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going pellet free with meat rabbits?

 
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Hello fellow permies,
I live in a zone 3-4 and I am raising meat rabbits. I am wondering, due to rising feed costs, if it is possible to raise rabbits on a zero pellet diet?
Currently I breed my does 2x a year: spring and summer, for a fall/ winter harvest. I would like to move away from pellets due to the rising costs, however we do not produce enough greens year round at the moment to sustain feeding them on garden scraps. I have looked into fodder and attempted to grow it myself however my trays tend to mold despite the 3x a day rinsing and draining. I suspect my log house suffers from inadequate ventilation. Perhaps a fan would benefit my circumstances?
Do any of you raise rabbits pellet free and if so what do you feed, how much do you grow, and how do you preserve the feed for use later?

thank you all for your help
 
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If you can get good Timothy &/or orchard hay and keep it available to them 24/7, and supplement that with whatever greens and other vegan kitchen scraps you have, you don't need pellets.
 
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This is the one animal i believe i can truly feed from onsite sources. They would get all of the premium grass(lawn mower/scythed) i can find. I would look into what plants rabbits do like to eat as i do not know if they like everything our soils grow.

I imagine they would eat leafs as well. Apple leaves, maple leafs, poplar leafs.


One nice thing about fresh food is they require a lot less water to eat it. My goats often do not touch the water after getting freshly scythed grass.


I am really curious how this goes for you Kathrine. Any chance you could update permies every few weeks with how it is going for you?
 
Katherine Burelle
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Thank you Jordan, I do have lots of poplar in my area and as we push back the forest to make room for gardens I will attempt to feed them the leaves and branches. I will keep you updated with my progress. I do not expect to be fully pellet free seeing as out winter months are long and saving leaves would seem like a silly task. Hoping to gain more and more recommendations on this thread and try everything I can. Thank you for your input
 
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Velacreations has a large list of safe foods for rabbits. You'll need to scroll down and click on the plus sign.
 
Katherine Burelle
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Joylynn Hardesty wrote:Velacreations has a large list of safe foods for rabbits. You'll need to scroll down and click on the plus sign.



thank you so much! I will go through the list
 
pollinator
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One thing to remember is rabbits have been raised for generations on a pellet diet.  You will have to reselect for rabbits that do well on locally raised food.  There is an old book by Knable that talks about that subject.  https://www.amazon.com/Raising-rabbits-Ann-Kanable/dp/0878571833  Not sure I would pay what Amazon wants but if you can find it at a decent price it has a lot of good information.
 
pollinator
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I have a small colony living in my barn with the chickens, they live totally free and I do nothing to help them survive that I don't do for the chickens. they have free choice of whole wheat berries and occasionally different types of grain. once a year I pile a 4x4 ish corner of the barn with hay that they tunnel in and eat.
throughout the growing months of the year 6 months I give something fresh everyday sometimes grass and other herbaceous plants sometimes whole branches off of trees.
there are constantly new batches of babies showing up so I know this system is working for me.
 
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Check out "Beyond the Pellet" by Boyd Craven Jr. and Nick Ferguson's fodder tree selections: https://rareplantstore.com/#pricing.  I can attest that my rabbits love willow and mullberry.  You do have to acclimate them slowly to let their gut bacteria keep up.  I've been working on building up my rabbits' gut bacteria for a couple months now and they still get runny poops occasionally.  I will say that they go APE over the fresh-cut grass hay. As soon as I open the bag (old feed bags), they all start bouncing around in excitement.

My next garden project will be a "bunny garden".  I'm sure that I will have to enclose it somehow to keep the wild rabbits out but it should be worth it.
 
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we cook a lot, and for most of the year kitchen scraps + garden waste is enough. I go through two dry spells when the garden is kind of bare (we have two dry periods, one in winter and another in summer), and if I can't get out to cut tall grass or pull dandelions [yes i fill my trunk with dandelions, I have a special spot in a public park] then I feed hay. I sprout lentils and peas, and the rabbits really only get pellets when I travel for a month every year and my husband doesn't have the time/inclination to pursue rabbit feed the same way.
I also get veg trimmings from a fruit/veg store. Right now have half a barrel of broccoli leaves out there, practically rabbit crack. My rabbits also love mulberry leaves, I think it's totally possible to do without pellets.
 
pollinator
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You can be 100% pellet free, BUT you probably can’t get anyone else to do chores for you EVER. Getting competent help to do chores if you have to leave for work/vacation/family emergency is nearly impossible for anything more complicated than a cat or dog. Have a plan in place to give them one bag of leaves or bundle of tree hay.

If you can’t make it simple enough that a four year old can do it, your city friends that want to play homesteader to help you can’t either. I nearly lost a milk cow learning that lesson the hard way.  
 
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VERY IMPORTANT: Make sure plants you seek to feed are rabbit safe!
There are too many regurgitated/non-researched/ cut and pasted lists on the internet!! Wood from all stone fruit trees is TOXIC (Like peach on list posted above). Do not feed.

While many trees are wonderful miners of nutrients and there are many you can use for fodder, some should not be fed. Most evergreens should not be fed. (Oleander, Holly, Conifers (pine cones ok)

Another point-  Elm causes miscarriages and should not be fed to pregnant does.  
Feedipedia has some very good information including nutrient profiles.

We raise varietal pomegranates which tend to grow a lot of suckers at the base of each tree.
Turns out Pomegranet contains tannins that prevent coccidia! We thin the smaller fruits to get larger fruit. Cut in half these are frozen and fed in the heat of summer. (one half per rabbit)

Plants containing PRE-biotics encourage beneficial gut bacteria=
(some examples- leaves and stalks from Sunflower and Artichoke)
In winter we feed Black Oil Sunflower Seeds ("BOSS") and diy grain mix for extra calories.

We are traditional feeders & raise less common Lilac breed rabbits that we show, so Flesh condition is still a concern. As a vegetarian- I NEED bunnies for my soil and plant health:  Our rabbits recycle/reduce plant material into instant plant food/ compost,( we call them silent environmental insta-chippers) We turn the compost beneath the hanging cages daily covering waste keeps flies down(sometimes employing Laying hens- win/win)
Ultraviolet-UE2.jpg
Lupin Lapin Rabbitry
Lupin Lapin Rabbitry
 
pollinator
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I do a mix of forage and pellets: they get more forage in the spring, summer, and autumn when fresh-harvested forage is plentiful and less in the winter when it’s not so plentiful. Pellets are a very concentrated food, so if you are raising meat rabbits you may have a slower growth rate in the grow-outs. (Similar, but not exactly the same, to the difference in weight gain between grain-fed cows and grass-fed cows.) For me, it means an extra week or so for our Silver Fox rabbits to reach goal weight.

This is also another place where diversity is your friend! If you are feeding a variety of forage types the rabbits will get more of the nutrients they need to be happy and healthy. Mine get very excited about kale, fresh-cut “hay” (mixed grasses) with the seed heads on, and apple branches with young leaves,  but what really sends them over the moon is salad burnett. It’s a perennial “weed” that around here starts its  growth in January, so it’s available when not much else is.  When I’m out in the yard cutting it to bring them, I can hear the binkies start going in the barn!
 
pollinator
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I’ve raised  rabbits on a pellet free diet, but it is very labor intensive.  Start them slowly due to digestive problems if you change from dry pellets to all wet forage suddenly.  Take a week or two and gradually start with hay, then a little forage, gradually more greens and fewer pellets.  Remember, too they need a variety, not a huge amount of any one thing.  They will need a salt/mineral block at all times and fresh water if feeding a lot of hay. They eat a lot considering their body weight. The rabbits I started with had never had forage until I got them.  I probably changed over a little too fast and they lost a little weight in the beginning, but after a month or so picked back up and suddenly their eyes were shiny, they were obviously healthier and more active and had normal size litters and enough milk to feed them.  They require a good protein source, and I could not afford alfalfa hay, so opted to feed high protein forages like regular or greater ragweed, mulberry leaves, lespedeza, lamb’s quarters and chicory.  Sunflower leaves are high in protein, dry easily, are easy to grow and they love the seed heads green or dried.  They adore bean leaves, especially love sweet pea vines and I dried those and anything else I could find/forage for winter to use as hay.  Any good hay should be fed free choice at all times.  Honey locust leaves are high in protein, they relish branches so they can chew on the green bark and eat it.  Helps keep their teeth worn down too.  They can get parasites from fresh forage, especially if it is damp.  Give them a sprig of basil now and then or oregano to help keep them wormed, also pumpkin or winter squash and it’s seeds are wormers and a high carb, really good to put weight on and for energy to keep warm in cold weather.  I grow those giant long neck butternut because they store for a year in my spare bedroom, up off the floor on boxes.  They can weigh 25 lbs. each and I cut off what I need, keep the rest unrefrigerated on the baker’s rack in the kitchen and it will last a week or longer that way.  

You will have to remove any uneaten fresh forage daily so it does not mold.  

Good luck and enjoy your bunny adventures!
 
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I've been free feeding my rabbits for a couplen of years now by turning their cages upside down and moving them around on tree he grass/weed combos that grow wild around my house.

The tops of the cages have larger openings and the rabbits easily pull the vegetation through the "floor" that way. It is enough support though that I can drag the cages to a new spot each day without risking any rabbit foot injuries.

I place a piece of plywood or some other flat material on the cage tops to keep them out of the sun and rain and they are good to go.

I do keep a water bottle on each cage and a salt lick as well. I'm still building up my winter feed solutions with willow and poplar plantings for when it's snowy.

I usually take a week or so to transition up on to pasture by gradually increasing the amount of greens I add to the cage each day until they are 100% eating greens. I leave the pellet food in as well and when they stop eating the pellets and the poops are good, it's out to pasture.
 
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Currently I feed my herd of buns a mix of hackberry tree hay and alfalfa. Pellets are not worth what you pay.
 
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I have a technique to help pellet rabbits transition quickly to fodder. I thought it might help others.

I often get rabbits that other people have culled from their show rabbit lines.  I don’t have time to harvest all of them at once and don’t want to feed them expensive pellets until I can process them.

I have a temporary enclosure that I put out in the yard. I put my rabbits that have already converted to forage into the enclosure and let them eat the grass/weeds all the way down.  Then I trade them out for the pellet only rabbits. There is not much fresh green to eat at that point, and the ground has been pooped on quite a bit from my rabbits that already have the correct bacteria combinations to digest fresh material. I have a theory that as the new rabbits eat tiny amounts of new growth that is “inoculated” with the bacteria from poop, they pick up the bacteria themselves.

Every morning and evening I move the enclosure just a bit so there is more fresh grass exposed, increasing the amount of new fresh space each time.  Of course they have pellets in the enclosure as well until they have fully transitioned. It takes about three days, but I’ve never lost a rabbit doing it this way.
AA962DCA-5969-4A14-8ED8-9D5C34DFA226.jpeg
[Thumbnail for AA962DCA-5969-4A14-8ED8-9D5C34DFA226.jpeg]
 
Katherine Burelle
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Juju Bisch Pollock wrote:VERY IMPORTANT: Make sure plants you seek to feed are rabbit safe!
There are too many regurgitated/non-researched/ cut and pasted lists on the internet!! Wood from all stone fruit trees is TOXIC (Like peach on list posted above). Do not feed.

While many trees are wonderful miners of nutrients and there are many you can use for fodder, some should not be fed. Most evergreens should not be fed. (Oleander, Holly, Conifers (pine cones ok)

Another point-  Elm causes miscarriages and should not be fed to pregnant does.  
Feedipedia has some very good information including nutrient profiles.

We raise varietal pomegranates which tend to grow a lot of suckers at the base of each tree.
Turns out Pomegranet contains tannins that prevent coccidia! We thin the smaller fruits to get larger fruit. Cut in half these are frozen and fed in the heat of summer. (one half per rabbit)

Plants containing PRE-biotics encourage beneficial gut bacteria=
(some examples- leaves and stalks from Sunflower and Artichoke)
In winter we feed Black Oil Sunflower Seeds ("BOSS") and diy grain mix for extra calories.

We are traditional feeders & raise less common Lilac breed rabbits that we show, so Flesh condition is still a concern. As a vegetarian- I NEED bunnies for my soil and plant health:  Our rabbits recycle/reduce plant material into instant plant food/ compost,( we call them silent environmental insta-chippers) We turn the compost beneath the hanging cages daily covering waste keeps flies down(sometimes employing Laying hens- win/win)



Thank you for this! I did print out a comprehensive list of dangerous / toxic trees and plants to avoid, on that end I think I should be fine. I am interested to know what ratio and ingredients are in your DIY grain mix? I have been avoiding grains but perhaps I was misinformed. I do mix my own grains for chicken feed, so this might be a good alternative for me as well. Please share :)
 
Juju Bisch Pollock
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RABBIT GRAIN Mix=
WHOLE or crimped wheat, oats and/or Barley plus Black oil sunflower seeds('BOSS')
We feed grains dry or sprouted.  Crimped, steamed or otherwise altered grains will not sprout.
Adults get about Tablespoon dry grain -More during cold weather: NONE of this mix when weather is hot!

Some rabbits hull the grains, some will eat them whole.
If you think rabbit isn't eating them, make sure bowl isn't full of hulls!
We feed grains separately in a tip proof dish, otherwise rabbits will dig through it for their favorites.
Very young bunnies get rolled "5 Grain Cereal" from grocery Bulk Bins.
If we feed sprouted grain, then we don't feed dry grain blend.
If you smell ammonia in your rabbit area, back off on the % amount of grain / protein you are feeding.
 
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There is a book: Beyond The Pellet by Boyd Craven. My girlfriend at dirtpatchheaven YouTube channel has a a few informative videos about how she does it. I've grown oat grass "fodder" for my rabbits. Plus weeds all summer. I tried ONLY a rabbit tractor last summer, and my babies died of not enough protein, my vet said. So I still supplement with pellet food in my rabbit tractor. But it's so much less!!

And I have an alfalfa patch growing this year that I hope will pump out hay for them this winter.

There are so many ideas 🙂
20220604_122548.jpg
Rabbits in tractor
Rabbits in tractor
 
Katherine Burelle
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Rebekah Harmon wrote:There is a book: Beyond The Pellet by Boyd Craven. My girlfriend at dirtpatchheaven YouTube channel has a a few informative videos about how she does it. I've grown oat grass "fodder" for my rabbits. Plus weeds all summer. I tried ONLY a rabbit tractor last summer, and my babies died of not enough protein, my vet said. So I still supplement with pellet food in my rabbit tractor. But it's so much less!!

And I have an alfalfa patch growing this year that I hope will pump out hay for them this winter.

There are so many ideas 🙂



I am sorry for your loss, that must have been both sad and very disappointing. This is a learning journey for sure! This is my first year breeding rabbits for meat so I value this feedback immensely. Thank you for sharing
 
Katherine Burelle
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Juju Bisch Pollock wrote:RABBIT GRAIN Mix=
WHOLE or crimped wheat, oats and/or Barley plus Black oil sunflower seeds('BOSS')
We feed grains dry or sprouted.  Crimped, steamed or otherwise altered grains will not sprout.
Adults get about Tablespoon dry grain -More during cold weather: NONE of this mix when weather is hot!

Some rabbits hull the grains, some will eat them whole.
If you think rabbit isn't eating them, make sure bowl isn't full of hulls!
We feed grains separately in a tip proof dish, otherwise rabbits will dig through it for their favorites.
Very young bunnies get rolled "5 Grain Cereal" from grocery Bulk Bins.
If we feed sprouted grain, then we don't feed dry grain blend.
If you smell ammonia in your rabbit area, back off on the % amount of grain / protein you are feeding.



thank you so much, these are grains I have on hand. Would you say that if they are sprouted it is fine to feed them in the summer when it is hot? Seeing as they are sprouted they should have ample moisture content and added nutrients. My rabbits are caged in a self cleaning wire bottom cage, I will need to devise a system to avoid waste otherwise my efforts will be in vain... although... I suppose I could just scoop the grains and throw them into the chicken coop; chickens are rather resourceful foragers?
 
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My contribution to this thread is that you can do "tree hay." Last summer, I pruned my willow and mulberry trees in the fall right before the leaves dropped and cut them into pieces and stored them in old feed bags. Now, it is very dry where I live so it dried fine this way for me. You might need to dry it first in a very humid area. Anyway, my rabbits went after the dried willow as well as they did fresh. They liked the mulberry better dry.

My current goal is to be feeding them 50% forage by the end of this year. I do still use pellets and timothy hay now. Whatever you are feeding the mamas, you can feed the kits but you always want to start slowly with any new foodstuff of course. I don't have any pasture at all and it is hard to grow veggies. I have some success but if I micro irrigate the willow trees, they will produce a lot for me. And the nutritional composition is excellent for rabbits.
PXL_20220521_162519468.MP-(1).jpg
growouts enjoying willow
growouts enjoying willow
 
Katherine Burelle
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Karen McVause wrote:My contribution to this thread is that you can do "tree hay." Last summer, I pruned my willow and mulberry trees in the fall right before the leaves dropped and cut them into pieces and stored them in old feed bags. Now, it is very dry where I live so it dried fine this way for me. You might need to dry it first in a very humid area. Anyway, my rabbits went after the dried willow as well as they did fresh. They liked the mulberry better dry.

My current goal is to be feeding them 50% forage by the end of this year. I do still use pellets and timothy hay now. Whatever you are feeding the mamas, you can feed the kits but you always want to start slowly with any new foodstuff of course. I don't have any pasture at all and it is hard to grow veggies. I have some success but if I micro irrigate the willow trees, they will produce a lot for me. And the nutritional composition is excellent for rabbits.



I do quite like the idea of tree hay, thanks to all the recommendations I have started feeding young maple branches, we also have an abundance of poplar trees here. I will try those as well. A willow would be ideal due to the ease of gathering leaves and branches but there are none in my area. The native trees that grow on my property are: maple, poplar, birch, oak, pine, raspberry, blackberry, and blueberry. I have read that birch is toxic but I wonder if it is just the bark; and perhaps the leaves are safe?
 
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Another good fast growing tree type fodder that rabbits really like (and other animals too)  are lilacs.  

rabbitlilac.jpg
[Thumbnail for rabbitlilac.jpg]
 
Katherine Burelle
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Heather Staas wrote:Another good fast growing tree type fodder that rabbits really like (and other animals too)  are lilacs.  



Thanks! We do have Lilacs in the area I can forage :)
 
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Jerusalem Artichokes is an easy to grow prolific producing fodder plant for my rabbits.  They love the leaves, stalks and the roots.  The best part is that these plants are perennials; they come back every year.  I just cut a few three or four foot tall stalks and pull a couple of smaller ones for the roots as well.  I have a nice patch for the bunnies.  
 
Katherine Burelle
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Thank you so much, John Silver Fox, I never thought of Jerusalem artichokes, what a fantastic idea! And you are right they keep coming back so that is a nice sustainable option!
 
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I think this is smart
fodder.jpg
[Thumbnail for fodder.jpg]
 
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I’m starting a patch of Jerusalem artichoke to use for feed but I have managed to cut my pellet rations way down just by feeding a bunch of grasses to the rabbits every day. I will probably always keep pellets available but, after working up slowly, my guys prefer the grasses but occasionally reject what I bring them and I don’t want them going without.
 
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My rabbits always loved the ragweed, including greater ragweed, which is pretty high in protein.  Keep in mind that mulberry is a complete protein and has high digestibility compared to most other forages.  
 
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My bunnies are pets not meat and I haven't had kits for 8 years but I have moved my bunnies to full fodder during the pandemic. They are in a rabbit tractor and they get moved to a fresh patch of yard every morning and night, if that area has slim Pickens I might move them around noon to. I try to grab whatever weeds are blooming that they can eat as well as blackberry, rose, and apple clippings to supplement kitchen scraps from mine and 2 neighbor's houses. They have children 6 and under that love "helping feed" the bunnies. Look at PEA bb feed vertebrates 1 gallon of kitchen scraps to see pictures of my girls bunny buzzsaws through everything. https://permies.com/wiki/168777/Share-scraps-vertebrate-animal-system
https://permies.com/wiki/108591/pep-animal-care/Put-Straw-Winter-Animal-Warmth also I use fall big leaf maple leaves as straw/fodder for as long as they last.
 
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Location: Maine, USA zone 5a
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I have a pet bunny for the garden's sake (and of course he's cute!).  I weed dandelions, plantain leaves, clover, mint , raspberry leaves and wild strawberry leaves out of my garden for the bunny every day during the summer.  He ignores the pellets for days sometimes...but it did take some convincing to get the young girl who pet-sat for me whilst I was away for a week to do that much work.  
 
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I couldn’t figure out why anyone would plant such a stinky to burn, brittle, prone to rot and split, ugly tree as that columnar ornamental Lombardi Poplar. Turns out it was originally a major fodder tree in Italy. They tend to have lots of little whip (not sure of proper term?) branches in reach at the base. Trees along driveways people are usually happy to let you have/trim those. I do Guinea Pig rescue and they lu-uuve those leaves. Plus, bonus, you get a huge leaf drop in the fall. If you have a dry place to store them it's amazing how much even one tree will drop. Just be cautious. I don’t gather along roads and ask about do they use herbicides etc
 
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Mine love willow and hazel, and for now there is plenty of it to forage for. Then there is comfrey (bocking 14 cultivar) in the garden along with other greens and veg (jummy chard, blah courgette), rose, blackberry and raspberry leaves, oregano (more needs time to grow first). Carrot both root and tops make bad bunny feed, to much sugar and tops to much calcium?
Base is a haycube i can get for decent price here and hay otherwise (hay is more messy in solid floor cage with chopped bedding, mixes and makes kind of sponge i.e. wet feet= health trouble. Pellets here (NL) are supplemental, not main feed. Although i breed them for meat pellet wise over summer i feed the amount for a pet bunny (10 grams/kg of bunny), for my dwarf rexes (1600-1800grams about) that comes to a generous 15 grams per rabbit. Winter and breeding that would go up to 30 grams (for the does anyway, bucks only if needed) and when nursing depending on condition and number of kits to 2-4x that total over 2 feedings. I could feed a grain mix for half of the 30 grams, but need a better supply as those cost more than the pellet right now close to home. For winter the plan is also to gather/store acorns to supplement the pellet at about 1 per bunny/day (weight comes of the pellet ration).

From what i find written you can finish a rabbit for meat from weaning at 8 weeks to 12/16 weeks on barley fodder only.
Oats as a fodder are supposedly more prone to mould than barley fodder. F
odder is for now anyway a maybe winter thing since the greens are free right now and barley costs money. Both require some time daily so no difference there.  
Other supplement here is apple cider vinegar, 1 tbs/2L water. Keeps the smell of the urine down, helps with "sludge" in the bladder and bunny smells less attractive to mites, flies and so on. Some feed it 3 months on 3 off, others always. There are claims also of increased fertility but not entirely sure. 1 proven doe with 5 had 7, a young doe from litter of 6 had 8, but other young doe from lines with 5 had 3 (now she freaked out when in with the buck, so not sure). All the same buck also out of lines with 5 kits.
Given the other things it helps with i'll keep mixing it with the water, but 5 kits in a litter is enough for me. Enough to keep eachother warm, mom has at least 6 teats so they can all drink at once.

Note : i feed a 16+% protein and 3.5%ish fat pellet, that is a breeding pellet, pet rabbit pellets run at 14-15% protein here and for meat i.e. muscle that is way to low. So read the labels on the feed you can get, avoid medicated and the pet pellets, mixes if you can. And check with your vet for both coccidia (cat urine for instance or chickens can carry this) and zoonotic disease called tuleramia if you want to graze your rabbit or cut grasses closer to the ground. Also don't put your harvested feed on the ground during harvest, drop it right into a container when cutting/pulling to keep it clean and prevent stuff like coccidioses contamination during harvest. Old UK government booklet advises this and to wilt young grass for a few hours before feeding to avoid the runs. Feed greens in frost conditions during warmest part of the day, don't let them freeze in the cage and be eaten frozen.
 
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... I raised buns for 4 years with No pellets whatsoever!  .... I have a Lot of mulberry on that particular homestead so that was the bulk of their feed    

..... cutting the branches into straight sections before lobbing them to the buns provides you with straight peeled sticks of woodstove fuel when the buns are done with them    

.... I had these guys in a deep bedded community room with plenty of large waterers and hidey places.... they got tossed a handful of shell corn and BOSS as a treat every few days..... but they got whatever I scythed, pulled up, or collected as grass clippings with a bagging mower (dried in cheapo laundry baskets)    

... Do be Very careful not to include any toxic material.... Soft Maple leaves quickly resulted in the loss of several buns    

... I have found the best results to be: hand breeding, placing the does (tattooed for ID purposes) in the community room until 5 days prior to kindling, placing in individual hutches for kindling, rebreeding at 8 weeks,  and returning everybody to the community room (after tattooing the youngsters which are then members of the 'Black Ear Club') to give maximum results for miminal time and effort....    separate the young 'Hooligans' when they are about 4 or 5 months old to prevent unmonitored breeding  

.... I started with 'garage rabbits' .... after 2 years they were 8 to 10 lbs at 10 months of age and had thick beautiful pelts when dressed in December or January    

... I have had All classes of livestock and poultry..... Buns are the Best species for a homestead - Bar None    
 
Aurora House
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Thomas A. Cahan wrote:
..... cutting the branches into straight sections before lobbing them to the buns provides you with straight peeled sticks of woodstove fuel when the buns are done with them  


Yes I love bunny sticks for plant polls and the like. After a day they are usually bark free and a week will have them with lots of "frizzy" for fire starters.
 
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Timothy hay is good.  We grow it in the mountain meadows of New Mexico between 8500 and 9000 feet.  It has all sorts of other goodies in it like clover, forbs, other grasses, legumes, etc...  Alfalfa is good too.  If you can, avoid the pellets, like you said toooooo expensive.  Making them into pellets is value added by the manufacturers for convenience sake.  Besides all that its more of a gimmick than anything else  Rabbits also browse in the winter. Here is an excerpt from Iowa State: "In the home landscape, rabbits feed on herbaceous plants (annuals, perennials, vegetables, and grasses) during the growing season.  Trees and shrubs become food sources in late fall and winter (December through March).  Damage to trees and shrubs is most severe in winters with extended periods of snow cover."  I would conclude that if you have trees and shrubs around that need pruning, then prune them and feed the bunnies.  I would give them everything except walnut.  For sure, give them the trimmings from your fruit trees.  I would imagine up to 1 inch in diameter because they are after the bark.  Any bigger would probably be a little rough for them.  In the late spring and early summer there are tons of clover along the black top highways free for the taking.  Cut and dry this stuff for the winter and feed it to them fresh too.
 
Lexie Smith
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I would be very careful about foraging near roadways, in Alabama they spray herbicides along the roads. I have seen them go across causeways and spray the poison in the lake too! I pitched a fit at city hall and accomplished nothing at all. I have dared the power company to spray under their lines on my property but I know they have in the past.
 
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homeschooling forest garden foraging chicken wood heat homestead
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I transitioned my rabbits to dry oats instead of rabbit pellets and poor quality weedy hay, which is better for them because of the variety of plants in it and sticks or branches as well as chunks of ice in the winter. Spring, summer,and fall they get sticks and branches from trees and or bushes., and weeds and comfrey and Burdick leaves. Year round they get an apple whenever I have an abundance or when they start to wrinkle. They seem to be fine on this diet and It's cheaper and most likely healthier for them than pellets.
 
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