When you start with rabbits you should worry more about learning all you can about raising rabbits and not how many a year you can get, you will learn with your rabbits as they grow and go through their life cycles. Your rabbits will teach you lots more than I ever could!
Learn how to butcher, cut up a whole rabbit and the MANY rabbit recipes, find your favorite recipes and grow some of the herbs and other ingredients in them. Learn how to freeze, smoke, and even pressure can your rabbit meat. When you have all this information and experience under your belt, then you can worry about high production!
If you have a crazy work schedule (like me) there are ways to help with this so your does will kindle on certain days of the week.
If you breed your does on the weekend (do not forget to mark that day on your calendar) 28 days later put in the nest boxes. The 28th day should fall on the weekend again, this works out well if the weekend is when you do your weekly rabbit chores (cleaning cages, emptying drop pans, bleaching crocks and bottles etc.) and since you are working in the rabbitry is also a good day to put in the nest boxes. The doe should have her litter during the week on day 30 or day 31 after breeding (remember you marked the breeding date on the calendar!). This should be on a Tuesday or a Wednesday. Rabbits will usually kindle at night so if you work days you should be home in time to check on the new litter. If doe doesn’t kindle by day 35 you should breed her again. This again should fall on a Saturday or a Sunday.
I breed my does on a Wednesday. This is because I work during the week and never know what time I will get home. This way the does will kindle on the weekend when I am home working on the homestead.
When I first started with rabbits feed was cheap and everyone was using pellets. I could breed some of my high production New Zealand’s to get 8 big litters a year. Now I am looking to be more self sufficient with my life and my rabbits. With this new change I raise less rabbits (easier to grow and harvest food for 10 rabbits than 50) and a more natural feeding program I am happy with 5 to 6 litters a year. The litters may be a little smaller but the cost and sustainability is priceless!
How many litters a year can I get from my rabbits? This question I get asked all the time. There are many factors including types of feed and hereditary factors. Here is a breeding schedule for the amount of litters a year you want. Remember raising rabbits is not perfect you many get a doe that misses, or loses a litter.
LITTERS A YEAR-
4 Kindle litter- Rebreed 60 days after kindling- Wean kits at 60 days- Kindle next litter 91 days
5 Kindle litter- Rebreed 42 days after kindling- Wean kits at 56 days- Kindle next litter 73 days
6 Kindle litter- Rebreed 28 days after kindling- Wean kits at 42 days- Kindle next litter 59 days
7 Kindle litter- Rebreed 21 days after kindling- Wean kits at 35 days- Kindle next litter 52 days
8 Kindle litter- Rebreed 14 days after kindling- Wean kits at 28 days- Kindle next litter 45 days
4 to 6 litters a year are more likely with a natural feeding program, 6 to 8 litters a year will require more management and the need for a high protein production pellet.
You should have a calendar in your rabbitry or a calendar in the house just for your rabbits, I have a large calendar hanging in my rabbitry so I can see when to put in a nest box, I put the cage numbers on the date when the nest box should go in and when they are due. Here is a gestation chart that I use all the time.
31 Day Gestation Chart
5 5 8 8 9 9 10 10 10 11 11 12 12
6 6 9 9 10 10 11 11 11 12 12 13 13
7 7 10 10 11 11 12 12 12 13 13 14 14
8 8 11 11 12 12 13 13 13 14 14 15 15
9 9 12 12 13 13 14 14 14 15 15 16 16
10 10 13 13 14 14 15 15 15 16 16 17 17
11 11 14 14 15 15 16 16 16 17 17 18 18
12 12 15 15 16 16 17 17 17 18 18 19 19
13 13 16 16 17 17 18 18 18 19 19 20 20
14 14 17 17 18 18 19 19 19 20 20 21 21
15 15 18 18 19 19 20 20 20 21 21 22 22
16 16 19 19 20 20 21 21 21 22 22 23 23
17 17 20 20 21 21 22 22 22 23 23 24 24
18 18 21 21 22 22 23 23 23 24 24 25 25
19 19 22 22 23 23 24 24 24 25 25 26 26
20 20 23 23 24 24 25 25 25 26 26 27 27
21 21 24 24 25 25 26 26 26 27 27 28 28
22 22 25 25 26 26 27 27 27 28 28 29 29
23 23 26 26 27 27 28 28 28 29 29 30 30
24 24 27 27 28 28 29 29 29 30 30 31 31
25 25 28 28 29 29 30 30 30 31 1 1
26 26 29 29 30 30 31 31 1 1 2 2
27 27 30 30 31 1 1 1 2 2 3 3
28 28 31 1 1 2 2 2 3 3 4 4
29 1 1 2 2 3 3 3 4 4 5 5
30 2 2 3 3 4 4 4 5 5 6 6
31 3 3 4 4 5 5 5 6 6 7 7
To use this chart, find the month and day that the breeding occurred and then straight across to the next column on the right to determine the due date, this is based on a 31 day gestation. Remember that 31 days is the normal gestation time for most rabbits, but it’s not uncommon for does to kindle their litters from day 28 to day 32. I always put my nest boxes in at day 27 or 28.
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If you follow my blog or my face-book page you already know what GMOs are, but here is the basic definition -Genetically modified foods (GM foods, or bio-tech foods) are foods derived from genetically modified organisms (GMOs), such as genetically modified crops or genetically modified fish. GMOs have had specific changes introduced into their DNA by genetic engineering techniques. These techniques are much more precise than mutation breeding where an organism is exposed to radiation or chemicals to create a non-specific but stable change. The scientist at Monsanto started inserting genes from bacteria and viruses into crops. That’s were they got a crop that could either survive a application of the company’s herbicide glyphosate (roundup) or produce its own insect killing pesticide. Coming soon the USDA will be approving Agent Orange resistant crops (this have been proven in studies after Vietnam to cause cancer and birth defects).
Research has shown lower levels of nutrients in crops sprayed with Roundup. These crops are specifically engineered to tolerate the herbicide Roundup, whose use has increased with the release of Roundup-Ready GM crops. Glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, decreases nutrient availability and uptake in plants. Some of these nutrients help plants and animals fight disease. Recent studies have shown a link between high rates of spontaneous abortions and infertility in livestock fed GM Roundup-Ready crops.
We know very little about the effects of genetically modified organisms on livestock and human health. Researchers in Italy have performed a study on some of the effects, and their results were released last year. They fed one group of pregnant goats rations with non-GM soybean meal and another group with GM Round up sprayed soybean meal. The mothers received this diet for two months prior to the birth of their kids. Then the offspring were fed milk only from their mother for 60 days. The results showed DNA from the GM Roundup-Ready soy in the blood, organs, and milk of goats. Also, the kids of the mothers fed GM soy had substantially higher levels of an enzyme, lactate dehydrogenase (LDH), in the heart, muscles, and kidneys. Similar metabolic changes have been found in studies of GM-fed rabbits and mice, as well.
The word is spreading that rabbits fed pellets from company’s that use GMO grown products in the manufacturing of their pellets are getting sicker. Laboratory GMO fed rabbits have had organ damage, reproductive failure, high death of kits, stomach legions, smaller bodies and organs, low immune responses, and higher death rates. There is no actual facts that I have, just resource’s and articles I have found.
The way a rabbits digestive system works is that the beneficial bacteria that needed in the gut must flourish and adapt to their food source. If this bacteria is off it will cause all kinds of digestive problems such as enteritis, bloating, wasting away and more! If the bad bacteria starts flourishing this can cause coccidiosis and other problems. Last year I have had a rash of emails, phone calls, people stopping by the rabbitry to ask questions about problems with their rabbits. The only common factor in all these cases is the use of GMO pellets. Not just in one area (from California to Maine) or season (Spring to winter)! I do not believe that they are stress related. I am lucky to feed the lowest amount of pellets I have too, to keep my rabbits productive and healthy. By feeding rabbits a more natural diet and keeping a closed herd, has been the best thing for me and my rabbits.
A result in tests done on rabbits fed gmo soy-meal was released found Roundup Ready Soy Changed Cell Metabolism in Rabbit Organs, Rabbits fed GM soy for about 40 days showed significant differences in the amounts of certain enzymes in their kidneys, hearts and livers. A rise in LDH1 levels in all three organs suggests an increase in cellular metabolism. Changes in other enzymes point to other alterations in the organs. When cells are damaged in mammals, LDH levels are elevated. It is a key indicator of cancer, and LDH remains elevated after a heart attack. Increased LDH is associated with several other health disorders
A German farmer who had 65 cows die after he fed them genetically modified Bt corn has filed criminal charges against Syngenta, alleging that the company knew the corn could be lethal to livestock, and covered up deaths that occurred during one of their clinical feeding trials. Swiss bio-tech Syngenta committed a grave criminal offense by deliberately withholding the results of a feeding trial in which four cows died in two days. The deaths prompted the company to halt the test. No health problems or deaths were reported in the control group, which was not fed the genetically engineered Bt 176 corn.
Thousands of livestock deaths have also been reported across India, as a result of grazing on genetically engineered crops and feed.
Alfalfa is the number one forage crop in the United States. In January 2011 the USDA approved the release of genetically modified (GM) alfalfa, raising the prospect that some non-GM alfalfa will be contaminated by GM alfalfa by cross-pollination from bees (could this also be the health problem bees are having?). Soon the first cuttings of GM alfalfa will be harvested and fed to livestock and be in your rabbit pellets with the GMO soy products. I have been called a conspiracy theorists but is this a way to control the food supply. You will not be able to raise any animals without the use of GMOs. This is why I push the Natural diet for us and our rabbits! Please comment your thoughts and ideas!
With some does it can take up to 48 hours for their milk to drop. Also remember does only feed their kits usually late at night, only once or twice in 24 hours, and at each feeding they feed for only a few minutes at a time. So you may not be at the right place at the right time to see if the doe is feeding her litter. You can tell fed kits by their plump bellies and they are warm to the touch, if the kits are shriveled and cold something must be done. Just make sure you are not fostering if you do not have to.
You can force the mom to feed the kits by placing the nest box on sturdy surface. Place mom in the box over the kits. Cover her and the box completely with towel. Leave her in the box for fifteen minute. Check the kits to see if they have been fed. If so return mom to her cage. Repeat in 12 hours. If they were not fed leave her for another 15 minutes. If she does not feed them return her to her cage and keep the nest box separate from her. Try again in 2 hours. Keep trying until she feeds them or at this point you should foster them.
I like using a nest box that is not part or attached to the cage. You can pull it to the front of the cage to inspect, remove, or place foster kits easily. it is much easier to disinfect between litters and can be replaced
I always try to breed at least two does at a time, this way you can foster their kits to each other if needed. When your breeding doe’s get older their litters will usually get smaller. These are great foster moms with experience raising young! So when breeding, breed a young and older doe on or near the same day. If you do not have two does, or you do not want to have two litters, then you will have to let the litter die naturally or bottle feed them if anything goes wrong. I did a post on FEEDING ORPHANED KITS- in the March 2012 Archives, Check it out for more information on this subject.
As a rabbit breeder backyard or commercial fostering litters is a very important skill to know how to do. Even if you have only a few rabbits you should know how to foster kits.
If you need to keep track of kits when fostering and they are of the same breed and color. A small tattoo needle will work by putting one or more dots in the kits ear, so that the fostered kits can be identified after weaning.
There are different situations where you would want to foster off kits to another mother doe those would be as follows.
If the doe is not feeding them and they are very skinny. The doe may not be producing enough milk to supply enough to her litter. If she is a fist time mom and needing some experience, let her raise some and foster the rest.
If a doe has a very large litter you can foster some to help them all grow equally and help out the doe. Sometimes does can give birth to a large number of kits that they can possibly not take care of. Some litters have been know to run as high as eighteen so be prepared to have a foster mom available.
If a doe dies while raising a litter or while giving birth. Never attempt to foster any kits from an obvious sick or diseased doe as this could very easily be spread to the new litter and the foster doe.
If the doe is mean to the kits, or if the doe is mean to you and you cannot remove the babies easily. If I have a doe like this I cull the whole line, I do not want this trait carried on in my bloodline!
If a doe ate all of the litter except one or two when they were perfectly healthy, Move the remaining babies, if any, to a new mother, If she is a first time mom I will give her a chance to re breed but if she repeats this do not use any of the does for breeding cull that line. (remember "Save the best, Eat the rest!").
Sometimes, I foster kits to even out litters, so they all will grow equally. If the doe has more than 8 kits, you might want to consider fostering one or two to another doe that has a litter of under eight.(remember a doe has only 8 teats). When raising rabbits for meat there is a advantage in reducing the litter size to a number that will develop equally. This way they will all be ready to process at the same time. Some show breeders will sometimes reduce the litter size to four to six kits. This will allow the kits to have the best chance to develop to the best of their breed and bloodline will allow.
If a doe has only a few kits you can re-breed her right away and foster her young to another does to raise the few with her litter increasing production. A single kit will often chill and die if left alone in the nest box without the added heat of its litter mates.
I always try to allow first-time does to nurse their litters to help them get the added experience of raising their own litter. I also try to foster kits to does who have had a dead litter. I think that it helps in the future by adding experience.
Many breeders claim to have to rub the kits or the nose of the foster doe with a scent. Some does can be hostile to kits that do not smell like them (I have yet to see this), so by rubbing a scent cover over the kits you foster, will cover their scent so they do not smell like the other doe. I have never rubbed any smelly substance on any of kits I have fostered, or to the noses of any of my does.
I have fostered MANY kits successfully. I just give the foster doe a treat (like a small piece of apple, or banana) to keep her occupied, and place the foster kits in the nest-box with their new siblings. I have never had a problem with a doe refusing the newly added kits or hurting them. This is most likely a hereditary trait. I do not even worry over destroying the scent of humans or other rabbits. Once the young are in the nest box and coming into contact with the young and nesting material all the scent will be destroyed. I feel that the doe’s do not count or notice a change of the new colored kits in their boxes they will raise them as her own.
I have fostered kits up to the age of 2 weeks(14 days) when fostering kits at a older age (something that is not recommended) I removed the doe from the cage and added the new kits to the box. I let them stay together for a little time, while I do my rabbitry chores, before returning the doe to the cage. Some doe’s will seem to be very curious that something has changed, but after sniffing around awhile, she jump into the box and feed the whole litter.
Rabbits love black oil sunflower seeds (BOSS). They are a great winter tonic! I only feed BOSS to my rabbits in the cooler months, as it is a high calorie, high fat, “hot” feed. So it keeps them warm and shiny, great for a dry winter coat. This helps by putting the oil back into their coats.
I am talking about the black oil sunflower seeds, not the striped seeds. The striped seeds have thicker, tougher hulls. Black oil seeds have thinner shells and are more nutritious. Black oil sunflower seeds contain high levels of protein are rich in vitamin E, linoleic acid and provide a good source of fiber. Rabbits benefit from this snack seed as a high source of energy during cold temperatures.
I do not recommend using BOSS during the heat of the summer (June, July, and August here in Maine, it may be longer in your area). I feel that if fed during these times it will make them shed more (leading to gut troubles). But if you have a rabbit that is stuck in a molt, then this is a great additive to add to your rabbits diet. The extra calories and protein will get them to blow their coat and get in new growth. If rabbits are overfed BOSS or fed to often this can also trigger a molt so feed in moderation! This is used as a tonic not a feed.
Her are the general nutritional components of black oil sunflower seeds, I listed some of the benefits of each next to the item
28 percent fat – Functions as an energy source, aids in the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K). It also adds luster and gloss to the fur and helps retard shedding
25 percent fiber – Satisfies the bulk and forage requirements in the rabbit diet.
15 percent protein – For growth, disease resistance, milk production, general health and reproduction.
Calcium – Calcium plays a key role in organic processes, such as heart function, muscle contraction, coagulation and electrolyte equilibrium of the blood. you do not want excess calcium in a rabbits diet
B vitamins- Are synthesized by bacteria in the hind-gut of the rabbit, their requirements are fulfilled through caecotrophy. So B is not very important to a domestic rabbit
Vitamin E – helps to remove toxins out of your rabbit’s system thus maintaining the immune system.
Potassium- which animals need when they’re sick as they lose potassium through watery feces.
Feeding rabbits BOSS- Rabbits should only be fed BOSS as condition mix or tonic treat, 6 seeds per a rabbit top dressed in the feed hopper is enough! DO NOT OVERFEED you do not want fat lazy rabbits. Feed with the hulls on this is a good added fiber for the rabbits digestive track. Some show breeders feed BOSS as a daily conditioner one week before a show. I do not think you should add them to a bulk bag of feed because you will not be able to control the amount of BOSS each of your rabbits consumes. Black oil sunflower seeds are not a complete source of nutrition for your rabbit, offering only a few necessary nutrients your rabbit needs. These should only be offered as part of a rabbit’s diet, not the sole source of nutrition.
Vitamins A and E are vulnerable to poor or prolonged storage. Both are needed for the willingness and ability of rabbits to breed. Instead of increasing the pellets, I suggest feeding about a tablespoon of black oil sunflower seeds for Vitamin E and a good handful of dark leafy greens (dandelions, plantain, raspberry,and Kale are fine) for Vitamin A. If the rabbits have never had greens, start with just a couple of leaves and work up to more to help with those unwilling does.
One of the things I like about the BOSS is that even rabbits who are “off their feed” will nibble at them. When I got my first Angoras many years ago I tried adding BOSS to their diet and the results could be noticed by coat growth and quality, I can only assume it is from more protein-rich foods. Coat growth in Angoras or any wool breed uses a lot of protein to keep the fiber growing having a little extra to burn is making their fiber thick, dense, and soft.
PROS- They are packed with nutrition, amino acids, and calories, so they are a great supplement for almost any rabbit to one degree or another. They do help with shiny coats also. The side benefit is the volunteer sunflowers that sprout. I grew some out this summer (Will be growing a plot of the in 2013) and saved the seed heads, then pulled the plant and gave it to the rabbits as a green treat in the cages. They would not only eat the leaves, but they would gnaw the stems until it was all gone!
CONS- Not to many, but possibly too high in protein and calories, which could cause heat issues during summer months. If fed too much too often maybe some weight gain problems. I believe the positives out weight the negatives. Definitely feed with shells as they add necessary fiber and are easy to chew through for rabbits. Black oil sunflower seeds often stimulate your rabbit to gain weight due to their high fat content. This extra body weight helps rabbits maintain their body temperature in the winter, fall and spring months. Your rabbit may not need to maintain as much body heat in the summer months, so consider cutting back the amount of black oil sunflower seeds your rabbit consumes during those months.
Hope this answers any question on feeding BOSS to your rabbits. If anyone has other ideas or question please post in the comment section, so we can all learn! Will be working on a conditioning mix post for rabbits and BOSS is in to that mix. Also if ther are any requests for new posst and ideas, email me and let me know! JOIN THE RABBIT REVOLUTION! Like Us On Facebook, and subscribe to the web page to get updates as the are posted.
Ear mites are the most common of all health issues you will have to deal with raising your homestead rabbits. Ear mites are not serious, but if left untreated, an ear mite infestation can lead to a secondary bacterial infection which can extend to the middle and inner ear causing head tilt, loss of balance, wobbliness(head tilt) and even fatal meningitis. Because the mites may eventually penetrate the eardrum and destroy the victim’s equilibrium so that it staggers and can’t find the food or water crocks. In advanced cases, the Psoroptes cuniculi rabbit ear mites can leave the ears and expand their populations across the rabbit’s body (in particular the head, neck, belly and the skin regions around the anus, genitals and the legs and feet, resulting in severe, generalized body scratching and widespread skin redness, trauma-induced hair loss, widespread scabbing (skin sores) and dermatitis.
Being a contagious parasitic skin disease, rabbit ear mites are generally spread from rabbit to rabbit by direct skin contact between infected and non-infected rabbits. Non-infested rabbits can also contract the mites through contact with the hutch and burrows of ear-mite-infested rabbits. Mite transmission from rabbit to rabbit is generally greater in conditions whereby large numbers of rabbits are being kept in close proximity to one other (wild rabbit warrens, overcrowded hutches, rabbit rescue shelters, pet shops, rabbit breeding facilities, commercial meat or Angora rabbit farming facilities.
The ear mites start by invading the deeper regions of the rabbit’s external ear canal, deep down the canal where they can not be seen by the rabbit breeder, Because of this, early infestations of ear mites are often missed by rabbit owners. Because the outer ear flap that the breeder can see often looks OK during the early stages and yet the ear canal is infested deeper down. Owners may only notice occasional symptoms of ear-scratching and head-shaking by the rabbit during these early stages. As the rabbit ear mites multiply in number, the ear mite infestation expands and extends from the ear canal of the rabbit onto the outer ear flap (pinna).
At this point, the mite infestation is generally clearly visible to the breeder. If your rabbit has an ear mite infestation you will notice a brown waxy build up inside one or both ears. Your rabbit will likely be scratching or shaking his head more than usual. Over the next day or two the waxy build up will become scab-like or flaky in its appearance. Your rabbit will most likely have several scratch marks in his ear from digging at it with it paws. Mites cause intense itching and pain that can lead to tremendous suffering.
When examining the ears of you rabbits if you see raw lesions along with brownish-grey, flaky crusts or scales, This is composed of mites, mite feces, blood, skin cells, and inflamed skin cells can be seen. In bad cases the accumulation of crusts may be so excessive that a rabbit cannot hold its ears erect, there may also be an unpleasing odor coming from the ears due to the accumulated gunk in the ear.
The ear mite is a parasite, known under the name of Psoroptes cuniculi. They are a member of the arachnid family, The average life span of an ear mite is 21 days. Most mites are microscopic and are living in the soil. The eggs of an ear mite are laid and hatch within four days of incubation. The larva emerges and feeds on the ear wax or skin oils of the rabbit, which continues for a week. After, the larva will molt into what is called a protonymph, which then molts again, becoming a deutonymph. The deutonymph mates with adult males, even though it has not yet established a gender at this time in its life. After mating, another round of molting takes place and the mite is established as either an adult male or female. The females are already ready to lay eggs, while the males go off to find deutonymphs to mate with. The average life span of an adult ear mite is about two months.
Before you start any treatment, you should separate your infested rabbits from any other rabbits you have, as ear mites spread from rabbit to rabbit very quickly. Then clean the cage and surrounding area, as well as sterilizing dishes and water bowls, to prevent re-infestation. When mite-infested rabbits shake or scratch their ears, flakes of mite-infested crust and scale rain down from the ears and into the rabbit’s environment. These falling flakes and crusts contain live mites and their eggs.
Because rabbit ear mites can survive away from the host animal for days to weeks (up to 3 weeks, depending on environmental humidity and temperature conditions), the environment of the mite-infested rabbit (hutches, burrows, pasture, feeding sources) should also be considered an important source of mite-infestation for non-infected animals. Non-infested rabbits can contract ear-mites from direct contact with the environment and burrows inhabited by ear-mite-infested rabbits. For this reason, when treating ear mites in rabbits, it is important to also decontaminate the environment that the rabbit is living in so that it does not become a source of mite re-infestation for the newly-treated rabbits.
Treatment for ear mites is fairly simple. There are several over the counter treatments that you can use, such as Rabbit RX (Good Stuff, have used this in the past) or a cat ear mite treatment. You may also use any mineral based oil, such as baby oil or even vegetable oil. The oil will suffocate the mites and kill them. If you add a few drops of Tea Tree oil to the listed oils this will help by adding its antiviral, antibacterial, anti fungal, and antiseptic qualities to help the healing process. Most treatments have the same applications. I promote the use of naturally treating any of the health problems you may encounter in the raising of rabbits for meat. I will list some of the different natural treatments for ear mites I know of and have used.
When treating your rabbits do not remove the crust that appears in your rabbit’s ear. This will leave open, bloody skin that will easily become infected. This just puts the rabbit through unnecessary pain. The crusts will generally just fall off on their own when your rabbit shakes his head.
Using any of the oils or homemade oil mixes begin treatment on day one by placing 2-3 drops in both ears and gently massage the base of the ears. You may also use a cotton ball to coat the inside of the ear. On days 2, 4, 6, 8, and 10 repeat same treatment as day one. Treat again on days 14, 21 and 28. With this treatment, your mite infestation should be gone. Ear mite eggs live for 28 days so by following this treatment plan you will break the life cycle of the mites
Honey- is an great treatment for ear mite infections. Put three teaspoons of honey in a bowl and add 3 ounces of warm water. Mix the together until the honey is dissolved into the water. You will need a bulb syringe, to put the mixture in the rabbits ear. Squeeze the honey/water solution into the bulb syringe and then release it into the rabbit’s ear. Make sure the solution covers the entire inside of the ear, holding the ear upright so the inner ear gets completely coated with honey. Repeat with the other ear, making sure the whole of the inner ear is coated. Use the same treatment plans as listed above.
Corn Oil/Sunflower Oil- Using a few drops of corn oil (like Wesson) makes a decent home remedy for ear mites. The oil serves three different purposes, as it soothes skin, smothers the ear mites, and speeds the healing process.
Mineral Oil- You may temporarily combat ear mites by soaking a cotton ball with mineral oil and swabbing the inside of your rabbits ears. This is a good base to add essential oils and other healing herbs to make a natural mite treatment
Almond or Olive Oil- A mixture comprised of 1/2 ounce of almond (or olive) oil combined with 400 IU of vitamin E should be mixed and placed in a dropper bottle. The contents should be warmed to room temperature. Remember it is natural to see your rabbit shake their head during treatment.
Yellow Dock Root Extract- A convenient ear mite remedy to make at home may include Yellow Dock root extract, where nine drops of the extract are diluted with one tablespoon of water. Fill half of a dropper with the mixture and place in the ears. It is important to continue this treatment for many weeks (every other day) because ear mite eggs are rather resistant to home treatments, but once they hatch – a continuous treatment will prevent new hatchlings from reproducing until no more eggs exist.
White Vinegar- Some veterinarians suggest the use of white vinegar for treating ear mites because the acidity helps remove dirt and debris, which also helps to revitalize a healthy equilibrium within the ears. Using a small amount of diluted vinegar is suggested, which is made when combining one part vinegar and two parts of water together. Gently drip the remedy mix into the ears, making sure to thoroughly massage the solution. It is important to note that this remedy is not good to use on rabbits that have sores or intense irritation inside the ears or an uncomfortable stinging is the result.
Use a mix of apple cider vinegar in olive oil. Then, with a dropper, drop 6 or 7 drops in each ears, holding the ear flap closed for a few minutes after each treatment to keep rabbit from shaking the oil all over you. A few tablespoons of apple cider vinegar in the water bottle is also supposed to act as a repellent and general tonic. Handy stuff for any rabbit medicine cabine (Check out the post on Apple Cider Vinegar For Rabbits)
Prevention is the most important item in any health program when raising rabbits. I make a mix of mineral oil with a few drops of apple cider vinegar, 5 or 6 drops of camphor oil and rosemary oil you can add tea tree oil and others if you want. I mix it up in the store bought mineral oil container and use that as storage and dispensing. I use a few drops in each ear as a preventive when I trim the rabbits nails, a few drops of mineral oil placed into each ear weekly can help to prevent new rabbit ear mite infestations from establishing inside of the ears.
While the infested rabbit is being treated for ear mites, it could be dropping mites and mite eggs into its local environment. In order to prevent this mite contamination from continuing by giving the hutch a chance to rest. I will to remove the rabbit from its permanent living quarters and treat it elsewhere during treatment giving plenty of time for the rabbits ear mites and their eggs to die off.Just in case you could not get the cage clean enough.
Try to keep dirt and dust at a minimum.
Do not use straw as straw is a natural harborer of mites. (I hate this one as I love using straw in nest boxes in the winter)
Sanitize your hutches with a mild bleach solution of 1 part bleach to 3 parts water. This will not hurt your rabbit’s feet, but I still recommend removing the rabbit from their cage when you spray on the solution let air dry.
If your hutch has wooden legs, consider coating them in paint, or oil. I know of one breeder that uses grease on the legs of all his hutches.
Reduce stress, ear mite populations in rabbits tend to explode in the presence of stress. Making every attempt to reduce the stress in your rabbitry can go a big way towards reducing the presence of mites and other diseases! By ensuring that your rabbits are provided with a good balanced nutrition, are provided with clean living conditions, not over-crowded and not being bullied by other rabbits, not exposed to extremes of heat and cold, and treated early for any other medical or disease conditions as soon as they are noticed.
Avoid overcrowding, rabbit ear mites tend to spread more quickly through a rabbit population when that population is overcrowded. Avoiding overcrowding reduces the spread of mites.
It is also possible for you, the rabbit breeder, to transmit ear mites from rabbit to rabbit by your hands and clothes. By handling rabbits with ear mites, even if you don’t actually know that they have ear mites, can result in rabbit ear mites crawling onto your skin and clothing. These rabbit ear mites will not harm you in any way, but they can pass from your skin or clothes onto the coat and ears of any other rabbits that you handle.
In order to avoid bringing rabbit ear mites (and other infectious diseases) home to your own rabbitry, you should refrain from handling rabbits and hares whose background and health status is not known. In particular, be very cautious of handling unknown stray and wild rabbits and rabbits in pet shops and shelters.
It is also important how vital it is to quarantine any new or ill rabbits from the rest of your herd. You do not want to infect any of the other rabbits in your rabbitry.
Most rabbit vets will tell you to use or prescribe ivermectin, which is an oral or inject-able antibiotic. The problem with this is it will often cause other problems in your rabbit, just like antibiotics do in humans by killing all the good bacteria. I do not recommend such treatment. A lot of angora rabbit breeders use this for mange, and other medical uses.This is just my opinion!
If you use the cat ear mite treatment(bought at the pet stores), follow the directions on the package. This goes against the manufacturer’s suggested use, but the treatment is effective.
Hope this answers any of the questions you have on ear mites if I have missed anything e-mail me or post in the comment section of this post.
I try to do everything natural in my rabbitry by avoiding chemicals and most antibiotics. Join The Rabbit Revolution! By liking us on Facebook and get daily rabbit information and ideas, Also subscribe to the blog to get emails on the newest post as they are posted!
This is the first question you need to ask yourself. Do you want really nice pelts but also some good meat, Do want a high production New Zealand White to pump out 6+ litters a year of good healthy meat for your family. Most medium sized rabbits will work! Rex’s have some of the best pelts around! Their awsome fur is in the highest demand of all the other rabbit pelts available, They also have a good body type for meat, they will take a little longer than most “Meat Breeds” to get up to harvest weight. I raise Silver Foxes and their pelts and meat producing ability tops some of the best NZW I have seen. Satins, another meat/pelt breed I raise, I did a post on this breed in the December archives, Check it out for more on this breed (Great dual purpose rabbit for the homestead), The New Zealand White, Californian, American, Chinchillas, Creme/Champagne D Argent’s, and so, so, many more.
So I put together a list and a little background with each breed. If i missed any breeds, sorry. But let me know and I will add them in this post! One of the hardest things about getting started in rabbitry is deciding what breed of rabbits to raise. There are 30+ breeds, so do some research before you choose. Once you know what type you’re interested in, study up on that breed until you can remember all its characteristics.
AMERICAN- Like many American people, the American breed rabbit is a combination of immigrants welded together by blood to become a distinctly different and American creation. At least three different breeds of rabbit were used. The heritage of this rabbit can be noticed just by looking at it! You can see the Flemish, the Vienna, and the Imperial in the mandolin shape of the American rabbit. The American rabbit is a multi-purpose animal developed for meat and fur. They come in two colors of blue and white. This rabbit is on the threatened list and if you want to help a breed get back up in numbers this is one to try!
AMERICAN CHINCHILLA- The American Chinchilla rabbit was developed as a dual purpose rabbit used for meat, and fur. The American Chinchilla is actually listed as critically endangered by the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy and like most rare breeds the only way to save them is to use them for what their original purpose was! As an efficient rabbit for fur and meat! Its body type has a desirable meat style, with a deep loin and broad shoulders.
AMERICAN SABLE- American Sable rabbits are basically the same rabbit as American Chinchilla rabbits, except for the difference in coloring. The coat of an American Sable is characterized by a rich sepia brown on the ears, face, back, legs, and upper side of their tail. The saddle and underside fur color fades from the sepia brown to a paler shade of brown. Their eyes are brown and show a ruby red glow in reflected light. American Chinchilla are considered a desirable meat, with a deep loin and broad shoulder. Weighting 9-12 lbs. They also enjoyed for their thick, soft fur. It is listed as critically endangered heritage animal.
BLANC D’ HOTOT- is considered a dual purpose breed (pet and meat) weighing 8 -11 lbs
CINNAMONS- Were cross bred into creation by accident. During the Easter season of 1962 2 kids given a young Chinchilla doe. Later they received a New Zealand buck. They crossbred these two for babies that their father, believed should be used for meat but the young children begged their father to keep one of the crossbred bucks as a family pet. The children joined the 4-h group and used their crossbred meat rabbits as their project. They were then given an unwanted Checkered Giant and a crossed Californian doe which they mated with the pet buck and in this litter was a russet shaded rabbit. They again bred the Checkered was mated to the same buck and another rusty colored rabbit appeared so the Cinnamon was born! They are considered a commercial breed.
CALIFORNIAN- This breed is a cross of New Zealand Whites bred to a Chinchilla-colored cross-bred buck. The breeder spent 7 years crossing Himalayans with Standard Chinchillas before achieving this ideal buck. Cals are white with black points..This breed was developed to be a good meat breed with a good blocky meaty body that also has a good quality pelt.
California- are white with black on their ears and nose and have pink (mine are red) eyes. Weighing 8-10 1/2 lbs.
CHAMPAGNE D ARGENT- The Champagne d’Argent is in history clear back to 1631. This is very attractive rabbit, and is the reason why over the ages, the pelt of the rabbit we know today as the Champagne d’Argent commanded huge premiums over the value of a standard rabbit pelt. Great for meat and fur production and a historic breed that needs to get back up in numbers!
CREME D ARGENT- The coloring is a moderately silvered orange. This is a very attractive meat and fur rabbit great dual purpose. Very well liked and used by many homesteaders weighing 8-11 lbs.
FLEMISH GIANT- These monsters can grow big, Some that will sometimes weigh 20+ pounds. They do eat a lot more, and because of their body weight will have bigger bones, and their fryers, at seven to nine weeks, weigh about the same as those of the medium breeds at the same age. These were raised for meat many years ago (They were know to be crossed with a dutch for a great meat rabbit) and will work on the homestead just fine.
FRENCH ANGORA- Makes a good dual purpose rabbit. weighing 7-10 lbs. When looking for French angora’s you want their body to be oval in shape. A good indication for a meat purpose. Plus you get a great fiber that can be spun to make yarn
NEW ZEALAND- Comes in white, black, and red. By crossing these different colors you get can broken or blue variety. These are one of the healthier hearty high production rabbit breeds. New Zealand’s are a breed that can be used for meat, pelts, show, and laboratory uses. Adult New Zealand’s can be more aggressive than other breeds although not all are aggressive. Weighing 9-12 lbs.
PALOMINO- are considered a commercial breed though take a little longer to grow out then others. Weighing 8-11 lbs. Have a good temperament.
REX- are another commercial breed weighing 8-9 lbs. They are raised primarily for their awsome fur and meat is the byproduct.
SABLES- weigh 8-10 lbs and are the Siamese cat of rabbits.
SATINS- are raised primarily for their fur, but do well as a commercial meat breed, weighing 9-10 lbs. I did a post on this breed in the December archives Check it out!
SILVER FOX- Are a great fanciers breed as their numbers are low. However they make an excellent dual purpose animal (meat, fur, pet) weighing 9-12 lbs. They have a great temperament and high dress out percentage.A great homestead rabbit.
I always recommend looking at what breeds are available to you locally. These rabbits will have had generations to grow accustomed to your local environment (These breeds I think are best for your homestead!). When you begin to look for your rabbits most new rabbit breeders start out with two does and one buck, you’ll soon learn that rabbits come in many different breeds, colors and sizes.
Make sure the kind of rabbit you pick will be comfortable in your area’s climate. Texas for instance, might not be a cool place to raise woolly Angora rabbits or heavy fur/meat breeds for example Silver Foxes have a thicker coat and are a black colored rabbit and the heat will get to them, But if you get a Silver Fox that was raised in your local climate you would have a better chance of that rabbit doing good on your homestead. Find out if the breed you like is good for whatever use you’ll want to use it for. Some types of rabbits, like Belgian hares, are suitable only for show. Others, like New Zealand Whites, are excellent for meat or show.
It’s also a good idea to get a breed that’s fairly common in your area, but not one that’s too common. If the kind you’re considering is too popular, you may have a hard time selling the offspring. But if you end up being your region’s sole breeder of some exotic variety, you’ll have trouble getting stud service or buying new stock.
Most meat raisers across the country agree that the mid-sized New Zealand White and California make about the best of all backyard livestock. But, you’ll want to be sure that your new rabbits are all healthy, so examine each rabbit closely before you buy. The inside of the rabbits ears should not have the dry scabs that are caused by ear mites, its hocks and feet should be free of sore spots, its nose shouldn’t be wet, runny, or crusty, and its droppings should be firm and round. If the animal looks fit in these areas, you can be pretty darn sure you’ve found a healthy rabbit.
Many of the individual traits that go into producing plenty of meat for your table are passed on from one generation to the next, so be sure to buy rabbits from a reputable breeder. Only purchase bucks and does with excellent production lines (or kits bred from such parents). You can tell a lot about what sort of offspring your breeding stock will produce by seeing the rabbits parents.
Most of a rabbit’s meat comes from its hind legs, so gently squeeze any buck or doe’s rear thighs to judge how plump and meaty those areas are. Give a feel to the back, between the rabbits pelvis and ribs as well. This loin muscle section should be long, wide, and firm. It’s easy to remove the poor producers, negligent mothers, and uncooperative breeders from your rabbit herd, Simply butcher and eat them my favorite saying is “Save the Best, Eat the Rest”. Unfortunately, even the most productive parents will decline in “breeding ability” after five or six years, so your older animals should also be regularly culled (these larger, older rabbits make great stews)
Hope this post helps you pick your rabbit breed for your homestead project! Any questions or other ideas please email me (email@example.com) or post in the comment section. Join The Rabbit Revolution- Like Us On Facebook, for daily rabbit information and ideas. To get the latest post as they are posted subscribe to the blog.
So you go to do your rabbit chores and you see fur in one of the rabbits drop pans, or some hair in the cage corner or sides (even in the crocks). It looks like your rabbit is loosing hair or shedding, well it is! Molting is when a rabbit looses its coat (shedding) and grows a new coat, This is also known as “blowing their coat”. A molt can last from 2 to 6 weeks, or more, it varies from rabbit to rabbit and from breed to breed.
The rabbit molts regularly at different stages in its life. The baby coat is replaced by an intermediate coat when the rabbit is about 4 to 5 months of age. After this molt the adult coat develops, after the adult coat is fully in, The molts are much more noticeable. Molting naturally occurs seasonally but may be brought on by stress and diet, When the adult rabbit molts the rabbits coat may appear very sparse, until it grows in again. This can sometimes leave small bald patches on the rabbit. If the rabbit is healthy the bald spots will begin to become pigmented by new hair growth and then start to grow normally.
The rabbits molt usually begins on the head, moving down the neck and back then towards the stomach, but some rabbits molt in patches all over their bodies. The molt can also get stuck. Know as being “Stuck in the molt”. This usually happens on the rabbits flanks, just above the tail, and on the belly. Some rabbits are known to molt almost continuously in these areas. By adding extra protein to their diet, this will help them “blow” their coat faster. I use Calf Manna to do this, 1 Tblsp per day when they are molting. You could also use Black Oil Sunflower Seeds.
Rabbits shed every three months. Every other time they will have a light molt that may not even be notice. Then the seasonal molts, Which are the heaviest molts are generally at the end of the winter season their winter coat is fully grown and no longer needed for protection. This is the heaviest of the molts. The next heaviest is at the end of summer or in early fall. Their summer coat molts away to bring in the prime thick winter pelt. Rabbits shed in different ways some will take a few weeks others will be ready to get rid of their old coats in a few days and these fast molting rabbits need to be groomed!
Rabbits have the molting process as an aid in controlling their body temperature to the varying temperatures of their environment. Because rabbits are not mouth breathers and can not pant to cool down (A panting rabbit should be viewed as needing attention ASAP). The main way a rabbit can cool themselves is by the blood flowing through the blood vessels in the rabbits ear, these are very close to the surface, and as the blood flows close to the surface it is cooled down. The rabbit needs as many aids as possible to keep cool and molting helps. This allows them to survive seasonal weather changes from very cold winter weather to relativity hot summer weather. So molting helps to control body temperature the rabbits will either add or loose excess hair until the proper body temperature is reached. If rabbits are moved into a heated building what is comfortable for you may not be comfortable to your rabbits, Causing the rabbits molting process to be triggered when normally the rabbit should be growing a prime thick winter coat
Rabbits should be brushed daily during their heavy molts and at least weekly during the light molts. The more hair you get out of the rabbit by brushing, The less that will get into your rabbits by them ingesting it. You can often remove a large portion of the hair by just pulling it out with your hands. Rabbits are constant groomers so they can get hairballs that can cause bad GI problems. Giving your rabbits lots of hay should help keep their digestive tract moving during this time. Rabbits cannot vomit so the obstruction of hair needs to pass through the complete digestive system. A small piece of banana will also help keep the gut moving along. During the summer months a few dandelion leaves will also help add much-needed water to hydrate their digestive track.
Check your rabbits droppings daily during their molts and if you see fecal chains (Poop balls hung together with hair) you need to add more dark greens to their diet, but at least their gut is moving the hair through. If you see no poop then the problems begin. GI stasis can be a real rabbit killer. The digestive system of the rabbit is where you will have most of the health issues with your rabbits.
For more information on the rabbits gut and how it works check out the April archives for the post on THE RABBITS DIGESTIVE SYSTEM. Hope this post helped answers some of your questions on your rabbit going through its molt! Any ideas or question please leave a comment! RAISING MEAT RABBITS TO SAVE THE WORLD! JOIN THE RABBIT REVOLUTION -LIKE US ON FACEBOOK and subscribe to the blog to get the new updates as they are posted!
Domestic rabbits are descended from European wild rabbits and should have no problem with a non-pelleted diet that includes a variety of feedstuff. Older rabbit books are useful sources of this information. Let’s face it, pellets only came on the market after World War II.
If you are feeding pellets, I suggest you contact the feed company and ask for an ingredients list. Not just a nutritional breakdown, but a list of the actual items used. You may be in for a surprise. I was! Some years ago I asked for this list from one of the big-name feed companies that made it. I was shocked to find animal tallow among the ingredients, also listed was animal flour and animal fats. Rabbits are herbivores that eat mostly green food, grain and roots. Now what does a herbivore want with animal tallow, animal flour, and animal fat! I looked into it more and found that GMO grown grains and soy were also used in rabbits pellets. So now in most brands of rabbit pellets they include the GMO grown soy mill waste products as the main feed ingredient.
So I began to learn about feeding my rabbits a more natural type food program. By experimenting and watching the rabbits I have learned a lot, not all good! The rabbits are the best teachers and they teach you a lot. During the growing season, nature makes my rabbit food!
I am not knocking all pellets, some pellets are better than others and if you choose to use them just be informed. But there are alternatives if you are willing to learn. Most rabbits if given a choice prefer the hay and greens and will eat far fewer pellets. I have done this test myself and the feeder was always full of pellets when they had the option of a natural feed source over pellets. Where fryers are concerned, you will need to adjust your expectations slightly. Rabbits fed mainly on natural foods will grow a bit more slowly than those fed only pellets and may take a couple of weeks longer to reach butchering weight. But your overall cost per pound will be less and the fryers should have more meat and less fat. I think the reason they grow more slowly is related to protein levels, which are higher in pellets than in a diet of hay, greens and grain.
I should emphasize that I would never advocated this method of feeding in large rabbitries or for show rabbits or the commercial production of meat. It is a system best suited to the small homestead rabbitry, where the main goal is to provide good, healthy meat for one’s own table. Please, remember to be careful starting off. Natural feeding is great for the rabbits and great for the pocketbook, but you must take responsibility for doing the necessary homework to keep your rabbits safe. Please remember that while I am happy to share my observations on this topic and while I have had excellent results with supplementing commerical pellets with the green feeds listed on my webpage, I am still experimenting. Go slowly with your rabbits and be watchfull for problems. Get a good book on weeds if you are not knowledgeable enough to identify them without help. When in doubt, DON’T
Most of us started homesteading because we wanted to take control of what goes into the meat and other food that we eat. While it’s a whole lot more work, I think the only real way that we can do that is to completely ditch commercial mixtures and make or grow our own animal food from scratch. I truly think that feeding a variety of different foods is what is going to work in the long run, not some commercially prepared mixture based on some scientific guidelines which may or may not be accurate for the animals we are raising.
Natural feeding saves money but is more labour intensive. I like to save money, but I think my real motivation is the health, happiness and well-being of the rabbits. I am convinced it is very best for the health of the rabbits. Some of the results are the absence of digestive problems (No gut stasis or weaning enteritis! and the wonderful flavour of the “grass fed” meat). I have never had a rabbit that really loved pellets! Rabbits lead boring enough lives as it is, (unless they live in a colony setting more on this subject in a future post!). Why deny them the pleasures of fresh, varied, natural foods!
I now feed a combination of natural and pellets. If the source of natural food is good and fresh, it will make up for short comings in the pellets. I would just feed a natural diet if i had less rabbits and more time. I would like to stress that this method of feeding, was the only way to feed rabbits before pelleted foods were invented, it is frowned upon in today’s world and considered controversial by many. I have been getting very good results with it, but I am still always learning buy the best of teachers, the rabbits themselves! I have nothing but my own experience and some old books to base this on. If you wish to use this method you must expect to be vigilant and adaptable while you are learning what works with you and your rabbits.
I know that lots of people are going to choose to supplement with natural foods rather than feed them exclusively. There is nothing wrong with this, I do this myself. I feel it gives the rabbits the best of both worlds. I also think each breeder has to find what works best for themselves and their rabbits. Remember the sustainability of a natural food program may be the only way to feed your rabbits one day. So by just supplementing now, you will learn what works, how to grow, how to harvest, how to dry and store (for winter use) all the while getting your rabbits gut flora adapted to this “new” diet.
Rabbits digestive systems are perfectly capable of digesting the greens, but they must develop the proper flora in their GI tract and that does not happen overnight. Make your transition to greens gradually, working the amounts up from a few leaves to as much as you can find for them. In the wild, rabbits eat greens from the time their eyes open and suffer no ill effects. The greens are always fresh since they are growing when the rabbits eat them and because there is always more there is no tendency to overeat. I usually transition new rabbits over a period of two months. Most rabbits, given the choice, prefer the hay and greens and will eat far fewer pellets. Grass hay can be added immediately with no problems and should be offered at all times. It is really good for their digestion and will help prevent weaning enteritis in fryers.
What I try to do is work with the cycle of the seasons. So in the spring I would feed fresh small greens (dandelions, plantain, grasses, sprouted branches etc.). All what is growing in the spring and what is available in season. In the winter The wild rabbits don’t get as much “fresh food” they depend heavily on weed and grass seeds, standing grass “hay”, roots when they can get them, tree bark and buds. (In your climate the seasons are going to be different and you will learn to work with them. Your tough time may be in a season of drought while mine is the winter)
Foods during warmer months include a variety of sedges, grasses and other herbaceous plants. Important species include panic grass, plantain, dandelion, crabgrass, ragweed, croton, clover and lespedeza. Agricultural crops eaten during the summer include clover, alfalfa, soybeans, peanuts (the green plant) and garden vegetables.
Winter foods include honeysuckle, lespedeza, blackberry, greenbrier, a variety of grasses and dried vegetation. Bark, twigs and buds from sumac, black cherry, willow, holly and dogwood also are eaten. Agricultural crops consumed during the winter include rye, wheat, alfalfa, clover, corn, peanuts and ryegrass. Wild rabbits have been known to damage fruit orchards by eating the bark of fruit trees. Buds of seedlings in pine plantations also may be eaten during the winter.
Consider a day in the life of a wild rabbit. they would spend 70% of their time above ground searching out and foraging for food while keeping an eye out for predators. As a ground feeder, a rabbits diet would be mainly made up of grasses, hay, herbs and bark – all high fibre foods! Rabbits can not climb trees to get fruit, and they would not actually go around digging up carrots either. The rabbits territory would be around 2+ acres, meaning they would get a lot of exercise every day searching out food across that area. The rabbit’s whole existence has evolved around this high fibre diet.
Rabbits from different areas eat different diets they ate what was available in and around their surroundings. Marsh rabbits would feed on leaves and bulbs of marsh plants including cattails, rushes, and grasses. They can also feed on other aquatic or marsh plants such as centella, greenbrier vine, marsh pennywort, water hyacinth, wild potato, and amaryllis. Marsh rabbits make more year-round use of woody vegetation than other species of rabbits. The swamp rabbit eats reeds, plants, and grasses native to its marshy habitat. The Brush Rabbit feeds mainly on grasses and forbs, especially green clover, though it will also take berries and browse from bushes. The desert rabbit mainly eats grass, but will eat many other plants, even cacti. It rarely needs to drink, getting its water mostly from the plants it eats or from dew. So take advantage of what type of area you live in and feed your rabbits accordingly.
When the rabbits are in cages and dependent on people, the chances of problems increase. Most rabbits, will get used to eating greens over a period of a few weeks, they will not overeat or have problems digesting the greens. If you go slowly, feed some of the regulators (plantain, raspberry, strawberry and blackberry leaves) along with the other greens. (think salad bar) Always clear out any uneaten greens and you should not have any problems. However, it is good to keep in mind that rabbits, like people, can have individual sensitivities and tastes.
Even people in urban areas can grow rabbit food! Grow in containers, on balconies, in windowsills and you will be surprised how much you can grow. See if there is a community garden in your area, and if there isn’t one, maybe you could start one! Local schools would be thrilled if you started a project for kids to start a garden and grow their own food. You could incorporate a herb and weed bed to attract beneficial insects and feed your rabbits!
I’ve never heard of a rabbit over-eating on grass hay. Hay ( like timothy/clover ) is the foundation of the rabbits diet. Grass hay is very good for rabbits for GI tract health. It is not so high in protein so if you are feeding pellets, this is the best hay to use. Hay is used as fiber and keeps things moving fast thru the GI tract. I would be more careful with alfalfa hay however as it is much richer. When I am feeding alfalfa hay in winter, they get a limited amount of alfalfa hay and as much grass hay as they want. I know a lot of people say not to feed fresh alfalfa or alfalfa hay because it is “too rich” but if you are not feeding pellets or have cut way back on the pellets, alfalfa becomes a valuable food source. After all, it is a major ingredient in many brands of pellets, so why be afraid to use it. Feeding alfalfa and clover is probably the most controversial aspect of feeding rabbits naturally. Legumes are high in protein and calcium. Because there is already a lot of alfalfa in the pellets, when feeding a combination it is possible for the rabbits to get too much protein and calcium. Excess calcium can result in “bladder sludge” as the unused calcium is excreted. Drying alfalfa and clover is supposed to help, I suggest, however, keeping the amount of these two excellent greens down or not at all if you are also feeding pellets!
The rabbits certainly get more hay and less green feed in the winter. In the winter I grow wheat and other grain grasses (under lights in the house), I pot up some chard, make sprouts and also feed a lot of dried greens for them (that was harvested during the spring and summer months). Just as wild rabbits adjust their diet as winter comes and eat a lot more dried grass and tree bark and buds and less grass and weeds, so do my rabbits. If you have a lot of rabbits it really is going to be hard to grow enough. You may also be able to harvest some of your homegrown wheat or barley as hay, just as it forms the seed heads and store for winter feed.
The difference between grass and hay is Grass is usually cut green and growing- So it is low in fiber and high in protein. Hay- (especially legume hay) is often cut quite mature to maximize production and the mature grass is higher in fiber. Legumes like alfalfa are also stemmy. But hay will be lower in vitamins compared to fresh grass. Timothy hay is great for GI health and for nibbling pleasure but it does not have very much protein compared to alfalfa or clover hay. You may find you need to continue feeding some pellets to supply enough protein unless you can find some alfalfa or clover hay. A mix of alfalfa with timothy is great. If you are not feeding pellets, however, the rabbits have to get their protein somewhere else and this is where alfalfa or clover hay comes in. You don’t really want to double up on the protein, so it is not so good for pellet-fed rabbits. Rabbits can live on good hay alone, fed free-choice. I don’t recommend it, but it provides a baseline for planning. In winter, some grain is a good idea. I found that the does needed it when they are lactating. The dried greens are great for the rabbits they provide variety and interest and lots of nutrients. I think if you dry the same quantity that you feed fresh that seems as good a way of estimating as any. Don’t forget that you can also feed windowsill greens to the rabbits this will be another food source if you start to run low in late winter. Grain grass is the easiest and very fast-growing you can cut it several times before it starts to get straggly.
Vegetables should be introduced one at a time if your rabbit is young. Monitor their droppings to make sure that they can tolerate what they are eating. If you notice any changes, discontinue feeding that vegetable. Make sure your rabbits vegetables are always fresh. If it smells “off” or if you would not eat it yourself, throw it out. Greens and veggies could cause a problem if fed in massive quantities-the rabbit is a pig by nature-if the uneaten greens are allowed to wilt and spoil-if fed in too great a quantity when the rabbits are not accustomed to it. Organic vegetables are ideal for rabbits since they are so sensitive to pesticides and chemicals used on commercial produce. Whatever you choose, be sure to wash it thoroughly and pick it over for bugs.
A great variety of vegetables exists and most can be found in your local grocery store.(But remember we are going for sustainability so grow it or hunt for it). Dark, leafy greens should be fed at least once a day. Carrot tops, watercress, radish leaves, collard greens, beet and turnip tops, romaine lettuce, red and green leaf lettuce, endive, chard, and dandelions are some of the most popular (avoid dandelions or other safe feeds picked from roadsides or unfamiliar yards you do not want to give your rabbits a fertilizer or pesticide cocktail). Other vegetables such as Brussels sprouts, broccoli, tomatoes (without stems! stems and leaves of the tomato plant are toxic to rabbits), sugar peas and fennel. Rabbits especially like fragrant and tasty herbs like parsley, cilantro, basil, dill, arugula and mint. You can dry most of the greens mentioned. Yes, they wilt but then they dry like hay would. Once thoroughly dry they will keep through the next winter. This really helps for winter feeding.
Daily vegetables are a vital source of nutrition for your rabbits. Amounts fed will vary by the rabbit’s size, weight and preference. Some people feed vegetables both in the morning and evening, others alternate meals of pellets and vegetables. Some people mix a variety of veggies together like a salad (i do this), some feed one vegetable at a time.
Mangel beets should be stored before feeding, the old books say never the tops of the mangels for rabbits and never before Christmas. Feed mangels in moderation. Mangel beets, sugar beets and garden beets are all useful for feeding rabbits and are a great food that stores good for winter feed.
Plantain and blackberries. Both great as food for rabbits, both good fresh or dried and both an excellent remedy for diarrhea. Plantain is one of the very safest greens for rabbits and even young kits can eat it. I’ve dried raspberry leaves on the cane and it works well, but i think it might be better just to cut off the leaflets. The thorns on the blackberries are truly vicious.
I highly recommend red clover in a rabbit greens garden. You can get an awful lot of greens off a small patch and in season it recovers from a cutting in no time.
Sunflowers you can plant as thickly as you please and then pull the extra seedlings for an early spring green. Leave some a little longer and use them as “cut and come again” greens. Let the best ones mature for seeds. And they do provide shade once matured keeping the rabbits cool as well as feeding them you can remove leaves to feed during the summer I’ve never dried sunflower plants, but my rabbits love them fresh. No reason they couldn’t be dried. You probably lose a bit of nutrition drying them, but they are still excellent. An airy place in light shade might work better
and also dry and save the seeds.
Grape vines, even wild grapes, are another good feed plus shade plant
Many plants contain a naturally occurring chemicals called an alkaloids, which are mild toxins that protect plant in the wild. The one most talked about with rabbits is oxalic acid and it is completely harmless to animals or humans when consumed in small amounts. The amount of oxalic acid within each plant can vary significantly due to several factors including the composition of the soil the plant grew in, the time of year and the age of the plant. Most of the fresh vegetables we feed rabbits have a low to zero level of oxalic acid, but a few, most notably parsley, mustard greens and spinach, lambsquarter,comfrey have relatively high levels. (Note that kale, which is often implicated as a high oxalate food is actually very low in oxalates when young). The toxicity of oxalic acid comes with feeding large quantities of foods high in this chemical and can cause damage to the kidneys over time. These foods are nutritious and should not need be excluded from the diet if you feed them proplery.These vegetables should be fed moderately as they are high in vitamin A (that a rabbits needs!) I recommend feeding a minimum of at least 3 types of leafy greens a day (and only one of them should be from the group listed above) Don’t feed the same greens all the time from week to week if possible, mix it up. For instance if you feed parsley this week, then leave it out of the diet for next week and use something else. Rotating the greens will also give your rabbits better all around nutrition!
Never feed rabbits iceberg lettuce, rhubarb, raw beans, apple seeds, peach pits, potatoes or corn. These items can cause illness and even death. Likewise, never feed anything that you are uncertain about. Most rabbits love fruit, but it must be offered in small amounts due to the high sugar content. Peaches, nectarines, papaya, pineapple, apple, grapes (and raisins), pear, banana, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, apricots and strawberries are some of the most popular fruits. A one-inch slice of banana, or two blackberries, is plenty for a treat. Be sure to remove any pits or seeds as they may be poisonous(Check out the February 2012 post SAFE FOOD LIST FOR RABBITS and POISONOUS PLANTS TO RABBITS)
Now that your rabbits are accustomed to greens, they can have a lot. Mine barely bother with their hay or grain when they have lots of greens and they do just fine. Baby rabbits that have access to greens from the beginning, when they first pop out of the nest box and begin tasting solid foods, should have no problems with greens. Also if the mother was fed greens while nursing, it seems to have gotten the kits to adjust early. They sort of “grow into them” as their taste for solid foods increases, just as with baby wild rabbits.
A holder or manger is best to feed your natural feeds to your rabbits, but sometimes I just stack it in a clean front corner of the cage. They don’t mess it up if you feed them only as much as they can eat before the next feeding.
You can also dry weeds and other plants in time of plenty for use in the winter. I did not get as much of that done last year as I should have and hope to do a lot better this year. I dry on racks and combine in tubs with grass hay I do not worry if the dryed herbs and greens are combined uniformly. I basically mix them and store in old grain bags or pillow cases ( Use the paper grain bags as they can breathe). I then have a small bin that I fill and keep in the barn with the feed (this gets used up fairly quickly). The seeds obviously want to settle to the bottom, so I give it (the bin) a shake to keep them mixed up. I make a Botanical blended hay for the winter rabbit “blahs” by mixing some of the regulators (plantain, raspberry, strawberry and blackberry leaves) with some dried fragrant herbs they love this stuff! You can dry things like rose canes, raspberry canes and weeping willow whips in bunches with the leaves on for winter use.
Greens can simply be air-dried for winter, but in a damp climate you must ensure that they don’t go moldy. Mold appears on hay or greens as a white powdery coating that will get into the air when disturbed. Not good for either you or the rabbits! Good air circulation during drying and storage in containers that breathe are good. Use large onion bags or pillow cases you can also just bundle larger branches and hang to dry. Those blackberry canes with the leaves on should dry well, as will willow whips with the leaves attached. Smaller plants and wonderful weeds like dandelion, chicory, sow thistle, mallow etc.(see the SAFE FOOD LIST FOR RABBITS for botanical names just be shure you are harvesting the right plant).They can be dried on screens or in onion bags.
Try to find a spot in breezy shaded area that would be ideal. NEVER store hay in closed plastic bags. Fresh hay still holds moisture that may mold if kept in plastic. Plastic garbage cans with lids are adequate for storage providing the can is not left in high heat or direct sunlight. Card board boxes or woven nylon feed sacks allow the hay to breathe rather than sweat. Hay in bales will stay fresh for a year or more but loose fill bags will become stale very quickly
Certain trees can be used as forage for rabbits and dried for winter use as well: willow and poplar are two that are excellent and easy to find. Their leaves are quite high in protein and the rabbits will eat the bark from small twigs and branches as well. Here ia a list of trees that I know are safe. These include: Alder, Birch, poplar, willow, sugar maple, silver maple, apple, pear, mulberry, sycamore, ash, hackberry, rose, and gooseberry are all good for rabbits. My rabbits love the tree branches! Especially when they are budding out. Any native safe listed tree branches are good for your rabbits, The rabbits will chew all the buds off, then peel the tender bark, then throw the stick around in their cage. So plant a weeping willow, They grow very fast and provide a lot of forage for the rabbits can also be used as shade for rabbits as well as a food source willow is high in protein, and very palatable to rabbits.
How much to feed that is the toughest question? You will need to experiment. Give them what you think is about right. If there are leftovers, cut back a little. If it is all gone, increase it a little until you know how much they will use. There will still be some waste, but not near as much as if you just feed it free choice. Rabbits are funny what you have to give them NOW is far more attractive than the same item that is already in their hay rack or dish. If you visit them twice a day, feed them twice, but only half as much. They will enjoy it more and waste less.
There are a number of unsafe/toxic food lists out there for rabbits, (also check our blog for POISONOUS PLANTS TO RABBITS) which one should be aware of when foraging for rabbits be shure to know what you are feeding rabbits! Oak leaves and pine needles in particular are tasty for the rabbits but not good for them Pine needles because they can cause tearing and internal lacerations if the rabbits don’t chew them fully and oak leaves, like apple seeds, can cause cyanide poisoning.
The useful wild plants for rabbits include young trees, leaves and shoots. Clovers and vetches are legumes (but watch out some of their seeds are poisonous). The useful wild plants are: coltsfoot, comfrey, chickweed, cow parsley, docks, sorret (sour dock), dandelion, fat hen, groundsel, heather, Plantain, Shepherds Purse, sow thistle, watercress, bind weed, celandine, wild iris, fool’s parsley, henbane, and lettuce.
This is just a quick list of what to grow or find for your rabbits natural food source-
Arugala, Basil, Beets, Borage, Brambles(raspberry,blackberry), Calendula, Carrot(feed the greens,the root as a treat as it is high in sugar content), Cattails–Cattails shoots provide essential vitamins such as beta carotene, niacin, thiamine, potassium, phosphorus and vitamin C. also has sodium which is good for rabbits on a natural food base diet,
Chicory, Cilantro, Dandelion, Fennel, Fenugreek, Filaree, Mint, Mustard (wild and domestic), Parsley, Plantain (one of my favorite feed for rabbits),
Queen Ann’s lace-(Daucus carota) is pretty much the same as garden carrots (Daucus carota sativa), just in its wild form. The foliage and roots are safe for rabbits, but mature flowers and seeds may certainly cause problems and may even be toxic.(I have learned the hard way with the flowers and seeds and have killed a few rabbits).The seed of Queen Anne’s lace has been used by humans for centuries as a birth control method. Not what you want for rabbits! If you cut your Queen Anne’s lace plants to the ground frequently, they will respond by giving a constant crop of lacy greens. Let some mature for next year’s crop. Queen Anne’s lace is a biennial,
Radish- One of the things I grow regularly for the rabbits is icicle radishes.The greens to the icicles get huge (unlike red,round radishes),and the rabbits love them. I pull up 3 radishes a day and throw the whole plant to the rabbits.They grow so quickly and can be planted in small spaces anywhere,
Red and green leaf lettuce, Rose, Spinach, Shepherd’s purse, Strawberries, Sunflowers-The rabbits LOVED them.leaves and seeds. I will be planting more sunflowers next year. The other benifit is that the mature plants provided shade and it helped shade the building where the rabbits are housed,
White clover, Yarrow, and lots more!
Do not forget flowers- dandelion, clover blossoms, marigolds all are well liked by rabbits, mustard, basil, borage, burnet, calendula (pot marigold), camomile, clover, coriander (cilantro), dandelion, dill, daisy, fennel, hyssop, jasmine, wild pansy, lavender, rose, rosemary, sage, sunflower, thyme, plantain. Rabbits are built to eat grass, and only supplement their diet in the wild with leaves, vegetables, bark, flowers, etc., when available or they are particularly hungry. Flowers are very high in sugars and should only be given as the occasional treat. And some may be poisonous, so if in doubt,don’t
WINTER FEED IDEAS-
Dried plants saved from summer provide variety and extra nutrients. Still, rabbits crave fresh, green foods in winter. Rather then feed them expensive fresh foods from the store on a regular basis, try some of these ideas.
GROW GRAIN GRASS: Fresh foods are nice for the rabbits and I buy some dollar store rectangular dishpans, put about two inches of soil in them and plant grain: wheat, rye, oats. I don’t bother with drainage holes. It’s the same idea as growing “cat grass” but on a larger scale. When the grass is about four inches long you can start harvesting it and you will get several harvests from one tub before it gets discouraged. Then just start over. You will want more than one on the go so there is always some grass ready to cut.
SUNFLOWER SPROUTS: Another dishpan, this one planted with sunflower seeds. Start cutting them once they have true leaves or let them grow on for a bit. Replant as needed.
POT UP WEEDS: A dishpan of transplanted weeds – especially dandelion and plantain – will give your rabbits tasty nibbles all winter. Try to find small plants as they are easier to transplant. Sprinkle on some of those dandelion seeds too, but they wil take much longer to establish themselves.
FORCE TWIGS: Twigs cut from safe trees can be fed to the rabbits all winter long, They relish the bark and buds and it is good for their teeth. It should also be possible, however, to bring some twigs inside and put them in a jar with a couple inches of water. It will take a bit of time, but they will break dormancy and begin to leaf out. When ready to serve, remove the part that was sitting in water.It could have mould,or bad bacteria on it.
SWEET POTATO VINE: In spite of their name, sweet potatoes are not from the same family as regular potatoes. Sweet potatoes have edible vines and leaves. You can start them by pushing in toothpicks so that only the base is in water. They will soon sprout and send up lots of edible greens.(I remember doing this in school as a youngster)
WASTE FEED- Trimmings from the kitchen meals
I have fed my rabbits lot’s of natural feed sources for over my 30+ years of raising rabbits and have learned a lot! I am always looking for new ideas to feed rabbits without an outside food source, So any input or new ideas are welcome! I am planting more and trying new ideas all the time. I am now putting together some package of seeds and will offer them as a Rise And Shine Rabbit Garden These will be ready this January for spring planting I am also making up packets of fodder seed for rabbits so you can grow your own rabbit hay. Writing up posts for GROWING A RABBIT GARDEN and GROWING HAY FOR RABBITS to be ready with the seeds!
Breeding rabbits is typically not too complicated. After all, The doe is the one that does most of the work. She gives her newborn kits all the nutrients they require by feeding them some of the richest milk in the mammal kingdom. The doe will feed her litter once or twice each day for about 2 to 5 minutes at each feeding. They continue drinking mothers milk until they are weaned at 6 to 8 weeks of age.
Rabbits are said to “breed like rabbits,” but this is not always the case with domestic rabbits in the rabbitry. Putting a buck and a doe in the same cage does not always guarantee a successful mating.
Before breeding your rabbits you should always do a pre-breeding inspection looking over both rabbits to make sure they are in good condition. I trim nails and do some preventive natural mite treatment and note any problems with the rabbit. I gradually increase the feed of underweight rabbits to get them in the ideal condition for breeding. Rabbits in good condition, and with the right nutrients can have up to 40 bunnies per doe per year (5 litters a year) or even more in a high production setup.
Pelleted feed is complete at the time of manufacture, but Vitamins A and E are vulnerable to poor or prolonged storage. Both are needed for the willingness and ability to breed. Instead of increasing the pellets, I suggest feeding about a tablespoon of black oil sunflower seeds for Vitamin E and a good handful of dark leafy greens (dandelions, plantain, raspberry,and Kale are fine) for Vitamin A. If the rabbits have never had greens, start with just a couple of leaves and work up to more.
If the doe runs around in a circle, this is not so bad. I’ll let her run a few laps then I’ll put my hand in the cage and stop her for the buck to breed her. Most of the time the doe will accept the buck.
There is a so called shy buck syndrome that happens to some bucks as they do not seem interested in mounting the doe’s, they just want to hang out and check out the the doe and her cage. Some bucks are just not aggressive breeders! The buck may have had some unsatisfactory experiences early on from being bred before he was mature enough. He may have had a mean doe attack him and did not get the reinforcement of a completed breeding, he may have lost interest or confidence. If you have one of these shy bucks, try to build up their interest and confidence by only breeding them with older willing does. After a few of these breedings, the shy buck is often ready to breed any doe.
Some bucks tire out too quickly. They just run out of energy before they can complete all of the running around and miss-mounts that may occur in natural breeding. They may be overweight or need a larger cage to get more exercise. Fat bucks tend to be less interested in the ladies. So give your bucks a bigger cage or put out on pasture for some exercise.
Another problem that a buck might encounter is vent disease. If breeding is uncomfortable for him, he is likely to not pursue it. Since you should be conducting a pre-breeding check, you would find the vent disease at that time. Check the doe’s vulva. We are looking for a pinkish red color to indicate she is receptive. A pale white color is not very promising. If the penis is red, swollen or blistered, do not breed at that time. Treat for vent disease and then retry the breeding. I would use Combi-Pen (Pen B), given subcutaneously at a dose of 1/10 cc per pound, once a week for three injections. Because vent disease can be symptomless except for infertility, you may not be able to catch all cases by examination. This is not to common of a disease but thought I might mention it, but you should ALWAYS do a pre breeding inspection.
I find that both bucks and doe’s are more reluctant to breed in the high heat of summer(July, August, September). You may get better results breeding first thing in the morning or last thing in the evening, in the really hot weather.
Some virgin doe’s take to being bred the first time like pros. But normally, virgin doe’s are much more difficult to breed. They may take a lot more interest in the buck’s cage or become very frightened to be in contact with another rabbit. Sometimes they can try to defend themselves. I will make breeding sessions short until she is bred or becomes more comfortable with the process.
One capful (1-2 tablespoons) of apple cider vinegar per gallon of drinking water may also help doe’s and buck’s get in the mood. Giving doe’s cider vinegar in each bottle of water for a week for a doe who is refusing to be bred should cure the problem. If you breed by moon phases it is said to breed stubborn doe’s just before and during the full moon.
I would say the black oil sunflower seeds works best and I would swear by it takes about 4-5 days of sunflower seeds and they change their minds. I have had success with a small amount of wheatgerm oil on the feed and a small amount of oats. You might also try a change of scenery. Put the rabbit in a dog pen on the grass to contain the rabbit. Be sure they have food, water, and shade out there, and hopefully cover from aerial predators (hawks).Many times the doe’s are so happy to have some running room that they will breed when they would not before. Some times I will put a stubborn doe in a carrier cage and take for a ride in the truck and try breeding when I get her back home.
Also take the buck to her cage but be careful (watch carefully as she may try to protect her territory) as this is not the normal practice, usally you only bring the doe to the buck but this will trigger natural instinct in the doe and may cause her to want to breed.
It has been found that giving the rabbit’s 12 to 14 hours of light will help a lot. This will trigger the pineal gland a may cause the rabbit to think its spring and time to reproduce.
Some people have reported that Celestial Seasonings Raspberry Zinger tea the day before mating has helped the doe get in the mood. It’s one of those “can’t hurt” ideas. I have no statistical information on the effectiveness of the tea, but several people who were having problems getting their rabbits bred are very happy with the results of using it.
Have you tried the cage switch? Put your doe in with the buck as per normal. If they still don’t breed, take the buck out and put him in the doe’s cage, leaving the doe in the buck’s cage. Leave them overnight. Next morning, grab the buck and put him back with the doe. She has by that time had the entire night to enjoy the aromas of the buck and get accustomed to it. Most times this works! (but not always!).
If the doe sits down or tries to climb the sides of the cage, I’ll wait for 5 minutes. If she won’t stand still and accept the buck, I’ll take the doe out and try her again in 8 hours or the next day. And the next day if necessary. If she doesn’t accept the buck, I will wait for a couple of days and try again.
If all else fails first time doe’s can be difficult to breed and some doe’s are forever that way. If you are trying to restrain then place your hand under the doe to lift her hips. There is also a spot on her back (kind of behind the shoulders) that causes a reflex of her raising her hips and lifting her tail. It’s tricky to find but it is there. I have found that most forced breeding do not work as the rabbit is a induced ovulator and the doe will not drop eggs to get fertilized during a forced breeding.
The biological time clock affects rabbits just like humans. Females typically can be bred for the first time at five months. Males usually reach sexual maturity by six months of age. However, these times vary. Larger breeds are slower to reach sexual maturity and smaller breeds sooner.
Research has shown the most common cause of breeding problems occur because doe’s and buck’s are under or over weight for their breeds recommended weight. Underweight rabbits may be physically incapable of breeding successfully. Overweight rabbits may not show any interest in mating and can have a hard time becoming pregnant if mating does occur. Establish a “target” weight prior to breeding according to the specific breed standards of your rabbit for greatest success. Adjust the feed intake of your rabbit to maintain an ideal weight.
Environmental temperatures can affect reproductive performance in buck’s. Temperatures above 85 degrees Fahrenheit can cause heat induced sterility. Keep buck’s in a cool area when used for breeding purposes. The buck’s may remain sterile for up to 3 months.
How much is too much? The active breeding life of a rabbit can range from 4-6 years. Females on a more intensive breeding program (more than five litters per year) will be productive for fewer years than those bred less frequently. Frequency of breeding can also affect the performance of males. When used in an intensive breeding program, keep one buck per 10-20 does. In cool weather, fewer buck’s can be used more often. Doe’s that are infrequently bred may become overweight which may lead to breeding difficulties. But most doe’s that are kept bred are the most willing to re breed.
Keep the amount of light constant for 14 hours each day to maintain constant breeding throughout the year.
Be sure your rabbits have reached sexual maturity and are the proper weight and condition for their breed prior to mating. Monitor the amount of food your rabbit eats to prevent overeating and excess weight gain. If a more intensive breeding schedule is desired, a high production pellet formula is recommended. Formulated with extra protein and nutrition it enables does to produce up to 64 bunnies per year (8 litters per year).
Hope this post helps you with any of your unwilling rabbits and may your rabbits breed and produce many litters!
Everywhere you read or talk to older breeders, you will see or hear from other breeders the recommendations for the feeding of hay to rabbits. Give your rabbits all the hay it can eat, Do not restrict your rabbit’s hay diet. I believe this to be true! The main component of every rabbit’s diet should be fresh grass or hay (dried grass).
Hay is good for your rabbit because the long fibers that hay is made from help the muscles of the rabbits gut stay good and strong. It’s high fiber content is the single most important thing in maintaining good dental and intestinal health. Without fiber, the digestive system cannot move food through the gut and your rabbits teeth, which grow continually, will not wear down and could grow painfully long. Hay fiber is the number one defense against intestinal blockages. Hay stimulates normal gastrointestinal processes, including digestion of food, absorption of necessary nutrients and excretion of normal feces. Without hay in their diet, the intestinal tract of rabbits may slow down or completely stop moving.
Hay not only meets some of the rabbits basic nutritional requirements, but it helps to keep rabbits occupied, reducing boredom. Rabbits will chew on almost anything, They seem to have little concept of what they can digest and what they cannot digest so keeping hay available will give them something to chew on that they can digest. Hay is an essential part of your rabbit’s diet, and you should no more leave your Rabbits without hay than you would leave them without water. Rabbits need lots of fiber, and hay provides it to them. A good quality hay should not be too expensive, and is really essential for your rabbit’s health and well being.
Proof of the diet playing an important role in gastric stasis is seen when wild rabbits are compared to domestic rabbits. Wild rabbits don’t succumb to hairballs or most GI problems so why should domestic rabbits? The primary difference between wild and domestic rabbits is diet. In the wild, there is plenty of grass, leaves and other plant material for the rabbit to eat. With a domestic rabbit, the diet is frequently offered as pellets or a few vegetables and fruits. Without sufficient hay, these rabbits tend to succumb to various illnesses, including gastric stasis and hairballs. So for the health of your rabbits feed them hay!
Hay is just grass that has been cut and left to dry out. It has the same health and digestive benefits that fresh grass does. There are many different hays available; popular types include meadow, timothy, oat, and orchard grass. Any of these hays will provide a good source of fiber for your rabbit’s diet, but you don’t need to pick just one type. Mixing several different hays will provide your rabbit with a wider variety of flavours and even out differences in nutritional values. Timothy hay is the most popular rabbit feeding hay, and probably the easiest for you to obtain, but oat hay, wheat hay and bahia hay are all also okay. Alfalfa and Clover hays are tastier to your rabbit, but contain a great deal of calcium and protein, neither of which your rabbits need in large amounts.
You may be offered a choice between first and second cut hay. The terms first and second cut refer to the number of times that hay is harvested. First cut is better for your rabbits digestive system , but second cut is tastier. An old farmer once described the difference to me as follows: First cut is like the main course; Second cut is like dessert.
Rabbits like the second cut better, much better! First cut has more body and fills their stomachs up quicker. In Maine, we usually have two cuttings per year, depending upon the varieties planted and environmental factors such as rain. Generally, first cuttings are more mature, stalkier with less leaf, resulting in coarser hay. Subsequent cuttings grow back with fewer stalks and more leaf, resulting in softer hay. The longer hay is allowed to grow before being harvested, the more fibre and less protein it will have. Some rabbits seem to prefer a courser, stalky hay, while others have a preference for softer hay. If legume hays are grown in the field with grass hays, second or third cuttings will also have more legume hay than the first cutting.
First Cutting: The first growth off of a field for the year is the “first cutting.” Many people feel that first cut hay is not to be considered as good feed. I tend to disagree, provided it is of good quality and was cut when relatively immature (pre-bloom stage), before the plant is allowed to mature to the point where the stem becomes larger and coarser. This is when the lignin (an indigestible part of the fiber component associated with cellulose and hemicellulose in the cell wall) content has become sufficiently high so as to make the hay more unpalatable and indigestible and the nutritive value has declined greatly. This can happen with 1st, 2nd, or any cutting of hay if left growing too long.
Second Cutting: Depending upon the temperatures of the days and nights, it typically takes 40-45 days for regrowth of alfalfa, mix hay, and orchard-grass , and 55- 60 days for regrowth of timothy. This is termed the “second cutting,” which usually has a larger percentage of leaves to stems, has a finer and softer stem, has increased percentages of crude protein and crude fat, and has a lower crude fiber percentage (depending upon the stage of maturity at which it was cut) . More non-structural carbohydrates (starches and sugars) and protein are in the leaves than in the stems. These starches and sugars are very digestible and make the hay higher quality.
Legume hay- Noticeably different than grass hay. A stalky plant with brittle, crumbly, flat leaves. Clover or alfalfa flowers may be seen as well. Alfalfa hay smells rich.
Timothy hay- Resembles flat, dried blades of grass. The color ranges from soft green to grey/brown green. Timothy has “solid cattail” tips for easy identification.
Orchard Grass- This hay has a similar appearance to timothy but has broken or open “cattail” tips, rather than solid. The tips tend to be pale brown
Generally, hay that is grown for horses is good and can be fed to your rabbits. Good hay should smell sweet or like fresh grass. It should be low in weeds and, although color varies with the type of hay, it should be green to greenish-grey in color.
Excessive dust or hay that does not smell sweet may indicate mould. Do not feed your rabbit moldy hay. Never, I repeat NEVER feed moldy hay, because it can make your rabbit seriously ill. Moldy hay may contain white dust, or black and/or white spots on the bale. If you drop the bale and a lot of white dust flies up, it could be a sign of mold. Thistles and other weeds should be picked out of the hay before serving, because some weeds, such as milkweed (a thick, fibrous stemmed plant with broad elongated leaves) are toxic and can make your rabbits sick or much worse.
GROWING YOUR OWN HAY-
Whether you’ve got a patch of long grass which you think would make good hay or are planning to sow a patch of timothy grass or herb mix especially to make hay for the winter months, similar rules apply to those of growing a herb patch or rabbit lawn but with the added considerations of cutting, drying and storing. Many herbs were traditionally dried for the winter months by rabbit breeders many years ago so why not today.
Any herb or wild plant you would feed fresh in season can be dried as herbal hay for winter use. Herbs you may want to consider drying include agrimony, avens, borage, thyme, rosemary, lavender, chamomile, calendula (the flowers are a good source of vitamin A), chickweed (a good natural source of copper), cleavers (an excellent spring tonic), coltsfoot, dandelion (but don’t feed too much as it is a diuretic), goat’s rue (aids lactation), golden rod (a great plant to feed as the plant grows back even bushier when you harvest the tips), lemon balm, common mallow, marshmallow, meadowsweet (a natural source of salicylic acid – the active ingredient in aspirin), melilot, mouse ear, plantain, shepherd’s purse (good for scouring) and yarrow.
Always harvest when fresh and green, as with grass for haymaking, dry well before storing. The rabbits love this in the winter and it helps them with the winter blahs! The trick is to make good hay so every mouthful packs a punch. So a good variety mix is the best! So prepare, fertilize and plant a small hay plot. Just like the big hay makers, harvest at the best bloom and during a time of warm, sunny days.
If you mow your lawn weekly, you might want to skip a week to let it grow out a bit. If you don’t have a lawn, you could try asking your neighbors. I am sure if you offer to cut their grass in exchange for keeping the clippings. Just make sure they don’t use any weedkiller/pesticides. Once you have located your patch of grass, next you need to cut it. It’s important not to use a lawn mower for this. Mowers chop up the grass and crush it which encourages it to begin fermenting. This is great if you want to compost it but no good for feeding to rabbits. If you’re cutting a big patch you could use scythe or sickle but you could also use a string trimmer/weedwhackers this will save your back and do the work in a fraction of the time. I have even used scissors or big hedge clippers, I can fill a pillow case or a feed sack very fast. Next is the difficult part, the grass needs to dry out (and turn into hay). There are a few options for this. You could leave the grass where you cut it and turn it a few times to help it dry. Our forefathers used wooden peg-toothed haying rakes; if you’re handy with tools you could make one, but a wide-toothed garden rake will do. Check frequently and when the turned hay is fully dry, but still green and sweet smelling, hook a cart to your lawn tractor, grab your pitchfork and bring in the harvest.
The trouble with this is you are at the mercy of the weather. It’s important the air gets to it so I made a shelf out of some wire mesh. You could also use a covered deck, greenhouse, shed with windows etc. or you could lay it out on a sheet and just pick it up in the sheet when rain is forecast and pop it out afterwards. The top of a wire rabbit cage or run would be great if the weather is good That’s it for the hard work, now you just need to wait for it to dry. It dose not take to long for this. In less than two weeks it will smell and looked like tasty hay. Once it has dried out you can store it like you would normal hay. Something that breaths (like a pillow case would be best) just in case there is any moisture left. If you leave it out in the sun it will loose the hint of green and go golden brown (still edible but less nutrients). Store your hay in a well-ventilated area, out of direct sunlight. Don’t fork it directly on the floor, place it on top of wooden pallets to prevent ground contact. Pack it down and pile it high. It’s best to leave new hay uncovered for a few weeks until it finishes curing, but then top it with tarps to preserve cleanliness and quality. So grow your own good quality hay for you rabbits! By adding the herbs it is a nice change for your rabbits and a great healthy tonic. I hope you like this post and any questions or ideas are welcome!