November 2012 Sneak Peak

Observations on the Use of Supplemental Feeders on Elizabethtown Beagle Club

by John Gibble & Clark Hammaker

Introduction:

It is the goal of beagle clubs to provide ample populations of cottontail rabbits for training and field trialing beagles. Many clubs and running areas employ supplemental feeding to retain individual rabbits throughout the winter and improve individual health at the start of the breeding season. Some have inferred that providing supplemental feed can reduce the amount of winter foraging time during which rabbits are exposed to predation.

Throughout a number of years, Elizabethtown Beagle Club has maintained as many 50 rabbit feeders on 73 acres. The success of this feeding program was only judged by casual observation. Rabbit sign (such as tracks in snow or fecal pellets in or adjacent to feeders) and the frequency with which feed disappeared were used to judge the success of the feeding program.

Further, many clubs and running grounds operators argue on the best type of supplemental feed. Several clubs with apparently successful programs used only oats, other operators insisted that rabbit pellets directly addressed the dietary needs of rabbits, while yet others insist that the protein and carbohydrates in corn were the most appropriate winter feed due to climate conditions.

Observations in past years have shown providing supplemental feed for rabbits affects others species. It is not uncommon to see other small animals targeting the food source. A number of songbirds utilize oats and corn. Squirrels were thought to be frequent users of all food sources targeted for rabbits. In years past, deer had been observed to use feeders, with some individuals actually learning how to turn over the feeders to spill corn, pellets, or oats, out onto the ground. In unusually cold and snowy years it has not been uncommon to find opossums in feeders and evidence of use by raccoons and other non-target species. Some have posited that supplemental feeding stations also attract predators and by providing feed, clubs may be drawing rabbits to areas where they could be more susceptible to predators.

Our study attempted to quantify the use of supplemental feeders by measuring the disappearance of feed at eight feeder locations. In addition, many of the feeding stations were monitored with a game camera that recorded the comings and goings of various wildlife. We also attempted to identify a preference by providing corn, oats, and commercial rabbit pellets in feeders.

Methods of Observation:

Six feeding stations were established on November 22, 2011 and two additional stations were established on December 8, 2011. All other feeder stations were removed. Feeding stations consisted of a commercial wood pallet laid on the ground. A cut-off 5-gallon paint bucket was used as a bowl and placed on top of the pallet. Four cups of feed were placed in each feeder. The food placed in each feeder varied randomly, but generally once one type of food (corn, pellets, or oats) was placed in a feeder we tried to keep that type of food in the same feeder. The bowl was then covered with half of a plastic barrel. The 35-gallon barrel was cut lengthwise, and either the ends were knocked out or an entrance way (about 6 X 6 inches) was cut into each end. The barrel was secured to the pallet with a bungee strap to prevent the cover from blowing off and to prevent deer and other larger animals from knocking the cover off to access the feed.

Feeders were installed in areas where they were easily accessible. Consideration was given to placing feeders near newly cut areas that provided both brushy access and cover for approaching rabbits. Consideration was also given to place feeders in areas where rabbits were frequently jumped during training of beagles.

Game cameras were installed at Feeders 1, 2, 3, 5, and 6

Feeding stations were monitored about every week to two weeks. The feed remaining in the bowl was measured to determine how much feed had been consumed. Then the feeders were filled again with four cups of feed. The data from game cameras was downloaded and the number and type of animals using the feeders were recorded, and observations made regarding the time of day each used the feeders.

For the remainder of this article and some very informative charts and graphics for this article, please refer to the November issue starting on page 14!

Author: Tamah DePriest

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