NATURALLY FEEDING RABBITS
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!
Posted on September 9, 2012, in Uncategorized and tagged comfrey, feed, flowers, food, grass, grow, hay, herbs, high protein, medicine, natural, natural food, natural food for rabbits, nature, nutrition, plants, safe, seeds, shrub, tree, twigs, young rabbits. Bookmark the permalink. 69 Comments.
This web site is the best info I can find about NATURALLY FEEDING RABBITS my rabbits are now on pasture and in tractor in my little backyard and I grow lots of stuff from the safe food list. Every rabbit owner needs Muscovy duck I just got two and now no more fly or bugs for that mater the Muscovy eat all rabbit food that is dropped from my now spoiled NATURALLY fed rabbits. The fines from the pellets feed that rabbits wont eat go into the duck feed and all the green scrapes they don’t eat or drop it all go to the ducks. When I cut wheat grass /seed sports that I grow indoors in winter for the rabbits I give the tray with the short grass seed halls and dirt some times I put worms in the tray and the ducks go crazy. This system works grate in so many more then I can think of NATURALLY FEEDING RABBITS and Muscovy Ducks.
Rick if you can ship your rabbits to Michigan I would love to raise heritage breed rabbits on my small farm if so E-mail me
if any one has questions about my suburban farm feel free
if any one know how i can find heritage breed rabbits 20 minutes south of Detroit MI
I also have some Muscovys on the homestead, Sorry I do not ship rabbits, Glad you enjoyed the post!
Excellent! We fed our rabbits through many months with no pellets, just garden greens and kitchen scrap. Cabbage has been listed as a controversial vegetable for rabbits, but we found that if the cabbage is GREEN, it is great for them. White is what gives them the trouble. The same rule holds for lettuce – green or red is great, white is what is not good.
If you let the wheat or ryegrass grow fairly tall before cutting it to feed, it will have more long fibers in it, which are healthy for rabbits. One option is to grow wheatgrass for people, and use it until the grass gets too tough for you, then do a few cuttings for the rabbits off the tougher grass.
We also put a bed of alfalfa into our greenhouse. It did not take up a lot of space, but we sowed very thick, so that we could pluck young sprouts to toss to the chickens (they think it is candy!), and cut the older shoots for the rabbits. Pea sprouts can be done the same way, and cut many times. Muscovies love alfalfa sprouts also.
I have fed my rabbits pellets, clover some hay, but for a treat, they love bread! Thats right, bread. Preferably white bread. They will eat that first before anything.
I have always dried the bread before I gave it to any rabbits. Do you dry yours?
I’m impressed, I must say. Rarely do I encounter a blog that’s equally educative and amusing, and let me tell you, you’ve hit the nail on the head. The problem is something not enough folks are speaking intelligently about. Now i’m very happy that I found this during my hunt for something relating to this.
This excellent website certainly has all of the information and facts I needed about this subject and didn’t know who to ask.
I’ve got an American chestnut trees and my lactating doe is enjoying a chestnut or two every day. I read they’ll eat acorns too, don’t know if that’s true.
I have never fed acorns to domestic rabbits, I here the tannins are very high(That is not good for rabbits)
It may depend on the acorns. White oak acorns are much lower in tannins, and it varies from tree to tree. I wonder if they can get their teeth through a black walnut shell?
What to feed pregnant and nursing rabbits?
Great thoughtful article. Thank you so much for taking the time to share you knowledge with the rest of us, Have you ever posted a video of your rabbitry? I would love to see it.
Have been asked a lot about doing you tube videos, I am working on doing my own podcast right now, You tube stuff comming soon!
Enjoyed the post. I’m surprised that you didn’t mention making silage for winter feed. It is a nutritionally superior method than drying greens. I’m planning on making some next summer in some 30 gallon trash cans. Have you ever thought of silage Rick?
Silage is fermented, high-moisture fodder that can be fed to ruminants (cud-chewing animals like cattle and sheep). I have looked for information or feeding it to rabbits (herbivores) but no good information. I go with what a wild rabbit would eat so I dry most of the feeds for winter use. But would love to heard anything anyone finds on silage for rabbits!
I guess it didn’t occur to me that a rabbit might have trouble processing a fermented food. I guess I’ll have to do some research before I kill my whole heard!
I would like to weigh in here. I used to be big in raising rabbits, got out because of “life” and plan to get going again. Anyway, I tried feeding silage, but it had too much fiber and the rabbits just didn’t thrive. I tried haylage, that is alfalfa that is silaged/fermented. I was impressed with it and the rabbits had no problems with it what so ever. .They loved it and did well with it. So if you have some green chop hay/alfalfa just take care of it like the dairies do, in rabbit raising, maybe just use big plastic contractor bags, fill them up, tie them off, then after a few days let the air out, seal them and then after several weeks you can incorporate it in to the diet.
I also tried working with different diets, I ran some dried alfalfa through a grinder/mixer, added some grain, oats and barley (no corn-corn not good), mixed some molasses. Fed free choice. In both cases, the friers came up to weight a full 2 to 3 weeks sooner than on pellets and were perfect, ie; proper meat profile, etc.
I have always wondered about silage, was always told that it would kill rabbits by messing up their gut flora with the wrong bad bacteria. Will have to try this on a few fryers! Thanks for the info.
I tried making grass silage in plastic bags but it just but it just rotted. Hard to get all the air out and silage has to be air tight. You also have to use up the top 8 inches or so every day or that part exposed to the air spoils.
I had a crazy idea that I expect to get immediately shot down. Why couldn’t you use your lawn mower to bag your lawn clippings, or whatever feed material, and seal this in a plastic bag for silage? Would it be better to dry the grass for storage? Or is lawn grass, Kentucky bluegrass in my case, even a good food source for them? They certainly eat the fresh clippings.
I need to clear up one point. In the 3rd. sentence I said silage. I should have said corn silage. I found that corn silage just did not work very good. Mostly too much fiber and they just did not like the leaf at all. The corn stock was ok, they worked on it a bit, but of course there isn’t enough nutrition in that part to do any good for a rabbit. My rabbits did not eat enough of it to see if it messed with their gut or not. But the type of silage that did work was Hay (Alfalfa) Silage. They ate enough of it and for a long enough of a period for me to say that it was a winner. I also fed some dry hay free choice and they ate both, but preferred the silage hay. On an earlier post Josh was wondering about lawn grass being made into silage. It might work, but I would watch for nutrition shortage, it may or may not be enough for them. Other than that he would need to watch for chemicals on the grass. I am guessing that even a small amount would make them sick. If no chemicals.. then should be just fine. One of those type of tings that you would have to work with it to refine the process for your individual operation.
Also for Marie, you might have better luck with a dark bag to keep the sunlight out. Plus if it rotted then you likely had too much moisture, needs to dry just a touch, but with grass that drying time can be short, so a real touch and go deal to get it to work good.
This post is SO helpful as I prepare for my first breeders arrival this week. Very interested in seed packets and so forth.
Glad you like the information! I am working on the seeds, trying to get them available for January
I’ve been pruning back some wild rose plants (Rosa multiflora) and the rabbits eat most of the prunings. They seem to enjoy taking a tangle of sticks and reducing it to something neater.
Can you provide a rough idea of the amount of natural feed each rabbit needs
A good start is to feed a minimum of 1 cup of vegetables, greens, weeds, herbs from the safe food list for each 4 lbs of body weight per day. When starting start slow reduce some pellets and add some natural food, Add one vegetable to the diet at a time. stop using the item if it causes soft stools or diarrhea. Limit fruits to 1-2 tablespoons per 5 lbs. of body weight fruits are more of a snack food, every rabbit is different you may need to feed more to some less to others. Hope this helps
What is your winter rabbit production like? Rabbit expert from Ore. State U some years ago said they found vegetation produces a chemical in the fall that shuts down rabbit reproduction but spring growing vegetation stimulates it. Also, I am sure you didn’t mean to include foxglove as an ok food. It is very toxic.
I am fairly new to raising meat rabbits (Californians). We have not had much luck breeding successfully. I am wondering if they are too fat. I feed 5 oz of pellets and 1 oz of Calf Manna each day. I would like to start adding in some sprouts to increase their winter vitamin intake. Is it alright if I feed alfalfa sprouts since I am feeding an alfalfa based pellet? I am worried that if I feed BOSS, they will get too fat. I’m feeling very discouraged as we have only gotten two small litters out of our doe in the 10 months we’ve had her. We lost our second doe to the summer heat (a record breaking 101). Any wisdom would be greatly appreciated.
I would slow down or the calf manna(I use it only on nursing does). Check out this post for some good information! https://riseandshinerabbitry.com/2012/08/11/rabbits-unwilling-to-breed-causes-and-cures/
I’ve read and re-read it! (You have such an amazing blog! You’re information is so detailed and I love that you have so many different solution options!!!) I got a lot of great ideas and will hopefully have some happy bucks and does soon. I have a couple of feeding questions, though. I will back off on the Calf Manna, like you suggested, but is it ok to feed alfalfa sprouts since the pellets I feed are alfalfa based, or will that be too much protein? Also, I’ve been reading about the fodder system for rabbits ( http://hydroponics.com.au/free-articles/issue114-rabbits-rabbits-everywhere-rabbits/ ). If I feed green/live feed, do I still feed the same amount of total feed by weight? I am so happy to have found your blog! Thank you for all your valuable information!
Everything I keep reading says that feeding tomatoes, onions, spinach and potatoes to rabbits can be fatal but does not give a reason why…. I have rabbits and they have been fed all of these without any problems… although they do not get very much of each… so I am wondering is it a keep it moderate thing or what??
I feed the tomato fruit to my rabbits, not the leaves or stems, spinach I also feed to my rabbits, and during the depression people feed cooked potatoes to rabbits as a main food source. When starting any change in a rabbits diet you must go slow
Too many onions can cause hemolytic anemia. Not recommended for dogs and cats either. But I read rabbits don’t like onions and you can border a garden with them to discourage rabbits.
Here is some information I found on a website called feedipedia.org
Read the entry and then read what I’m thinking (as a person who has raised rabbits in cages with pellets and then more recently in a colony feeding primarily hay and sprouted barley)
Like alfalfa and other clover species, white clover is an interesting source of protein and fibre for rabbits feeding. It is well appreciated by wild and domestic rabbits (Harris et al., 1983; Crawley, 1990). In the wild, white clover is so appreciated by grazing rabbits that they reduce significantly this legume proportion in areas where white clover was initially present, as it was observed for example in Australia (Lane et al., 1997) and New Zealand (Norbury, 1996).
White clover distributed fresh or as hay is a very common basis for Angora or meat rabbits feeding in India or in Nepal (Bhatt et al., 2005; Prasad et al., 1996; Neupane et al., 2010). It was also the basis for diets of laboratory rabbits in Japan (Tsutsmi et al., 1967).
When given as the sole feed to rabbits, white clover only allows a moderate growth. Combining white clover with perennial ryegrass (Lolium perenne) induced a significant improvement of growth rate and feed efficiency (Guo et al., 2008). A further increase in growth rate can be obtained when barley or chickpeas are offered to rabbit in addition to a grass-clover mixture (Sastry et al., 1982; Joyce et al., 1971). In Grey Giant rabbits, a forage-only diet combining white clover, tall fescue and perennial ryegrass (about 33 % each on DM basis) resulted in a growth rate of 16.4 g/d, just a little lower than the 22.5 g/d growth rate obtained with complete balanced control diet (Bedekar et al., 1984).
end feedipedia quote, beginning of my thoughts:
Picture a hoophouse with several small colonies of rabbits. Urine from the rabbits flows from the sloping plastic floor into a water tank containing duckweed. This water is used to water many trays of a forage mix of white (ladino) clover, fescue and perennial ryegrass. Each tray is cut at the 10cm level in rotation as it reaches the optimum height of about 30 cm. The rabbits are fed this forage mix as well as good quality hay free choice. The rabbit droppings and the excess duckweed go into one of the worm bin/compost heaps. The worms are regularly harvested to provide protein feed to the pastured hens outside. The worm castings go into the forage trays as fertilizer. Inputs are only water and hay, outputs are rabbit meat and chicken eggs. Sounds pretty close to sustainable to me. Thoughts on this idea, anybody?
Great info! Part of my plan for natural food for my rabbits is to grow Duck Weed and serve it. Hight on proteine, and can be freezed and served during winter. Do you have any experience using duck weed as a food source?
I have grown duckweed as feed for my chickens, I only bad thing I can think of is some algae can be bad for rabbits! but if dried? I will try this! This spring I will try adding to the feed for a few rabbits and see how it works. If anyone out there has any information I would be glad to hear it. Here or on my face book page!
Hi all, I’m new to rabbits and hoping I can raise meat rabbits 100% in a predator-proof tractor (with proper shading and nest boxes). My biggest question is: how much grass does a rabbit eat? I’ll supplement with timothy hay and maybe a small amount of alfalfa pellets as a treat (the goats will have to learn to share). My big question is, how often would I need to move the tractor to control parasites? How long would I need to leave a patch of grass before placing the rabbits back on it?
Thanks much for any advice here!
You will have to move the tractor daily, I am not a big fan of raising rabbits on the ground (predators, diseases), as for the amount of grass you will have to see how they grow and adjust with more feed as needed.
Thanks much. I’m going with a traditional hutch and will give them grass fodder. They will be spoiled (but delicious) rabbits : )
They can dig out of a tractor with no bottom in an hour or so. Happened to me when I tried it.
It has a bottom. Anyone want it? I decided to bag the whole idea. I just had rabbit at a restaurant, first time in awhile, and realized it tastes identical to the city squirrels I trap in fall. So may as well stick with the squirrels! : )
What about hosta plants leaves?
can rabbits eat squash leaves? I grow a lot of squash. raising rabbits in central texas can be quite exciting. you have a nice web site. reply to firstname.lastname@example.org
Yes, I feed fresh squash leaves during the growing season. I usually have to shake off some squash bugs first.
I’m reading the site mostly for my pet rabbit; my dad raised fryers, and let me raise one when I was little, not realizing it would have to be butchered. The emotional trauma has stayed with me and I don’t eat rabbit. Does what you write here apply equally well to the pet rabbits like the lops, etc.?
They my need less quantity, as they are not growing quick for meat supply and not breeding, the types of food would be the same
After reading this, I’m thinking of building a raised planter, and building my rabbi’s yard around it. Would he be likely to overeat if he had too much access?
They would find what they need and amounts if it was available. This would depend on how big an area and how much was planted in that area
What I’m building is a 4′ x 4′ fenced area for him. Because of the tendency to dig, my thought was, if it was attached on the sides to a raised planter bed of approximately the same size, with an area blocked off and not planted so he has some space, it would serve 2 purposes, giving him some fresh greens, plus a small yard of his own. The hutch would be outside the yard, but against the back with a ramp down to the unplanted area. What I want to create is a little bunny paradise. Yes, I know I’m sappy about my pets.
Forgot. If you plant a raised bed, you might want to attach chicken wire(cheap) to the bottom of the bed to keep out animals digging out. Or vinal coated fencing. Soft dirt is fun for rabbits.
Concerning outdoor Rabbit Hutches. I’ve had LOTS of success recycling 4×8 Election Signs as Sidewalls and roofs. Works much better than Tin. No heat transfer and less weight. Again, Make certain your rabbit can’t get to it. I have chicken wire behind the election sign to keep them from chewing their way out.
Why do people say don’t use chicken wire? I have a friend who has been using chicken wire for ages on the sides and roof of his rabbit pens? (Wooden structure).
I just finished building a hutch 2x4s, welded wire (.5×1) for the floor and chicken wire for the sides and roof. Election sign for the roof and walls. Chicken wire is FOLDED over several times at the sharp edges which make it so no sharp points are exposed. Can run my hand along the cut edge and not feel a sharp edge. This isn’t a breeding cage. Though I could convert it by getting a 6in wide section of 1/2 sq hardware cloth to make a baby safety rail for the side walls.
I’ve also used a 6ft x 7ft x 4ft high Dog Pen with chicken wire rapped along the bottom edge for a Pen for the juvi rabbits to play in. The babies don’t seem to dig as much as adults even when there are gaps under the fence. They do enjoy eating the grass. And laying inside the holes of concrete blocks. I used gavanlized wire to wrap the chicken fencing wire directly to the poles and threaded it through the chainlink. Hog links and the aluminum fence ties didn’t work. So I went with a 20guage wire.
Love the idea of using free, recycled, and inexpensive ideas for housing rabbits. Working on some plans on making rabbit cages with pallets
Incredibly well done and well researched. Gave me a lot to think about and ideas of what to grow specifically for feeding our bunnies so we can provide them a natural, healthy diet.
Hello my name is Kristen, I want to express to you how grateful and appreciative i am. Thank you sharing your knowledge on herbs and their medicinal properties. Your outlook on herbal supplementation in a rabbits diet makes much more sense to me. i am somewhat familiar with herbs and their medicinal properties for human consumption. I have grown some herbs of my own. I am currently researching ways to grow indoors. I live in upstate NY. It made sense to include herbs and greens in my rabbits diet because that is how they naturally maintain health in wild. i was not sure on how to feed/ administer herbs to care for my rabbit. Your page has given me the knowledge i need. On thanksgiving vacation in NJ i visited a game/foul establishment. There he was eating corn (poor thing) and was the only one who didn’t nip at my finger. Not to mention he was amongst all white red eyed rabbits.So i fell in love with a 5 lb black rabbit. After spending time with him we suspected he was a baby.I looked online and determined that he was either a Flemish giant or a continental giant. I am a stay at home mom and spend alot of time with him. After we brought him home, i noticed he started to sneeze and rub his nose. i made an appointment with a vet who i guess has treated rabbits. she said he was very young but did not examine any part of him other than teeth. i estimate he is 2-3 months of age. she gave me 10 syringes of beytril to inject him between shoulders over the next 10 days. today is the 3rd injection. i noticed last night he had a large thumb sized abscess bubble on his lower right back end. i have read many things and when it comes to abscesses on rabbits i find people have more of a bleed outlook. i called the vet, and he said the abscess wont increase in size while on antibiotics so hell be fine and no need to worry. i am sure it will have to be lanced eventually. i want to at least supplement his diet to see if he can improve. He seems to be fine and chipper. reaching new milestones everyday. i read that this is a good sign, although i guess rabbits can hide illness. from the start i have fed him fresh parsley, cilantro, alfalfa, and dandelion leaves. Because of your page i no longer feel helpless. i know i can do more for him from home. I am looking into finding a more enthusiastic rabbit veterinarian, i am prepared to have this abscess drained if others emerge or it doesn’t decrease in side. Again Thank you for putting your knowledge out into the world for others.
sending you love and good energy from New York,
~kristen and Jack rabbit
This is why I do it! Think I a going to cry 🙂 Thanks hope all goes well. Echinacea, and Comfrey are my favorite preventive herbs for rabbits. Dandelion, Plantain next.
discovered a way to get Jack my 2-3 month old Flemish giant to eat a little garlic. chopped into fine small bits, i took one bit and covered it in a pea sized amount of banana. he loves it and eagerly asks for more.
I relish, lead to I discovered just what I was taking a look for.
You have ended my 4 day long hunt! God Bless you man. Have a
great day. Bye
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I want to thank you for publishing all this info. My rabbits look so much better since switching their diet. I do have a question about millet. I’ve got it planted for my chickens, could it be fed to rabbits also?
Hi there! For those of you who are feeding your rabbits 100% naturally, do you (or should you) include a mineral block/lick? I know the necessary minerals are included in standard rabbit pellets, but if all they are getting is greens and fodder/alfalfa pellets, are minerals necessary in addition? From what I’ve read, rabbits seem to behave poorly with them, either consuming too much or not enough. Haven’t tried it with mine yet, they are still on pellets but I’d like to transition off of them. Can they get enough salt and nutrients through a diet of varied wild greens? Is there a loose powder form I can mix at an appropriate ratio with the alfalfa pellets?
I do use mineral wheels
I’ve been experimenting with modified natural feed and have found it to be quite successful- and almost cost-free. I have a rabbit yard, so 20 fryers live together in a 20x 8 foot pen (they are locked up at night in a hutch). I have lots of alfalfa growing around the property, as well as a lot of other weeds/grass. They get as much greens as they can eat, as well as a loaf of bread(white or wheat, mostly organic- they eat anything) twice a day. They make it to 4.5/5 pounds in about 14 weeks.
The drawback is it’s time invested. It takes me about 30 minutes a day to cut and feed the greens, and time each week to clean out and compost all the tough stems. So, about 50lbs of meat in 4 months. I just figured it out that it takes me about an hour spent for each pound of meat. That’s quite a bit of time but the trade off is that I eat healthy meat that has been raised (and dispatched) humanely.
Do the does raise litters on this diet? What kind of production do you get from the does?
Thank you for mentioning all the other options for rabbits instead of just pellets. After I saw you mentioned that grapevines can be used as feed, I remembered there are a lot of grapes growing at my grandma’s house down the street. I am going to go get some- I’m sure my rabbit would appreciate it!
Sometimes great minds think alike. I have the same system in development as you point out above in your last par.. I have been thinking of adding an Aquaponics System to the loop as well, because of the output of the leftovers of the greens produced. So we should have Worm Tea, Worms for chickens, Chicken Po for the in-gound garden, Eggs, Chicken Meat, Rabbit Meat, Rabbit Po, Fish Meat, Fish Po/tea, all the wast greens back to the Chickens and rabbits.
Thanks so much for sharing your experience! I have learned so much from my own rabbits but some specific knowledge from your page! We feed organic pellets from Modesto Milling Company as part of their diet, they also are fed natural foods daily and it cuts down on pellets. They list their excellent blend on their web page. Worth checking out if you’re interested.
I can’t believe that I found such a site that as if it made just for me. I was searching a “foraging for rabbits” method because foraging plants is my passion. I was thinking about the possibility of raising rabbits if foraging and sustainibility is possible and here you are. I’ve seen similar writings about raising rabbits naturaly but they were never detailed like this and never experienced like you. I’ll definetely start a rabbit project. I know very little about rabbits but I have the advantage of almost complete knowledge of local edible plants of my area, which is NE Turkey. Thank you my friend, respect.
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