I get excited about a few things (most are homestead related), but rabbits and comfrey are at the top of my list! There are so many uses for comfrey on the homestead everyone should grow it.
This amazing plant can be used as a livestock food and tonic, herbal medicine, organic fertilizer and mulch for you gardens, and a great booster for your compost piles!
I will list as much as I know about comfrey on this page. The first time I got Comfrey was back in the early 80s and even when moving from place to place, I would dig up roots to bring my comfrey with me. Back then I was only growing it as a food and tonic for my rabbits. As I started learning how to use it more and more in the gardens, greenhouses, and compost piles and then seeing the results of what Comfrey can do. I was amazed! I started many more comfrey beds and planted it around my gardens, fruit trees, and compost piles for easy harvest and use.
Comfrey is a high-yielding leafy green perennial herb, and a member of the borage family. I use, grow and sell, Russian Bocking 14 Comfrey, Symphytum uplandicum.
In 1954 Lawrence Hills began researching the use of Comfrey. He found that it mines nutrients in the ground by using its deep root system. When plants do this it is called a dynamic accumulator. The plant will draw minerals out of the soil and into the roots, stems and leaves. This makes comfrey very rich in the basic N-P-K elements which are the basis of all plant fertilizers and are important for plant health and growth. Comfrey contains useful amounts of these trace elements but nobody seems to have researched this until Hills went on to develop the most useful variety of Comfrey, Bocking 14, which was named after the location of the trial grounds in Essex, England.
The most important property of Bocking 14 is that it is sterile. That means it does not self-seed so it does not spread like wild Comfrey. But once you have Comfrey in the garden you will never get rid of it as even the smallest piece of root will regrow vigorously. But then why would you want to get rid of it, with its so many uses!
Comfrey grows up quick and early in the spring and can easily reach heights of 5 feet. The lower leaves are very large, compared to the small hanging clusters of flowers at the top of the plant, to which I have never seen so many bees as in my comfrey beds, they love the purple flowers as do a great many other beneficial insects. The shape and size of this plant makes it look like a shrub but comfrey is a herb. Comfrey is a hardy perennial and it will die back to the ground in the winter and regrow in the spring.
Comfrey will adapt to most areas you want to plant it, but will thrive in a rich organic soil. As with all quick-growing plants, Comfrey needs nitrogen. Comfrey gets all its nitrogen from the soil, so some type of regularly added organic matter is needed. Of course I cannot think of anything better to use than Bunny Berries! I top dress my Comfrey plants every spring and fall!
When starting Comfrey plants I use root cuttings most often. These cuttings are usually available in small and larger sizes. The larger roots will sprout and grow faster than the small cuttings. These are 2-6″ lengths of root which are planted horizontally 2-8″ deep. Plant shallower in clay soil and deeper in sandy soils.
You can also grow comfrey from crown cuttings, but these will be more expensive. A crown cutting will include sprouts and will grow faster than root cuttings. Crown cuttings are planted 3-6″ deep.
If you are growing several plants of comfrey for a bed, and regular harvesting, space them in a grid, 3′ apart.
Once Comfrey is established it will take care of itself. Each year the plant will get a little larger and the root system will get more dense. A Comfrey plant can live several decades before it begins to decline. By dividing the plant every few years this will keep the plant growing vigorously longer.
Because of its deep tap-root, comfrey is very drought tolerant. However regular watering will keep it green, growing strong and blooming for a great quick harvest.
Comfrey leaves can be harvested and dried at any time in its growing stage. If you are growing it to harvest the leaves, you can make your first cutting when the plants are 2′ tall. Cut back to within a few inches of the crown. If you begin harvesting early, you may not get flowers that year.
I have many comfrey plants all over the homestead and for many different reasons. The plants around my garden I let flower. These purple bell-like flowers draw in so many beneficial insects to help pollinate my crops. By planting Comfrey as an outside border the plants roots mat together stopping even couch grass from creeping in. I do plant them closer about 24 inches apart as a garden border and the plants are right were I need them when I want to use as a mulch.
There are so many great ways to use comfrey around the garden! One of the easiest uses of comfrey is as a thick mulch for other crops. Comfrey leaves and stems can be cut and wilted for a few days and then used as a mulch. This will slowly release all the nutrients that their long tap roots pulled up from the soil. This will also help to suppress weeds, feed the plants being mulched, and conserve moisture. This is especially good around plants that like a little extra potassium like fruits, squashes, potatoes, and tomatoes.
Researchers in British Columbia analyzed the NPK (nitrogen-phosphorus-potassium) ratio of comfrey and discovered that the leaves have a remarkable NPK ratio of 1.80-0.50-5.30. When we compare these nutrient ratios to that of animal manure we can see how far superior comfrey is but the bunny berries are still better than most manures!
Dairy Cow: .25-.15-.25
As comfrey leaves wilt an decompose they become irresistible to slugs and snails. If you spread them around young plants such as lettuce and other slug loving plants this will keep the slugs busy and easy to dispose of.
The wilted leaves and stems (by wilting the pieces of comfrey they will not root) can be dug into ground that is being prepared for a new crop and they will break down to give an awesome organic feed to the crop that is being planted. I always do this with all seedlings I transplant outside. This works great on plants being grown in containers as the comfrey decomposes it makes a slow release fertilizer for the plant. Great to add in when you trench in your potato starts in the spring.
Comfrey as a liquid fertilizer is the best! This is one of my favorite uses. Throw that Miracle Grow and any other chemical fertilizer out! Comfrey leaves and stems (I chop the stems) can be crammed and packed tight into a large container (I like using 5 gallon buckets) with a brick or rock pressing down on the mass of comfrey. After a few weeks the mixture will be like a green, brownish soup and ready for harvest. Strain it through a fairly fine screen and bottle, then put the screened sludge remains onto the compost pile. By putting a spigot on the bottom of the bucket you could just keep adding comfrey to the top as it breaks down and turn the tap on as you need it. Once this liquid fertilizer is made it should be diluted from 10:1 to 15:1.
Some people I know just add cut and chopped comfrey plants to their rainwater barrels, then let sit for a few weeks and use this to water their plants as is. They have all had great results.
Because Comfrey is a high-nitrogen source, Comfrey is a wicked awesome compost activator and a great booster for the compost piles, it will even awaken those cold dead piles!
Remember when composting to always have the right balance of green and brown shredded material in any of your piles to keep them healthy and composting. Comfrey when added to the pile works best as an activator if it is well mixed with the whole pile rather than just adding it as layers, this will kick-start your hot composting process. You can add as layers if your pile is working and you just need to add some green stuff.
Here is a recipe for the Rise And Shine Comfrey Composter Super Booster Fill your blender 3/4 full with fresh comfrey leaves, then add water to about 2 inches below the rim. Blend until the comfrey is dissolved. Pour the undiluted blended comfrey into your composter or on your compost pile. It will get your compost heating up fast! It’s an excellent compost activator because it contains more nitrogen than most manures.
A few years ago I planted some Comfrey plants next to my compost bins and their growth has been awesome, it is in a shady area on the homestead, most plants would never even grow there. The Comfrey grows vigorously while enjoying the leaching nutrient’s from the pile. The comfrey is also close to the compost pile to add as green matter, If I add some dry matter to the compost pile.
I get three good crops of leaves each year from each plant here in Maine, it can be cut right down to 2” above the ground and then it will re-grow fast. Remember to keep an eye on it, splitting off some of the root every few years to prevent it getting out of control, but you can propagate these cuttings into as many new plants as you want, to start new beds, and plants, to barter, sell or give as gifts.
Comfrey is also used as a livestock food. Farmers in both Japan and in the Pacific Northwest plant fields of comfrey to feed both their dairy and beef cattle. These farmers are getting remarkable results in the health of both their beef cattle and increased milk production in their dairy herds.
I did a post on the benefits of comfrey for rabbits here is the link https://riseandshinerabbitry.com/2011/10/22/comfrey-for-rabbits/
The Henry Doubleday Association in the United Kingdom long advocated the use of comfrey as a nutritional supplement for farm animals.
Comfrey contains many vitamins and nutrients such as Vitamin B12, potassium, sulphur, calcium, iron, phosphorus, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin B-complex, selenium, iron, germanium and is also an excellent source of protein.
I feed comfrey to all the livestock on my homestead. The chickens love it, when the free ranging chickens get to run in the comfrey beds they will eat it to the ground. The pigs go crazy when they see you carrying in to them grunting and doing their happy dance. I have fed it to my rabbits for 30+ years and they love it! So far, I have had no adverse effects on feed comfrey to any of the livestock I raise here on the homestead!
I have been told lots of negative things on feeding comfrey to livestock. Studies have reported the development of cancerous liver tumors and liver damage in animals after ingesting or being injected with various amounts of comfrey. If comfrey is so dangerous, then why is it not causing liver issues to the cattle raised in Japan? The cattle are being fed large amounts of comfrey yet there has been no problems with liver tumors or liver damage in their herds. I feed comfrey to my rabbits as much as 25% of their daily green feed. I butcher my rabbits and all the livers are healthy and tasty! I have never personally had any problems with comfrey being fed to the animals on my homestead.
I researched a few of the negative comfrey studies, the ones I could find were done on young rats. The Comfrey was not given to the rats as a food source, Instead the toxic alkaloids were isolated and injected into these rats.
As with many herbs, the whole plant contains elements and nutrients that can neutralize the toxic elements in the plant being eaten. So by isolating and injecting a toxic chemical from the comfrey plant and eating the leaf of the plant, you would get different results in any study. So do some research yourself and make your own choice. I will be using comfrey as a food source for my animals!
As a medicinal herb, Comfrey has been used for more than 200 years. A famous herbalist, Dorothy Hall, who wrote in 1975 ‘Russian comfrey and garlic could together almost halve the present ills of western civilization.’
In herbal medicine it is sometimes referred to as “knit bone” for its ability to speed wound healing. Knit bone, refers to the way that the Comfrey was ‘knitted’ (wrapped) around the bruised leg or arm.
The allantoin content of comfrey, especially in the root, has resulted in its use in folk medicine for healing wounds, sores, burns, swollen tissue, and broken bones. When applied externally to bruising, sprains, arthritis or any inflamed tissue, it acts as an anti-inflammatory and pain reliever.
In studies allantoin appeared to affect the rate of cell multiplication. Wounds and burns seemed to heal faster when allantoin was applied due to a possible increase in number of white blood cells. Comfrey works so well that it is important to ensure that when using it as a healing poultice, the affected area or wound is completely clean and free from dirt or foreign matter. This is because Comfrey causes the skin to grow back so fast that any dirt left behind will actually end up being stuck under the new skin growth.
You can apply cold grated comfrey root or a cloth soaked in cool comfrey tea to sunburns or other minor skin burns.
Comfrey can be used as a treatment for rashes, scrapes and especially insect bites and stings.
Making a poultice with the juice can remove warts and other growths. Can be used as a rinse for skin problems on livestock and pets.
Comfrey Infused oil is used to treat arthritis, skin wounds and diseases such as psoriasis. Juice from the leaves and stems in a terrific cure for poison ivy.
You can make an infusion by boiling the leaves. For using the plant externally, the whole plant can be beaten and heated up, then applied to the skin.
To make comfrey oil, clean some fresh comfrey roots with a scrub brush under running water. Place the roots in a blender or food processor with olive oil to cover, and grind as fine as possible. Put into a large glass jar and allow to soak for several weeks before straining. Filter through a wire mesh strainer with cheesecloth or in a coffee filter. This can be used as a compress or poultice.
Comfrey should never be taken internally. Most health agencies in the U.S. have banned the internal use of comfrey due to the pyrrolizidine alkaloids found in this plant. Comfrey is no longer sold in the U.S. as an herbal cure, except in creams or ointments.
In the past before the bad press on comfrey they did use it internally. Drinking a few drops of Comfrey in water can help with bronchial problems, particularly whooping-cough. Boiling the crushed root yields a mild remedy for diarrhea and other gastro-intestinal problems.
Use any of the cures here use at your own risk. I am not a doctor. These are old remedies’ that have been used for generations.
Comfrey is nature’s answer to a sustainable fertilizer, fodder, and healing herb for the Homesteader. Best of all it is free! and you can grow it yourself! Comfrey is The Gold Mine on the Homestead!
We have Comfrey available for sale. https://riseandshinerabbitry.com/comfrey-for-sale/ . I am working on a YouTube video showing all these uses. Join The Rabbit Revolution!
There are many preparations and skills needed for running a successful homestead in good times or bad. Now is the time to learn these skills weather you live in a urban, suburban, or rural setting, you can start by growing some food to feed your family and rabbits.
Start today by building your knowledge, library, and skills to handle all the chores needed to run a homestead. Start a garden, plant some vegetables, fruit,berry and nut trees, and of course start raising rabbits! This way you will to have the skills needed when the bad times may come.
As you learn these skills you eat healthy food, you save money, as less grocery’s are needed and no taxes are paid for growing your own (yet). Seeds cost little money and can be free if you learn to save your own.
It is because today we are so far removed from our food sources, that we must relearn these skills that our grandparents knew. This is also why some of our forefathers often screwed up and starved to death because of lack off knowledge and skills.
Let me start with saying when I first started gardening and raising rabbits that I have killed plants, lost rabbits, and had some failures and setbacks as I first started, but do not give up the results you get in the future are worth it. The time to make mistakes is now while you can still purchase food to replace your mistakes without starving to death.
Lack of experience is a big problem in the amount and consistency of your harvest. Even experienced gardeners have bad years. Nature can work against you bugs, drought, flooding and other weather related issues can cause a lack of production, as you gain experience you will learn how to overcome these issues.
Working a garden now also lets you learn what to grow and what you like the taste of. Also by using heirloom plants so you can save seeds and even develop a strain of plant that will grow better in your area. This is also true with rabbits and other livestock as generations of that animal grow they grow accustomed to that climate and produce offspring that will grow and produce better. By saving and breeding the best you will have the best. My favorite saying is “Save The Best, Eat The Rest”
Every year I try to grow something new in the garden and learn a few more skills. This year I am growing Black Oil Sunflower Seeds to make my own oil and feeding the rabbits and chickens the byproducts. I am working on making a small scale oil press in the workshop for the sunflower experiment. This year I am also trying to grow Yacon as feed for the family, rabbits, and chickens. This is not usually grown in my climate but it has been done.
You will need to learn when do you start seeds where you live and what planting zone your state is?
What is the date of first and last frost?
What grows well in your area or in your soil?
Will you and your faimly eat them?
What plants to grow for your rabbits?
Do you really want to wait to find out after the Shit hits the fan?
Do you have your hutches built for your rabbits? What about the materials and tools to build them with, wire, wood, sheet metal?
Do you have everything you will need for any emergencies for your family and your livestock. These are just a few of the things you should learn now.
You need to plan now for what animals you want to raise, You need to know which wild plants will kill you and your rabbits and what wild plants weed will feed you and your protien source. You will need to know about rabbits. What is the gestation A rabbit?, How to feed a rabbit without pellets?, When to breed your rabbits? All this information and more can be found on this website, our Facebook page, all the guest podcasts and blogs we have done, We are now launching our new RABBIT REVOLUTION RADIO SHOW and the new YOU TUBE stuff for July. I will be constantly updating this post as time goes on. Thanks for reading my stuff. Join The Rabbit Revolution by liking us on Facebook and listening to the radio show. Raising Meat Rabbits To Save The World!
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!
When you start with rabbits you will read and talk to many older breeders, you will hear many recommendations of the benefits of feeding hay to rabbits. I agree with these source’s! This is what a rabbits gut was designed to do.
I feel you should give your rabbits all the hay they can eat, I do not restrict my rabbit’s hay diet. The main component of every rabbit’s diet should be fresh grass or hay.
Hay is good for your rabbit because the long fibers of hay help the muscles of the rabbits gut stay good, strong and healthy.
This added high fiber content is a very important to good dental and intestinal health in rabbits. Without fiber, their digestive system cannot move food through the gut. Chewing the hay will help to keep your rabbits teeth, which grow continually in good healthy shape. Hay fiber is the number one defense against intestinal blockages. Hay stimulates normal gastrointestinal processes, including digestion of food, absorption of necessary nutrients and excretion of normal feces. Without hay in their diet, the intestinal tract of rabbits may slow down or completely stop moving.
Hay not only meets some of the rabbits basic nutritional requirements, but it helps to keep rabbits occupied, reducing boredom. Rabbits will chew on almost anything, They seem to have little concept of what they can digest and what they cannot digest so keeping hay available will give them something to chew on that they can digest. Hay is an essential part of your rabbit’s diet, and you should no more leave your Rabbits without hay than you would leave them without water. Rabbits need lots of fiber, and hay provides it to them. A good quality hay should not be too expensive, and is really essential for your rabbit’s health and well being.
Proof of the diet playing an important role in gastric stasis is seen when wild rabbits are compared to domestic rabbits. Wild rabbits don’t succumb to hairballs or most GI problems so why should domestic rabbits? The primary difference between wild and domestic rabbits is diet. In the wild, there is plenty of grass, leaves and other plant material for the rabbit to eat. With a domestic rabbit, the diet is frequently offered as pellets or a few vegetables and fruits. Without sufficient hay, these rabbits tend to succumb to various illnesses, including gastric stasis and hairballs. So for the health of your rabbits feed them hay!
Hay is just grass that has been cut and left to dry out. It has the same health and digestive benefits that fresh grass does. There are many different hays available; popular types include meadow, timothy, oat, and orchard grass. Any of these hays will provide a good source of fiber for your rabbit’s diet, but you don’t need to pick just one type. Mixing several different hays will provide your rabbit with a wider variety of flavours and even out differences in nutritional values. Timothy hay is the most popular rabbit feeding hay, and probably the easiest for you to obtain, but oat hay, wheat hay and bahia hay are all also okay. Alfalfa and Clover hays are tastier to your rabbit, but contain a great deal of calcium and protein, neither of which your rabbits need in large amounts.
You may be offered a choice between first and second cut hay. The terms first and second cut refer to the number of times that hay is harvested. First cut is better for your rabbits digestive system , but second cut is tastier. An old farmer once described the difference to me as follows: First cut is like the main course; Second cut is like dessert.
Rabbits like the second cut better, much better! First cut has more body and fills their stomachs up quicker. In Maine, we usually have two cuttings per year, depending upon the varieties planted and environmental factors such as rain. Generally, first cuttings are more mature, stalkier with less leaf, resulting in coarser hay. Subsequent cuttings grow back with fewer stalks and more leaf, resulting in softer hay. The longer hay is allowed to grow before being harvested, the more fibre and less protein it will have. Some rabbits seem to prefer a courser, stalky hay, while others have a preference for softer hay. If legume hays are grown in the field with grass hays, second or third cuttings will also have more legume hay than the first cutting.
First Cutting: The first growth off of a field for the year is the “first cutting.” Many people feel that first cut hay is not to be considered as good feed. I tend to disagree, provided it is of good quality and was cut when relatively immature (pre-bloom stage), before the plant is allowed to mature to the point where the stem becomes larger and coarser. This is when the lignin (an indigestible part of the fiber component associated with cellulose and hemicellulose in the cell wall) content has become sufficiently high so as to make the hay more unpalatable and indigestible and the nutritive value has declined greatly. This can happen with 1st, 2nd, or any cutting of hay if left growing too long.
Second Cutting: Depending upon the temperatures of the days and nights, it typically takes 40-45 days for regrowth of alfalfa, mix hay, and orchard-grass , and 55- 60 days for regrowth of timothy. This is termed the “second cutting,” which usually has a larger percentage of leaves to stems, has a finer and softer stem, has increased percentages of crude protein and crude fat, and has a lower crude fiber percentage (depending upon the stage of maturity at which it was cut) . More non-structural carbohydrates (starches and sugars) and protein are in the leaves than in the stems. These starches and sugars are very digestible and make the hay higher quality.
Legume hay- Noticeably different than grass hay. A stalky plant with brittle, crumbly, flat leaves. Clover or alfalfa flowers may be seen as well. Alfalfa hay smells rich.
Timothy hay- Resembles flat, dried blades of grass. The color ranges from soft green to grey/brown green. Timothy has “solid cattail” tips for easy identification.
Orchard Grass- This hay has a similar appearance to timothy but has broken or open “cattail” tips, rather than solid. The tips tend to be pale brown
Generally, hay that is grown for horses is good and can be fed to your rabbits. Good hay should smell sweet or like fresh grass. It should be low in weeds and, although color varies with the type of hay, it should be green to greenish-grey in color.
Excessive dust or hay that does not smell sweet may indicate mould. Do not feed your rabbit moldy hay. Never, I repeat NEVER feed moldy hay, because it can make your rabbit seriously ill. Moldy hay may contain white dust, or black and/or white spots on the bale. If you drop the bale and a lot of white dust flies up, it could be a sign of mold. Thistles and other weeds should be picked out of the hay before serving, because some weeds, such as milkweed (a thick, fibrous stemmed plant with broad elongated leaves) are toxic and can make your rabbits sick or much worse.
GROWING YOUR OWN HAY-
Whether you’ve got a patch of long grass which you think would make good hay or are planning to sow a patch of timothy grass or herb mix especially to make hay for the winter months, similar rules apply to those of growing a herb patch or rabbit lawn but with the added considerations of cutting, drying and storing. Many herbs were traditionally dried for the winter months by rabbit breeders many years ago so why not today.
Any herb or wild plant you would feed fresh in season can be dried as herbal hay for winter use. Herbs you may want to consider drying include agrimony, avens, borage, thyme, rosemary, lavender, chamomile, calendula (the flowers are a good source of vitamin A), chickweed (a good natural source of copper), cleavers (an excellent spring tonic), coltsfoot, dandelion (but don’t feed too much as it is a diuretic), goat’s rue (aids lactation), golden rod (a great plant to feed as the plant grows back even bushier when you harvest the tips), lemon balm, common mallow, marshmallow, meadowsweet (a natural source of salicylic acid – the active ingredient in aspirin), melilot, mouse ear, plantain, shepherd’s purse (good for scouring) and yarrow.
Always harvest when fresh and green, as with grass for haymaking, dry well before storing. The rabbits love this in the winter and it helps them with the winter blahs! The trick is to make good hay so every mouthful packs a punch. So a good variety mix is the best! So prepare, fertilize and plant a small hay plot. Just like the big hay makers, harvest at the best bloom and during a time of warm, sunny days.
If you mow your lawn weekly, you might want to skip a week to let it grow out a bit. If you don’t have a lawn, you could try asking your neighbors. I am sure if you offer to cut their grass in exchange for keeping the clippings. Just make sure they don’t use any weedkiller/pesticides. Once you have located your patch of grass, next you need to cut it. It’s important not to use a lawn mower for this. Mowers chop up the grass and crush it which encourages it to begin fermenting. This is great if you want to compost it but no good for feeding to rabbits. If you’re cutting a big patch you could use scythe or sickle but you could also use a string trimmer/weedwhackers this will save your back and do the work in a fraction of the time. I have even used scissors or big hedge clippers, I can fill a pillow case or a feed sack very fast. Next is the difficult part, the grass needs to dry out (and turn into hay). There are a few options for this. You could leave the grass where you cut it and turn it a few times to help it dry. Our forefathers used wooden peg-toothed haying rakes; if you’re handy with tools you could make one, but a wide-toothed garden rake will do. Check frequently and when the turned hay is fully dry, but still green and sweet smelling, hook a cart to your lawn tractor, grab your pitchfork and bring in the harvest.
The trouble with this is you are at the mercy of the weather. It’s important the air gets to it so I made a shelf out of some wire mesh. You could also use a covered deck, greenhouse, shed with windows etc. or you could lay it out on a sheet and just pick it up in the sheet when rain is forecast and pop it out afterwards. The top of a wire rabbit cage or run would be great if the weather is good That’s it for the hard work, now you just need to wait for it to dry. It dose not take to long for this. In less than two weeks it will smell and looked like tasty hay. Once it has dried out you can store it like you would normal hay. Something that breaths (like a pillow case would be best) just in case there is any moisture left. If you leave it out in the sun it will loose the hint of green and go golden brown (still edible but less nutrients). Store your hay in a well-ventilated area, out of direct sunlight. Don’t fork it directly on the floor, place it on top of wooden pallets to prevent ground contact. Pack it down and pile it high. It’s best to leave new hay uncovered for a few weeks until it finishes curing, but then top it with tarps to preserve cleanliness and quality. So grow your own good quality hay for you rabbits! By adding the herbs it is a nice change for your rabbits and a great healthy tonic. I hope you like this post and any questions or ideas are welcome!
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!
Unless you’re a vegetarian, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t consider eating rabbit instead of ham, turkey, chicken or beef for dinner. This country still has the Easter Bunny syndrome! Europeans, especially the French, Italians, Portuguese, Spanish, Hungarians and Germans eat lots of rabbit.
If we can get over our prejudices, eating rabbit makes a lot of sense. Four ounces of roasted rabbit meat has 175 calories and 7.2 grams of fat, slightly less in both categories than skinless turkey dark meat. And rabbit meat has more flavor than chicken, to which it is often compared.
Rabbit is an all white meat that’s lower in cholesterol than chicken or turkey (164 mg of cholesterol in rabbit vs. 220 mg in chicken), has just 795 calories per pound (chicken has 810 calories per pound), and has the highest percentage of protein and the lowest percentage of fat of any meat. In short, meat doesn’t get any healthier. If you want more information I have a post in the October archives on the HEALTH BENEFITS OF RABBIT MEAT check it out. Now on to cooking rabbit!
Jointing a Rabbit-
Working with rabbit is very much like working with chicken. Think of the forelegs as wings. There isn’t much breast meat but the saddle or tenderloin makes up for it. When cutting up a rabbit, remove hind legs and forelegs and the saddle (or have the butcher do it). The bony rib cage can be used for stock. A 2-1/2 pound rabbit should serve 2 people, more if you have a rich sauce or several side dishes.
Although a rabbit can be roasted whole (stuffed or unstuffed), it is most often cut into pieces and cooked slowly in a casserole or stew. Domestic rabbit, although available as saddle or legs, may still need to be cut into smaller pieces before cooking.
1. Lay the rabbit, on its back, on a chopping board and cut the legs away from the main carcass with a large chef’s knife. (To cut right through the bone, it may be necessary to tap the back of the knife with a kitchen weight or mallet, protecting the back of the knife with a cloth.)
2. Cut down the center of the legs to separate them. Then divide each leg in two, cutting through the knee joint. Cut the body into three or four pieces, making the last cut just below the ribcage
3. Cutting lengthwise through the center of the breastbone, divide the ribcage section in half. If you wish to remove small bones from the flesh around the breastbone, use pliers or pull them with your fingers.
Rabbit Cooking Hints and Tricks-
For safety, cook rabbit until it reaches 160 degrees F.
A rabbit weighing between 2.5 lbs and 3.5 lbs makes six portions: two saddles, two thighs and two front legs.
Either cooked or raw, rabbit meat freezes very well.
Rabbit meat can be grilled, roasted, braised, fried or barbecued. It also makes great terrines and pates, and the liver and kidneys are delicious.
It takes 60 to 90 minutes to cook rabbit meat at 325F (160C).
Rabbit can easily be used in recipes calling for chicken, turkey and veal.
As rabbit is a lean meat, it is important to baste it often when roasting to avoid it drying out.
Excellent rabbit seasonings include parsley, rosemary, sage, bay leaf, lemon-grass, coriander, and basil.
Rabbit may be soaked in a marinade of sugar or honey, red wine, or olive oil seasoned with herbs.
Fryer rabbit can replace chicken in almost any recipe, but if you’ve never cooked rabbit before, it’s a great idea to start with a trusted recipe.
When barbecuing rabbit, marinate the meat first or baste it with a mix of lemon juice and olive oil with herbs. Grill it first on high heat, than continue to cook it on medium heat for a further 40 to 45 minutes with the lid closed.
Fresh herbs marry very well with rabbit meat. Try basil, lemon grass, coriander, bay leaf, parsley, rosemary, thyme, marjoram, and sage. It also works well with wine-based sauces and fruit sauces made with raspberry, pear and apple.
Use rabbit legs as a substitute for chicken in paella or other dishes.
Though white wine is often used to deglaze the pan that rabbit is sauteed in, you can also use grappa (the fiery Italian clear brandy) and balsamic vinegar.
Rabbit liver is unusually large and unusually delicious. Sear it on both sides in clarified butter, leaving it pink inside. Then add a few shallots to the pan with some wine, port or brandy and cook a few minutes. Process with a touch of cream, salt, pepper and a pinch of allspice or nutmeg for quick pate.
When roasting whole, buttered or lard with pork back fat, or wrap in foil to keep the flesh moist and tender. Or bone the main body and fill with a stuffing. Baste the rabbit frequently during cooking.
Marinate in wine or olive oil, with aromatic vegetables and seasonings, before cooking to help tenderize the meat.
Poach or braise young rabbits; stew or casserole older ones.
Use a rabbit to make a terrine. Grind the rabbit meat with 2 shallots and mix in 2 eggs, two-thirds cup heavy cream, 2 tbsp. shelled pistachios, 1 tbsp. dried cranberries, 2 tbsp. chopped fresh parsley, and seasonings. Place in a pot lined with bacon slices and bake in a water bath at 350 degrees F for 2 hours. Add 1 and one-quarter cups liquid aspic after cooking. Allow to cool and refrigerate until set.
To roast a rabbit, rub it down with olive oil and chopped herbs and place it in a roasting pan. It may then be baked just like a chicken, at about 350 degrees F. (A 2 pound rabbit takes about 1 – 1 1/2 hours to cook at this temperature.)
Begin by browning the rabbit in a little olive oil. Then place the meat in a pot and cover it about a quarter of the way with water. Cover the pot and allow the meat to simmer for about an hour.
Chop the rabbit meat into small pieces (about one inch square). If desired, roll in flour or seasonings. In a preheated pan with a little olive oil added, brown the meat on every side. Place the meat in a large pot and cover with boiling water. Cover the pan with a well-fitted lid and simmer for at least two hours, or until meat is tender. Add vegetables to the last hour of cooking.
Thin cuts of rabbit (no more than one inch thick) are suitable for sauteing. First, preheat a pan and add a small amount of olive oil. Place the rabbit in the pan and brown both sides, cooking until it reaches 160 degrees F.
Shreaded rabbit–You can use either stove or crockpot to cook the rabbit ahead of time. But don’t boil it… simmer it very gently so it barely bubbles. Simmer for 1 to 1 1/2 hours or until meat falls of bones, Remove and allow to cool. When cool,pull meat from the bones and shred. You can freeze the meat for later use or make all kind off foods with this! I have made Rabbit Tacos,Rabbit Salad Sandwiches,so much more. I like to use apple juice for part of the liquid. I use a bay leaf or two, some herbs and some black pepper and allspice for seasonings.
Here’s a very simple but tasty grilled rabbit recipe for the outdoor barbecue. Preparation time, 15 minutes, Cooking time, 80 minutes. Serves 4 to 6.
1 fryer rabbit, cut up
1-1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1/2 cup cooking oil
1/2 cup sherry
1-1/2 tsp seasoned salt
Rub rabbit with salt and pepper; place over medium hot bed of live coals. You can use a gas grill. Make sauce by mixing oil, wine and seasoned salt together. Keep rabbit well basted with sauce, turn often while cooking 1 hour or until rabbit pieces are tender.
For More Recipes Check Out The DOMESTIC RABBIT RECIPE PAGE
Safe Food for Rabbits-
This is as comprehensive a list as I can come up with, I may have left a few things out and would be happy to hear from you, i will add them and will post comments to this page! The names given are the common names, and I’ve given all the ones I know. However it is not a guide to the nutritional value of these foods and as always when starting rabbits on a natural feeding program go slow so the gut flora can adapt to the new feeds you are feeding your rabbits.
RABBIT SAFE FRUIT-
(Feed very, very sparingly… Super sugary! Up to 2 tbsp daily) :
Apple (NO core or anything containing seeds, unless all seeds removed)
Apricots (NO PITS)
Banana (fruit and peel)
Blackberry (stem, leaf and fruit)
Cherry (NO PITS)
Currant (black and red)
Grapes (fruit, leaf and vine are edible)
Orange (NO PEEL- segments only)
Melon (all melons)
Papaya (NO SEEDS)
Peach (NO PITS)
Plum (NO PITS)
Raspberries (twigs, and leaves – astringent)
Strawberries (and leaves)
Tomato (red fruit ONLY; no stems or leaves)
Tangerine (NO PEEL – segments only)
RABBIT SAFE VEGETABLES-
Baby Sweet Corns (like in stirfry)***
Bell Peppers (green, yellow, red, orange…)
Bok Choy/Pak Choy
Carrot Greens (tops)
Carrot (limited amount, due to high sugar content)
Celery (cut into small pieces to limit choking on strings)
Chicory Greens (aka Italian Dandelion… see discussion here )
Clover (WHITE only)
Collard Greens (be cautious, may cause bladder sludge (high calcium)
Dandelion Greens (no pesticides)
Eggplant (purple fruit only; leaves toxic)
Grass (if cut from your own chemical/fertilizer/poison free back yard-I spread it out and dry it)
Lettuce (Dark Green/Red Leaf, Butter, Boston, Bibb, or Romaine – NO ICEBERG [no
nutritional value, may cause diarrhea])
Pak Choy/Bok Choy
Radish tops (Limited amounts: can cause gas)
Rhubarb (RED STALKS ONLY – POISONOUS LEAF)
Squash: Yellow, Butternut, Pumpkin, Zucchini
SAFE IN MODERATION:
Comfrey-I feed fresh young leaves and also dry for winter tonic, but most breeders say they feed it slighty wilted
Dock BEFORE FLOWERING
Goutweed BEFORE FLOWERING
Ground elder BEFORE FLOWERING
Tomatoes(fruit only leaves and stocks toxic!)
SAFE TREE AND SHRUB LEAVES-Should always feed only fresh young leaves:
Poplar (not black)
Basil: Lemon, Globe, Thai, Mammoth, Sweet, Genevieve
Dill: Fernleaf, Mammoth
Lavender (Not for pregnant does; can cause fetal expulsion)
Mint: Pineapple sage, pineapple mint, apple mint, orange mint, peppermint, lemon thyme, cinnamon basil, lime basil, lemon basil, sweet basil, licorice basil, “licorice mint” (anise hyssop), spearmint, peppermint, chocolate mint, and basil mint.
Parsley: Curly and Flat-Leaf
Sage: Pineapple is quite good
Salad Burnet / Small Burnet
You may ask why meat rabbits? I will go over the basics for why I believe everyone should be raising meat rabbits on the homestead. I could go on forever about the benefits of raising rabbits for meat, but for quick easy convenience I will only list ten reasons why everyone should be raising rabbits. Then I will cover basics of housing, feeding, and breeding information. I will eventually get into writing more about each of these subjects in more detail, and will be writing a part 2 to this series answering any question you have on part 1 and processing your rabbits, tanning pelts, and using the best fertilizer know to man, rabbit manure! Will be posting updates on the goings on at the rabbitry! Show you our hillbilly solar powered rabbitry setup for the off grid rabbit production and more. Join The Rabbit Revolution! LIKE US ON FACEBOOK for daily updates and rabbit information.
1. Rabbit meat is very high in protein and very low in fat and cholesterol
2. You know were your meat comes from and the type of life the rabbit had, no medications or hormones just good tasting healthy meat
3. Rabbit are easy to raise! even working a full time job 2 does and 1 buck will only take a few minutes in the morning and evening and time on weekends to clean cages,even the youngsters can do the chores
4. Rabbits can be raised in country and suburban areas(could even be raised inside).They are quiet and clean no one will know you have your own meat supply
5. Rabbits have a high reproduction rate each doe should raise at LEAST 36 fryers a year(average 6 litters,6 fryers in each litter)and could produce even more by raising more breeding stock out of the best of your litters
6. Rabbits can be raised many different ways-colony raising,natural feeding,pasture raising ect. the rabbits will adapt and flourish with good management
7. Rabbit are easy to process takes only 15 minutes a rabbit from cage to freezer (or grill)Rabbit can be cooked many ways, any chicken recipe can be changed to use rabbit in place of chicken
8. Rabbits are very efficient-they will produce 6 pounds of meat on the same feed and water that a cow will produce 1 pound of meat.Your rabbits will be ready to butcher in 8 to 12 weeks with a 50%up to 65% dress out from live weight
9. Rabbits will grow well on food items that do not compete with food items grown for human food.Rabbits are a inexpensive way to supply good healthy meat for your family
10. Rabbits have other by-products good for the homestead.The best manure know to mankind,awesome pelts for blankets,hats, gloves and other crafts,ok that was 10 and i could list 50 more ,I could also write pages on just the added benefits of rabbits other than meat!
Housing For Rabbits-
There are many different types and styles of hutches or cages. The housing needed will depend on the climate, location and the amount of money you have available. It is not necessary to go to a big expense to build hutches. I have seen some of the best rabbits raised in hutches made from second hand lumber and some old wooden boxes. Hutches can be built to be used outdoors or put in any shed or outbuilding in your backyard as long as they are in a dry draft free environment. You should construct hutches that will allow for easy feeding, watering, and cleaning. Clean cages mean clean rabbits! Most rabbit cages are made of wire, this provides easy cleaning and they last longer than cages made of other materials. The floor wire is usually 1/2″ x 1″ and sides and tops are 1″x2″ wire. This is what they use in most commercial rabbitries.
The most common outdoor hutches are usually made of wood and wire, some with just a wooden frame with a wire cage hung inside. It is important to have protection from all predators even dogs and cats. Proper ventilation is a must when they are raised inside or out, but make sure the rabbits are not exposed to wet winds or drafts. Rabbits can withstand cold weather better than hot weather. Once your rabbits start to grow they will need to be separated make sure you have extra space available. Cage size for medium sized meat breeds are 24″W x 36″L x 18″H or 30″W x 36″L x 18″H for breeding cages, cages for bucks or young replacement breeding stock can be housed in a 24″W x 24″L x 18″H or a 24″W x 30″L x 18″H. Rabbits can be housed and raised many different ways as in a colony setting were multiple rabbits are bred and raised in pens or on pasture in rabbit tractors. It is up to you to decide how you want to raise your rabbits check out other breeders and how they raise their rabbits.
Feeding rabbits is probably the most important part of raising rabbits, also the most argued. It is what controls the health and condition of the rabbit (even good genetics in rabbits cannot override a poor feeding program). Most people who begin with rabbits overfeed their herd. Feeding once a day is enough only pregnant does and growing kits need extra feed. Always feed on a regular schedule a rabbit becomes accustom to a set feeding schedule and will become agitated and restless when the schedule is not kept. A constant supply of water is a must and should be changed daily. In the winter try to change frozen crocks as much as possible, at least two times a day, once in the morning and again in the evening. When you get your rabbits be sure to ask what feed they are using try to get some of the same brand from a feed store or buy some from the breeder. If you plan to change brands make sure to mix some of the new feed with the old brand for a couple weeks before switching over to the new feed completely. Any change of diet to rabbits should be done slowly! Rabbit pellets are usually dark green in color and has the nutritional requirements to produce a healthy rabbit and excellent growth in young. Check the labels and feed as manufacturer recommends. Pellets are easy to feed and requires less labor than natural feeding or pasture management. Pellets have changed a lot in my time raising rabbits and not for the better. More corn and soy and less alfalfa based feeds are sold, most all products are waste products from mills, most are GMO grown and round up sprayed, so read your feed labels and choose your feed for your rabbits informed. There are still some good rabbit food companies out there!
Grass hay is one of the most important item in the rabbit diet, it should be fed in unlimited quantities. A rabbit fed only commercial rabbit pellets dose not get enough long fibers to keep the intestines in good working order, the long fibers of hay push things thru the gut at the right speed. Hay is also good for preventing intestinal impaction caused by ingested hair. Alfalfa or clover hays should be fed restricted as they are to rich in protein and calcium to be free fed. Fresh vegetables help keep the intestinal contents hydrated, which make them easier for the rabbit to pass. Rabbits love fresh, fragrant herbs right from the garden. If your rabbit shows any signs of stomach problems, such as runny stool take away the pellets and veggies and feed only grass hay or even straw until stools harden up.
Green feeds are the natural food of rabbits. These are rich in protein minerals and vitamins, being soft and tender they are easily digested. They should be included in your feeding program. Rabbits can be fed lots of types of greens, including lawn clippings, cabbage, kale, safe weeds (do your homework lots of good weeds for rabbits out there), waste from your vegetables from the garden, prunings from fruit trees, sweet potato vines and lots more. Any green feed not eaten should be removed from the hutch daily. Roots may be grown and used fresh or saved for feeding in the winter months such as carrots, sweet potatoes, mangles, rutabagas, turnips and beets. This is just the basics of feeding rabbits, I will do a lot more on this subject in my future posts!
Rabbits of medium size (most meat breeds)are ready to breed when they reach the age of 5 to 8 months of age-some breeders go by weight not by the age of the rabbit. Many young bucks will attempt to breed as early as 3 months it is best to separate them at this age, you do not want does that young to get pregnant the young will be small and there will be few kits in the litter, it also stunts the growth rate of the doe itself. Just as important do not wait to long to breed your does or the first time they will be hard to breed. While doing your chores in the rabbitry if you notice a doe trying to nose and scratch her way into other cages or rubbing her chin on things like feeders, and crocks she’s ready to breed.
When looking at the does sexual organ if her vulva is moist and bright pink to a reddish color all the way to the tip, she is ready to breed. As the cycle is waning the vaginal opening becomes a bright purple. Rabbits are induced ovulators, meaning ovulation does not occur until the actual mating by the buck. Always take the doe to the bucks cage. Does are very territorial about their cages and will attack the visiting buck and can cause serious harm to the buck. A ratio of one buck for every 10 does is necessary, the buck may be bred up to 7 times as week effectively. The doe usually accepts(lifts her tail and raises her back end)the buck will mount her vibrate and then he will fall over to the side or even backwards, some bucks are very dramatic! Within a minute he will be right back up to repeat the mating. I usually return the doe to the bucks cage for a re breeding 6 to 12 hours after the first mating. This improves conception rate and increases the number of kits in a litter. Keep accurate records of the day you bred the doe! The does gestation time is 29 to 32 days, usally right on day 31.
You should test her for pregnancy between the 10th and 14th day after breeding. The best way is to palpate by checking the lower abdomen of the doe with your thumb and forefinger checking for nodules about the size of a marble. The other way is to take her back to the bucks cage and if she runs around growling and trying to avoid the buck she is most likely pregnant. This method is inaccurate as some does will breed again and will already be pregnant or refuse to and will not be pregnant.
The gestation period is the time from mating to kindling and is 31 to 32. The nest box should be put in the does cage on day 27 from when the doe was bred (remember those accurate records a good litter of kits on the wire and you will not be happy). Fill the nest box 1/2 to 3/4 full with nesting material such as straw (my favorite), hay, shavings, dry leaves ect. I also put some nesting material in the cage so the doe can pick up some to add to her nest box. The doe will make her nest and by the time she kindles will be pulling fur. Watch expectant does often especially if they are first time mothers, If she has her kits on the wire you can put them in the nest box as long as they have not been chilled, if they have been chilled they should be warmed immediately and put back into the box and covered with fur. If the doe has more than 8 kits you should foster them to a doe with a smaller litter, unless you know the doe to be a good producer of milk.(A doe only has 8 teats so only so many kits can eat at once).
After the doe has kindled and seems to be mellowed out it is time to check the nest box, give the doe a treat (I usually give a small piece of apple or banana) and while she is enjoying her well deserved treat check the litter, remove any dead or stunted young and put the nest box back in the cage. 8 good healthy kits have a better chance and will grow faster than a litter of 12 to 14 weak kits. It is best to check the nest boxes every day the first week and every other day after that. By checking on the kits you will see if they are eating buy their plumpness and full tummies. A doe only nurses her young one or twice a day for only 2-5 minutes. If the doe is not feeding them, place the doe in the nest box and hold her until the kits start to nurse.
The kits are born naked and blind they will grow very fast, in about 2 weeks their eyes will open and in 3 weeks will start to leave the nest box. You can wean the kits from 4 weeks at the earliest and at the latest 8 weeks depending or your breeding cycle. It is important to keep the doe and kits on full feed and plenty of fresh water to keep them all healthy. The young rabbits should weigh 4+ pounds at 8 weeks of age now it is time to slaughter and select the fastest growers for your replacement breeding stock, or to move them to grow out cages.
This has only been a basic of raising rabbits. I plan on doing a few more of this series the next will be on slaughtering – selling- and using everything from your rabbits! Also answering any questions anyone has. Thanks for reading! Rise And Shine Rabbitry, Raising Meat Rabbits To Save The World! Join The Rabbit Revolution! Like Us On Facebook and subscribe to our blog page to get the newest post as they are posted!
I have been using Comfrey as a food source and tonic for a long time in my rabbitry.
When I was young I always talked to all the old-timer rabbit breeders around my neighborhood and on my paper route. They all agreed and swore by comfrey as the best rabbit tonic and said every rabbit breeder should grow it.
They would give a little each day added to their daily green feed, and told me this is why their rabbits never got sick. They told me it would prevent everything from snuffles to premature kindling and helping milking does produce more milk. I have no scientific proof, other than never seeing any of their rabbits sick.
So that’s when I got my first few comfrey plants (cost me a weeks worth of newspapers) and I have been feeding comfrey to my rabbits ever since. I have moved many times from my childhood home but have always brought comfrey cuttings with me to plant more.
I know that my rabbits love the stuff just by their reaction when harvesting the comfrey, the rabbits hear me cutting the leaves in the comfrey beds, I can hear them running and binkying around their cages knowing their healthy tonic is on the way.
When entering the rabbitry with a basketful of comfrey, the whole herd comes alive waiting for their treat. I highly recommend comfrey for rabbits! It is a great digestive aid and will help with wool block, do not overfeed as it may cause diarrhea, this is the plant working use caution! Great as a tonic and added food source but not as the only feed source.
You can cut it down and dry it like hay to store for winter use ( It can be cut down up to three times here in Maine). They also love the freshly harvested leaves. The plant has a calming effect on rabbits, also good when a rabbit is off feed, It will get them back on it!
Comfrey is a great source of vitamin A and good for pregnant and nursing does as it also supports the immune system. Comfrey is good for the stomach, and can be fed as a general gut tonic. Always use caution when feeding greens to rabbits! Being extremey potent comfrey can have negative effects if overfed, and can cause diarrhea. When I do feed, it makes up about 25% of the basket of greens/weeds I pick every other day or so in the Spring/Summer/Fall. There are so many other uses for comfrey on the homestead. I will list just a few.
Comfrey has long been used as a cure by Gypsies and peasant people for ever, it has an ancient reputation as a mender of broken bones! It has also been recommended for uterine and other internal hemorrhages and for the healing of wounds. Comfrey’s power to heal wounds is credited to a substance in the plant called allantoin (listed in Merck’s Index of Chemicals and Drugs for its use in skin ulcer therapy). The most common medicinal use of comfrey is in poultices to help heal swellings, inflammations and sores.
To make such a dressing, let the leaves mush up in hot water, squeeze out the excess liquid and wrap several handfuls of the hot, softened foliage in a clean cloth. Apply the pad to the affected part—comfortably hot, but not scalding—and cover the area with a thick folded towel to keep the heat in. The moist warmth enhances the healing effect of the allantoin. Roots and Leaves have historically been used to apply to swellings, sprains, bruises, cuts and used as a poultice for stings, abrasions, blisters, abscesses and boils. Comfrey is also widely known for healing and clearing up skin problems. You can use the roots to make decoctions, and the leaves to make infusions that have antiseptic properties
British Gypsies would also feed the roots to their animals as a spring tonic. On my homestead all the livestock love it! The pigs go nuts when I throw it into their pens, The chickens come charging to meet me at the gate with some, And we already discussed the rabbits!
You can also condition your soil with comfrey! It’s one of the best plants for this. The leaves themselves may be buried as “instant compost” to give row crops season-long nourishment. A tea can be made with the leaves and used as a liquid fertilizer (No more Miracle Grow!). You should google the uses of comfrey in the garden you will be amazed! There is to much for me to list here maybe I will do a future post just on comfrey and the homestead!
Harvest when the foliage is 12 to 18 inches tall, we cut the leaves with a sickle by gathering a bunch together and shearing them off two inches above ground. After such a harvest, the plants will grow enough to be cut again in 10 to 30 days. About two weeks is the average in our experience. Dry the harvest or feed it fresh! The thicker stalks are had to dry and mold before drying, so for drying stick to the leaves.
Comfrey is 86.6%water,2.6%protein,1.8% fiber.
Comfrey is a controversial plant yet it has been used medicinally for at least 2000 years.
It has also had extensive use as an animal feed just as long. Due to recent evaluations of this plant, it is important to learn about it before deciding whether or not to add it to your rabbits’ diet. I have used it before any of the studies and still use it to this day wit no ill effects! It irritates me how negative weighted research can affect the truth of an herb.
There are three main varieties of Comfrey grown, Russian Comfrey(bocking strains), Prickly Comfrey, and Common Comfrey. Common Comfrey is the one usually grown here in the US. These Comfrey plants greatly differ in the amount of alkaloids present in the plants.
I grow and sell the Russian Bocking 14 type.
The research was done on young rats that were injected not fed naturally the whole food product. It is known that injecting a substance will often give a toxic reaction when just eating it does not. This test did cause tumors in the liver, but it was basically an overdose of the toxic part of the comfrey injected into young rats than are sensitive to the alkaloid to begin with. That is a negative weighted research project to say the least!
Despite the controversy over Comfrey and liver toxicity, farmers in both Japan and in the Pacific Northwest plant fields of comfrey to feed both their dairy and beef cattle. These farmers are getting remarkable results in the health of both their beef cattle and increased milk production in their dairy herds.
If comfrey is so dangerous, then why then is it not causing liver toxicity in these cattle? They are being fed enough to cause liver problems. There has been no problem with liver toxicity in their herds.
So if you question the use of comfrey in your rabbitry do your research. I have butchered many rabbits and have never found any internal issues with the feeding of comfrey over long periods of time.
We have Comfrey plants, roots, and crowns available in season(May till end of October ere in Maine.)
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Rabbits are quiet, grow fast, have large litters and can be fed on produce from the garden, or by foraging safe weeds and other safe food sources, or just good quality hay (They will grow faster on pellets or a balanced natural diet)
Rabbits a great high protein, low-fat, white meat, that is great tasting, easy to slaughter and no freezing needed. Just keep them in the cages until ready to put on the plate.
Rabbits have awesome pelts to make blankets, or clothing, or a great barter item.
Rabbits also produce one of the best manures for the organic garden.
During the growing season from half to three-quarters or maybe even more of a rabbits diet could be grown by the homesteader(depending on how much work you want to do). Also by feeding garden wastes, weeds, leaves, berries etc, you could provide all the food needed for a small-scale homestead meat supply.
Composting takes from 6 to 12 weeks to make your garden waste usable as a soil amendment, Rabbits and Worms can do a far better job and making a better product in ten days or less! So garden waste becomes rabbit food, which them becomes an equal weight of worm food in a day or two, which then becomes worms and their castings in over 90 days. The worms increase to become a source of highly nutritional poultry, waterfowl, and fish food in about 3 months. Leaving behind a mass of plant food (worm castings) that becomes more plants, more saleable product, and more rabbit food. All in the same time it takes a compost pile to become a lower quality of soil amendment without the added poultry, and fish food benefits. Now that’s Self Sufficiency!
I will be writing about all this information in future posts! This is the basis of my book that I have been working on for some time. This website I plan to load with all the information need to grow, breed, and butcher rabbits on your self sufficient homestead!
If you have any questions or ideas please let me know email me or add in the comment section
RAISING MEAT RABBITS TO SAVE THE WORLD!
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