Let me start out this post with a disclaimer: I don't know anything about anything.
Point being, I'm no expert. I'm barely even a novice. At everything I do.
That being said, I've taken on the challenge of naturally feeding our meat rabbits.
Well, to be frank, it's cheaper then pellets. At least here in LoAl, where weeds and grasses grow rapidly all year round. If we lived somewhere with a shorter season, it may not be. But right now, I've got a yard full of weeds and shrubbery (what I've affectionately termed “the jungle”) that are happy to die for the rabbits nutritional gain.
And I'd like to show you how this is working, if for no other reason than to put my process down into words for future reference. Making my mistakes public for the world to see? I'm all about it.
Initially, I began to study up on all the local grasses and weeds so as to be able and identify the “safe” vegetation for the rabbits.
Then, after three minutes, I totally got bored and decided to wing it instead.
So, bucket in hand, I went through my yard and picked up stuff like this:
I read somewhere they like to eat flowers. So I put some of these in there, too:
So here we are. A variety of weeds and grasses in bucket.
Then, I gathered up the scraps from the kitchen, which includes mostly cabbage leaves, tops of strawberries, old lettuce or greens, carrot and celery ends, apple cores, and pieces of leftover or old bananas.
Said scraps (which are fairly few) also go into weed and grass bucket.
I keep the weed and grass bucket right next to the bucket of pellets on top of the cages. So as to avoid any neighborhood dogs from diggin' their nose into my bucket. Which they do. Until I chase them off with a broom cursing them. Which I do.
Come feeding time (which is between 7-8 a.m.), I grab a large handful of the weeds, grasses, and scraps. Each rabbit gets a large handful. Then, they get the same amount of hay (sometimes they nibble on this, sometimes they eat all of it, and sometimes they just use it as bedding). For the time being, I'm also continuing to give them about a quarter cup (or slightly less) of pellets, about every other day.
The experience I've had with cattle tells me that mineral deficiencies can cause serious problems in animals. I've been trying to collect a variety of natural feeds from varying sources so that they get a large array of nutrition, however, until I'm sure they're having all requirements met through the natural feed, I like to keep them on a bit of the pellets to ensure they're getting all the trace minerals and such they need to thrive.
Before I bought the rabbits, they had been on straight pellets. What's cool is that after a few weeks of having natural feeds introduced into their diet, their activity and energy levels have been noticeable higher!
They're perky! And vibrant!
One of them will even come at me on her hind legs to snatch the greens out of my hand when she sees me coming – she gets so excited!
The only explanation I can think of is that their body's thrive off of fresh food, just like ours. The pellets have been dehydrated, ground, heated, and formed – they still have nutrition, no doubt, but it's hardly the same as a freshly harvest bucket of foliage.
And I love to see them nibbling on the roots and stems and leaves – it's so natural! (If my love for watching them factors into this equation anywhere).
Every rabbit will choose the natural feed over the pellets. They will nibble on the pellets after their natural feed is gone, but not nearly with the same enthusiasm.
Because we followed the advice of expert rabbit farmers (growers? breeders? raisers?) we never had any problems with diarrhea while switching the rabbits over to this new diet. That's a blessing. Because rabbit diarrhea? Honestly? No thanks.
The rabbit poo, as you know, is like a goats – little balls. I've been scraping it out from under the cages twice per week (along with the extra hay that has fallen through the bottom of the cage), and have been adding it straight onto my potato patch. Along with some leaves, it's the perfect compost/mulch for building up around the plants!
This is probably more information than you wanted to know on a rabbit's diet and poo. I know what you're secretly hoping for is for me to share the pictures of us when we harvest our first litter (which is eight weeks+ away). But if we don't feed 'em right, our harvest will surely suffer. Working out a proper feeding system is absolutely essential to raising any sort of animal – be it for meat, eggs, or milk.
The kits will be weaned onto a small amount of pellets and lots of natural feed. Though 100% pellet-fed kits will grow faster to harvest weight, we will be able to save money by naturally feeding them – with the added bonus of having “grass-fed rabbits” for practically free. I've read about some growers who say that young kits can't handle all the natural feed – that it will upset their gut. But when I think about rabbits live wild in nature, the kits no doubt are weaned onto foliage – ain't no pellets in the field, man. Something tells me with proper handling and care, they will do fine.
By the way, the rabbits are only fed once per day. And a tightly stuffed bucket of grass and weeds will last about a week.
Which means that my five or ten minutes spent harvesting the foliage pays off big time.
Now that's what I'm talking about, baby!