Jan 24, 2014

Frozen Water Bottles

Baby, it's cold outside!

It's another frozen winter day out there, this morning.  I'm just glad that this is the low of the day, not the high, like we had a month or so ago.  Brrr!

My path to the rabbitry.
It's been a rather cold winter here, and has remained fairly cold for long stretches of time.  We did see one day in there that hit 50, and we have had some rain, but that hasn't improved things much.  As it is, my path to the rabbitry from the back walk has been a solid sheet of ice for almost two months, now.

Lavender's winter eye circles and darkened dewlap.
One of the fun things, though, about having rabbits in winter, is watching how the rabbits change with the weather.  It's particularly hilarious watching the markings on the Californians.  I think every single one of my Calis has eyebrows right now, and a couple have dark dewlaps.  My herd buck even has hip stripes!

For many rabbit-raisers, winter is the most challenging time.  The root of the problem is usually in making sure that the rabbits have a constant enough supply of water.

A lot of people prefer to switch to crocks during winter, but I really can't bring myself to switch to them.  A few reasons I haven't switched to crocks is that I would still have to either bring the crocks in, or else bring out a pitcher (several times, since I have a couple dozen cages to deal with) to fill them up.  In addition to that, I would have to unlatch each cage and negotiate around nosy rabbits in order to retrieve each crock, which would undoubtedly add several minutes to my watering routine.  Another reason is that when the crocks do thaw, it's not uncommon for rabbits to get themselves wet (especially if the crocks aren't secured), which can be very dangerous.  Also, crocks tend to make people lazy.  Many people get into the mindset that since the rabbits still have ice, they have access to water.  They don't.  Ice requires precious calories in order to melt, especially if that energy is applied by licking the ice, which requires a lot of muscle movement.  They'd be better off eating snowballs than licking an ice block.  That's not to say that using water bottles doesn't have its downsides during winter, but it works for me.

Bottles thawing on the counter.
There are two good methods for dealing with water bottles during the winter.  The laziest way (which works well until temps are staying below freezing even throughout the day) is to simply have twice as many bottles as are in use at any one time.  While one set of bottles is serving the rabbits, the other set is inside, thawing.  I have found that it is best to set the bottles up on a towel on the counter.  The towel is there to catch puddles from condensation, and the nozzles spitting when air bubbles dislodge the ball. I have tried leaving the bottles in a tote or the sink to let them thaw, but 12 hours later, all of the bottles still had at least some ice, and some of the nozzles weren't even unfrozen.  I should have thought about it before I tried.  Cold air sinks, and with no bottom outlet, the cold air from the bottles just pools in the tote, keeping the bottles pretty much in a recursive refrigerator.

Running hot water onto bottles for faster thawing.
The other method for thawing water bottles takes more time at each watering, but allows you to use only one set of bottles, and you can rotate in thawed bottles more quickly.  This is the method I use when temps are so low that the bottles require more than the customary morning and evening rotation.  Put a plug in the bottom of your sink.  Dump all of the bottles into the sink.  Be careful when doing this, especially if it's really cold, because the frozen plastic can crack easily from sharp hits.  I broke a couple nozzles this winter from being too hasty in dumping the bottles into the sink.  Fill the sink with hot water.  While the bottles are in their bath, go do other chores (feeding the rabbits, checking them over, making dinner, etc.)  Usually ten minutes is enough to at least thaw a fair amount of water and loosen up the nozzle, but the longer you can let them sit and the more water to thaw, the better.  I've found that any more than 20-30 minutes usually makes the water ice-cold.  If the water has gone cold, and there's still not as much water in the bottles as you'd like, drain the water and refill the sink with hot water again.

Icicle where a water bottle dripped.
When filling bottles for freezing temperatures, use unheated water.  For one, you don't want the rabbits to burn their tongues when they attack the water bottles (which they will do, especially if the bottles have been frozen for any length of time).  Also, if you're using hot water from a hot water heater, it will more than likely have deposits in it which will make it freeze faster.  Also, don't fill more than 2/3.  If you're leaving some ice in the bottles, only fill halfway.  Water expands when it freezes.  If there is nowhere for it to expand to, it will break your bottles open to get out.  Some people have said that their bottles drip more when they don't fill them up all the way, but it really doesn't matter when the bottle is just going to get frozen before the rabbit can drink it all anyway (and if you're counting ounces of water, you're either living in a desert or too much of a penny-pincher).