Rabbits and Chickens

Having a rabbit living with your hens is as adorable and fun as it appears 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 is 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, but 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.

It was springtime, so the weather was fine to put her out. (You can’t put an indoor rabbit out in the winter – they haven’t grown their thick, warm coat.) I 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 stay warm, or put them upright to cool off. So, in the winter, the hutch is positioned in the sun and in the summer it is moved to the side of the coop, where it is always shady. Rabbits can suffer heat stroke, so in the worst of the summer weather, I put her in the spare stall in the barn, where she can stretch out on the cool concrete.

I bought a typical rabbit hutch. 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. Candy gets the full run of the HenCam yard and coop during the day. Rabbits burrow, but the fence is dug 6 inches down, so she can’t get out. There’s hawk netting above.

The hutch is Candy’s safe place, not only to give her a haven away from the chickens when she wants it, but also to keep her from predators. She is always locked up at night. In the morning, I open the door and put up the ramp. If I’m late, she rings the bell! (She has parrot chew toys in her hutch.) 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 has fresh hay, rabbit pellets and water in her hutch. But, she also drinks from the chicken waterer (which is heated in the winter and she appreciates), she sometimes eats the chicken feed (no problem, it’s vegetarian and she doesn’t eat much) and she gets to try all of the vegetable scraps that I toss to the hens. Of course, Candy gets special handfuls of clover and parsley. She gets lots of exercise and my vet says that she’s the happiest, healthiest bunny he knows. (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 doesn’t need much special care. I haven’t had to trim Candy’s nails, because she digs in the dirt. I do sometimes put ointment on her ears because they get dry and sunburned. 

Candy seems to enjoy the hens’ company. She’ll plop herself in the middle of them. Sometimes she’ll join them in the coop. Once I found her in a nesting box! The chickens tolerate her, although they don’t like it when Candy teases 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 helps that there is 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. 

I can’t guarantee that you’ll have the same experience I’ve had, but it’s worth a try!

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