Rabbit Food

Rabbit Food: Need to save money or avoid risky GMO rabbit pellets? Switch to non-pelleted, non-GMO alfalfa, yard clippings and green forages. Fresh, all natural rabbits food is ideal for your rabbits' optimum health.

"People have raised rabbits for hundreds of years without the availability of a complete pelleted rabbit feed. Certainly it is possible to feed rabbits without pellets today?"

Yes, it is possible. Very possible. 


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We can think of at least 2 reasons why the backyard breeder might seriously consider shifting from pellets to non-pelleted rabbit food:

  • Cost. Yikes - pellets in some parts of the USA cost $20+ per 50-pound bag, and you can add tax and shipping on top of that.
  • Possibly dangerous, genetically modified (GMO) ingredients have found their way into our rabbit pellets, most notably corn and soybeans. Is GMO safe? The studies sponsored by Monsanto say yes. (Of course.) But don't believe it...yet. Unbiased scientific research is reporting some frightening stuff.  We'll present the research results that the GMO industry bigwigs are viciously trying to suppress, soon.

Both of these factors are propelling Aurora Rex Rabbit Ranch to explore the feasibility of stopping with the pellets and converting our rabbit food to a variety of alfalfa, forages and green foods.  And from the feedback our visitors give us, we think we're not the only ones!

Learn More - SayNoToGMOs.org

Castor rex buck turning garden into rabbit food

Want to try your hand at feeding non-pelleted rabbit food?
The ability of rabbits to recycle their dinner via coprophagy means they can subsist on relatively poor forages in nature. The chances are good that your rabbits will do fine as you get better and better at feeding them a balanced ration.

But, since your rabbits do depend entirely on YOU to provide all they need, you'll still want to...

  • Familiarize yourself with the forages and plants in your area that are safe for rabbits. We hope our list of Pet-Safe Plants will help. And... 
  • Brush up on your knowledge of rabbits' nutritional needs

We strongly recommend that you purchase a copy of Rabbit Production, 6th Edition or newer, as this resource gives researched guidelines on rabbits' nutritional needs. Now you can easily figure out how to supply the nutrition your rabbits need. The book is pricy, we know, but it will serve you well for many years. We bought our copy years ago -- it is still an excellent resource today.

We probably don't need to mention this, but...any time the rabbit farmer uses more than just pellets to feed the rabbits, the labor hours mount and life gets more complicated. The owner of a large commercial rabbitry might want to think long and hard before moving away from pellets as a complete rabbit food.

But for many folks around the globe who raise rabbits for hobby, show and meat rabbits in the back yard, the idea is worth serious consideration.

But first, let us tell you about our ...

Rabbit Food Experiment at
Aurora Rex Ranch

A couple years ago, we wanted to know what would happen, and if it was even possible, to feed rabbits on yard scraps alone.  To find out, we placed a pregnant doe into a very large outside cage (36 inches by 48 inches) and fed her on our yard scraps and grass clippings.

In due time she kindled a litter of 8 very nice sized kits.

On yard scraps alone, she was not able to produce enough milk for the kits. As the days went by, the kits began to look thin and hungry. We feel they would have died had we not intervened. When the kits were about one week old, we began offering pellets to the doe, along with the dandelions, weeds, grass clippings, yard scraps and woody twigs and leaves. The kits began to thrive.

At 14 days we removed the nestbox as usual. The kits immediately began nibbling on all the forages that their mama was eating, with no ill effects whatsoever.

Nutritional Analysis of:

Alfalfa Hay ~~~~~~ and ~~~~~~ Timothy Hay

   Carbs = 17% ....................................... 8.6%
   Fats =  ................................................. 1.5%
   Protein = 17% - 20% ........................... 7% - 11%
   Fiber = 20.8% - 27.3% ......................... 32%

Sources:
http://hayandfeedranch.com/hay_education.htm
http://www.alfalfaking.com/timothy-hay/
http://animalscience.uconn.edu/extension/publications/hayanalysis.htm


Because this extra-large cage was intended to contain large rabbits, we had originally constructed it of 2" x 4" wire mesh. For the kits, we added smaller, 1x2 wire to all 4 sides to contain the growing kits, but the little buggers can climb! One morning we found that they had all escaped the cage. From the age of 5 weeks and for the next several weeks, these kits fended for themselves, darting away from us but staying close to the cage, unable to figure out how to get back into the cage with the mama. They did fine, health-wise!

When we finally managed to catch them all, their weights were fully one pound less than traditionally pellet-fed kits of the same age (9-10 weeks). They were lean, muscular, and very healthy.

And that's the trade-off you may need to consider should you choose to do away with commercial rabbit pellets -- your rabbits will be healthy, but may not gain weight as quickly or as steadily as they would on pellets, if the nutrient balance is not just right. And, they may not top out at full senior weights. That said, I know of several breeders whose rabbits haven't seen pellets in 18 months, yet their offspring are hitting senior weights at 5 months old and are in peak health and condition.

It can be done, and it can be done exceptionally well, when you do your homework and understand the rabbits' nutrient needs. For example, our doe needed more protein in order to produce enough milk, and alfalfa hay would have supplied sufficient protein.

Pellets are nothing more than a concoction of rabbit food that answers all the needs of the rabbit. If you can adequately fill all those needs, your rabbits are likely to do even better than they do on pellets alone, due to the freshness of the forages. [I believe that fresh green feeds might actually strengthen the immune system on those rabbits with marginal health.]

Rabbits are versatile. They can run their food through a second time to extract even more nutrients the second time around. They'll be fine as you practice, and then master, the art of feeding non-pelleted, all natural rabbit food.

Nutritional Analysis of:

Black Oil Sunflower Seeds (BOSS) ~ and ~ Whole Oats
   Carbs = 13%.................................................. 70%
   Fats = 77%..................................................... 15%
   Protein = 10%............................................... 15%

Source: http://nutritiondata.self.com/


Plan A: Rabbit Food Sans Pellets

Your rabbits will likely do very well without pellets, if you can supply a balanced ration that meets the protein, fiber, carbohydrate (energy), fat and mineral needs of your rabbits. This is where Rabbit Production comes in sooo handy.

The basis of the rabbit food should be alfalfa hay, fed free choice, IF you can obtain the non-GMO variety. If not, use grass hay such as timothy along with high-protein forages.

When I wrote this page several years ago, GMO alfalfa was still just a glint in Monsanto's eye. The use of GMO alfalfa was deregulated in the USA in 2011. Dozens of countries around the globe now refuse to import GMO alfalfa because its use results in reproductive disorders and cancers, and failure to thrive or reproduce in some species.

Supplement the alfalfa with a wide variety of rabbit-safe, locally grown, organic, pesticide-free, non-GMO green stuff and branches:

  • Vegetables, fruits (in extreme moderation)
  • Herbs, flowers, berries, brambles
  • Grass hays
  • Grains and grain hays
  • Grass clippings
  • Yard scraps and cuttings
  • Leaves and branches of safe trees (helps provide chewing opportunity which helps keep teeth worn evenly)
  • Your choices will present themselves seasonally, and this is fine. Supplement with black oil sunflower seeds as needed
  • You'll need to familiarize yourself with plants that are safe and edible, and those that are not. Consult our Pet Safe Plants page for a head-start on your botany info.
  • Green forages are very high in water - from 65% to over 90%. Your rabbits' water needs will nearly disappear, at least during the months you can feed the fresh green stuff.
  • Provide each cage with a mineralized salt ring. The salt can corrode the cage wire, so if possible, suspend it in such a way that it doesn't come into contact with the wire, such as from the top of the cage.
  • Whatever the doe can eat, so can her kits. Without the rich food content of pellets, there is much less danger of dysbiosis (resulting in diarrhea) in the kits. 

Plan B: Half and Half -
Pellets and Non-pelleted Rabbit Food

According to Rabbit Production, "If palatable greens are fed free choice, the amount of pelleted feed used can be reduced by about 50%, with no adverse effects on performance" (6th Ed, pg. 173).

For Plan B, follow Plan A and offer (non-GMO) pellets as well.

You can cut the pellet ration in half, eventually offering what the animals will clean up without leftovers.

Feeding half the usual pellet ration and supplementing with green forages and grain might be the best of both worlds.

  • You'll save money by buying less pellets
  • Yard clippings are free, and if you can plant your own alfalfa and forages, all the better (and cheaper)
  • You won't have to worry about adding minerals or salt as the pellets and fresh greens will provide sufficient minerals.


Who Else is Feeding
Green Forages as rabbit food?

Polyface Farm in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia has been raising pastured rabbits for years. This environmentally friendly farm uses some non-GMO pellets along with forages. Fryers spend their last 6 weeks in movable "field shelters," from 6 weeks of age to 12 weeks. With fresh grass to graze, pelleted feed consumption plummets.

More on raising rabbits at Polyface from the blog:
Life As A Polyface Apprentice

Polyface Farm is waaay ahead of the curve and has a lot to teach the world about sustainable farming and about treating the earth - and the animals - wisely and kindly.

Here's a brief introduction to Polyface via a 4-minute YouTube video....












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