PELLETS AND NUTRITION FOR MEAT RABBITS
Rabbits are inexpensive and easy to feed, if you are only raising 3 does and 1 buck for a backyard 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 remember there are benefits to feeding your rabbits pellets!
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 will help fight off intestinal parasites that can make your rabbit sick. So make sure to check your feed labels and be informed!
It is hard to beat a quality pellet for rabbits for the best performance (high production) in your herd. 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.
I supplement with whole oats, grass hay, any dried greens I have stored, an occasional fruit treat, apple tree and grape vine trimmings. Remember rabbits are herbivores that eat mostly dried and fresh grasses, safe weeds, veggies, and herbs supplemented with grains, barks, twigs, 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!