Sharing the Cornerstones of homesteading and good farm living.

Index

Well all this information started out on the original "Rabbit" page.  Somewhere along the line it became LOTS of information so I decided to give it a whole page for better organization.

Introduction

Feeding Journal  (chronicles our journey of trying to find the best feeding program for our rabbits, including feed recipes we have used or are currently using)

Feed Comparison Chart

More on Tractors and Forage feeding

Problems encountered

(Last update 8/17/15)

An introduction

Let me start by saying this:  I realize pellets are a great food for rabbits....formulated just for them with what I'm sure Why mess with what works right?

 With that said, we have been working to get our rabbits off pellets for awhile now.  For multiple reasons this is a path we have chosen to travel. 

 I have found it quite difficult to find a workable feed ration.  By workable I mean something that fits the following criteria: 

1)      Nutritionally correct

2)      Inexpensive

3)      organic(or close too it)

4)      non-GMO

5)      easily accessible and easy to find

6)       easily (and safely) stored

7)      Easy to feed

8)      Growth rates

9)      Kindling rates

Now all of these may not be important to every rabbit owner, it just happens to be what is important to me and in all honestly there really isn’t an order of importance other than #1 (nutritionally correct) being number one.

As I’ve said time and time again…there is no right or wrong way to do this.  Okay I’m sure feeding chocolate cake to your rabbits as a sole diet could be considered the wrong way in almost every rabbitry, but you get the true gist of my meaning  I hope

Commercial pellets of course fit many of these criteria, except usually 3 and 4. If I find a pellet that does fit 3 and 4 then it definitely doesn’t fit 2.   There are some options that work well in the summer months but don’t work so easily in the winter months (and vice versa of course).    Criteria and how a feedstuff rates in the criteria can also change depending on the rabbitry itself.  Somebody with 100 rabbits may find collecting forage a bit too daunting.  Another person may find growing certain foods impossible if they have long winters where nothing grows for 5 months out of the year.

I am not going to go over every option for feeding your rabbits naturally.  There are so many websites that have already done that.  Here is one of my favorites that I have had bookmarked for ages and refer to on a regular basis:  Rise and Shine Rabbitry.  (more links at the bottom of the page) However what I am going to do is share with you what we have tried and how we did it. 

Feeding Journal

This will be an on-going process of experimentations and learning so changes and additions will be made to this page often.  I find that often times people are either ashamed or embarrassed to admit when they make mistakes, that goes for life in general and doubly for those who are farming for a profit.  I have also found that those that are successful aren’t always willing to share how they reached that success.   I will put all the following information in the form of a journal so that the progress (or lack thereof) we make can be followed.  

NOTE: sSnce this is in journal format to make it easier to find what we are CURRENTLY feeding I have highlighted it in yellow.  Hope this helps. 

v  2012 – We started our rabbitry and our main feed was pellets and hay. Our pellets were a 16%  Producers Pride  brand from Tractor Supply.  We had good luck with these pellets.

v  Late 2013 – We have made a big push towards going all natural and non-gmo with all of our livestock.  Our goats, poultry and pigs have been switched over.  As alfalfa producers have started switching to gmo alfalfa we begin a more earnest search for an alternative to pellets found locally.  We started a small outside pen for some grow outs.  While that works well for the summer, it was pretty useless under 4 feet of snow.   I also found it too small to sustain plants/grasses with the number of grow outs passing through.

 

 

v  Very late 2013 – Fodder is fun!!  I almost forgot to even mention fodder….ooops!  Fodder is really a nice addition to the winter feeding routine.  We use it to supplement the chickens, pig and rabbits diets during the winter month. While it ranks high in palatability and nutrition, the space it takes, the time it takes to grow the fodder causes it to rank a little lower. I also had trouble maintaining a good source of sproutable barley seed.  There were start up costs, but they were minimal (but are definately tied to the amount of fodder you plan on feeding).  I tried oat and wheat and found for us the barley gave optimal results.   Since fodder grows best in the cooler months, I think that using this as a winter feed supplement in conjunction with foraged greens in the summer might really be the ticket!  I also think I can bring down the current score on Fodder (2.71) to give it a better ranking overall.  Especially now that I have found a reliable source of seed and I am working on a new set up for growing.    Some added info on fodder (2/19/15):  We are currently getting a conversion rate of 4.95.  This means for every pound of dry grains we put into the system we are getting approximately 4.95# of finished fodder out of the system.  Not a bad return as we are feeding about 20-30# of finished fodder a day so that leaves us feeding 4-6# of grains a day between the pigs and the rabbits (plus supplemental organic hog feed for the pigs and hay for both the rabbits and pigs). 

Link to our FB Fodder album HERE

 

 

 

 

 

 

v  Early 2014 – Foraging for feed is the new mission.  Tractors are the new cages.  We spent quite a bit of time collecting plants for daily feeding as well as for drying to use in the winter month (see more info HERE).  Comfrey, dandelion, plantain, blackberry, yarrow, mints, radish leaves, spinach, beet tops, grass, hay and amaranth were the biggest contributors to the feeding of the rabbits.  These plants were fed fresh to the rabbits.  The days I would harvest I would try and harvest double the amount fed and half was dried for winter use.  Unfortunately I was NOT even close to collecting daily so we fell extremely short for the winter.  We did find that the dried and ground plants were easy to store, extremely cost effective, healthy, very palatable and of course all natural. I found that grinding/powdering the dried plant material worked best for storage (taking up less space than whole dried plants) but that the rabbits were not overly fond of eating a powdered  or even just a very crumbled feed.   Besides that a fine feed falls through the screens on most J-feeders so an additional food dish was needed.  However I was making a nice little “cake” for the rabbits that seemed to eliminate how to feed the dried forages, but added a lot of time to the preparation of the feed.  I’m afraid I did not keep track of growth rates while on this method.  I think next summer I will be keeping track.     Tractors were also added to our feeding program as a way to supplement the feeding of grow outs only. 

v  Mid 2014 – after two litters with kindling issues we decided to switch out our 16% TSC pellet for a Kalmbach 18% pellet.   And got back to normal kindlings .  However since pellets were NOT the bulk of our summer feeding, we could have been experiencing a lack of nutrition on the heavy forage and grass diet or it just could have been due to the temperatures.   The kindling issues were two litters from proven does that were only one and two kits born to each doe.

v  Late 2014  – since collection methods left us significantly short  on dried forage (other than hay) I decided we needed another viable feed source.   I chose to add a grain mix to their diet. 

 

Grain Mix #1  -  (parts are figured by weight and can be ounces pounds or whatever you like as long as all “parts” are consistent)

Ø  1 part barley (whole)

Ø  1 part wheat (whole)

Ø  1-1/2 part oats (whole)

Ø  ½ part BOSS (whole)

This grain mix is fed in a separate dish from the pellets as I found scrabbling (digging through their feeders to get the “good stuff”) to be a problem if I mixed everything together.   Each rabbit gets about ½ cup per day.  Does in early lactation get about 1 cup a day and does with kits starting to venture out of the nest box get closer to  1 ½ cups a day (and even a little more if they have a really big litter helping them eat). 

Top dressing (per rabbit)

Ø  ¼  teaspoon  wheat germ

Ø  ¼ teaspoon flax seed

Ø  1 teaspoon dried and powdered comfrey leaf

This topdressing is added to each feeding and just sprinkled on top of the dish of grain.

With this mix I have also left pellets available but find they are eating hardly any!  Grass hay is fed daily.  On average I have seen many people refer to the amount of hay to feed as “a pile the size of the rabbit being fed”. I find this example does work well as a visual and is about how much we feed.    It is still currently early in the winter season but I will be adding the fresh fodder back into their diet again soon. 

  • v  Early 2015 - we finally added fodder back into the feed rotation.  The current goal is     going to be to phase out pellets and replace with the barley fodder. We will of course keep hay as a large portion of the feed and the grain mix will continue to be fed as well.  We did some research and found a few sites with recommendations on how much fodder to feed.  I think we will begin with  4-5% of body weight (dry does or bucks) and 6-7% (pregnant or lactating does and growouts).  We will see how that goes with litter sizes and growth rates. Update:  We are almost off pellets now!  It takes a little while to ramp up the barley growth, but by the end of February we should be completely sans pellets. 

  • v Late 2015 -  NO more pellets!   We have been completely off pellets. Even our gestating does are finally "organic".   Our feed is still Grain Mix #1.  We are offering it about three to four times a week in the summer.  Grass hay is available daily and fresh greens are available three to four times a week.  The greens this year have been the following:  Sunflowers (leaves and blossoms), Mallow(malva neglecta), lamb's quarters (Chenopodium album ), yarrow (Achillea millefolium ), red root pigweed (Amaranthus retroflexus ), spotted knapweed (Centaurea maculosa), plantain (both plantago major and lanceolata), dandelion, comfrey, chicory (Cichorium intybus), pineapple weed (Matricaria discoidea), white clover, beet greens, carrot greens, kale, mints, basil, oregano, lemon balm, catnip, bloody dock (Rumex sanguineus), radish tops, wintercress (Barbarea vulgaris), parsley, thyme, golden rod(Solidago virgaurea or Solidago canadensis), ragweed (Ambrosia artemisiifolia) and a variety of grasses.   We also offer what I would consider to be more like treats  than "food".  These treats include:  pinecones, apple branches w/leaves, mulberry branches w/leaves and willow branches w/leaves. 

  •  

Feed comparison chart

Chart and ratings of feedstuffs we have used: 

Keep in mind that none of the feeding methods or ingredients were scientifically tested or rated.  These are just my opinions and how I perceived the results.  I do plan on trying a few actual trials to judge different feedstuffs.  With a number of litters planned for the 2015 summer season I look forward to separating litters and recording feed intake vs rate of gain with different feedstuffs.   I will be sure to note any type of actual testing done with the charted feedstuffs.   

Ratings are on a basic scale of A-F.  An “A” rating would mean something perfectly matches my expectation for that criteria while a rating of “F” would mean that a feedstuff completely lacks in a certain department.   Some of the listed feeds/methods are things that may work best in conjunction with another method listed rather than on its own.  Remember – no right or wrong way!!  I will include notes as necessary.   NA  means that as of the current date we have not evaluated this aspect of the feeding method. I will give each line an overall score that is figured by totaling each rating (as a number) and getting an overall AVERAGE rating (the lower the number the better the rating). 

 

 

 

Nutrition

Cost

Ease to obtain

Organic or all natural

NonGMO

Storage

Easy to feed or prepare

Growth rates

Birth rates

Overall

Tractors

C

C

B

A

A

E

C

NA

NA

2.57

Notes:

Great for summer, but predators are still a concern and moving rabbits back to cages each night was a real pain. The initial cost was quite high to build the trators.

Fresh Forage

B

B

B

A

A

E

D

NA

NA

2.42

Notes:

Cost is very cheap as far as money, but it is VERY time consuming when you have a large number of rabbits

Dried Forage

B

B

B

A

A

C

E

NA

NA

2.28

Notes:

 

Fodder

B

C

C

A

A

E

D

NA

NA

2.71

Notes:

 

Hay

B

C

B

A

A

C

C

NA

NA

2.14

Notes:

 

Pellets 16%

B+

C

A

F

F

B

A

NA

NA

3

Notes:

Pellets overall score very high in the “easy of” categories, but not so high in the all-natural side of things. 

Pellets 18%

B+

C

A

F

F

B

A

NA

NA

3

Note:

 

Organic Pellets

B+

D

D

A

A

B

A

NA

NA

2.14

Notes:

The only place to date we have been able to find these is on line.  We have NOT used them but the data for the pellets is pretty easy to find on line so was able to include them knowledgably in this chart.

Grain mix #1

C

C

B

A

A

B

B

NA

NA

2

Notes:

Important to feed in a separate dish if this is used in conjunction with pellets. 

Grain mix #2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Notes:

 

 

 

Problems we have encountered

Early 2015:  Suspected mucoid enteritis -  Mucoid enteritis CAN be caused by diet.  You can see we have been experimenting with different feeding programs.  Since we have had a couple of instances of this now we have reduced the volume of grains in diet and worked to up the amount of fodder and made hay more readily available to all rabbits.   

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More on tractors and forage feeding. 

Based on our 2014 practices:   One of the best and easiest feeds for your rabbit(s) whether an indoor pet, a market rabbit or a breeder is a commericial pelleted feed.  We however also supplement with black oil sunflower seeds, hay and fodder.  Hay is an important food supplement for your rabbit that will also help alleviate any potential boredom issues, "wool block" and other digestive issues as well.  Black oil sunflower seeds are a great rabbit treat and a good source of additional fat and protien for nursing does.   Interested in more information on fodder (sprouted grains)? Check out our Facebook Album:  Fodder

Be sure to make ANY changes or additions to your rabbit's diet slowly.

This summer have tried a "rabbit tractor" that is utilized between the rows of our garden. (and just placed in the yard/grass).   This "tractor" will allow the rabbits to safely munch down the weeds on the paths of our vegetable garden.  We will hopefully be adding yet another dimension and putting together a larger colony type grow out tractor.  We have built a 4x8 chicken tractor and will duplicate that design (with a few slight modifications) for the rabbits.  Our breeders will utilize the smaller row tractors during supervised daytime excursions while we hope to keep the summer growouts in the tractors full time once weaned.

Below is pictured our "row tractor"

**We are careful to provide shade and safety when the rabbits are in their tractors**

Summer 2014 we have really ramped up our natural feeding program.  While we are still working on the fine tuning we have some basics in hand.  We hope to really track the weight gains on our grow-outs as we get even more into the natural feeding of them.  Here is a photo album located on our Facebook page that chronicles where we started and where we are going.  Feeding Rabbits Naturally.....our journey.  (Will open in a new window.)

I will have to say that pellets are far easier if you are running a large rabbitry or have limited time.  Our current number of breeders we have is nine and there are on average 20 grow outs of various ages here at any given time.  Since our growing season (about 5 solid months) is shorter than our non-growing season it is necessary to harvest enough food for 2.5 to 3 meals per rabbit each day during the growing season. 

Our current summer feeding program is as follows: (last update 8/7/14)

When it comes to ingredients we use a wide combination of the following items. We use primarily the leaves and stems (unless otherwise specified). 

  • Dandelion
  • Radish
  • Sunflowers (leaves)
  • Mallow (malva parviflora)
  • Plantain (plantago major)
  • Comfrey
  • Carrot (greens and root)
  • Mint (various types)
  • Amaranth
  • Clover (red)
  • Yarrow
  • Grass (assorted types but primarily timothy, brome, rye and orchard)
  • Beet tops (we have not yet added, but plan to try the roots as well)
  • Lamb's Quarters (when YOUNG only)
  • Spinach
  • Barley (seed)
  • Oats (seed)
  • (the next few items have been fed green only and as of this writing have not been dried for future use as listed below)
  • Cabbage
  • Lettuce (not iceberg)

During the summer we are feeding the above items green and fresh.  We have also been harvesting these items and drying them for winter use.  Once a batch of harvested plants is dried we powder each variety separately. Then we store each plant in it's own container until we are ready to process it into cakes.  The oats and barley are also "powdered" or ground finely. 

I have been experimenting with different methods of making cakes or blocks for feeding during the winter months. And of course we have been feeding the experiments to the rabbits.  The cakes have been very well received by the rabbits!!  So far the best ones have been made using the following formula. 

Items required:

  • Muffin tin or similarly sized container to press the mixture into
  • Dehydrator
  • Food processor
  • Scale that weighs ounces
  • Coconut oil
  • Water
  • Apple Cider Vinegar
  • Molasses
  • Powdered plants (We vary the plants used in each batch especially when it comes to comfrey, spinach and lamb's quarters - we also never use these three listed together in the same batch. Pretty much every batch contains the "safer" plants like mallow, dandelion and plantain however.)
  • Ground grains (oats and barley)

Method:

  1. I pretty much randomly chose the plants that go into each batch. Variety is good.  There is a basic formula I try and go by though.  Approximately 25-35% grasses, 10% oats/barley, 50% assorted plants/weeds and 15-5% comfrey, spinach or lamb's quarters.  Place dried greens and grains in the food processor and mix up.  You should weigh your dry ingredients after mixing, that way once done you will have an approximate weight of each "cake" you make (not including the other ingredients).  I have been trying to keep track of the weights of our cakes and keep them as uniform as possible for ease of measuring out feed in the winter. 
  2. Add approximately one teaspoon of blackstrap molasses and blend
  3. Add approximately two teaspoons of coconut oil per food processor "load". and blend.
  4. Add approximately a tablespoon of ACV and blend.
  5. Then add and blend water just to make the mixture "sticky", you should not be able to wring out any water but you should be able to make a ball that holds together well.  Check often.  
  6. Use a little coconut oil to "grease" your muffin tins or other containers.  You may not need to do this step,  feel free to try pressing one cake and see if they pop out of your container easily without the greasing.
  7. Press some of your mixture into the muffin tins.  You can use your fingers or the bottom of a glass or other flat bottomed utensil that fits into your container.
  8. Pop the wet "cake" out of the tins and place in dehydrator. 
  9. Dehydrate until dry. It is hard to say how long that will be though!   It really depends on your cake size, the amount of moisture you added and your dehydrator.  Cakes may be crumbly.  You can add a bit more coconut oil to your mix next time or try and press the mixture a little tighter.  Making the cakes might take a little trial and error.  I have found that the rabbits aren't to picky about the consistancy, but I think you will find a less crumbly cake easier to handle for storage. (Storage tip:  Pringles cans!)

Hay is a staple given to the rabbits all year.  Currently we are also still supplementing with pellets. We may always choose this supplementation with pellets.  I usually feed fresh greens in the morning and then pellets in the evening.  If they clean up all the pellets by morning I increase their fresh green ration.

PLEASE don't forget that if your rabbit is not used to greens that you must start slowly.  Since our does are on a diet of greens during the summer months, kits that are kindled at this time begin nibbling greens as soon as they are able and "naturally" get used to greens this way.  Once kits are at this stage however I am more cautious about what greens are offered and try to stick with the safest greens as the majority of the greens fed (dandelion, comfrey, plantain, mallow, grasses).  Going slow should also include the transition in the spring if you are going from completely dry feed (pellets, cakes, hay) to feeding fresh again.

DO YOUR RESEARCH regarding plants and their identification.  While here in Michigan we may call something one name, that same name may be used for a totally different plant in your state (or even different areas of my own state!).  I have provided the scientific name when I have it. 

There are MANY safe plants for rabbits.  I have chosen to use the ones that are most abundant in our area and are therefore the easiest to harvest.  If for instance you have things such as purslane, mint, borage, vetch or chicory I would say think about adding them to your daily summer feeds and to your winter mix.

NOTE: there are some items I have found listed as "safe" for rabbits that I would suggest caution when using with breeding rabbits due to some of them being used (in larger amounts) for things such as uterine stimulants or for drying up lactating does (among other things).  Once again do your research on your plants and herbs. 

Items I plan on adding in the future to the mix:

  • Sunflower seeds
  • Blackberry leaves
  • Raspberry leaves
  • Willow

Here are some links I like that include "safe" and "toxic" plants for rabbits: (links will open in new window)

Rise and Shine Rabbitry

Basil's Garden

Rabbit Advocates (safe list)

Rabbit Advocates (toxic list)

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Farm Production Totals

Wow...I'm WAY behind in posting totals.  I guess 2017 will be a better year.  ;)

2017

(last update 6/22/17)

Meat: 0

Vegetables/fruits: 48#

Eggs (chicken only):  1038

Honey: 0

Maple Syrup: 0 (this year is a bust)

Fiber: 2.94 oz

Babies born/hatched: 97

Jars into the pantry (dehydrated and canned): 16

Milk: 20+ gallons (I haven't been keeping track very well!)

New Additions:  12


2015

 

(last update 10/31/15)

 

Meat: 362#

Vegetables/Fruit: 551.88#

Eggs: 1918

Honey: 28#

Maple Syrup:  2 gallons

Angora Fiber:

Babies Born/hatched:  157

Jars into the pantry: 113

Milk: 16 gallons

New additons:  60 (plus a nuc of bees)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2014

Meat: 240#

Vegetables/Fruit: Didn't keep track

Eggs: 3348

Honey: 1 pint

Maple Syrup: None

Angora Fiber: 5 oz

Babies Born/hatched: 168

Jars into the pantry: 150

Milk: 5 gallons