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Feeding meat rabbits in extreme cold environments

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Feeding meat rabbits in extreme cold environments

Post Number:#1  Unread postby CanineWild » Sun Mar 01, 2020 9:08 pm


Hey all, wasn't sure if I should post this in the main feeding section cause I didn't want to upset anyone who didn't want to think about meat rabbits.

Anyways, I'm thinking of starting a meat rabbit project largely for my own meat- just a buck and a doe to start. I want to feed a base of pellets and give hay as well, but want to supplement with other greenery as well for health and to cut down on pellet costs.

My problem is I live in the canadian prairies where fresh greenery is only available 4 or 5 months of the year. Growing fodder indoors is not a great option as I have very little living space.

My question is, is there a way of collecting greens in summer to keep through the winter that would have similar benefits? If I dried plants they liked, or even some leafy willow branches or something, would that be any better at that point than dried hay? What about freezing? I can't find any info on rabbit breeding specific to climates like mine.

Any ideas, especially if someone has experience with long winters, is appreciated!

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Re: Feeding meat rabbits in extreme cold environments

Post Number:#2  Unread postby michaels4gardens » Mon Mar 02, 2020 7:07 am


CanineWild wrote:Hey all, wasn't sure if I should post this in the main feeding section cause I didn't want to upset anyone who didn't want to think about meat rabbits.

Anyways, I'm thinking of starting a meat rabbit project largely for my own meat- just a buck and a doe to start. I want to feed a base of pellets and give hay as well, but want to supplement with other greenery as well for health and to cut down on pellet costs.

My problem is I live in the canadian prairies where fresh greenery is only available 4 or 5 months of the year. Growing fodder indoors is not a great option as I have very little living space.

My question is, is there a way of collecting greens in summer to keep through the winter that would have similar benefits? If I dried plants they liked, or even some leafy willow branches or something, would that be any better at that point than dried hay? What about freezing? I can't find any info on rabbit breeding specific to climates like mine.

Any ideas, especially if someone has experience with long winters, is appreciated!


I raised rabbits in northern Montana, In those days ,we grew all of our rabbit feed. We fed hay, dried corn stalks, and dried weeds [mostly pulled from our garden]and root crops. The corn stalks, and weeds were stacked outdoors, on a slatted platform about 20 feet long, to dry . When they were dry, they were stored in the barn with the hay.
We grew sugar beets, mangles, and carrots for rabbit feed. The root crops, were the primary energy source. "Rabbit pellets" have a grain base,with added fat- to provide "energy" in the ration.
When feeding root crops [as well as pellets] in winter, careful attention must be paid to "the Breed stock rabbits, condition" , as too much calories, and the rabbit will become overly fat, and unproductive. If they don't get enough calories , they lose too much weight, and can't stay warm, and healthy. This observation,must be done on an individual basis, all rabbits are not the same- some need a lot more calories, to stay in good shape, than others.
meat-mutt rabbits, a few laying hens.

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Re: Feeding meat rabbits in extreme cold environments

Post Number:#3  Unread postby Rainey » Mon Mar 02, 2020 11:10 am


My question is, is there a way of collecting greens in summer to keep through the winter that would have similar benefits? If I dried plants they liked, or even some leafy willow branches or something, would that be any better at that point than dried hay? What about freezing? I can't find any info on rabbit breeding specific to climates like mine.

Any ideas, especially if someone has experience with long winters, is appreciated!


Welcome to RT. I also live with long winters and raise rabbits for meat for my family. We don't feed pellets, so having a variety of other feed matters for us. We feed willow year round, fresh spring and summer, and dried once the leaves are yellowing until new ones emerge. We cut willow soon after the leaves are fully out and hang it in a loft until it is dry, then strip off the leaves and store them in a bin to feed. We do grow out wheat fodder in the winter when we also feed some roots in winter along with their hay. Only feed grains (wheat and oats and some BOSS) to growing out kits and nursing mothers or when it is extremely cold. We don't breed in winter--just carry through our breeding stock, currently a buck and 3 does. Just bred the first one for this year and will breed another this week.

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Re: Feeding meat rabbits in extreme cold environments

Post Number:#4  Unread postby CanineWild » Mon Mar 02, 2020 9:00 pm


Ah, thanks to both of you!

Luckily I live very near a wilder unkempt park area where I can forage a lot of greenery. I also will definitely grow some in my garden as well, though space there is pretty limited. I was not aware they could eat corn stalks- that makes me want to put a row or two in!

So it seems like dried plant matter is pretty nutritious to them, and they're not likely to suffer much from lack of fresh greens? Root vegetables of course can be kept fresh for long periods pretty easily, but I've read that they should be used pretty moderately. If they are such a rich food, I can see their value for the cold months. BOSS too- I assume that's fed as is and not sprouted or anything?

How much dried plant material does a typical rabbit go through in say a month? Obviously it'll vary per rabbit and season and with what else they're eating, but so far I can only really find numbers for pellets. I'd hate to go out and collect what I think is a ton of food and then run out by Christmas! Not including pellets or grain/seed supplements, is a half and half ratio for grass hay vs. other plants reasonable or am I way off?

Maybe I'm over thinking this but I want happy rabbits!

I'm definitely still in the research phase for this, but so far it seems pretty feasible to keep them. Would be great if I could get started this summer!

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Re: Feeding meat rabbits in extreme cold environments

Post Number:#5  Unread postby michaels4gardens » Tue Mar 03, 2020 7:21 am


Not ignoring your question,
but I don't have a clear answer, for how much "weeds etc". your rabbit will eat.
Maybe, try to store a pound a day... for those winter months when no fresh forage is available.
There is not enough "energy", in dried plants, for a winter ration..
So plan on feeding pellets,boss, and or root crops also.

Dry corn stalks, do have "nutrition", and are valuable for feed. [as are green corn stalks]
The main importance, of feeding corn stalks, for me was, "long stem fiber".[as compared to just "fiber"]
In the winter, the "main nutrition/ calorie source", was root crops . Root crops are high in sugar ,IE:energy,
[very important in cold weather]
But - root crops, are very low in "long stem fiber".
Rabbits need "long stem fiber",in order for their GI system to work.
Grass hay, provides a good source of long stem fiber.
Dried weeds [and especially green weeds] - often, don't have nearly enough "long stem fiber".
Rabbit pellets, are low in long stem fiber, and GI issues are common ,
in pellet fed rabbits, that don't also get "hay", or some other source of "long stem fiber".
Rabbits often, eat their wooden cage, when short of "long stem fiber".
Willow leaves and branches, [along with some other "rabbit safe"trees] provide good winter feed,
as well as the much needed "long stem fiber".
My personal theory, on "feeding rabbits" is, -- provide a "selection" of different feeds, and they will eat those they need,
in the proportion that is right for them. *** some "nutritious weeds", [like garden mallow, and lambs quarters] have "toxic"compounds, and nitrates, that will accumulate in the rabbits system. If provided with a choice, rabbits will take a break from these foods, until their system "clears"].
By watching to see what they are eating, and what they don't eat, you can determine what you need to feed the most of,
at any given time..
meat-mutt rabbits, a few laying hens.

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Re: Feeding meat rabbits in extreme cold environments

Post Number:#6  Unread postby Rainey » Tue Mar 03, 2020 8:21 am


Glad to see that Michaels4gardens has responded to your questions. I learned so much from him, even though what I feed is somewhat different because I've used what was growing wild as much as possible and then what I have experience growing. But the advice about offering a variety was very helpful--so many sources just say this plant is safe and that one is toxic, when the amounts really matter. The other thing I learned from him was the value of kale as rabbit feed, again as part of a mix of fresh green plants. We started planting Dino kale on his recommendation and now our rabbits get some kale in their feed mix all through the growing season. Don't know how it would dry.
Forgot to say in previous post that we also dry raspberry leaves and stems and nettle. Our does, goat and rabbit are offered the raspberry as their due dates near. They always are eaten eagerly. The rabbits get dried nettle after kindling. Once there are plenty of green things growing, does that have just kindled are fed parsley, dandelion, chicory, etc.

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Re: Feeding meat rabbits in extreme cold environments

Post Number:#7  Unread postby Dood » Tue Mar 03, 2020 3:27 pm


I’m in Southern Ontario (hardiness zone 6) and in the the winter I mainly feed grains (barley, wheat, oats, corn, BOSS) and hay with a high percent of alfalfa or clover and offer poorer quality grass for roughage. I breed all year and occasionally I do need to offer commercial pellets to a doe to help her maintain body condition.

I have a huge south facing window that I grow barley fodder in but I’ve not perfected my techniques so it’s not a staple of my rabbits diet

You can make your own hay, especially if you can reliably dry it, and bundle it and store for winter use. Plant species high in protein will be most beneficial to your rabbits

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Re: Feeding meat rabbits in extreme cold environments

Post Number:#8  Unread postby CanineWild » Tue Mar 03, 2020 7:43 pm


Wow guys, I think I've learned more on here already than the last month scouring the internet! YouTube's got some great resources but finding what I needed about food was tough, especially when they're talking about longer growing seasons.

@michaels4gardens that explanation was helpful in the extreme, thanks!

I think I can confidently say I'll be able to get enough food set by for them. Especially as I can get the pellets, and I live in a small rural town so I can definitely find hay somewhere. I'm pretty excited to go foraging actually- I really enjoy doing so for my own needs, but having animals who can benefit will be so nice. Can't say my dog much appreciates me offering a handful of leaves! (Veggies from the garden though, whole other story!)

@Rainey that's super interesting about the raspberry leaf- I know its beneficial to pregnant humans, but I hadn't considered the effects on does! I have tons of it around, so I can definitely get that. Nettles too- I would suppose the rabbits would want that dried and un-stingkng as we do and not fresh?

I'll have to wait and see how winter goes to see if breeding is an option. I'm in manitoba, zone 3b, so it gets pretty dang cold. Still, meat during most of the year is better than none, and at the very least I can say freezing meat for later is no problem at all ;)

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Re: Feeding meat rabbits in extreme cold environments

Post Number:#9  Unread postby Rainey » Wed Mar 04, 2020 2:12 pm


@Rainey that's super interesting about the raspberry leaf- I know its beneficial to pregnant humans, but I hadn't considered the effects on does! I have tons of it around, so I can definitely get that. Nettles too- I would suppose the rabbits would want that dried and un-stingkng as we do and not fresh?


Yes, we dry the nettle for rabbits and chickens. Also, for what it's worth, we're in zone 4.
When you are ready to forage you'll find lots of help in the natural feed forum. I think in years past I've posted there about the various things we find to feed here. I like the idea of looking at what we have and finding out what of it is good for feeding rabbits (or goats). Since we don't feed pellets, I was more concerned at first about feeding enough protein to nursing does and growing out kits, and I tried reading more scientific studies about the nutritional content of different plants. Some of it helped--at least gave me confidence. But what I found really helpful was Maggie's list of safe plants (and her reminders to use scientific names for 'weeds' that may have different names in different places, even though I don't always take time to look them up when posting) and Michael's advice about offering a variety when feeding fresh forage. Some plants always seem to be eaten first, others at different stages of the season. Learning to feed what we have has helped us to keep up better with invasive like the multi-flora rose. When the goats need browse, we can always find some and feeding it helps us keep it a little under control.
And just wanted to say that you could have mentioned meat rabbits on the natural feed forum without raising a ruckus. I've always found RT folks very tolerant about the different reasons for having rabbits as well as different ways of feeding and housing them.

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Re: Feeding meat rabbits in extreme cold environments

Post Number:#10  Unread postby CanineWild » Wed Mar 04, 2020 7:07 pm


Ya, I'm definitely going to get familiar with that list, and get a bunch of different stuff they can choose from. I think I'm going to have a lot of fun with that actually! And I'll certainly keep invasives in mind too now that you mention it- not that three rabbits will make much of a dent, but hey why not. It's a good idea ;) (I can see goats making a fair bit more of a dent from what I've heard of them- they're up there in the list of animals I want to keep when i can get a place in the country!)

Good to know about posting elsewhere. I'm glad people are pretty open minded on here, as well as very helpful!

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Re: Feeding meat rabbits in extreme cold environments

Post Number:#11  Unread postby Zass » Wed Mar 04, 2020 7:34 pm


CanineWild wrote: not that three rabbits will make much of a dent, but hey why not. It's a good idea ;)



:lol:

More of a dent then you might think!! If you are breeding for meat, 2 good meat does can easily produce 20+ kits in just 31 days, and then you're feeding 23 rabbits!!! :P

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Re: Feeding meat rabbits in extreme cold environments

Post Number:#12  Unread postby CanineWild » Thu Mar 05, 2020 1:04 am


@Zass Haha, yeah alright, you got me there! :lol: :lol:

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Re: Feeding meat rabbits in extreme cold environments

Post Number:#13  Unread postby ladysown » Fri Mar 06, 2020 1:36 pm


I found the comment about pellet fed rabbits getting more GI stasis interesting. as I find that an unbalanced diet, lack of proper water intake, and stress are more likely the causal factors in GI Stasis.

I feed very little hay. I find the rabbits simply waste it and it's just annoying to waste the money on it. I only give hay when there's a stressful situation going on. for instance: major wind storm, doing renovations on the rabbitry. I get very little if any GI Stasis in my rabbitry. The fact that I cull hard for health is probably part of that.

I live in SW Ontario

I predominately feed a pelleted diet along with mixed grains, no corn kernals. in the non-growing season (so basically November through April)

I feed garden waste to the rabbits April through late October, as well as pellets and occasional mixed grains.

Garden waste is: plants grown just for the rabbits, weeds and grasses. I frequently gather toss offs from people at the local farmers market.

Much of that garden waste could be carefully dried if I were of the mind to do so. I generally don't bother as squirrels get into everything.
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Re: Feeding meat rabbits in extreme cold environments

Post Number:#14  Unread postby CanineWild » Sun Mar 08, 2020 12:42 pm


Ah, I'll keep that in mind when keeping track of any issues, particularly GI related stuff. Will have to see what results I get and adjust accordingly. I definitely want to have pellets as a staple, at least at first, as I'm too much of a beginner to feel comfortable not having a proven complete nutritional option. Mostly I want to add forage to cut down costs and to add interest where possible. Where I am, hay is pretty cheap and easy, so I'll probably always have it around anyway ;)

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