Birds of a feather flock together – or do they?
At first glance, the care of chickens and rabbits seems remarkably similar. They’re both friendly and social animals, that can get nervous easily and have the same predators. Chickens and rabbits also like to free-range and have similar temperature and space requirements.
They are, however, different species with their own food requirements, diseases, special needs and anxieties, and variable tempers.
The good news? Rabbits can free range with chickens quite well. In the right conditions, they may even thrive. Together, rabbits and chickens offer mutual protection from predators, inhabit different niches in the garden, and provide more social interaction for the animals.
Having rabbits and chickens together, free ranging over your landscapes provides you a host of benefits as well. So letʻs learn how to do it successfully.
13 Tips to Successfully Free-Range Rabbits with Chickens
It’s not difficult to have rabbits and chickens living and free ranging together. But before you let them share the same pasture, you should become familiar with these 13 tips to help you get started.
- Introduce the chickens and rabbits when they’re still young.
You can’t teach an old rabbit new tricks.
- Introduce them slowly.
Don’t expect the animals to take to each other immediately.
- Give extra space.
Err on the side of too much room for them to be allowed to roam on so that neither species gets overwhelmed.
- Have private sleeping quarters for each animal.
This will give the territorial rabbits their much-needed space as well as limit the risk of cross-diseases. Chickens and rabbits also require different sleeping arrangements. Rabbits need hay in their hutch, chickens need perches to roost at night.
- Make the coop out of material that is safe for both animals.
Beware of wire chicken coop. Rabbits can get injured on this. Rabbits can also dig holes that chickens can escape through. Creating a pen out of rabbit-safe material is your best bet.
- Feed rabbits separately.
Chickens will otherwise eat their food.
- Have at least two of each animal.
While the rabbits and chickens do get along, they are social creatures that do like their own kind.
- Look for signs of distress.
Rabbits like things to be clean. Chickens don’t like fast-moving creatures. They can easily get anxious, especially at the beginning. Keep an eye out to ensure that your animals are not only not hurting each other but thriving together as well.
- Keep unneutered males away.
Unneutered bucks will mount just about anything, and the chickens will not appreciate their advances. Similarly, aggressive roosters can harass rabbits. Some roosters are relatively subdued, but it may be better to keep him away from the rabbits if you have an angsty one.
- Separate chickens and rabbits if they begin to fight.
See below for signs of aggression before actual fights break out.
- Don’t keep mating rabbits and baby bunnies in the coop with chickens.
First of all, you don’t want to keep an unneutered male rabbit around. Second of all, chickens like to peck at things and can kill baby animals quite easily.
- Keep the coop clean.
Rabbits don’t like messes and can get easily distressed if the coop is in disarray. Rabbits are also susceptible to diseases chickens carry and are best protected with a clean enclosure.
Is It A Good Idea To Keep Rabbits And Chickens Together?
There are many things you need to keep in mind before putting your rabbits and chickens together in the same coop, but having them out in a pasture with enough space for them to roam, they tend to do great! They keep to themselves, eat different food from one another and even keep each other company.
When I had rabbits in the past, I had them in separate coops that they both slept in at night. They just seem to be happier that way. I did try to have them share a coop once and the situation seemed very stressful for the animals.
But out in the pasture, they thrive. Here are a couple of ways:
- Strength in numbers. Both rabbits and chickens have common predators, but they’re less likely to be attacked in a bigger flock.
- Keeps them both entertained. Both species are highly social. Putting them out to free-range together gives them more interaction.
When Is It NOT A Good Idea To Free Range Rabbits
Before we go further, it is important to consider that it might not be possible to free range rabbits at all. Not because of predator issues or poor pasture, but because of conservation and politics.
In Hawaii, it is illegal to allow rabbits on the ground, they must be elevated in cages. The belief is that if they were allowed to escape into the wild, they could cause irreparable damage to the ecosystem.
In other areas, there may be local ordinances and HOA covenants that forbid animals such as Rabbits and Chickens. It is important to check first with your local authorities before bringing animals onto your homestead to free range.
If it is the case that your local authorities look down upon keeping animals, you might just want to thank about moving to a place that does. Theyʻll only make the rest of your off grid ambitions even harder to acheive.
Can Rabbits And Chickens Share The Same Coop?
Although we know that chickens and rabbits can free-range together, can they be caged up together?
Rabbits and chickens can share a coop, but it requires creating a safe area for each breed to cut down on anxiety, fighting, and diseases. For planning purposes, your rabbit will need 12 square feet of space in its coop, and each chicken needs 3 square feet of space. This doesn’t include space for them to run around.
You also need to put careful consideration in feeding your rabbits. Chickens will happily munch on rabbit food, but bunnies won’t eat chicken food. Since your rabbits will have their special “safe space” away from the chickens, it may make sense to feed them there before letting them run around with the chickens.
If you have a male rabbit, you should neuter him before introducing him to the flock. If you need him for breeding purposes, keep him separate.
How To Introduce Chickens And Rabbits
Both chickens and rabbits are easily scared. You’ll want to introduce them when they’re small enough that they’ll think they’ve always lived together.
The safest way to free-range chickens and rabbits together is to start when they’re still babies. Ideally, the male rabbits will be old enough to be neutered.
You should never introduce babies to adults. While rabbits will likely let chicks be, chickens can severely injure and even eat baby rabbits (chickens are not herbivores).
You also need to watch out with your adult rabbits. Rabbits can be territorial and feel threatened if chickens are introduced into their space later in life. This can result in chickens biting or injuring chickens.
To properly Introduce Chickens and Rabbits, follow these steps:
- Start the process by putting the animals beside each other but separated to see and smell each other.
- When they’ve gotten used to that, swap the areas. Place the chickens where the rabbits are and the rabbits where the chickens were.
- Once the animals are accustomed to that, put them in the same space, ensuring there is still a safe space for the rabbits.
Keep an eye out for aggression or distress from either species, especially in the early days. This can look like:
- Withdrawing from the group
- Lack of energy
- Constant chasing
A note about chasing: Both rabbits and chickens can chase each other for fun. It’s important to watch for any sign of aggression. If the chase ends with no animal getting injured, they’re probably just having fun. Separate them if you sense or see the rabbit growling, showing its teeth/claws, or pinning its ears back.
Ideal Ratio Of Chicken: Rabbit
The ideal ratio of chickens to rabbits would be 5:2. If this is not possible, you’ll want to have at least two of each species. While chickens and rabbits can interact playfully together, they may get lonely if there is only one of them.
This is especially true for chickens.
The occasional rabbit seems to do fine alone with chickens but always check for signs of loneliness.
If your chickens or rabbits display any of these symptoms, remove them from the group or find them a friend:
- Not being as active as usual/showing signs of depression.
- Withdrawing to be alone.
- Chasing other species aggressively.
- Interacting differently than normal with humans.
Do Rabbits And Chickens Share Diseases?
Rabbits and chickens carry some of the same diseases such as Salmonella, Coccidiosis, Pasteurellosis, and Myxomatosis. These diseases tend to adversely affect rabbits more than chickens.
Both chickens and rabbits can carry salmonella with no outward symptoms. Rabbits are more at risk of getting sick with the disease from chickens. Keeping the coop clean is your best defense against this disease. If you’re concerned your flock might have it, you can get a vet to test the chicken feces and prescribe antibiotics to the flock.
The most serious disease rabbits can get from chickens is coccidiosis. Rabbits eat their own poop, and if they start eating contaminated chicken poop, they can get this disease. The best treatment against it is to prevent or minimize rabbits from eating chicken poo.
Keeping the animals in separate sleeping quarters and at night and frequent (at least once a week) cleanings will minimize the risk. Looking out for warning signs of coccidiosis will also reduce risk because medications are used to treat earlier stages of the disease.
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Not drinking water
- Lack of energy
When a rabbit with snuffles free ranges with the chickens, it can give the chicken fowl cholera. To prevent this, keep bunnies suffering from pasteurellosis apart from the pack. It’s also advisable to vaccinate your chickens against the disease to avoid any unfortunate surprises.
Myxomatosis affects rabbits only but is extremely contagious and deadly for the species. If your rabbit displays any of these symptoms, remove them from the flock, especially other rabbits.
- Swelling, redness, or ulcers
- Eye and nose discharge
- Inflammation of the eyes
- Trouble breathing
- Lack of energy
- Lack of appetite
Luckily, myxomatosis is very rare in rabbits.
Chickens and rabbits can become great friends and save you, the homesteader, space. They’re also entertaining to watch. By slowly introducing them to each other and giving each their special needs, you’ll have a happy flock of chickens and rabbits to enjoy for years to come.