I live in Michigan and breed rabbits year-round. My rabbits are outdoors, with minimal housing.
Bunnies can safely be born outdoors in sub-zero temperatures. Temperatures colder than 20 degrees Fahrenheit require extra care. With a windbreak and a good dry nest, newborn bunnies survive temperatures as low as-20 degrees Fahrenheit without any supplemental heat.
How Cold can Baby Bunnies Tolerate?
From my personal experience, bunnies can be born outdoors and survive in a nest in during a windy negative 10-degree blizzard. The bunnies were in a wire cage, snuggled in a warm nest with only a tin roof above them. No other shelter was provided. I actually had 34 bunnies and only lost one that day.
The common thought among northern climate rabbit breeders is that up to about -20 degrees, your rabbits can safely give birth in an outdoor setting. At that point, or any colder and you need a draft-free environment such as a shed or garage. Supplemental heat should also be used at that point.
Of course, that doesn’t mean it’s optimal. Cold weather stresses the bodies of animals, young and old. When you get down to the single digits (in Fahrenheit) a newborn bunny can die in 10 minutes if not quickly warmed by its momma. At -20 degrees, it must be warmed up to core temperature within about 2 minutes.
The first bunny to be born is at the highest risk. That’s because there aren’t any others in the nest to help keep it warm. The doe will sit on the nest during the birthing process, but not after. She doesn’t use her own body heat to keep them warm. The bunnies warm u the nest themselves.
Now, you may think that’s a bad strategy, but consider that a doe will have between six and twelve bunnies in a litter. Mine average 10. That many bunnies will keep the nest quite warm, as long as they are adequately insulated from the elements.
It’s a surreal sight to trudge through the snow, open my cages, and uncover a nest full of warm happy bunnies no bigger than my thumb. However, things can go wrong. The colder the weather, the more impact a small problem will have. There is less room for error in cold weather.
Can Newborn Bunnies Freeze in the Winter?
I don’t want to make it sound like nothing ever goes wrong. Things go wrong. A part of keeping and raising animals is occasionally losing one. Even in warmer weather, sometimes bunnies will get too cold. I just lost two bunnies from my best momma. One of them was for sure a cold weather fatality.
Newborn bunnies usually die of hypothermia if they are out of the nest for an extended time. this can happen for one of several reasons. Understanding them, and working to reduce the reasons will go a long way to ensuring the highest rate of success with your bunnies.
One thing you must do is inspect the nest. When the doe has her nest full of bunnies, bring it into the house and open up the nest. You can inspect and count them. Search through the entire box to look for bunnies that crawled away from the warm, well-insulated spot where the rest of the bunnies are.
Oftentimes, even though the mother is doing a good job, a bunny crawls away from the group and gets too cold in the less insulated parts of the nesting box. The first 24 hours is when the bunnies are most susceptible to the cold, so do it promptly.
Bunnies are born without any fur and are immediately susceptible to hypothermia if not protected immediately. After 3 days, they have a light coat of fur that goes a long way to help keep them warm. It’s during this stage that most cold-related deaths happen.
After three days, it’s rare for a bunny to get too cold. But it still happens though. You have to follow safety procedures to do your part. The nesting box should be designed to keep the bunny from accidentally crawling out. That’s a huge cause of newborn bunny deaths. They crawl out and get cold.
Another big point is keeping them dry. In winter, snow or ice can melt and drip through crevices. If the nest gets wet, the bunnies will get too cold. Make sure that the nesting area is covered well. here’s something that most people don’t think about; water bowls.
Water bowls often flip over, spilling water everywhere. Keep water bowls away from the nest. A bunny can even crawl out of the nest and fall right into a water bowl. Keep them away from the nest.
Will my Doe Keep the Bunnies Warm?
The biggest cause of newborn bunnies outside of the nest is because the momma never put them in in the first place. Just like people, some animals do not make good mothers. I recently culled a female rabbit because she allowed her bunnies to die, twice. She didn’t have good mothering instincts.
In her first litter, she failed to make or use a nest and they all died. The second time, she made a good nest but stopped feeding her bunnies after day two. She was a bad momma and wasn’t given a third chance. I was left with two litters of eight with all dead bunnies.
Most of my does are all good mothers and take wonderful care of their babies. The mother has a lot to do with the success of the litter. A good mother will remove most of the chance that bunnies will get too cold. A good mother will go above and beyond, and be vigilant in keeping an eye on the nesting bunnies.
Honestly, that’s most of it right there. A good mother will make a good nest with the materials you provide her. She will also pull a large amount of her belly hair to line the nest, which also allows easier access to her nipples. She will keep the nest clean and dry before the bunnies are born.
When the bunnies are born, usually on one side of the nesting box, she will clean them up and nestle them into the other side of the nesting box where the warm nest was made.
How to Keep Baby Bunnies Warm in the Winter
It’s incredible just how resilient rabbits can be in even the worst conditions. That’s the main reason I keep rabbits on our homestead. They can breed and birth outdoors in the winter, with no need for a shed or a barn. Of course, there are some things you should do differently, to help it go smoothly.
Bunnies need a warm dry, nesting site. Two days before they are due to be born, the doe should be given a nesting box that’s totally jam-packed with suitable nesting material. Do not use wood shavings! Wood shavings will not make a warm winter nest. A doe simply can’t build a solid nest with it. don’t do it.
Straw is generally the best option. Some people use hay, but straw is cheaper and a better insulator. Give them as much straw as you can pack into the nesting box. The doe will begin to make her nest and pull fur to line it with. The fur is what really makes it warm.
If it’s an exceptionally windy day, you may want to put up extra wind blocks around the cage. I simply take empty feed bags and zip-tie them to the back of my rabbit cages for an extra windbreak. They seem to appreciate that. If it’s really nasty weather, you may want to bring your doe indoors for a day or two to have her bunnies.
If the weather is going to be extreme, my fallback plan is to put the doe and her nestbox in a dog crate in my shed. It’s almost draft-free, and there’s a wood stove in there I can use to heat them up. Winter is a stressful time. If you do what you can to keep them stress-free, they will grow healthier and stronger.