It’s snowing. Here. In Georgia. Ew.
I’ve seen a lot of people on Facebook groups question what they should be doing in the cold for their chickens and rabbits. I don’t have other livestock (besides my horse), so I figured I would touch on some helpful tips for chooks and buns to help them weather the storm.
Rabbits in Cold Weather
1. Remember that rabbits to FABULOUSLY in cold weather – I have have zero losses to cold (besides newborns) as opposed to some losses due to the heat. Make sure they have food and water, some extra bedding, a wind break, and that they’re dry and they’ll do fine.
2. Stay keen on alternating water bottles. If you can, try to keep a set inside and a set outside for the buns to alternate them in & out for thawing frozen bottles.
3. If you don’t want to alternate bottles, you can use crocks (I use plastic tupperware) which are a lot easier to maintain in the cold.
4. Adding some apple cider vinegar to their water will alter the freezing point and keep bottles or crocks from freezing as quickly as with just water
5. Feed pellets/fodder/supplemental snacks as you would normally, but provide a LOT of good quality hay. They can use the hay as bedding and they’ll nibble it to keep their body temperatures up
6. Old feed bags wrapped around wire cages work FABULOUSLY as wind breaks
7. Make sure they can stay dry, this is most important, if they get wet they become HIGHLY susceptible to illness or death from the cold – a dry rabbit can weather cold weather very well
8. If you’re expecting kits, do checks for labor/kindling more frequently than you normally would – as long as litters have more than 2 kits and the doe has pulled plenty of fur, their body heat will keep one another warm and litters will be fine; if you have a litter of 2 or less, you should shelf them and bring the doe in or take them out (depending on how cold it is) for feeding once daily
9. It is NOT necessary to provide a heat source for rabbits, and doing so only increases the chance of fire/fire hazards in your rabbitry
Chickens in the Cold
A lot of a chicken’s tolerance for the cold depends on just how cold it gets! In Georgia, I never worry about my chickens not being able to bear the cold or occasional winter storm. In much colder climates, greater precautions should be taken.
1. If you seldom go below 20 degrees, it is unnecessary to take any serious precautions for the chickens themselves. You SHOULD make sure that they have an area to get out of the precipitation or wind (coop, lean-to, covered run, etc.) with some good, fresh bedding (hay/straw/shavings, etc.) and that they have access to water at all times.
2. Adding apple cider vinegar water, as mentioned above, can reduce the freezing point of water
3. You can also build a heated chicken waterer if you’re in a particularly chilly climate (see here)
4. I add ping pong balls to my chicken’s large water bowl – the ping pong balls prevent ice from forming in certain areas and the chickens can push the balls out of the way to get to the open water below (same concept using a salt water filled water bottle)
5. You can give them some extra treats – mine like cat food (high protein), BOSS, and corn when it’s cold
6. If you have a hen in molt, it is best to leave her with the flock if you can, but make sure she isn’t getting wet and check on her frequently to ensure she hasn’t become chilled
7. In very cold climates, breeds with large combs are susceptible to frost bite – in these areas it is best to put vaseline on their combs to prevent this
8. Don’t expect many eggs during this cold time, you CAN add a light to their coop to increase “daylight,” however do NOT add a heat lamp or electric/artificial heat source to the coop as this can cause fires
9. If you do feel the need to heat your coop, heat it with compost (this is something that should be started in mid-summer/early-fall prior to cold weather). Compost heating will generate heat sans electricity and thus no risk of fire
10. Make sure to check on your flock a couple times a day when it is colder than normal, to make sure everyone is doing well and monitor any chickens who may not be handling the weather the best – an adult, healthy chicken should do fine even in cold weather
If you want, you can provide some warming treats. Chickens seem to love warm, cooked oatmeal or scrambled eggs. Rabbits can benefit from some BOSS or very small amounts of corn. As long as your animals have access to food, water, and shelter, they should do just fine!