Farm & Small Animals
Bleakholt is not just a Sanctuary for animals that can be re-homed. We also provide a loving and safe environment for the retirement of a large number of Equine and Farm animals. These two groups are a very important part of what we do here and the animals will spend the rest of their lives in our care. As with all our animals, some of them are rescued from an unsuitable environment or living conditions and some come to us as their owners are no longer able to look after them, but whatever their circumstances their welfare is our primary concern.
Some of our farm animals have medical conditions, some of them may need ongoing medication and care for life, but we happily take them on to transform their quality of life and to give them the chance they need for a happy and fulfilling life at Bleakholt. In return of course, we get plenty of loving back and they never cease to amuse us in the process!
Bleakholt has been home to a variety of farm and small animals since the very early days of the Sanctuary. On the farm section we look after a number of different animals. We currently have 8 resident goats, 5 pigs and chickens that can all be sponsored, as well as rabbits, guinea pigs and assorted small animals such as degus, hamsters and occasionally chinchillas, rats and mice that are available for adoption.
If you are considering adopting a rabbit or guinea pig, please read our advice below which gives you loads of information about their needs.
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Guinea pigs, although tiny, are very well developed at birth and are born with a full coat and open eyes. They are up and running within a few minutes of birth and can also eat solid food from the start, meaning they are not solely dependent on mum’s milk.
Rabbits make great pets and with proper care and handling become friendly and affectionate, but as with any pet they are a big commitment and need plenty attention to keep them healthy and happy.
Rabbits are grazers and naturally tend to feed mostly at dawn and dusk. In order to maintain a healthy digestive system good quality hay or grass should make up the majority of their diet and should be available at all times. You can supplement this with a small amount of commercial rabbit food. The pellet type food is best as it stops selective feeding that can happen with muesli or cereal mixes but hay/ grass is much more important. Only give root vegetables like carrots, or fruit, in small amounts as treats. Never feed lawnmower clippings or plants picked from the road side to your rabbit. Fresh clean drinking water should be provided at all times.
Rabbits need a secure environment with plenty of space to exercise and any cage, hutch or exercise run must be high enough for the rabbit to stand up on its hind legs. If the rabbit is being kept in a hutch or cage it should ideally be with a run permanently attached so the rabbit can decide for itself whether to be inside or outside. The floor area of any hutch or cage should allow the rabbit to make three or four hops in any direction. If the rabbit is being kept indoors the house or room needs to be rabbit-proofed with no exposed wires that may be chewed. Wherever they are kept the environment needs to be well ventilated, draught and damp free. Excess heat is also dangerous to rabbits and can be fatal so avoid direct sunlight and locations next to radiators or heaters. Outside sites need to be predator proof and provide constant access to safe hiding places should the rabbit feel afraid. Your rabbit’s enclosure should have plenty of interesting things for them to do in order to keep them physically and mentally active. Try adding tunnels, twigs from apple or willow trees, digging boxes filled with soil or sand, boxes to hide in or platforms for jumping on. Food balls can be used to hide pellet food or small treats so the rabbit has so search for them.
Rabbits are naturally social animals and are far happier when kept with the company of another rabbit or in small groups. A good combination is a neutered male and a neutered female. Neutering not only prevents unwanted litters of babies but also reduces aggression and prevents uterine cancer in the females, very common in rabbits and around 80% of female rabbits will develop this by the time they are 5 years old if not neutered. It is not recommended that Guinea pigs are kept as companions for rabbits, they have different dietary needs and rabbits often end up bullying the guinea pigs.
Regularly making a few simple health checks will help you notice any problems early so will make them easier to treat. Check ears, eyes, teeth and fur for any signs of problems. Make sure the rabbits back side is clean and has no droppings attached. Any rabbit that has stopped eating or has diarrhoea may need urgent treatment as these can quickly become fatal. If you have any concerns about your rabbit’s health you should contact your vet.
Rabbits should be vaccinated yearly against myxomatosis.
We like to raise awareness about Rabbit Viral Haemorrhagic Disease 2 (RVHD2). RVHD2 is a new variant of RVHD1 and is often fatal. Many rabbits in the UK are not vaccinated against this deadly disease and are therefore at risk, so you should make sure that all your rabbits are vaccinated against this and other fatal diseases. Further advice should be obtained from your Vet.
Guinea Pigs are natural foragers and eat a variety of vegetation. Their diet should contain a constant supply of good quality grass hay or fresh grass (not lawn mower cuttings). You can also feed them a small amount of quality dry commercial guinea pig food which is best split into two small feeds. The pellet or nugget food is best as the muesli type mix often leads to selective eating. Guinea pigs can’t produce their own Vitamin C so it’s important they have some fresh vegetables, fruit or herbs in their diet each day. They enjoy most vegetables but each has its own likes and dislikes but avoid feeding potatoes, rhubarb or rhubarb leaves and tomato leaves. Clean fresh water should be available all the time.
Guinea pigs need a secure environment with plenty of space to exercise. The accommodation should be well ventilated, free from draughts and damp and away from direct heat sources. They are fine to be housed in an outdoor hutch during the summer months, but should be housed inside once the temperature drops. When housed indoors its important the guinea pig doesn’t overheat so choose a spot away from heaters or direct sunlight. Any cage or hutch should be at least 5 times the length of your guinea pig, the more space they have the happier they will be. Guinea pigs are active and inquisitive animals and should have access to an exercise run daily. Provide them with plenty of places to hide so they feel secure in their run, add tunnels and boxes for them to hide in, make small platforms for them to climb on or simple mazes made from bricks. Hide food around their enclosure so they have to search for it as this will help prevent boredom and keep your guinea pig active.
Guinea pigs are social animals and are best kept in pairs or small groups. They are quite a vocal animal and communicate with each other through a variety of sounds. Ideal pairings are often littermates of the same sex or neutered mixed sex pairs. It is possible to keep quite large groups together but it’s important they have enough space and their behaviour should be monitored for possible bullying. It is not recommended to house guinea pigs with rabbits.
Regularly making a few simple health checks will help you notice any problems early and therefore make them easier to treat. Check ears, eyes, teeth and fur for any signs of problems. Make sure the guinea pigs backside is clean and has no droppings attached. If your guinea pig has diarrhoea or has stopped eating it may need urgent vet treatment. If you have any concerns about your guinea pig’s health you should contact your vet.