For seven years I kept a lop-eared bunny named Candy in the the pen with the hens. Having a rabbit living with your hens is as adorable and fun as it appeared on HenCam. I frequently get emails asking for advice about how to set up a similar barnyard arrangement. I’m no expert on bunny-chicken co-habitation; Candy was my first rabbit that I’ve put in with the chickens, but I’ll tell you what I’ve done to keep everyone healthy and happy, and perhaps you can do it, too.
Candy had been a house rabbit for two years, and lived in my son’s room. We finally decided to put her outside because not only do I have allergies, but rabbits shed fine fur everywhere, and the final straw to putting her outside was when my son’s electric trains couldn’t run because of bunny fur in the wheels and motors. Rabbits are social, active animals. We weren’t going to put her in a small hutch and visit only once a day to feed her. Instead, I decided to let her join the flock. She’d have her own hutch, but could run around with the chickens during the day. I’d never keep a bunny outdoor if that’s all the room available – rabbits need to sit up, and run, and stretch out and leap about. They are curious and need mental stimulation – places to explore and new things to see. I bought a typical rabbit hutch so that Candy would have her own place to sleep and eat, but also have the full run of the HenCam yard and coop during the day.
It was springtime, so the weather was perfect to put her out. (You can’t put an indoor rabbit out in the winter – they haven’t grown their thick, warm coat.) I always keep a close eye on the temperature. Rabbits do just fine in very cold weather. But, since Candy is a lop-ear, she can’t pin her ears to her sides to keep them warm, or put them upright to cool off. Also, rabbits can suffer from heat stroke. So, I thought carefully about where to put her hutch. in the winter, her house is positioned in the sun and in the summer we put a shade tarp overhead.
I thought carefully about how to keep Candy safe from predators. I’ve taught her to go in at night (a banana chip does the trick) and I latch her in to keep her safe from raccoons and other animals. During the day she’s safe in the run – rabbits burrow, but the fence is dug 6 inches down, so she can’t get out and predators can’t get in. There’s hawk netting above. When the chickens are allowed out to free-range, I close Candy up in her hutch. Unlike the hens, she doesn’t come when called. Besides, it would take just one loose neighborhood dog to lose her. It’s just not worth the risk.
Candy had fresh hay, rabbit pellets and water in her hutch. But, she also drank from the chicken waterer (which is heated in the winter and she appreciates), she sometimes ate the chicken feed (no problem, it’s vegetarian and she didn’t eat much) and she got to try all of the vegetable scraps that I tossed to the hens. Of course, Candy got special handfuls of clover and parsley. She got lots of exercise and my vet said that she was the happiest, healthiest bunny he knew. (One caveat- rabbits chew on everything! Keep all wires out of the way or in conduits. They love foam insulation. Put it behind plywood. Don’t leave your plastic buckets where the rabbit can shred it.)
She didn’t need much special care. I didn’t have to trim Candy’s nails, because she dug in the dirt. I did sometimes put ointment on her ears because they became dry and sunburned.
Candy enjoyed the hens’ company. She’d plop herself in the middle of them. Sometimes she’d join them in the coop. Once I found her in a nesting box! The chickens tolerated her, although they didn’t like it when Candy teased them by galloping through them when they dust bathe!
It was not a big production to introduce Candy to the flock. I kept her in the hutch for a week, where she could watch the hens, and they could see her (if they craned their necks up, which being curious chickens, they did.) Then, I closed the chickens in the coop and let Candy out to explore the fenced yard. I had her practice going up and down the ramp. Then I let out the chickens. They were a tad surprised! But, soon, everyone mingled happily. It helped that there was plenty of space. The indoor coop is 8 x 6 feet and the outdoor run is 15 x 20 feet. There’s shade, sun, roosts and shelter.
Candy was a neutered female rabbit. I’ve heard about intact males that try to mate with the hens. I recommend neutering for many reasons, including improved health and calmer behavior. I would not have breeding rabbits in with the chickens.
I can’t guarantee that you’ll have the same experience I’ve had, but it’s worth a try! I’ll be getting another rabbit in the spring of 2013, as without Candy (who passed away after a very long and good life in 2012) the barnyard just isn’t the same.