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!
Rabbits are the greenest livestock you can raise on your homestead! The other day, while I was sifting Bunny Berries, I was thinking that the only by-product of rabbits that is not green are the polypropylene bags that the feed comes in. They aren’t very biodegradable but they are re-usable. I have used them for sandbags, putting wood scraps in for kindling, covering for the outside rabbit hutches in the winter and as small tarps, I have seen many people make some nice re purposed shopping bags and even raincoats from these bags, and then it hit me, I had an idea! I turned them inside out (to have a nice clean white bag) made a stencil and sprayed one side of the bag with BUNNY BERRIES and The other with RISE AND SHINE RABBITRY filled them up with 12+ gallons of the best manure/ fertilizer to sell as bagged manure to local organic gardeners.
But rabbits are also a green choice if you eat meat. So if you are going to eat meat, raising animals at home is the greenest way possible! So for a great sustainable healthy meat supply start raising rabbits today! They’re efficient in the amount of food required for the amount of meat produced compared to other larger livestock. With the larger livestock you are getting into much larger greenhouse gas emissions issues. One doe might have seven or more rabbits, each of which yields 2 to 3+ pounds of dressed meat. So that’s roughly 20 pounds of meat per litter, and a single doe might have three to six litters a year depending on your breeding schedule. Rabbits come in a convenient meal-sized package, so you do not need to use electricity to freeze the extra meat for later use, like you would for larger livestock! Store it on the hoof so to speak.
A domesticated rabbit will eat garden vegetables and even dandelion leaves (Check the FEBURARY archives for SAFE FOOD LIST FOR RABBITS) and so much more! It is possible to raise and feed 2 does and a buck with nothing but what you can produce or find on your own land. Hay is the mainstay of a healthy rabbit diet and is locally grown in most states (You can also grow your own on a small scale). Rabbits also enjoy eating parts of vegetables humans don’t want to consume like carrot tops, radish tops,peelings, and beet tops and much much more. By feeding your rabbits local you can reduce emissions and support the local economy. They’re quiet and won’t disturb the neighbors so no noise pollution.
It may seem mean to kill a rabbit but it is far better than buying an inexpensive, prepackaged steak. Here’s why! Many people don’t think about the environmental impact or an animal’s quality of life when buying processed meat, such as beef and pork from large-scale, crowded, commercial operations that rely on antibiotics and hormones. Rabbits are usually raised locally without medication and antibiotics and can be purchased at a local farmers market thus create less food miles!
Other ways rabbits could be considered green-
The Cages- Can be made out of many green recycled materials such as pallets, reclaimed wood, ect. I use metal cages and they may not be the greenest material when they are made, but the wire cages are built to last. A cage that is well-maintained will last 20+ years. After that, the floor will need replacing but the sides and top are still usable long after the original floor wears out. So that is less in the landfills and less money wasted
Waterers and feeders- Made of plastic, ceramics, and metal and with proper use and care they can be used for decades. Also in a lot of old rabbit books they have ideas to make these items out of recycled metal cans and soda bottles
Waste products- In raising rabbits we do create some waste. Water may be our most wasted product so why not pour the water into a five gallon bucket when adding fresh water and changing out the old water and use it to water your plants (unless you add cider vinegar to your rabbits water), In the winter water is the most wasted. Warm water is still used to thaw out frozen crocks. Frozen water removed from the bowls. On cleaning and sanitizing days we may use an additional 20 gallons . That water is used for irrigation on our pasture and gardens that feed our rabbits. The highest volume waste product that we produce is rabbit droppings, or what we like to call Bunny Berries, Bunny Pearls, or Rabbit Treasures. These are far from a waste product see our post on THE BENIFITS AND USES FOR RABBIT MANURE
See! Rabbits are GREEN!
Wild rabbits not only eat a healthy diet of fresh grass, but they also have access to a wide variety of wild plants which they can eat to balance out their diet and keep themselves healthy. When we keep rabbits in captivity we remove them from both their natural diet and the herbs they would naturally eat if they were feeling sick and need to self medicate. Providing rabbits with a range of herbs and greens that they can choose to eat, or refuse, gives them the opportunity to balance their own diet according to their natural instincts. Rabbit are ideal patient for herbal medicines because they are herbivores and eat their herbal medicine treats with enthusiasm!
One of the most important daily chore in your quest for raising rabbits is observation. Daily observation can easily detect illness or disease in your rabbits that can be found early and contained before all of the rabbits are affected. While you do your daily chores, simply stop, look, and listen. Stand quietly or listen carefully while you do your chores. You’re listening for sneezing, coughing, or labored breathing. A few sneezes here and there are common and normal. A rabbit that sneezes repeatedly needs closer attention. Look closely at the face and ears of your rabbits. Ears should be clean and free of mites. Mites will cause the ears to fill with yellowish nasty crust. It is very simple to treat but only if you know notice it. Noses and eyes should be clear and free of discharge. It only takes a few minutes longer doing your chores to check your rabbits daily for illness. This will also save you lots of time treating when prevention or cure is simple. The number one to keep you rabbits healthy is observation
I believe that most of the health problems rabbits have are brought on by an imbalance in their immune systems that allows the bacterial and parasitic disease to get a hold in the rabbits system. The best herb I believe for balancing the rabbits immune system is Echinacea it can be grown in any backyard and is available in most health food stores.
There are some preventive measures that will help you in your quest of raising rabbits, these will save you from many troubles. sanitation Keep cages clean, wire brush any dropping that get stuck and clean cages thoroughly between litters. Clean cages mean clean rabbits! I have never seen a rabbit die from good sanitation practices. Ventilation- air should be moving to keep fresh air to your rabbits if it smells to you it smells worse to the rabbits. Apple Cider Vinegar- Use as an additive to their daily water giving it continuously or in 3 month cycles (3on, 3off, 3on,etc.). Dosage: Add 1 to 2 tablespoons of ACV to a gallon of water. I have an earlier post in the January archives with lots of good information on Apple Cider Vinegar For Rabbits check it out. Grapefruit Seed Extract- 5 to 10 drops GSE to 1 gallon water 2 times a year for 2 weeks as a preventive wormer (I also use this when I get a new rabbit while the rabbit is in quarantine “just in case”). Echinacea- I use a few of the stems and leaves on top of their daily food as a preventive immune system booster. There are more but these are the best preventive measures I have found and use.
I know that pure breeds are more prone to suffer illness than the crossed breeds. This is mainly because of breeders trying to perfect a breed, in most cases the breeders do not take into consideration health risks, and inbreeding, to achieve the perfect rabbit. I have never have had any trouble with my crossbred meat rabbits. They seen to have a natural preventive built-in with the hybrid vigor! More on crossing rabbits to come!
Here are a few herbs and what they are recommended for. Most of these I have used on my rabbits. These are listed in order by herb name. Natural remedies work great for small ailments. I have seen the effects for treating GI problems, Nest box eye, Diarrhea, ear mites, etc. with natural means work. You should ALWAYS be feeding lots of good grass hay, tonic weeds like plantain and dandelion, raspberry, blackberry, strawberry leaves, willow twigs and leaves if they are available. These things will contribute to your rabbits’ good health, but they are not cure-alls. Just a reminder that seeds purchased for planting are not safe for rabbits. Most of them have been treated with fungicides etc. Stick to seeds purchased as feed or ones you have harvested yourself.
BIRCH – Chewing, pain relief, anti-inflammatory, diuretic.
BLACK OIL SUNFLOWER SEEDS – Coat Condition
BLACKBERRY – Used for pregnant does, summer cooling, stimulate appetite, diarrhea and safe introductory green for young kits use leaves and fruit,this is a very soothing to rabbits and can help cool rabbits in the summer heat by increasing circulation, awsome addition for pregnant does in the hot summer
BLUE COHOSH- Works in the same ways as Shepard’s Purse. It can be used if doe has a hard time birthing or kit gets stuck. It will dilate the birth canal. Do not give while pregnant, wait until doe is due. It will induce labor. Also it will help in healing once kits are born.
BORAGE – Laxative, Increases milk flow of nursing does, helps with fevers, reduces stress, A great treat after a doe gives birth,plus you can check her litter while she is busy eating her treat
CHAMOMILE – Pain relief, calm nervous rabbit, one of the best eye wash for weepy eye Chamomile tea and honey!!!!! Just make a cup of tea, a little stronger than you would drink it and add a teaspoon of honey. I use an old syringe w/o the needle to squirt into the eye. You can also use as a compress and as a wipe for the eye. It will work wonders. Both chamomile and honey are anti-everything! microbial, fungal, and with antibiotic properties. Let the rabbit eat some before you treat for eye problems because of its pain relief and calming effects will make the rabbit easier to handle
CHICKWEED – Anti-inflammatory, healing of cuts, molt
CLEAVERS – Healing of cuts, laxative
COLTSFOOT – Respiratory expectorant
COMFREY – Healing, bone formation, ill rabbits, stressed and weak rabbits, if you have a rabbit off feed try a few leaves of comfrey this is one of my favorite herb tonic for rabbits! You can cut it down and dry it like hay to store for winter use (can be cut down up to three times here in Maine) They also love the freshly harvested leaves(I have never wilted it) . The plant has a calming effect on rabbits Comfrey is a good source of vitamin A and good for pregnant and nursing does. It is a digestive aid, helps with wool block and is used for many other things. It supports the immune system, good for the stomach, feed as a general tonic. In extreme doses, comfrey can cause diarrhea. This is its effects working too hard and if left unnoticed, the rabbit may dehydrate. When used with common sense, Comfrey is one of the best herbs for rabbits.
DANDELION – Blood purifying, respiratory ailments, anti-inflammatory, bladder infections, diarrhea, milk flow of nursing does, good treat for does after having a litter. Some rabbit respiratory problems, such as pasteurellosis, can eventually cause serious problems including head tilt, loss of balance and death. There have been tests on rabbits that were treated with dandelion’s showing that it is effective against pneumonia, bronchitis and upper respiratory infections. Use fresh leaves, flowers and dig up root, the root can be dried to make a weak tea to add to the rabbits water. Well known for its curative powers. The bitter milky sap stimulates the working of all glands, including the milk glands of lactating does. The plant has both laxative and astringent qualities and regulates constipation and diarrhea.
ECHINACEA -Immune system stimulant and broad spectrum antibiotic. In the lower doses it’s the stimulant and in higher doses acts as an antibiotic. Anti-inflammatory with anti-viral properties. It can be grown in nearly every backyard and easily available at most health food stores. Echinacea is a great preventive herb to use for your rabbits. I feed a few leaves every now a then to my rabbits daily greens mix to boost the immune system and fight infection. Research has shown that echinacea increases production of interferon in the body. It is antiseptic and antimicrobial, with properties that act to increase the number of white blood cells available to destroy bacteria and slow the spread of infection. It is also a great herb to dry and add to your winter hay blend! You can also get the capsules at heath food stores add 4 capsules of the echinacea to one gallon of water and boil and cool store in fridge and add 1/4 herb water to 3/4 water and fill water bottles, crocks, ect,
ELDER FLOWER – Respiratory expectorant, fevers
EUCALYPTUS – Dried and powdered, and sprinkled repel fleas
EYEBRIGHT – Weepy eye wash
FENNEL – Bloating, gas, milk flow of nursing does
GARLIC – Immunize against disease, antiseptic, antibiotic, bloating and gas, wormer, respiratory expectorant. This stuff works it is just hard to get a rabbit to eat it!
GINGER – Infertility in bucks
GOATS RUE – Milk flow in nursing does
GOLDEN ROD – Anti-inflammatory
GRAPEFRUIT SEED EXTRACT- As for worming rabbits, grapefruit seed extract does the job well and is all natural. 10 drops in a gallon of water for 2 weeks..or longer if there is a known bad problem. This also helps to worm them and along with raw pumpkin seeds this mix should clean out your rabbits. I regularly run grapefruit seed extract through their water at least 2 times a year with a few raw pumpkin seeds on top of their food and have never had a problem with coccidiosis. I also use it when I bring in new stock this has many uses as a bactericide, fungicide, anti viral, anti parasitic
LAMBS QUARTERS- Another good wormer for rabbits I only feed lamb’s quarters only when it is young rabbits will reject it as it gets older. In spring it is very useful because it starts early when greens are a bit limited
LAVENDER – Circulation problems, nervous stress, exhaustion, induces labor. To bring on labour or expel placental material etc. in problem kindling’s. Use with caution. sparingly. in extreme cases only. The flowers are actually a mild tranquilizer, acting upon the heart in easing blood pressure rather than acting upon the brain as an anti-stimulant. Great for stressed out rabbits.
LEMON BALM – Anti-bacterial, antiviral, bloating and gas, diarrhea, reduce stress
LICORICE – Good for gastric inflammation and coughs.
LINSEED – Laxative, helps with molting
MARIGOLD – Bruises, slowly healing wounds, ulcers, skin diseases, digestive problems
MARJORIM – Coughs, inflammation of mouth, throat. Digestive problems, uterine discomfort, calm nerves
MEADOWSWEET – Weepy eye wash
MILK THISLTE – Helps take ammonia from the blood and protects both the liver and the kidneys, increases milk flow in nursing does
MINT – Firms loose stools, decreases the milk flow of does during weaning, Good herb for treating mastitis. Safe as food for dry does and bucks DO NOT FEED to lactitating does. Used for colds, eye inflammation, liver stimulant, and used to relax the muscles of the digestive tract and stimulate bile flow so mint is useful for indigestion, gas and colic. Avoid prolonged use, it can irritate the mucous membranes. Do not give any form of mint to young babies. Should be harvested just before flowering.
MOTHER WART – Weepy eye wash
NASTURTIUM – Strongly antiseptic.
NETTLES – Increases milk flow in nursing does
OATS – Feed sparingly in summer though. Good for digestive problems, diarrhea, kidney and bladder problems. Small kits may not be able to swallow oats and may actually choke on them.
PARSLEY – Enriches the blood, urinary problems. Roots are used for constipation and obstruction of the intestines. Good for the cure of inflammation of bladder & kidneys, digestive disorders, fertility in bucks, productivity in does
PAPAYA- When I used to raise angoras (Still have some fiber males) I would give them a papaya enzyme tablet every couple of days to help keep them from getting wool block. We always have had healthy rabbits. The enzyme helps to break down the hair in the gut, and keep things moving. I have also given them to the meat rabbits. The rabbits love them, You can get the tablets at most health food stores.
PINEAPPLE- Bromelain, the actual enzyme in the pineapple, is most abundant in the stem of the pineapple, the center part that we throw away. Fresh pineapple are best as the enzyme will be removed once frozen or processed. Bromelain is good for diarrhoea. It will reduce intestinal fluid secretion and is suggested that bromelain has mucolytic and digestive properties. So it’ll dilate the mucus coating of the GI tract as well as helping to breakdown proteins good for gut mobility and helping with hairballs good to give to rabbits during a molt
PLANTAIN – antimicrobial, antispasmodic, healing of cuts, respiratory expectorant, fevers. Great as a safe introduction of young kits to greens, works great for diarrhea. This is something I feed in my daily green feed mix. Leaves soothe urinary tract infections and irritations. Good for gastric inflammations. Juice pressed from fresh leaves is given orally for inflamed mucous membranes in cystitis, diarrhea and lung infections. Use the juice for inflammations, sores, and wounds. Plantain does not cause digestive problems. The plant regulates the function of the intestines and is generally good for the mucous membranes. Useful in the diet of weanling’s and can be harvested and dried for year round use.
PURSLANE- Purslane contains more Omega-3 fatty acids than any other leafy vegetable plant know of. There was a study where they fed Purslane to rabbits with high cholesterol and it lowered it.
RASPBERRY – Prevention and treatment of kindling problems like retained afterbirth. Improves condition during pregnancy, ensuring speedy and strong birth. Feed during the last two weeks of pregnancy as a great preventive prenatal supplement. Also wonderful cure for digestive ailments including diarrhea, infertility in bucks, fevers. and a safe introductory green for young kits
RED CLOVER – weepy eye
ROSEMARY – Lowers blood pressure, Ideal for exhaustion, weakness, and depression in rabbits. The stems and leaves invigorate the circulation, stimulate the digestion, and are good for cold conditions. Harvest fresh dry or grow inside for year-round use.
SAGE – dried and powdered, and sprinkled repel fleas, dry up does who’s kits have been weaned. Reduces lactation when weaning, digestive stimulant and a uterine stimulant. This herb should be used with caution and should be avoided during pregnancy.
SASSAFRASS – dried and powdered, and sprinkled repel fleas
SCOTCH PINE – bronchitis, sinusitis, neuralgia, rheumatism.
SHEPHERDS PURSE – Uterine disorders, A strong medicine for diarrhea. Use sparingly.
SORREL – Very cooling and soothing, it is a much cherished treat in the summer.
STRAWBERRY – Whole plant is antiseptic and cooling. Leaves are rich in iron and are supposed to prevent miscarriage. Externally used for inflamed areas, rashes and sore eyes.
THYME – Good for diarrhea The stems and leaves are ideal for a useful as a digestive remedy, warming for stomach ache, chills and associated diarrhea. Expels worms. Harvest before and during flowering in summer discard the woody stems
WILLOW – Intestinal inflammation. Willow twigs and leaves. Useful winter food, easily gathered and stored. Also a pain-reliever and possible natural coccidiostat.
If while treating your rabbits or at any other time your rabbits stools are soft and sticky, a temporary change of diet can be beneficial. Remove the pellets and grain, feed grass hay and some of the beneficial plants. These plants will aid in firming the stools but they are also part of a healthy diet and will not cause constipation. You do not want your rabbits to go from one extreme to the other. The four best plants for this are plantain, raspberry leaves, blackberry leaves and strawberry leaves. All these are useful plants for a food source as well as a medicinal. You don’t need to worry about feeding too many. These are also good plants to dry and add to your winter hay blend! A combination of any of these and the grass hay will usually solve the problem within a few days.
On the other hand, if a rabbit is exhibiting watery stools rather than merely soft, a stronger medicine may be needed. The dietary restrictions should be the same, but shepherd’s purse can be added to the greens listed above. Shepherd’s purse is an excellent medicinal plant, but it is very strong and you don’t want to feed too much. A small handful of leaves and stems twice a day for three or four days should fix things. As the rabbit is getting better, reduce the amount of shepherds purse and then stop but feed the greens listed above and grass hay for another day or two. Reintroduce grains or pellets slowly.
EAR MITES-(EAR CANKER)- Any type of food grade oil may be used- olive oil, corn oil, almond oil, ect. A few drops of tea tree oil mixed in to any of the oils listed will help the healing process the oil serves 3 purposes -soothes the skin, smothers and suffocates the mites, and speeds the healing process. Put 6 or 7 drops in each ear massaging the base of the ear to saturate the inner ear completely. The rabbit will shake out the nasty stuff after a few treatments. Treat for the first 2 days than every other day for 14 days after this, 2 times a week for the next 2 weeks ear mites have a 28 day life cycle so you must treat up to the 28 days to make sure all the mites are killed. 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 in the store bought mineral oil container and use a few drops in each ear as a preventive when I trim the rabbits nails.
EYE INFECTION / WEEPY EYES- Eye problems are not uncommon in rabbits, dirt or other debris can get lodged in a tear duct(happens more often to kits in the nestbox) and if not washed out can cause a bacterial infection wash with saline or any human eye wash(remember they have all probably been tested or rabbits at some point)take a few drop of tea tree oil and smeared it around the inflamed area tea tree oil is a natural antiseptic and is very good at curing microbial infections. See CHAMOMILE above for more info
GI PROBLEMS- Rabbits need a high fiber diet for their best intestinal health. Grass hay is great for the healthy movement in the rabbits digestive track. If a rabbit is not eating there is a problem! If their poop pellets get small and dry or none at all it is a sign of wool block or GI stasis. You have to get the gastric tract moving again. Get some 100% canned pumpkin NOT the canned pumpkin pie filling (it has spices in it the will hurt your rabbits) Suck some up in a big syringe (remove the needle). Then put the plastic tip of the syringe into the side of the rabbits mouth and very slowly squeeze some out a little at a time give about 2 teaspoons for each dose wait about 3 hours and do it again you can give it 4 to 6 times a day every day until they start eating and pooping. Slippery elm bark in its shredded bark form fed to rabbits should help with GI problems if the rabbits will not eat it grind some up as a powdered form in its water mix 1 teaspoon in the drinking water 3 to 4 time a day. I have always had good luck feeding a few comfrey leaves and in a few days they are back on the regular feed schedule
KIDNEY OR BLADDER PROBLEMS- Any diuretic that will increase urine flow is good for the urinary tract in rabbits. This helps to keep bladder sludge down(caused from high calcuim intake). Dandelion root tea in the water with cranberry treats several time a week will help with any problems.The cranberry prevents bacteria from attaching to the wall of the bladder so it get washed out with the urine.
PREGENCY TONIC- Combine the following- dried, raspberry leaf, nettle, and goats rue (Galega officinale) in equal parts, and half part Milk Thistle (Silybum marianum). All organic either grow your own or get it from a health food store
Feed: 1 Tbs. per day at feeding time, to pregnant Does beginning one week before kindling through the first month. These herbs help ease kindling, offer nutrition and support lactation. Just sprinkle 1 Tbs. over their food, once a day.
If I have missed anything let me know I would be glad to add it to this post! Some of this information I have gotten from other sources online or old rabbit books. I have used most of these herbs on my rabbits over the last 30 years, use with caution and know what you are feeding your rabbits. Hope you enjoyed this post! Check us out on Facebook for daily rabbit information! JOIN THE RABBIT REVOLUTION by subscribing to our blog feed to get the new posts as they are added! Check out the podcast section of the blog page! Will be doing more podcasts in the future lots of good information!
Rabbits are inexpensive and easy to feed. If you are raising only 3 does and 1 buck for a food source, pellets are fine and will raise you lots of good tasting healthy meat. Most brands of commercial pellets are locally available and you could feed your rabbits just a good quality pellet for life and your rabbits would have happy healthy life. But knowing what a good pellet is can be more troublesome. Every rabbit breeder has a different opinion! On how much protein, or fiber, or whether corn can be used as an ingredient, or not, or will a GMO infested soy product affect your rabbits. But there are benefits to feeding your rabbits pellets! Including the consistent ingredients and known nutrient balance and the inclusion of salt, so no salt/mineral lick is needed. Most rabbit pellets also contain Copper Sulphate which help fight off intestinal parasites that can make your rabbit sick. So check you feed labels and be informed! It is hard to beat a quality pellet for rabbits for the best performance (high production). Pellets are designed to grow a healthy rabbit in the most economical way. Even using lower priced pellets may not save in the long run as they are most likely made up with lower quality ingredients. I do feed pellets (alfalfa based only no corn ever) as the main diet in the winter but supplement with whole oats, grass hay, any dried greens I have stored also store sunflower seeds, an occasional fruit treat , apple tree and grape vine trimmings. Remember rabbits are herbivores that eat mostly green food, grain and roots.
I do however, in the growing season use pellets as a supplement, with a great deal of their diet devoted to harvested greens, weeds and grown crops just for the rabbits- The rabbits would much rather eat the natural feeds which the rabbits prefer! (imagine that rabbits wanting to eat like rabbits) I like providing the pellets to be sure they have the vitamins they need! Harvesting the natural feeds twice a day DOES require time AND KNOWLEDGE.So learn and know what it is you are feeding your rabbits!
This method works for me and helps out with the feed budget. I grow rabbits for meat and the only compromise I have seen for feeding naturally this way is slower growing rabbits. So, if meat rabbits are your objective, and you want fast and high production stick with pellets and good MUST HAVE grass hay. If you are homesteading and want to raise your own, take the extra time do your research! I have a post I am still tweaking on natural feeds for rabbits, such as greens, weeds etc. I just wanted to get some information on pellets out first.
Here are a few tips on selecting a good rabbit pellets-
Never buy rabbit pellets at a pet store. They are only available in small bags and for the same price you can get a 50lb bag at a feed store. The feed at the feed store is usally a better quality pellet and contains none of the candy pieces in the mix.
Avoid corn as an ingredient. A few pellet brands have corn as an ingredient and none of them have very much. The corn itself poses no problem to rabbits, but there is a type of mold that is not uncommonly found in corn that is toxic to rabbits. Most places do test their corn before milling. Corn is also a GMO grown and round up sprayed food crop. Do you really want your rabbits eating this.
Look at the pellets they should be uniform in size and consistency. The color should be green and smell fresh there have been stories of people raising rabbits and getting a bag that didn’t quite look right, because the manufacturer mistakenly filled bags of rabbit pellets with a unknown livestock feed. If you have been using the same feed for a while and something is different you are probably right call the manufacturer or feed dealer before you use it.
Remember no major feed company is going to make any bad feed intentionally
Check the mill date on the bag. Rabbits like fresh clean pellets! Avoid feed with dates older than a 2 months.
Always use the same brand and type of pellets. Do not go changing brands of feed because one is on sale that month. If you do change you must mix the old feed with the new feed to get the rabbits digestive tract used to the new feed. Make sure you have enough of the old feed to slowly change over to the new feed. do this gradually, over a period of at least one week preferably two if possible. Some rabbits do not do well to the sudden change in feed and could cause digestive problems. When you buy a rabbit from a breeder, or if you sell a rabbit to someone, should include a small amount of the current food until they can get the same brand or so you or the new rabbit raisers can make the change.
The rest is simple the protein/fiber percentages that no rabbit breeder can agree on what is the best. But if you’re breeding rabbits, a 16% protein pellet will do just fine. Rabbit food must contain 16% protein at least to build the tissue in growing kits. But a 18% for nursing does helps with milk production and the pregnant doe also needs extra protein to produce her quick growing litter(inside her). Alfalfa is an equally good source of protein if fed right. Always look for the highest amount of fiber content you can find in a pellet.
The amount that rabbits are fed depends on your rabbits and the conditions you keep them in. They need more food in cold weather and less in hot. It’s also good to get in the habit of checking your rabbits body condition by feeling how lean or how fat they are. You need to get a feel for what a healthy rabbit looks and feels like. With full grown Bucks or does you are not currently breeding, you want to limit how much you feed them. You do not want fat rabbits it will reduce the does fertility and make lazy bucks. Adult rabbits will eat about four ounces a day, and does with young need about eight ounces.
For a meat breed, about 1/2 to 1 cup a day (depending on each individual rabbit). For pregnant or nursing does, and any growing kits you should feed them as free feed another contriversial subject. This is where breeders agree or disagree because more protein usually means that rabbits grow larger, faster and do not have to be free fed.
But you don’t have to feed your rabbits JUST pellets. Many additions and treats can benefit your rabbits health.
Grass hay: In addition to being used by a doe to make her nest when she gives birth, grass hay is great to feed your rabbits daily. It’s high in fiber which aides in digestion. But you want to avoid feeding your rabbits straight alfalfa hay. Alfalfa is not a grass, it’s a legume and often fed to horses, goats, cows and other ruminants to add protein to their diet. Plant protein is good for rabbits, but alfalfa also contains a comparatively high amount of calcium. High calcium levels can cause urine of a “sludge” constancy and eventually kidney stones. Timothy grass is great, but brome and orchard and any other horse quality hay is good. A grass/alfalfa blend is also fine. Oat grass is also fantastic and can be found at feed supply stores that cater to horse owners.
Oats and/or barley: These are great for growing kits as they’re easily digested for the newly weaned. Some people will keep a separate dish of oats in a cage with young (2+ weeks old) kits. It’s best to use uncut, unrolled oats or barley.
Black Oil Sunflower Seeds (or BOSS). These are common in the bird feed section and really do a wonder on rabbit coats. If you want to show your rabbits, giving them a tsp. of BOSS a day is a great idea.
Alfalfa or hay cubes: these are compressed cubes of alfalfa or hay that also have molasses and are squished into hard cubes. Great for chewing and wearing down rabbit teeth (remember that rabbits teeth grow constantly). Small bags can be found in rabbit sections of feed stores but if you want a better value, look for larger bags in the horse section.
Calf Manna: This is in a class on its own. Calf manna is a brand of supplement designed to promote milk production in many different species of animals. A couple tsp. of Calf Manna a day for pregnant or nursing does can be a great way to make sure she’s making enough milk for her kits (meat breeds generally have very large litters) and make sure she maintains good body condition throughout pregnancy and nursing so you can breed her back sooner.
Dried or fresh fruit (apples, bananas, pineapples, mango, papaya, oranges). This is good as a treat, but shouldn’t be fed in any large quantity. Feeding pineapple can help treat a condition known as “fur block” which happens when a rabbit ends up consuming too much of its own fur and causes a block in their digestive system. Papaya is also used to reduce the odor of rabbit urine, if you find that’s a problem with your rabbit.
Fresh vegetables and herbs: The list is to long for this post- Check out THE SAFE PLANT LIST on the web page, Here are a few, Radish greens, sunflower leaves, beets greens, and roots, carrot tops , dill, mint, comfrey etc! I have been writing up a post on naturally feeding rabbits! Check back soon.
Weeds, lawn trimmings and bush trimmings- The useful wild plants for rabbits include young trees, leaves and shoots (make sure they are on the safe list!). Some of the useful wild plants are- Comfrey, chickweed, cow parsley, docks, cattails, dandelion, Plantain, Shepherds Purse, sow thistle, watercress, (check the safe list on the web page and get a good book to identify your weeds in your area) Rabbits love dandelions so much that you might find yourself growing them in your yard (on purpose). They like fresh grass cuttings too. A lot of people will create a little pen of wire fencing or use a dog crate in their yards to let rabbits roam around and forage (while their owner cleans cages) this is great but make sure that there are no poisonous weeds available to them! Another option is the rabbit tractor more on this setup in later posts.
Carbohydrates: Provide energy- rabbits will balance their own ration when they can. They will eat more food if it is low in energy and less if it is high, if they are given the choice, but a high energy diet could produce a deficiency of other nutrients. To many carbs will slow do the digestive tract so be careful
Fiber: Wild rabbits eat more fiber than tame rabbits. Young rabbits require less fiber than the adult. Adult rabbit food must contain at least 25% fiber. Find the pellet with the highest fiber possible!
Minerals: Rabbit food contains all the minerals except cobalt.
Vitamins: The last part of a rabbit’s intestines contains bacteria which produce vitamin B-complex and vitamin C. So the Vitamins A, D and E are needed in the diet and should be in your pellets.
It is important that your rabbits are not overfed, so it is easier to regulate the diet if you feed them twice a day. Fermented and sour food is very bad for a rabbit. If pellet food is used it is said to increase their weight three ounces a day.
Hope this was something you wanted to know and helpful, Stayed tuned for more in the next few days! Join The Rabbit Revolution -LIKE US ON FACEBOOK- subscribe to the web page for updates as they are posted!
In the late 1930s, the Great Depression was in full swing. Many families raised rabbits in pens in their backyards to supplement the victory gardens or meager grocery budget. They would gather grass or spent vegetables to feed their rabbits. So we can learn from our parents and grandparents, rabbits can be a good source of protein for your family during tough times. They multiply quickly, don’t need much space, don’t eat much food, produce excellent manure, and are easy to handle and butcher. Join The Rabbit Revolution! Raise Rabbits Today! Start your own self sufficient family meat supply and feed your family and gardens today! Enjoy it today so you can learn everything now so that you will know tomorrow. Think of it as money in the bank (or is that a bad saying, rabbits maybe worth more than money!)
When feeding your rabbits to help sustain you and your family in a SHTF situation you would want to feed them as cheap and as easily as possible. I have chosen to go as natural as possible. I feed a lot of grass, weeds, garden scraps and produce, brambles, herbs, tree twigs and sometimes a little fruit or dried bread. We still feed pellet food regularly but lower amounts than if I did not feeding naturally, and could change their diet to just natural if necessary. Because of them eating more that just pellets, there food source can be changed sooner than a rabbit just fed pellets.
When starting to use green food introduce it slowly over a two-week period to your bunnies. You need to give their gut time to develop the correct bacteria for digesting new foods. By doing this I have never had any trouble with diarrhea in my rabbitry. If you do then back off the forage for a day and give a straw or dried grass hay or a small piece of dry bread. By keeping your rabbits on both pelleted food and green food this can help out in case one or the other food source gives out. You need to make sure you feed both types at least every other day to keep their guts used to both.
SOME GOOD SHTF RABBIT FACTS-
Rabbits are quiet, No one will know you have a meat supply.
Rabbits take up very little space, Easily hidden.
Rabbits reproduce quickly. Fast sustaining meat supply.
Rabbits can be butcher as needed so no need for refrigeration
You only need one buck for every 10 does, Less mouths to feed.
Each doe will have on average 40 kits per year- l00+ lbs meat
Rabbits have a very short gestation period (31 days). Can be re bred 2 weeks after giving birth
Rabbits sexually mature at about 5 to 6 months- Quick to add new breeding stock to up meat production.
Rabbit manure is the best fertilizer. Needed for your high production survival gardens.
Rabbits are herbivores. They do not compete with humans for a food source
Rabbits can handle many different climates, Can be raised in a multitude of environments
Rabbits also produce pelts witch can be used for home or trade- Great for keeping warm by making hats, mittens, blankets,coats etc!
Rabbit Meat,pelts,manure, and breeding pairs can be used for a good bartering item
Rabbits are inexpensive A 50lb bag of food is about $13+, as of the date of this post, It will rise! A adult rabbit should be fed a cup a day
Did I mention how tasty rabbit meat is! You can cook it many ways bake it, fry it,roast it, smoke it, make jerky,can it and more!
Caging can be made with locally scavenged materials. such as pallets and native trees or construction debris
So get some rabbits and raise some good healthy meat you owe it to your family so in tough times you will have some meat on the table and in good times you will have a chance to see how to raise, feed and care for rabbits! Join The Rabbit Revolution! Check out the FEEDING RABBIT NATURALLY post for more good information on the subject.
You will not be able to quit your day job. But to supplement your income? Absolutely. There is a saying, “There is money in rabbits it’s just getting it out of them that’s hard”! It depends on how you define “profit.” If you are looking for profit with a cash value, you aren’t necessarily going to get ahead with rabbits, unless you find a niche and then spend a lot of time cultivating your herd to fit that niche. However, if you think of profit like being able to eat healthier meat, that costs less cash than it would if you bought comparable meat at the grocery store, then I think you’d profit in that way.
By raising your own meat rabbits, butchering and processing them yourself for your own consumption it is totally worth it! This has benefits in that you know the history of the meat, how the animal was treated, whether drugs were used, and how it was slaughtered, handled, and stored. That is money saved! A rabbits value is worth more this way than it could be if converted in to cash, because the value of money is changing, but we, and other people, are always going to need food to eat. This is just how I look at it. Rabbits are like money in the bank. Money can be made! But a profit is hard to come by with rabbits but it can be done.
Like starting any small business you won’t be an overnight success. You have to market, plan and budget to get money out of rabbits. So, there is money in rabbits but just like anything else, it takes work.
Remember that it cost more to raise junk rabbits than it does to raise good ones. Part of trying to make a profit with rabbits is how much you can save! Learning to keep rabbits healthy and clean is important.
If a doe doesn’t raise her babies consistently, cull her. The longer you hold a rabbit that cannibalizes her offspring, refuses to use a nest box or scatters them on the wire the more feed you have into her and the more you will lose on those offspring if you ever get any. The three strike rule applies to breeding does! Remember if you’re looking at making money you have to look at the little things and the big things. A quarter’s worth of food isn’t a big thing, but a quarter’s worth of food multiplied by 100 rabbits adds up a great deal on a daily and monthly basis! Manage for efficiency.
One group of breeders ran the numbers and in order to make a full time living off of rabbits required an efficient set up of at least 200 working does. Those 8 ounces of pellets that isn’t very much takes on new meaning when you start going through over 100 pounds per day! You notice the spilled feed because that’s wasted money. Keep records up to date and tattoo every rabbit you plan on keeping. Keep weights on the parents, the offspring and how many in each litter. It’s a lot of labor but record keeping will save you money. I go through the rabbitry every quarter and review the does production records and know who to cull and who to keep.
Those just starting out with rabbits need to examine their reasons for getting into breeding rabbits and what their goals are. A common mistake is to start with too many rabbits. A reasonable starting point might be one buck and three does. I recommend that these rabbits be purchased while they are still young. This way they will have a chance to become acclimated to their new surroundings prior to breeding. As the new breeder gets accustomed to the rabbit hobby, then, and only then, should he or she decide to increase the size of the herd, and then slowly. Start slowly!
Learn the basics and learn to do things the right way with a couple dozen does. If you’ve chosen a handful of GOOD rabbits to start with you can easily build a herd by keeping back the best does and only the very top bucks, marketing the rest as meat or feeders. I always say keep the best eat the rest. This way you grow into it and see the amount of work needed. Perhaps when you hit 30 does that might change your mind or perhaps you will find that covering your feed costs is just not worth it! Only add cages as you sell rabbits. MAKE them pay for themselves!
The first step in making money with rabbits is adjusting the attitude to not expect to make money with rabbits. It can be done, but not as often nor as much money as many believe. Start with good solid equipment. Cages, with feeders that allow enough feed to be fed at a time without wasting from digging it out or dumping bowls over, are important. Don’t keep diggers around. Those rabbits that dig the feeders and waste food are another money pit to eliminate.
No backyard meat rabbit breeder should start the hobby/business with the idea of getting rich quickly. There are many scams such as offers to buy back fryers from stock purchased from the swindler and there are lots of them! Sometimes he refuses to buy the fryers. Even if he does pay for the rabbits, the grower is responsible for shipping costs, which can exceed the amount received for the animals. Though rabbits can be prolific, kit mortality can easily be 25% or more when you get into high production. Profits are really only possible with hard and steady work. Secondly you must learn proper management. Rabbits must have proper nutrition or they cannot breed efficiently! A natural diet will not work for this type of production they need high quality pellets to boost production.
Make sure to have a market! If you’re raising smaller breeds this might be pre-killing for snake food or pet food. Larger breeds might be the same or for filling a freezer and selling tanned furs. Compost the manure sift it and bag it up to sell to gardeners. Raise worms in the manure and sell fishing worms or sell the red worms for vermicomposting. By using all the sources of products a rabbit produces will help you make your first dollar!
The most important reason for raising rabbits of course is for meat, you can butcher them to lower your food bill. Does it make you money, NO but saves it from your grocery bill. In order for the cost of the meat produced by a backyard operation to be equal to or possibly better than what would be spent at the supermarket, each doe should successfully raise 36 fryers per year (six litters of six fryers each). Any doe that does not perform properly should be culled. Ideally fryers should reach “market weight” of 4.5 to 5 lbs. by eight weeks of age, and most certainly by 11 weeks.
If the fryers will be sold to a meat processor it should be noted that some facilities will not accept fryers over 11 weeks old. Meat processors also generally prefer white over colored rabbits. For this purpose the Californian, though having dark brown “points”, is considered white. You can sell fryers at “live Weight” or sell the meat after you have processed it depending on your local laws. To locate a meat processing plant, the best thing to do is go to different grocery stores and ask where they are buying their meat from. Explain that you are thinking of raising rabbits and are researching the market possibilities. Many of them will be happy to help you. When you have located several (Make sure to have more than one buyer!) markets who might buy your product, contact them and see if they would be willing to purchase live animals from you.
If possible, set up a contract with them to produce whatever you feel you are able to do. But do not sign anything. Remember they are making more money than you and their profit is higher they have no rabbits to feed, they buy them as cheap as possible and sell them as high as they can. There are lots of swindlers in the meat market. They will wait and offer you less if they know you are sitting on rabbits. Of course a big part of having rabbits is enjoying them.
If you have 40-50 working does depending on breed you might have 100-250 bunnies in boxes and growing at all times. You must have a plan for marketing either commercially for meat if you’re near a buyer or making your own market. Remember if you’re selling commercially they can dictate the breed so sometimes Rex, Satins or colored furs are penalized. If you’re using it yourself this isn’t a factor. Make sure to have more than one buyer. Many a rabbit breeder has been stuck when a buyers does not need the 50 fryers you have ready for him.
Another meat market would be pet owners that feed their animals the BARF (Bones And Raw Food) diet. BARFers, as they are called, aim to provide their cats and dogs a more natural diet than kibbles. A newer, and more inclusive, term for BARF is “raw feeding.” Sometimes a variety of meat sources for this diet are scarce, so these pet owners are more than happy to discover a meat rabbit breeder near them. Selling to the dog food market can be profitable at $4/lb. There is one rabbitry that I know of that did this and just about put themselves out of business because they couldn’t keep up with demand. I also raise my rabbits for dog food. This is a good market you can butcher and sell rabbits as pet food with no USDA restrictions. Also snake and reptile owners need to feed their animals. You can sell rabbits at every age and size for this market.
If you’re using rabbits for meat what will you do with the furs? Throwing them away is not making maximum use and can be wasted money thrown away. Pelts should be saved at slaughter time (If not using right away freeze them to sell or tan when you have more to make it worthwhile. Rabbit pelts can also be sold for a small profit or used to make clothes, toys and other trinkets to be sold as a finished product or just selling the tanned hide (see our post TANNING RABBIT PELTS for more information).
I have sold frozen pelts to people who want to learn to tan and do not even raise rabbits. Remember that fryer pelts are best suited for craft-type projects, while stewer pelts are better suited for use in hats, coats, etc. It is recommended that if you are planning on selling the pelts to a commercial tannery that you raise white rabbits because the white pelts can be dyed to any color desired. I prefer natural colors and have found that local homesteaders would rather have natural colors than dyed pelts.
Tanning them is not always an easy process but not hard to do, but an exchange may be made with a local tanner in which they get to keep a percentage of the tanned hides for them in exchange for tanning a percentage for you.
Also you can raise angoras. You can sell the fiber or products made for the fiber, I find this to be a good bartering item, if you happen to spin, angora blend yarns can sell for a premium If you have an eye towards that expensive angora wool. Remember the amount of time grooming that is needed on top of the feed, special cages, handling to keep the wool clean and other factors needed to keep top quality rabbits. You can make money with angora fiber. I have a few angoras but we use all the fiber we produce. Someday I will get into the angoras more (aha thinking of retirement!)
Rabbit manure is considered one of the best available. The manure is excellent and is the only manure that does not need to be aged before using as fertilizer. It contains more nitrogen and phosphorus than many other manures and more potash than most. Even when applied fresh, it will not burn plants. Gardens with rabbit fertilizer consistently applied most often yield much better results! I screen it, bag it up in feed bags, and sell it with a information sheet in early spring. It all sells out and I have a waiting list for more. (for more poop information check out our post THE BENIFITS AND USES OF RABBIT MANURE) Gardeners may be willing to pay for manure or composed manure for a higher cost. Because of the complimentary nature, many rabbit raisers also raise earthworms (or Red Wigglers). The worms will break down and clean the bed just under the rabbit cages, turning the manure into black potting soil. Several species of worms, most notably night crawlers and red worms, can be grown in the manure. The worms help keep the manure from smelling bad and could be sold to gardeners for vermicomposting or fishermen for bait.
BREEDING STOCK- For Show Or Meat Stock
In order to get top dollar for your stock you have to make a name for yourself. (or should I say your rabbits) Only sell your best for breeders. Do not sell anyone the runts, slow growers,rabbits in bad condition, or ever from a bad bloodline. This is how you get a good name. Sell one junk rabbit and they tell everyone! Sell one good rabbit a they keep the secret to themselves. (But they always come back when they want more rabbits) I have sold many a rabbit that I wish I had kept! There are many misconceptions about showing and breeding rabbits just like every other animal. People see a $75 show animal and think wow $75 if I sold 6 per litter that’s $450 and six litters per year is…wow that’s a lot! They run to the local sale barn and buy old cages and cull rabbits that are “just as good as those at the show.” Remember earlier I said junk cost more to raise! Buy the best rabbits you can find! What they are often buying are breeding problems, attitude problems, health problems and most of the time as far from a show rabbit as you can get.
They don’t do the research so they lose the first two litters and they give everything away swearing rabbits are just a money pit. The big thing to realize is that $75 show animals have hundreds of dollars in breeding behind them and often many years of selective breeding. For every show rabbit there are several that end up in the freezer. It is possible to make a little money if you do things the right way. You must make a concerted effort to market, and market everything! This means from the wasted feed to the poop to the meat to the offspring to the furs. Find a market. If you’re also raising show rabbits pick out those prospects and get them on a show feed. Keep records up to date and tattoo every rabbit you plan on keeping. Keeping weights on the parents, the offspring and how many in each litter is a lot of labor.
I will not really be going to go into this subject because I think it is not worth the money to sell rabbits as pets. It never seems to work out. They feed the wrong food, use the wrong housing, the kid lose interest and the rabbits starve, never have fresh water. My meat fryers have lived a better life than some of the pet rabbits I have sold. There is good money in Easter bunnies and it could be a good market for some, just not for me. I wish the parents would stay more involved!
Always have extra cages, feeders, waterers, bags of feed, bales of hay and shavings on hand so when someone buys rabbits you can offer them more. With shipping costs skyrocketing they are better off paying a few dollars more to you than getting those cages online.
With summer heat on the way , raising rabbits can be very frustrating. Every year you hear of rabbit deaths due to heat. Many days in the summer there are temperatures approaching 80ºF to 95ºF+. For rabbits outside in a hutch (even in a shady area) this can be a death sentence. A rabbit’s optimal air temperature is between 50ºF and 70ºF. Here are some different ways to help keep rabbits cool and somewhat comfortable. As the temperatures rise, so do a rabbit’s chances of getting heatstroke.
Rabbits with thick or long coats of hair, overweight, and young or old are at an even greater risk. Temperature, humidity and air ventilation are all factors that contribute to heatstroke in a rabbit. Rabbits are individuals and could respond to these conditions somewhat differently. It is important to check your rabbits consistently to insure they are comfortable and do not overheat. Early detection of heatstroke and proper corrective steps could mean the difference between life and death for your rabbits.
Before we venture into prevention and treatment, let us look into the signs and symptoms that will help you recognize that your rabbit has or is beginning to get heat stroke.
-The rabbit is fully stretched out. The feet are sprawled apart and the tail is limp.
-Wetness around the nose area
-Eyes are half closed. The rabbit has a sleepy or dazed appearance.
-The rabbit’s tongue is hanging out. His breathing is rapid and possibly labored.
-Fast, shallow breathing
-The rabbit is reluctant to move.
-The rabbit refuses to eat or drink.
The summer heat can cause your rabbits stress and health problems.
-Bucks can go sterile for several months if they are kept in a too hot of environment it takes up to 3 months for them to get back to normal fertility.
-Rabbits can lose condition and eat less food.
-Many times your bucks will go into molts and temporarily lose most of their hair.
-Lastly when a rabbit gets too overheated they can die from heat stroke.
Preventing heat stress is the key. Ways to help your rabbits survive the heat include.-Looking at the makeup of the common domestic rabbit, one sees that he is completely covered from head to toe in a thick fur coat. This leaves no way for the rabbit to perspire. There are virtually no means of which the rabbit can cool his body temperature other than their ears. The ears of a rabbit act as a temperature control mechanism, to warm themselves up or cool themselves down, they are able to do this because their ears are filled with blood vessels which run close to the surface of the ear. When the animal is too hot the blood vessels are able to cool the blood down from the cool air around the ear, the blood vessels are also able to warm the blood by the ears being in the sun, warming the ears and in turn the rabbit
Rabbits and heat are never a good combination, and heat stroke is one of the leading causes of death in rabbits. Fortunately it can easily be avoided, even if you do not have air conditioning.
Wild rabbits would spend the heat of the days in their burrows and go outside at night or early am when it is cooler. Here is a site That has housing ideas for hot areas – http://ressources.ciheam.org/om/pdf/c08/95605275.pdf
-Plenty of ventilation – Fans can be used but not best to have them blowing directly on rabbits. Place a cold, damp towel over a fan directed at your rabbit’s pen. As the water evaporates it will help keep your rabbit cool. Air flow is critical. Have a fan that is circulating the air. This not only makes the area cooler, but can help with the ammonia smell that can build up and increase in strength during hot days. And if possible, have the fan set up so that it is pulling the cool air in and not blowing against it.
-Plenty of shade- Keep them in the shade during the day. Ideally you would use trees to shade your rabbit building or hutches. I have grown sunflowers, pole beans on trellises to help shade my rabbits plus feed them! Natural shade is very helpful. If you have a shelter of some sort made of wood, which is then shaded by a tree, this is optimal. Being under a tree will make a big difference vs. being under a wood cover that is being hit directly by sunlight.
-Frozen ice cubes in a dish during hottest part of day
-Make sure there is enough space for them to stretch out to get cool.
-Ceramic tiles can be provided for them to lay on. If you place the tile in the refrigerator for an hour beforehand it will provide even greater relief
-Plenty of clean cool water. Cool water is important. Make sure they have cool water to drink to cool themselves down. If their water is hot, it not only causes them to drink less, but also keeps them from cooling down when needed. You may need to change their water 3 or 4 times a day during the hot months. And if you have an automatic watering system, make sure you have some way of flushing the system to get the hot water out of the lines and cool water in several times a day.
-Frozen liter bottles for them to lie against. Fill two to three one or two liter bottles about eighty percent full with water and freeze them. Take one out, wrap in paper towels or with a thin, clean rag that you won’t care to be chewed upon. Place this in your rabbit’s pen. This will last between four and eight hours before you will need to replace it with a new one. Place the thawed bottle back in the freezer so that you may use it again. Your rabbit will lay next to, or even on this bottle and get great relief from the heat.
-Evaporative systems like swamp coolers work in dryer climates. If barn is small enough to be closed an ac window unit can be used but again ventilation is stressed.
-Wet piece of carpet-Carpets cut into small pieces dunked in water will retain water throughout most of the day. You will have to watch for soiled pieces and change out for clean ones.
-Wet bricks – Soak them in a bucket of cold water. The bricks absorb the water and retain the coolness for hours.
-Feed in early morning or late in evening. Leave them alone during hottest part of day.
-I recommend spill proof crocks in the hottest part of summer over water bottles as the crockery holds the cool temperature of the water making it less likely that your rabbit will have to drink warm or even hot water
-Misters can be used also. If your aisles are 4’ to 5’ wide, place the mister down the middle. If you use “J” feeders, you may need to cover them to keep the feed dry. Do not let the water mist on the rabbits. Misters will lower the temperature 10-15 degrees in dryer climates.
-Outside hutches – Staple a burlap bag to the roof of the cage and have it drape over front of the cages. Place a soaker hose upside down close to the front of the roof edge. Set the hose on a timer or turn it on manually. The water will run over the burlap and act as a swamp cooler. The rabbits will lay closer to the fronts of their cages for the coolness.
-Avoid keeping multiple rabbits in the same cage. When you have multiple rabbits sharing a cage, their shared body heat contributes to a hotter living environment
When you are able to put most of these together; the cages being under a shelter which is under a tree, with cool water for them to drink, frozen 2 liter bottles in their cages, with air flow from a fan and a proper misting system, your rabbits can get through the scorching summer heat.
If you discover one of your rabbits are over heated there are a few things you can do to help, if caught in time
-Wet rabbit’s ears with a cool wet towel
-Place cold packs against the body moving around slowly but do not leave there.
-If they are alert water given orally is important
-As a last resort, dip your rabbit into cool water, taking care to keep her head and ears above the water. Most rabbits will not like this, and though it is effective, it will likely cause undue stress for your rabbit
If you breed during the summer months, you know how hard it is to keep those bucks from going sterile and keep those kits cool. Here are a few tips for those.
-Keep your bucks a close to the ground as possible. The cooler the better.
-Load the bucks up in carriers and bring them inside during the hottest part of the day.
- Bring the nest boxes inside to keep cool. Number or put the name of the doe on the boxes so you know where they go when returned. If the kits are likely to come out and explore while in the house, set them in your bathtub. If they are all the same color, you may want to number their ears so you know where they go later.
-If you need to breed your rabbits in the summer months I recommend that you use all wire nest boxes to help keep your newborn kits cool. Alternatively you can take your nest boxes indoors for the day and bring them back outside in the evening. If neither option works for you, simply be sure to keep your rabbits in a well shaded environment and maybe try running a sprinkler.
Remember- an ideal temperature for your rabbit is in the fifty to sixty degree Fahrenheit range. Any day above eighty degrees is a potential problem for your rabbit. With care and prevention your rabbits will enjoy many productive comfortable summers.
MAKING SOLAR FANS- I have had a lot of question on my solar fans i use in the rabbitry. I have made many different types some with batteries, and some that just work when the sun is shining. I Have 2 ventilation fans made from 2, 12 volt automotive fans one intake and one exhaust. These i have hooked up to a battery bank on a toggle switch. I am working on a timer to turn on for 15 minutes in 30 minute intervals this is a current project i am working on. I have a small wind powered charger i have made and solar trickle chargers to keep the battery bank charged. Also the lighting is 12 volt spotlights and i will be hooking up an inverter and even a 12volt car-radio and alarm (For rabbit thieves). For my outside hutches a have made smaller fans out of scrap items here is the information everyone has been waiting for!
Solar panels convert energy from the sun using wafer-based silicon to produce electricity. Making a solar fan is ideal for cooling rabbits. You can customize the system as your needs grow to add more panels and a bigger fan (I am constantly updating and changing these as i perfect the setup). All the fan parts can be bought from your local electronics store or found from old computers. When i was taking apart an old computer i discovered a lot of very cool parts that i could use to make stuff. One of the cooler ones was a 12V dc cooling fan. I also got the capacitor off a circuit board (just unsoldered it) I decided upon making a solar powered fan out of it. It’s really pretty basic.
- 6-watt, 12-volt solar panel (Instead of buying a solar panel i soldered solar panels from path lights together to get the voltage i needed)
- Circuit box or any enclosure
-12-volt, 0.25A computer fan
-Large 25-volt capacitor
1. Connect the red (positive) wire on the 12-volt fan to the positive side on the capacitor and to the red (positive) wire on the panel by soldering each connection point.
2 Connect the black (negative) wire on the 12-volt fan to the negative side on the capacitor and to the black (negative) wire on the panel by soldering each connection point. The solar panel will power the fan, and any extra power will be temporarily stored in the capacitor, like a small battery. When there is a shadow over the panel, the stored power in the capacitor keeps the fan going.
3 Cut a hole in the lid and base of the box with a hand or jig saw the size of the fan. Any enclosure can be used.
4 Align the fan in the opening, hot-glue it around all sides and then hot-glue the capacitor next to the fan.
You could also use batteries (AA batteries i got from the solar path lights) and use the solar power to charge the batteries and put the fan on a off/on switch. I took a battery holder (2 AA batteries) and wired it into a 1.5V to 12V step up circuit. Now that i had it outputting 12V i hooked it into the fan. Finally i hooked a PV cell into the circuit so that it would charge the batteries. This is a ongoing project i have been working on to perfect this setup
Questions i have been asked-
Is it mandatory to use capacitors in this project?
Yes it is absolutely mandatory to use a capacitor as the solar panel will power the fan, but if there is any extra power generated then it will be stored in the capacitor just like a small battery. In case there is a shadow over the solar panel then the stored power in a capacitor will keep the fan running.
How can the output of a solar fan be enhanced?
To improve the power of your solar fan, just double the output of the solar panels. You can do this by using more solar panels and by connecting them in series-parallel.
1. Before connecting the various parts, make some holes on the box and then connect the various parts in such a way that the fan and solar panel will stay outside the box and rest will be inside it. Pass the wires through the holes on the box first and then connect.
2. You can customize your fan as your needs grow by using more panels and a bigger fan.
3. Check the connections using a multi-meter.
I have also seen some solar fans on eBay i do not know how sturdy they are but they were very inexpensive and they also had larger more expensive ones .
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Rabbits nurse only ONE TIME a day, so if you think that she is not caring for them based only on the fact you don’t see them feed…think again. But if you are sure she is neglecting them, if they are dehydrated, cold, obviously ignored, of course, something must be done!. I usally breed two or more does the same day so they will all have their litters at the same time. Should any problems or extremely lager litters occur i can foster some kits to other does. A well-fed baby will have a very distended tummy. If the babies have not been fed, they will have sunken tummies, their skin will be wrinkled and they will be dehydrated. If your worries begin on the day of the birth, wait a day before attempting to do anything. Some mother rabbits do not feed their babies until the evening of the first day or early on the second day. If the mother rabbit has died, cannot or is not feeding the babies, you can attempt to hand feeding them. Bottle-feeding infant rabbits usually results in the babies’ death within a few days to weeks. Hand feeding is terribly unsuccessful because there is no milk replacement formula that is 100% adapted for infant rabbits. The milk of rabbits is the richest of all domestic animals. It contains from 13 to 15 per cent of protein, to to 12 percent of fat, 2 per cent of sugar, and 2 to 3 per cent of minerals. An important point is that the doe’s milk output increases with litter size but the baby rabbits get less milk each than they would in a smaller litter. Depending on genetics, milk production will not increase above 8 to 12 baby rabbits. The most likely potential disease to cause infant/weanling death is mucoid enteritis. Although it does occur occasionally in weanlings who have been fed by their mothers, it is seen much more often in hand-fed babies. It shows up as severe diarrhea, or refusal to eat. It also causes bloating and gas. Mucoid enteritis is caused by a bacterial overgrowth, usually of Clostridium spiroforme, in the hindgut (cecum) of the baby, as the normal microflora are attempting to establish. These normal microflora help the baby achieve adult digestive capabilities. As babies wean off of milk onto adult solid foods, the gut pH gradually changes by getting a lot of help from the mother’s changing milk ingredients. By day 10 of age, the babies eyes will have opened, and they will begin eating their mother’s cecotropes, (also called “night feces” or “cecal droppings”). Cecotropes help provide the babies with essential nutrients and later, inoculate the hindgut with the essential flora that is needed to metabolize a diet that is changing from milk to solid foods. Cecotropes are clustered, soft gel-like “bunches” of fecal matter, which are covered with a light mucous film and resemble a raspberry in shape and size. They are manufactured in the adult cecum through “hindgut fermentation,” and contain high concentrations of proteins, B and K vitamins, fiber, ash (nitrogen-free extract) and unidentified “energy” elements, as well as the hindgut microbes. Cecotropes are an important part of a healthy rabbit diet and are usually eaten directly from the anus as they are produced. In hand-raised babies, it is essential to provide adult cecotropes to the babies after their eyes are open. Usually, the babies will eat the cecotropes immediately, because it the natural thing for them to do. However, if the babies do not eat the cecotropes on their own, add two to three of the individual pellets in the cluster to the formula at one feeding per day for three to four days. As the babies begin to explore adult foods, it is important to monitor their fecal output. At the first sign of “mushy” stool, re-introduce cecotropes to them, in formula if necessary. No substitute milk formula supplies immunity from disease nor are most rich enough to supply the energy needs of the rapidly developing babies and without overfeeding them. For these reasons the prognosis is not good for the babies. Infants lose the suckling instinct quickly, so if hand feeding is to be attempted, it must be started within 48 hours. Nothing is as good as a mother rabbit for a baby bunny, but it is possible to hand-feed orphans. There are many milk replacers for dogs and cats that do not contain the right ingredients that the rabbits need.I have herd that you can use these with cream or goat milk added but have no experience with this. I got this formula a long time ago from a breeder. His wife used it many time and she told me she had great luck with this mix. They had a small rabbitry and only had two does that they breed at different times and one doe would have 12+ kits in a litter they would take 2 or three out of the litter. She would keep them in her apron pocket and feed them until they were 4 + weeks old. You will need baby dolls bottles to feed them, an eyedropper or a syringe with no needle. the eyedropper or the bottle are the easiest to use(she used an eyedropper) if you use the syringe do not force the liquid out or go to fast with the feeding you can suffocate the kit by doing this.
1 pint 2% milk
2 eggs yolks
2 tablespoon powdered milk
2 tablespoons kayro syrup light or dark either will work
1 teaspoon bone meal
Mix good and keep refrigerated until needed. Just warm up as much as needed. Warm to 90 degrees(just like babies milk test on your wrist to see if it is warm enough). Then feed the kits what they will readily consume. You will know they are full when they do not want anymore. Feed them what they will eat twice a day at about 12 hour intervals. Their body functions do not start functioning properly until they are about three weeks old. After each feeding it is important to make the bunny defecate and urinate to keep the intestinal tract and urinary system running smoothly. Use a soft cloth or a cotton ball moistened with warm water and gently stroke from between the bunny’s front legs all the way down over the anal area until the bunny starts producing stool and urine, and keep stroking until the bunny stops. You are replicating the behavior of the mother rabbit who would lick her young to stimulate them to go to the bathroom (as well as to keep the nest clean). The stool will be soft and may be varying shades of green and yellow. Be sure to clean baby’s mouth with a damp cloth or paper towel, so that no milk dries in the hair. You should be able to raise the kits successfully using this formula. I have seen this work and the kits survived and some were really good rabbits!