I am attempting to feed my rabbits as naturaly and species specific as I can manage. I am not a person that just feeds the “total nutrition pellets” of any kind that you can buy at your local store….for any of my animals. My cats get a raw meat and bones diet, as do my dogs. The chickens are fed as natural a diet as I can manage as well. I will do a seperate post in the future on feeding chickens.
When we went to the mother earth news fair this fall I was excited to find a semi-local organic feed supplier, Thayer Feed and Seed. They are out in Kansas about two hours from me, however, they deliver in the area. I ordered a bag of their rabbit feed to try it out. I wasn’t overly impressed, I have to admit. It was alfalfa meal, peas, oats, barley, wheat, flax, a mineral mix, and molasses. It smelled good, but it was more powdery then I cared for and the rabbits wasted tons of it digging through for things they liked. They just didn’t seem to really eat much of the feed, or at least not as much as they dumped out. So, I searched out another way to feed. I figured now why don’t I just try to seperate things out and feed them those ingredients, but seperately?
Winter feeding is going to be a bit different then summer feeding for the rabbits. This winter I am feeding:
Good, green, leafy third cutting alfalfa hay, free choice. The main component of comercial pellets (at least “top of the line” pelleted feed) and the organic feed I got is alfalfa, so the bulk of the rabbits diet is alfalfa hay. I bought 10 bales about a month and a half ago and at this point I have only gone through one bale. The chickens get the leaves that fall off the bale as I break off pieces for the rabbits. The chickens love the alfalfa more then I figured they would. The rabbits eat it eagerly as well. I was giving them just decent grass mix hay before when I was feeding the organic rabbit feed and the pellets, it helps their digestion having the fibers to help move things through. Rabbits are ruminents, similar to cows, and need the same kind of consideration when it comes to feeding. I was trying to stay as natural and organic as I could with my feeding, however, I was not able to find organic alfalfa around the area, or even being willing to drive a ways to get it. I was, however, able to find alfalfa that hadn’t been sprayed with any herbacides or pestacides. They fertalized the field in the spring, but that was it. I also made sure I wasn’t getting round up ready alfalfa, which, aparently is already in this area. People were advertising it like it was a good thing! Ick. I hope this isn’t a trend for this area….to go to all round up ready alfalfa.
They get a mix of grains (all organic.) I include in the mix: 2 parts oats, 1 part barley, 1 part wheat, 1/2 part peas, 1/4 part flax seed. I added the peas for more protien content, however, they don’t really eat them so when this bag is gone I won’t be ordering them again. The rabbits get amounts ranging from free choice (nursing does, grow outs) to 1/4 cup (bucks, dry does, pregnant does) to none (fat does/bucks.) Even for the ones that get nothing if the night is supposed to be really cold I will give them a tablespoon or so of the grain, just to help them produce heat. I’m a softie when it comes to cold weather, I want them to be able to stay warm.
Fodder is the other thing I feed. I grow it myself from a mix of barley, wheat and peas. When the bag of peas is gone I will be using only the wheat and barley, it seems to grow the fastest with none of the mold issues I have had with the peas. The rabbits LOVE their fodder. Its the first thing they go for when I go out to feed them. They are always excited when I put it in their cages. I just feed it straight on the wire, I tried putting it in containers for them but they just drug it around and it seemed pointless, so I removed them. I will be doing a whole post on growing fodder, so I won’t go into it here, but I will say that it cut my already low feed cost way down, even feeding all organic grains.
I spend less on feed for my rabbits, even with all my feed and growing grains being organic (I use the same grains to feed that I do to grow) then I did buying non organic comercial pellets. I’m not sure how much less, I haven’t kept track, but I can see the over all feed consumption is way down. They seem far more satisfied with what they are getting now then they did when I was feeding pellets. I’m not sure how much my growth rate is different from feeding pellets, however, I recently compared growing does of the same age, from the same litter, that I got from a friend that feeds only pellets and they were the same size. Even if the growth rate for the fryers is less on the natural feeding I am still happy to keep feeding them longer, since the feed cost is cheaper. I would rather have quality natural and organic nutrition going into something I am going to feed my family then faster growth rate.
They also get free choice natural mineral salt rocks in every cage. That way they can self regulate their mineral and salt intake. I’m not using those mineral spools that are sold in the rabbit section of the local TSC, I actually bought the “Salty Buck” mineral salt rock sold over in the deer hunting secton. They are cheaper, and from my research, better then the spools.
This summer I am planning on pasturing my grow outs, and feeding my breeders from the garden and yard. I will keep growing the fodder as long as I can as the weather warms up, however, the seeds need 60-70 degrees to sprout with no mold issues. We keep the house in the 65 degree range in the winter, but tend toward the 80’s in the summer. They will continue to get alfalfa hay and grain through out the summer. I’m curious how long my 10 bales of hay will last, I’m hoping well into the summer.
Disclaimer: I’m not advocating this is how you should feed your rabbits. You need to do your own research and decide for yourself. This is just how I have decided to feed my rabbits at this time. As I do more research, this may change, however, as of now, this is my general feeding program.