There seem to be a couple of
different lines of thought on how to best feed pets and
livestock. For many years I have not followed what seems to
be the popular wisdom and have had good results as far as I can
tell. The competing schools of thought seem to be:
- Measure/meter the amount of food and dispense it at regular
- Keep food available at all times, and let the animal feed when
We have been following the
second school of thought with the rabbits, and as far as we can tell,
it's working just fine. I have 4 and 10 year old Labradors who
have been on that method all their life and they haven't had any
problems with overeating or weight. My opinion (and it's just an
opinion based on my own observations) is that if ample food is always
available, the animals get used to that and then don't try to gorge
themselves when food is made available. I generally make an
entire 50 lb sack available to my labs in a plastic bin. When it
gets low, I buy another sack.
Dawn found that the other
school of thought is discussed a bit in the literature she read.
They also suggested feeding at evening time. The idea behind this
seems to be that most wild rabbits feed nocturnally, perhaps mostly due
to predation. I'm not sure how relevant a wild rabbit's behavior
is to a completely domesticated rabbit, but that seems to be the
conventional wisdom from some sources.
Dawn recently started
measuring how much feed our rabbits are consuming. As we were
getting started, we didn't keep track very well. We just filled
and let them go. Our results for the first measured week with
feeders constantly full (by volume, we'll get some weights later):
- Doe: 11 cups of feed consumption per week
- Bucks: 8 cups of feed consumption per week
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The doe does seem to be
packing on more weight than the bucks, but the does seem to be heavier
for most breeds according to the reference material we've looked
at. Our purchased buck is just reaching maturity, while our
donated buck and doe have several weeks head start and have been mature
for a couple of weeks now. We don't have numbers on how much feed
the rabbits consume while young and growing, but plan to get that once
we have a litter. As we go along, we'll start keeping better
track of how much feed they consume from "birth to oven".
Along with our initial
experience with our first buck using his food dish as a litter box,
Dawn has observed that it helps to keep the feeder suspended off the
cage bottom. If it is kept raised a few inches from the cage
floor, it helps prevent them from soiling the feed. I'm not sure
why rabbits seem to defecate in their food source, but they seem to do
it quite readily. At first I thought maybe they were just
depositing cecal pellets there, but it doesn't
seem to be so. Dawn has also suggested that keeping the feeder on
the inner walls of the cage keeps rain and dew from dampening the food,
thereby preventing waste.
As for supplementing store
bought feed, we have been feeding them some purchased timothy hay as it
is recemmended for proper nutrition in most of the references we have
found (and my local vet made just this one recommendation when
asked). We have also been feeding them regular doses of fresh
grass from the yard (mostly bahia grass) which they really seem to
enjoy. When allowed to graze in the yard, they seem to really go
for the clover. They also absolutely love eating fresh oak
leaves. I'm not sure it's too healthy for them (I haven't seen it
come up on any toxic plant lists) but they will instantly devour any
fresh oak leaves or twigs we give them.
We plan to experiment with
different amounts of grass and forage as feed and try to keep track of
how much it reduces their dependence on traditional rabbit
pellets. We also would like to try a portable "rabbit tractor"
where they can forage within a pen. I'm not sure how well this
will work out, but it is something we intend to try. It will be
interesting trying to build a rabbit proof portable pen that can be
wheeled around to the most tasty forage in the yard.
Along with regular feeding,
it's also important to provide sticks, twigs, etc. for them to chew
on. It's important for proper dental maintenance, but it also
gives the rabbit something to play with; they can be surprisingly
playful and inquisitive. They seem to eat greener twigs pretty
quickly, but dried twigs and branches are better for them to maintain
their teeth. Just be careful not to provide a branch that could
be toxic. Walnut and a few fruit tree branches can be toxic,
along with others.
All in all, we've just been
having fun learning as we go and completely understand that we are
amateurs at this so far. As time goes on, we'll get a better feel
for what works and what doesn't. We're looking forward to
learning all about breeding them since we believe our doe has reached
maturity. Most of all, this has been an enjoyable learning
experience that we hope will provide some meat for the table and
perhaps a measure of self sufficiency.
Shannon and Dawn
will be sharing their experiences with raising meat rabbits on Tuesday
afternoons. They homestead on three acres in Louisiana when time off
from life and working as a sys admin permits.