2021 natural feeding plan

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Nov 5, 2011
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Ok I'm writing out my new compiled natural feeding plan for next year. A lot of this pulls from my silage thread, so those reading this later on might want to check that thread. I'll try to put all relevant info here though as it comes. I'm still interested in trying silage/haylage/baleage but at the moment I don't have the storage or ability to make sufficient pest proof storage of any amount.

I have everything worked out to build the new building which will consist of half sheep, half rabbits and feed/hay. I have everything priced so as things go I'll buy all the materials and have them ready to get building in the spring. Next year also brings me adding some pigs to the madness :mrgreen: I'm pretty happy with the plan and part of that being to utilize their rooting habit into useful. I will be deciding where to put a garden and some area to plant forages specifically for feeding the rabbits. Hopefully timing will work out and I'll be able to move the pigs to a new area and plant the rabbit forage. We shall see how it goes in reality :roll: One can dream...

The first mix is one I already have that I bought this year, have lots of it to use with the sheep. It is a mix that I don't believe will have regrowth after cutting. However there is clover in the mix that I hope will grow back in. Dwarf essex rape, purple top turnip, forage pea, daikon radish, forage oats, crimson clover. I know with the brassicas I'll need to introduce it slowly and keep an eye out. I'm hoping with the mix of forages that it won't be too much of any one thing.

The second mix I should get several cuts from. White proso millet, sorghum sudan, sunn hemp. All fast growers and all should rebound quickly from harvesting and keep growing until weather gets cold.

The last mix is perennials that I'm hoping will last several years and forages that will add to the protein levels. Forage chicory, venus alfalfa, red clover.

I'm going to get a replacement hanging scale... I may or may not have broken mine trying to a weigh a much too big half grown lamb in a much too small newborn lamb sling... :| :roll: I could have it in a permanent spot and get some scrap sheets or something to harvest forage in, pull up the corners and weigh the amount of forage I feed out. I'll have to make a nice storage chest and keep a notebook and pencils out there to record the feedings.

I also know I have the numbers to add up an estimate amount of DM (dry matter) I'd need over the growing season.. But my brain is tying itself in knots at the moment as to how to take that information into how much space I should estimate to plant for my plots.. :insane: With the sheep though I can always graze the area if needed, so it's not like it will go to waste if I plant too much. But I do want to have a good thought on it, I don't want to find out I've planted three times too much for the rabbits to keep up with and I didn't have to spend as much on seeding the plots. But even that wouldn't be the end of the world. I'm hoping to find a spot for the plots so that if it gets out of hand I can have Dad cut and bale it.


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Sep 15, 2010
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The contractors around here are howling at me to get their jobs done quickly (my day job is drafting blueprints) since the cost of construction materials is going up so fast. Apparently, the material suppliers won't hold the quoted price for more than two or three weeks and the material quotes used to be good for six months or more. This is Hawaii, though, maybe it's not a problem in your area.

How many of what kind of species are you feeding? What general area are you in? Ohio, since your username is 'OhioGoatGirl'? How long of a growing season do you have?


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Nov 5, 2011
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@ Hotzcatz, Yes lumber prices nearly doubled. Luckily I have amish around me and one right around the "block" (very large rural block lol) runs a sawmill. I got a price quote from them. Turned out I could double the length of the building to incorporate the rabbits and storage instead of just being a sheep wintering building. So that was great.
Yes I'm in Ohio, about an hour west of Pittsburgh PA.
Avg dates May 5 to Oct 8. 155 frost free days.

@ a7736100 I am working my sheep with existing pastures and expanding to overgrown ex hay field and overgrown brushy woods. The ex hay pastures I'm working with mostly. It's mostly cool season grasses and I'm looking at interseeding Big bluestem and Little bluestem to them, as native warm season grasses. The other areas though need work and I'll be utilizing the cover crops to speed up my work on them next year, then see about planting native grasses to them.

__________ Thu Nov 19, 2020 1:15 am __________

Picked up my sheep feed today and been doing alot of thinking over things... As I am apt to do...
The paddock I have my sheep in now is the one that is most easy to get tractor to and put out round bales, and I can get water to it as long as the spring hasn't dried up. So this is where I'm wintering the sheep this year, basically dry lot. It's about 0.2 acre (~8,700 sq ft -ish). It's also right near where I'll be building the new structure.
I will be planting cover crops in the permanent paddocks to give them a boost and then plant something for some fall/winter grazing before they'd be moved to the building and confinement style until after lambing. But I couldn't decide on a place for all this rabbit forage to grow and I want some space for a bit of regular garden. So this paddock is going to be off limits next year as the garden area. As well as the paddock above it, which has the old silo and is very odd shaped. Then after everything is done or fed to the rabbits I can winter the rams in there, which will also be less intensive on the ground only being a few of them.
I'll add a picture of an aerial view of the current permanent paddocks. Red lines are fence. Pink dash is a gate. Blue dash is water point. The section with the white circle is the paddock I'm talking about, the circle is where there is a tree. The white rectangle is the approximate placement of the new building. It is going to be 24x48ft, I don't think I said that before.
new building and rabbit garden.png

To make it easier without having to look at multiple posts I'll relist the mixes with numbers. Then I'll explain my thoughts on when/where of the second picture.

1- good for one cut. 60-90 days maturing. plant april-june.
dwarf essex rape, purple top turnip, forage pea, daikon radish, forage oats, crimson clover.
plant april 10- harvest june. plant may 1- harvest july. plant june 1- harvest august.

2- good for many cuts. ~70 days maturing. plant may-june.
white proso millet, sorghum sudan, sunn hemp.
estimate harvest begin mid july. Stop harvesting when get frost, leave rest for sheep winter grazing.

3- perennial, many cuts once established. plant april-may/aug-sept.
forage chicory, venus alfalfa, allant red clover.
estimate harvest begin mid july this year, in future will be able to have multiple cuts all growing season.

4- winter storage garden. plant after danger of frost.
~4# indian dry corn, pumpkin, butternut squash, acorn squash, ~2# BOSS
harvest in fall.

5- people and rabbit garden. small mixed sections and single planted sections, this is a good idea of the rabbit edible stuff.
wheat. buckwheat. peas. carrots. radish. beets. sunchokes. marigold. spinach. gr beans. arugula, mustard.

6- good for one cut, hoping vetch and clover will come back next year. plant aug-oct.
austrian winter pea, hairy vetch, buckwheat, clover.
harvest begin ? and into winter.

new building and rabbit garden plots.png

A- Mix 1, then marigolds (because I have tons).
This section is between the new shed and the permanent fence. This has a big stump and weeds that will get pulled out when building the new shed.

B- Mix 4, then mix 6 if everything is ready to harvest early enough to plant after.
This section is where I fed hay alot the last couple years. The rest of this paddock will be lightly broadcast with mix 1 and grazed by the sheep. I'll electric fence off this section to graze that.

C- Mix 3. This is where the tree is and alot of the current winter paddock.

D- Mix 2.

E- Mix 1. This is where the old silo is and there is alot of weeds and I'm cutting out stinky junk trees. 'Tree of heaven' is a misnomer, they stink and they colonize an area. I'm mostly trying to smother out weeds with this and get it cleared out for future use.

F- Mix 1, then mix 2. This area is at all angles the way the hill is shaped. I'm chopping out multiflora rose and mowed down thistle and ironweed mess, so more weeds smothering.

G- 5 early planting stuff, then mix 6.

H- Mix 1. Last year I had water line issues and this whole section had water draining across it multiple times. Because the gate is there and the sheep always walk out that way, this section is getting compacted, especially closer to the gate. I'll see what I can plant here after, I don't know how much of the garden stuff will be suitable to put here, we'll see. <br /><br /> __________ Wed Feb 17, 2021 5:10 am __________ <br /><br /> Quotes relating to feeding to rabbits, pulled from feedipedia pages.

"Smallholder rabbit farms have been using fresh rape forage for a long time, and they also use other Brassica species such as cabbage, turnips, radishes, white mustard or swedes. When distributed ad libitum together with a mixture of grains (also ad libitum) during 6 weeks, the voluntary intake of rape forage represented 21% of the total intake of growing rabbits. It should be noticed that in the same conditions, cabbage intake represented 24% of the total intake, and live weight gain during the experimental period was 1000 and 1080 g for rabbits for the rape and cabbage groups respectively. For experimental reasons fresh rape forage was proposed as only feed to almost adult rabbits, a feeding regime which appear able to permit at least weight maintenance on a period of 30 days minimum, without apparent health disturbance. Similarly, rations mixing dried rape pellets (comparison of 2 cultivars) together with wheat straw also allowed increased liveweight, independently of the cultivar.
Despite the known possibility of safe use of rape forage in rabbit feeding, no experiment seems available in the international literature on the optimum conditions of introduction of this forage in balanced rabbits diets. The nutritive value was not determined, but since digestibility of dry matter or energy of 3 other Brassica fresh forages i.e. cabbage, turnips and rutabaga (swedes) are close to 100%, it can be supposed that it is the same for rape forage. Digestibility of proteins of these 3 forages was 90-97% and that of crude fibre 82 to 100%. Rape forage may thus be considered for rabbits as a source of energy (about 16-16.5 MJ/kg DM), of digestible proteins (20-25%), and of digestible fibre."

"Birdsfoot trefoil has been used for a long time as protein-rich forage in European smallholder rabbit units. It has been considered as one of the most palatable fresh forage or hay for rabbits, and its culture was actively encouraged in France in the 20th century. In the wild, birdsfoot trefoil is often heavily grazed by rabbits, for example in the United Kingdom. Used as the sole feed, birdsfoot trefoil hay harvested in 3 different cuts, and distributed with salt blocks and water to Dutch Belted rabbits, supported maintenance and a better growth rate than alfalfa (12.9 g/d vs. 11.5 g/day). Dry matter digestibility of the birdsfoot trefoil was also higher than that of alfalfa (48% vs. 45%). Introduced progressively in balanced diets for growing rabbits, birdsfoot trefoil was able to replace completely the alfalfa included at 32% in the control diet, without affecting growth rate or feed efficiency. In this study, the estimated DM digestibility (62%) was higher than that mentioned above when birdsfoot trefoil was used as the sole feed. The estimated digestible energy content for inclusion in a balanced diet was 11.42 MJ/kg DM."

"Skin photosensitivity
The buckwheat plant contains fagopyrins, a group of phototoxic substances that cause skin photosensitivity, eruptions on the skin, itching behavior, allergic reactions and even death after ingestion. Light-coloured animals are particularly susceptible to that risk if they are fed buckwheat for a extended period and exposed to sunlight, and a maximum of 30% buckwheat forage in the diet is recommended in that case."

"Fresh oat forage cut at the pre-flowering stage was used as the only feed to provide maintenance for rabbits. The digestibilities of DM, protein and crude fibre were relatively high for a forage (60, 78 and 32% respectively). In India, fresh oat forage (300 g/head/d) was used successfully as a source of forage supplemented with a concentrate in a diet for Angora rabbits. In Tunisia, a fresh oat-vetch forage mix (30% vetch and 70% oat) supported satisfactory growth and long-term reproduction of rabbits, in a feeding system where the forage was offered ad libitum in rack-feeders, together with limited access to pasture. However, growth and breeding performance improved when a concentrate diet or cereal grains were also available.
Oat hay is used as a source of fibre in complete balanced feeds in many rabbit studies. While inclusion rate is usually about 15%, it has been possible to include oat hay up to 50% in rabbit diets without deleterious effects."

"Field peas could be introduced without any problem at up to 30% in pelleted feeds for growing rabbits and completely replace soybean meal as the main protein source, despite their lower protein content (Colin et al., 1976; Franck et al., 1978; Seroux, 1984). Peas can replace not only soybean meal but also a part of the cereal grains in the diet. In some experiments, growth performance improved when peas replaced the equivalent proportion of soybean meal + cereal grain (Castellini et al., 1991). When a higher proportions of peas are included in complete feeds, it becomes difficult to maintain the nutritive balance of all nutrients; for example a significant reduction of growth rate was observed in 2 trials out of 3 (-10% on average) when 45% of peas replaced soybean meal + cereal grains (Franck et al., 1978). However, a diet containing 60% peas was considered to be fairly acceptable for rabbit feeding from weaning (28 d) to slaughter age (75 d) even for the youngest rabbits, despite the relatively high starch level in peas (45%) (Gidenne et al., 1993). In addition, good growth performance was obtained with a concentrate diet containing 67.7% peas distributed together with 150 g/d of alfalfa hay. These authors also demonstrated that toasting peas failed to provide any significant advantage over raw peas (Johnston et al., 1989). Field peas varieties with high or low levels of antitryptic activity (12.7 vs. 2.7 TIU/mg DM) resulted in identical growth performance and feed efficiency (Seroux, 1984).
In experiments with breeding does, field peas replaced soybean meal and cereal grains in the control diet at 21% for 16 months (Seroux, 1988) and 40% for 4 months (Franck et al., 1978). In both cases reproduction was similar to that of the control diet with only some small positive or negative effects, which were usually non significant. It was concluded that a long term inclusion of 21% field peas is suitable for feeding breeding does.
In addition to these nutritional considerations, the positive effect of field peas on pellet quality, which is slightly higher than that of barley, maize and soybean meal, must be underlined (see Nutritional attributes above) (Thomas et al., 2001). This is important considering that peas frequently replace these ingredients in rabbit trials."

"No specific study on the utilization of any part of the honey locust in rabbit feeding experiments seems available in international literature. However, young trees are very frequently browsed by wild rabbits (Putod, 1982; Swihart et al., 1983), making physical protection absolutely necessary after planting (Pearce et al., 1940; Sharrow, 2001). When distributed to domestic rabbits, honey locust leaves and fresh pods were well appreciated. Dried pods were less appreciated but also consumed, as well as the seeds ."

"Fresh white mulberry leaves are well accepted as forage by growing rabbits or by adults, in reproduction or not. This has been demonstrated in different trials: in Mozambique (Mc Nitt et al., 1980; Timberlake et al., 1985), in Nigeria (Bamikole et al., 2005), in India (Deshmukh et al., 1989; Rohilla et al., 2000), in Vietnam (Nguyen Quang Suc et al., 2000; Viet, 2006), in Cuba (López et al., 2004), in Venezuela or in Mexico (Ramos-Canché et al., 2011; Nieves et al., 2004).
Used as sole feed, fresh mulberry leaves allow maintenance of adult rabbits (Deshmukh et al., 1989) or an acceptable growth rate for fattening rabbits : about 40% the growth rate of rabbits fed a balanced diet (Bamikole et al., 2005). However, if used as sole feed for rabbit does, fresh leaves are not able to provide a normal reproduction (López et al., 2012).
Proposed ad libitum in addition to a concentrate, fresh (or just wilted) mulberry leaves may represent 30-40% and even up to 60% of the total DM intake without significant perturbation of growth of rabbits for Angora wool production. Technical or economical advantages depend mainly of the type and quantity of concentrate chosen in the study. Generally, no significant perturbation was observed for carcass traits or physiological parameters obtained even with a high proportion of leaves (Premalatha et al., 2012; Ramos-Canché et al., 2011; Bhatt et al., 2010; Rohilla et al., 2000; Nguyen Quang Suc et al., 2000; Mc Nitt et al., 1980).
For rabbit does, lower reproduction traits were observed with white mulberry leaves distributed ad libitum in addition to a restricted commercial diet (60% of the control) than with the control itself or the distribution in the same conditions of Hibiscus rosa sinensis foliage: 5.6 kits born alive per litter vs 7.0 and 7.8 for the 2 other treatments (Garcia-Contreras et al., 2009). However, if white mulberry leaves are proposed together with other forages such as sugar cane stalks, and leaves of sweet potato or Neonotonia wightii forage in addition to a local concentrate, reproduction traits were considered as perfectly acceptable (López et al., 2011; López et al., 2004).
White mulberry leaves dried in the sun or in the shade under a roof were succesfully used as a feed ingredient for growing meat rabbits or Angora rabbits by numerous authors (Bhatt et al., 2008; Dihigo et al., 2008; Hernandez et al., 2014; Ly et al., 2017; Martinez et al., 2005; Nieves, 2009). The most frequently acceptable proportion of dried mulberry leaves in a balanced experimental diet is 25-30% (Nieves et al., 2006; Prasad et al., 2003). In some experiments, inclusion rates of 60-75% and even 92% were possible without altering health, and with growth performance in relation with nutrients balance in the final diet.
In the formulation of balanced diet, white mulberry leaves should be used as a forage with relatively moderate fibre content, high protein content(15-22% DM) and a high content of digestible energy : 11.4 MJ/kg DM on average, as shown in the table below. Proteins are highly digestible for a forage (73% on average), a value higher than that of alfalfa (60-65%). This protein are relatively rich in lysine (120% of requirements) but deficient in sulphur amino acids (86% requirements). In addition, mulberry leaves are very rich in calcium (twice recommended level) but deficient in phosphorus."


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Nov 5, 2011
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Sooo, the big plan is bumped to next year... I have a volunteer pumpkin plant from ones I threw out for the sheep to eat last winter, that doesn't qualify as a garden lol.

I'm going to adjust things. I'm hoping to get alot of areas planted in mixes where the sheep will be grazed. This would allow me to pull from many big areas and just graze the sheep. Plus I'm trying to figure out how to get the money together to be able to plant it all with the no-til drill which can be rented from the county. I also need to talk it all over with Dad because I'm hoping to talk him into also planting an area of hay field in with peas and oats to be hayed for the rabbits and sheep.

And he recently got a big scoop to use with the tractor. I'm hoping we can find an area to dig a pit silo. It would be small enough to be manageable with my amount of animals. It can be lined with a silage tarp, then topped with another. This will also be easier to fill because it could just be dumped off into the pit. The costs would be the silage tarps, seed, and no til rental. So some of the mixed hay and the crops can be silage.