Chickens · Farm-ish · Rabbits

Winterization

My father spent last weekend visiting. One part of the visit was to see his granddaughter. One part of the visit was to help his pregnant daughter (that is, me) get some stuff ready for this terrible concept known as “winter” before the weather turns really bad.

I will say right now: I don’t think I could have gotten the winterizing of the rabbit water system completed without his help. Even with BOTH of us working on it, it took us the better part of two days, and I had to finish up the easiest part after he went back home.

In the end, the plan worked out to being:

The blue barrel I use for the chickens is once again going to be the primary water source, with a deicer and pump. It has been moved to make the rabbit lines shorter, while preserving my access to everything. Since it’s elevated on bricks to be proper height for the chickens and minimize strain on the pump, it’s now sitting on a small piece of plywood and R5 foam insulation. A second piece of the insulation is sitting on top, currently held down with a brick. I will be wrapping it with a water heater blanket and securing that down, probably covered in plastic to keep silly chickens from destroying it.

For the rabbit water lines: 1/2″ PEX tubing was fitted with 1/2″ female drop-ear tees (the only ones I could find that were tees instead of ends), and 1/2″ stainless pig-sized nipples. [All joints/elbows/tees are brass for heat transmission and freeze resistance.] Then, pipe was wrapped in pipe heating cable (taped to the tubing, per instructions), covered in 1″ pipe insulation, and aluminum flashing secured over the nipple side of the line. Once constructed, the entire line was secured to the back of the cages with wire in such a way as to ensure the nipples were properly aligned.

Each run of cages got a line built that way. The two back-to-front hutches were treated as “feed line and return”, and the U-turn insulated/heated the same as the cage lines. We didn’t bother with flashing on those sections.

The pump-out line is on a tee, with shutoff valves going to both hutches, and the return lines also have shutoff valves to help regulate the pressure. Those lines are also wrapped in heating cable and insulation, but no flashing.

Functional water system, sans third strip of heating cable and final insulation.

We decided that, at least for now, the grow-out line of cages, which is a single, long strip of larger cages, just wasn’t going to be feasible. It’s up against the chain link, and furthest away from the water barrel. If the current water system works out well enough, I may try to either build a separate, mini system similar, or gamble on a longer feed/return line (with shut offs).

This, of course, meant that the 2nd cages for the new hutch HAD to be completed. Not just to fit them to the water line (or vice versa, depending on your point of view), but so that the rabbits houses in the single row cage could be moved around/over. That cage (with dad’s help) went together pretty fast, but until today, stayed as just the cage structure with door openings. Today, I finally had time during daylight to finish the doors, fit feeders, and move rabbits in. I have exactly ONE empty cage on the water lines, now.

Worst to worst, I do have one heated water bottle, if I have to make use of the grow out pens over the winter. But the point of the heated/protected lines is to minimize the wattage being drawn off the single extension cord running up from the house. That heated water bottle draws as much as one of the heat cables.

I still need to get the plastic put up on the hutches for warmth/wind block, and the second wind block fence thing up along the exposed sides.

But, despite only having the first layer of wind block on the new hutch (Tyvek feed sacks stapled to the wind-ward edge), and the barrel deicer not having gone all the way into the water (as I discovered this morning), the water system has survived the first couple of days of testing. Two nights ago, it reached 16F, and last night it went down to 23F. The pipes didn’t shatter, freeze, or anything else. I am happy about it, so far.

I also used some of the trash wire from cutting out the door openings to make hay racks, kinda, for the doe-with-litter cages. I’ll work (probably slowly) on making hay racks for everyone.

So, next steps: finish the coop weather proofing, get that plastic up on coop/hutches, put the sunlight activated door on the coop to minimize the risk of damned raccoons, etc. Also, reset the traps acquired for the raccoons. Haven’t caught any yet, but hopefully the traps will prevent another slaughter. And hope this is all enough to keep everything running through winter, until I’m back functional enough from having the baby to be, you know, useful.

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