some how, I think my partner might be able to figure out something like that.
 
Craig Dobbelyu
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The reason I don't like electric water heaters is that when they fail, most people don't notice for a few days and the rabbits go off their feed and then... all sorts of troubles. Electric waterers tend to make watering a second thought rather than a priority because it's not a routine chore and sometimes things get over looked.  Either that or the power goes out and then you're back to hauling water anyway. You'll want to have standard bottles available for those inconvenient power outages.

I've found the little extra work to be more than worthwhile.   In any case you'll still need to check to make sure that the waterer is filled, heated and functioning twice daily just to make sure the rabbits are drinking.  Sometimes the water in the bottle is liquid but the spout is frozen.  If you have to check on them twice a day for those reasons any way, my suggestion would be to just skip the expense and hassle of the electricity.  I've seen a few heated waterers that seem to do ok until the rabbit (usually a kit) bites a hole in the bottle.  Their little faces fit right through the cage wire and they wreak havoc on bottles.  Or anything near the cage for that matter.  If you have a power outage or the heater fails, the water inside will eventually freeze, expand and may destroy the bottle in the process.  If you aren't home when the power goes out, then it becomes a race against nature to save your bottles before they burst.  Or even just overnight while you're sleeping.

Make sure that all of the wires are protected from other critters like mice, squirrels and rats. They'll chew through a wire or extension cord and kill your heater without you even noticing.  Worse than that, exposed wires in a rabbit barn could be a fire hazard and a half. 

An adult rabbit will drink a liter of water a day (more in summer). If the heated bottle only holds a liter, you'll have to be out there daily anyway to fill it,  frozen or not.  And if you'll be feeding them twice a day, you might as well do the waters too. 

I understand the desire to top off the feeders and fill a large water bottle and walk away, knowing that there is enough food and water for at least a couple days, especially when it's -20f out there.  I'd much rather sit near the wood stove and read permie-stuff all day. And let's face it, rabbits aren't going to up and die if you're a few hours late with food or water.  But the devil is in the details for sure. In my case the breeding success has everything to do with food and water diligence.

I've had much better outcomes breeding my rabbits when I was very strict with my routine.  Litter size, health and mortality all improved when I was diligent about clean water, cages and appropriate feed rations. 

Rabbits won't eat if they can't get water. It's easy to tell if a rabbit isn't eating right away, if you only give them what they will consume in a day.  No food laying around means that they are eating.  If there is food leftover, you either fed too much or something is up with the rabbit.  Either way you'll notice it faster if you're diligent and timely with feed rations. 

I always feed just enough food to my breeders to keep them in good lean health. Basically I feed only as much as they will eat in the first hour that food is available.  I feed that amount, twice a day.  No more unless the rabbit is losing weight.  A pregnant doe gets a little extra feed and usually some small treat (carrot nub, apples slice, kale) until she kindles.  From then until weening she gets all she can eat.  Once she's weened, she's back on her normal ration until she's bred again.   A fat rabbit is less likely to breed and to have decent litters.  Goes for the bucks too.  I weigh my animals from time to time just to make sure they aren't getting too chubby.  Of course if they are losing weight, ramp up the feed ration.   Rations will be different for each animal for a whole host of reasons.  Breed, age, sex, metabolism...blah blah blah  It's good to keep a separate record for each breeder and a litter record for those you intend to slaughter.

Keeping up with the needs of a dozen kits in one litter can be a challenge for a doe (and the human involved)  Water and food will make all the difference in how long it takes to reach butcher weight. A day without water could potentially be fatal to young rabbits.  It will also effect milk output from the does.  Certainly it will effect their growth. Lost kits, are lost food and money. Plus it's kinda sad to see a dead bunny.

Rabbits that are stressed will bite and kill each other over resources.  A littler of eight kits plus a doe will need multiple liters of water daily by the end of their weening period. I like to have at least 2 one-liter bottles full at all times on those cages.  If older kits have no water, they will kill each other. 

Leaving feed out will attract rodents... bad news for sure.  Another reason to only feed as much as they will eat is that there aren't leftovers for mice and rats which carry parasites, disease and all sorts of gross.  Not to mention the fact that "we're not raising rats here, we're raising rabbits." They will also chew wires and bottles to death.  I keep feed in a covered steel can.  I also clear the floor of all dropped feed daily.  I compost it.  Don't put it back in the feeder.

Oh and one more thing...  Some heated units warn about not letting it run out of water completely because it can burn out the heater if the bottle is empty.  That kinda sounds like a fire attached to a rabbit cage to me.

Ok.  sorry if that seemed like it was all over the map.   I just had a lot of disjointed thoughts I had to get out there.  I guess the main point is that attention to detail makes a lot of difference in how well rabbits will work out for you.  Sometimes a convenient item like an electric waterer seems like the best choice, but when they fail there is a cascade of trouble that can occur and it can all happen very quickly. 

Disclaimer: I've never used a heated waterer for rabbits.  I had one for the chickens and it was such a pain in the ass.  Cord got chewed. It was a pain in the ass to fill and to clean.  I'm not a fan of electricity and water being in the same place at the same time (call me crazy). I fixed the cord to use the following year. It's still sitting on the shelf where I left it 4 years ago.  I just water the birds twice a day and they seem fine with that.  I use the large rubber feed bowls.  Smash the ice out with a sledge hammer and fill it back up. A 30 second chore vs 5 minutes to unplug, flip over, clean, refill, flip back over (trying not to spill too much) and then plug it back in.  For those reasons, I chose not to invest in heated rabbit water bottles.  I hope that was of some use. 

 
Cathy Giesell
Posts: 21
Location: Jump River, WI
duck forest garden rabbit
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Craig Dobbelyu wrote:The reason I don't like electric water heaters is that when they fail, most people don't notice for a few days and the rabbits go off their feed and then... all sorts of troubles. Electric waterers tend to make watering a second thought rather than a priority because it's not a routine chore and sometimes things get over looked.  Either that or the power goes out and then you're back to hauling water anyway. You'll want to have standard bottles available for those inconvenient power outages. Yeah, we check them twice a day and hoping that it won't be something we overlook. Thanks, yeah, great idea to have water bottles on hand.  I will do that.

I've found the little extra work to be more than worthwhile.   In any case you'll still need to check to make sure that the waterer is filled, heated and functioning twice daily just to make sure the rabbits are drinking.  Sometimes the water in the bottle is liquid but the spout is frozen.  If you have to check on them twice a day for those reasons any way, my suggestion would be to just skip the expense and hassle of the electricity.  I've seen a few heated waterers that seem to do ok until the rabbit (usually a kit) bites a hole in the bottle.  Their little faces fit right through the cage wire and they wreak havoc on bottles.  Or anything near the cage for that matter.  If you have a power outage or the heater fails, the water inside will eventually freeze, expand and may destroy the bottle in the process.  If you aren't home when the power goes out, then it becomes a race against nature to save your bottles before they burst.  Or even just overnight while you're sleeping.The thing I don't like is that the rabbits won't have water for several hours during the day.  I could make sure the bottles aren't too full to have a problem of breaking when they do freeze.

Make sure that all of the wires are protected from other critters like mice, squirrels and rats. They'll chew through a wire or extension cord and kill your heater without you even noticing.  Worse than that, exposed wires in a rabbit barn could be a fire hazard and a half.  Yeah, totally. We have a pride of cats and I don't think anything will get to our extension cords, but its a good thing to keep in mind.

An adult rabbit will drink a liter of water a day (more in summer). If the heated bottle only holds a liter, you'll have to be out there daily anyway to fill it,  frozen or not.  And if you'll be feeding them twice a day, you might as well do the waters too. 

I understand the desire to top off the feeders and fill a large water bottle and walk away, knowing that there is enough food and water for at least a couple days, especially when it's -20f out there.  I'd much rather sit near the wood stove and read permie-stuff all day. And let's face it, rabbits aren't going to up and die if you're a few hours late with food or water.  But the devil is in the details for sure. In my case the breeding success has everything to do with food and water diligence. Duly noted, I'm one that does not like to give to much, but what they need and no more. I don't like fat animals, but ones that are healthy. I will also be feeding fodder once or twice per day for their fresh greens.

I've had much better outcomes breeding my rabbits when I was very strict with my routine.  Litter size, health and mortality all improved when I was diligent about clean water, cages and appropriate feed rations. I've seen that with all my animals too.

Rabbits won't eat if they can't get water. It's easy to tell if a rabbit isn't eating right away, if you only give them what they will consume in a day.  No food laying around means that they are eating.  If there is food leftover, you either fed too much or something is up with the rabbit.  Either way you'll notice it faster if you're diligent and timely with feed rations. 

I always feed just enough food to my breeders to keep them in good lean health. Basically I feed only as much as they will eat in the first hour that food is available.  I feed that amount, twice a day.  No more unless the rabbit is losing weight.  A pregnant doe gets a little extra feed and usually some small treat (carrot nub, apples slice, kale) until she kindles.  From then until weening she gets all she can eat.  Once she's weened, she's back on her normal ration until she's bred again.   A fat rabbit is less likely to breed and to have decent litters.  Goes for the bucks too.  I weigh my animals from time to time just to make sure they aren't getting too chubby.  Of course if they are losing weight, ramp up the feed ration.   Rations will be different for each animal for a whole host of reasons.  Breed, age, sex, metabolism...blah blah blah  It's good to keep a separate record for each breeder and a litter record for those you intend to slaughter.

Keeping up with the needs of a dozen kits in one litter can be a challenge for a doe (and the human involved)  Water and food will make all the difference in how long it takes to reach butcher weight. A day without water could potentially be fatal to young rabbits.  It will also effect milk output from the does.  Certainly it will effect their growth. Lost kits, are lost food and money. Plus it's kinda sad to see a dead bunny. too true

Rabbits that are stressed will bite and kill each other over resources.  A littler of eight kits plus a doe will need multiple liters of water daily by the end of their weening period. I like to have at least 2 one-liter bottles full at all times on those cages.  If older kits have no water, they will kill each other. 

Leaving feed out will attract rodents... bad news for sure.  Another reason to only feed as much as they will eat is that there aren't leftovers for mice and rats which carry parasites, disease and all sorts of gross.  Not to mention the fact that "we're not raising rats here, we're raising rabbits." They will also chew wires and bottles to death.  I keep feed in a covered steel can.  I also clear the floor of all dropped feed daily.  I compost it.  Don't put it back in the feeder.

Oh and one more thing...  Some heated units warn about not letting it run out of water completely because it can burn out the heater if the bottle is empty.  That kinda sounds like a fire attached to a rabbit cage to me. good to know.

Ok.  sorry if that seemed like it was all over the map.   I just had a lot of disjointed thoughts I had to get out there.  I guess the main point is that attention to detail makes a lot of difference in how well rabbits will work out for you.  Sometimes a convenient item like an electric waterer seems like the best choice, but when they fail there is a cascade of trouble that can occur and it can all happen very quickly.  Thank you so much, so much info to consider. Lots of things we have in common when caring for our animals. No worries about all over the place, it was good to hear your thoughts.

Disclaimer: I've never used a heated waterer for rabbits.  I had one for the chickens and it was such a pain in the ass.  Cord got chewed. It was a pain in the ass to fill and to clean.  I'm not a fan of electricity and water being in the same place at the same time (call me crazy). I fixed the cord to use the following year. It's still sitting on the shelf where I left it 4 years ago.Hah!   I just water the birds twice a day and they seem fine with that.  I use the large rubber feed bowls.  Smash the ice out with a sledge hammer and fill it back up. A 30 second chore vs 5 minutes to unplug, flip over, clean, refill, flip back over (trying not to spill too much) and then plug it back in.  For those reasons, I chose not to invest in heated rabbit water bottles.  I hope that was of some use. 



Responses in blue.
 
Cathy Giesell
Posts: 21
Location: Jump River, WI
duck forest garden rabbit
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Here are the pics of the enclosure for the rabbits and ducks. rabbit/duck enclosure  I should say, so far.
 
Ct Gilliam
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I'm not a fan of heated waters for a different reason. We lived off grid for 5 yrs and had to learn to do things different. We like knowing that if something crazy happened or the power was off for an extended time we could go on living as normal and not be worrying about "what do we do now..."
We use the small rubber-like bowls from TSC for our rabbits in the winter. They can be frozen solid with ice and you can throw them down on the ground or lay them upside down and stomp on them or hit them with a hammer and the ice pops right out and the bowls are almost indestructable!! (I say almost because I found a bushhog can render them useless! 😕) but I highly recommend them! They're simple, affordable and last forever or nearly forever! Worth checking into!!
 
Cathy Giesell
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Location: Jump River, WI
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Ct Gilliam wrote:I'm not a fan of heated waters for a different reason. We lived off grid for 5 yrs and had to learn to do things different. We like knowing that if something crazy happened or the power was off for an extended time we could go on living as normal and not be worrying about "what do we do now..."
We use the small rubber-like bowls from TSC for our rabbits in the winter. They can be frozen solid with ice and you can throw them down on the ground or lay them upside down and stomp on them or hit them with a hammer and the ice pops right out and the bowls are almost indestructable!! (I say almost because I found a bushhog can render them useless! 😕) but I highly recommend them! They're simple, affordable and last forever or nearly forever! Worth checking into!!


Are you talking about these http://www.tractorsupply.com/tsc/product/fortex-4-qt-rubber-feeder-pan?cm_vc=-10005 ?  Is it smaller than this one if it's that kind and have you ever had issues with the rabbits falling in?  That was a big thing the lady from the feed store was saying on the phone, make sure they don't fall in, cover half of a bowl if you go that route.  What is your experience?
 
Ct Gilliam
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We had the same concern when we had babies that were really young. During those times we use metal cans that canned chicken comes in. They are small and we collect extra ones and swap them out several times a day. Putting the frozen ones in a 5 gallon bucket and setting them inside near the wood stove. Sorry, I should have mentioned that but we typically try to avoiding having baby bunnies during the really cold parts of winter (which here in Southern KY is typically just January and Feburary). But we have raised them year round without issues. But it's not much trouble to just swap out the cans. They don't freeze as fast as the water bottles do. We also have our rabbits inside a 3 sided shed out of the wind and cover the entrance with a heavy tarp when the weather is really bad. That's just what we do. I'm not saying it's the best way and certainly not the only way. But here in our climate it works really good for us. It's simple and fairly cheap and doesn't require electricity. Also it doesn't create a risk for fire. Hope that helps!!
 
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