Feeding rabbits without pellets- is it possible? (your input wanted)

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Rabbits By DK

Raising rabbits for meat and pelts since Feb. '23
Joined
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I'm looking into feeding my rabbits with just hay, foraged items, and garden herbs and greens. I'd like to be able to wean them off of pellets and get them onto an all-natural homegrown diet. Is this possible to do?
 
I'm looking into feeding my rabbits with just hay, foraged items, and garden herbs and greens. I'd like to be able to wean them off of pellets and get them onto an all-natural homegrown diet. Is this possible to do?
It's definitely possible - feral rabbits do it all the time here, much to the gardeners' and orchardists' dismay! 🤣

There's a book called Beyond the Pellet by Craven and Worden that has a wealth of information about nutritional needs of rabbits and the types of plants you can use to feed them naturally.
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I haven't switched over entirely - too many irons in the fire to have the time to scale the learning curve - but I have used a lot of Craven and Worden's suggestions over the years to supplement our rabbits' diets and improve their health.
 
Yes, it can be done. Pellets are a relatively new invention. However, it is time-consuming, you need to research to make sure you are providing complete nutrition, and providing enough forage in the winter can be a challenge in cold climates, especially if space is an issue.

Many people use artificial light to sprout seeds and grow the seedlings into 'forage'. Which is wonderful, but depending on how many rabbits you have, and how much space you can devote to this, you may well find it difficult to grow enough to feed your herd.

Hay is great, but grass hay is low in protein. Alfalfa hay has plenty of protein, but the leaves shatter easily, and the stems aren't very interesting to many rabbits. Mixed hays that includes both grass like Timothy and legumes for protein like clover or alfalfa help solve this problem. Do be careful with your hay, though. When you smell it, it should smell fresh like a summer field. If you see white powder coming from the bale when you open it, or it smells moldy, throw it out. Moldy hay can quickly kill rabbits.

There's a book called Beyond the Pellet by Craven and Worden that has a wealth of information about nutritional needs of rabbits and the types of plants you can use to feed them naturally.
Great suggestion, this should help you figure out what you need. However, there's one more caveat. If your rabbits have been raised on pellets, they will need to be changed over to a different feed slowly, just a little at a time. Even changing brands of pellets should be done slowly.

I have a friend whose husband was in charge of the family's rabbits when he was young. They were fed fresh greens all during the growing season--he picked a bushel basket full of greens every morning before school. The rabbits (like wild rabbits) raised their litters on this regimen, and it worked for them. The rabbits that produced well on this feed program were the parents of the next generation, so in time, they had rabbits that were acclimated to this type of feed. And that brings us to the last point--unless you can find another breeder that uses rabbit tractors or something similar in the summer, or gathers fresh greens as the main feed for their rabbits, you're going to be starting from scratch with rabbits that have never lived this way.

It may take time to get rabbits that will not only survive, but thrive on a pellet-less diet. You are not looking for the rabbits that are bred to grow super, super fast on commercial feeds, you are looking for the slower-but-steady growing breeds that can make better use of the wild feed. This is much like other types of livestock, where the heritage breeds were designed to thrive on poorer land--they may have produced less milk, or less wool, or less meat--but they did so on land the fast-growing breeds couldn't have survived on.
 
I only use pellets at treat level, as reward to go back into their hutches, and somewhat more through winter, which wouldn't really be necessary, have to watch out that they don't get fat, but they like it sooo much...

I gather forage whenever possible everywhere where other people don't mind, or don't mow themself anyway, with scyth, sickle and basket on my back, from the first greens to first snow (or when everything is gone). I use my own little meadow mostly for making hay for winter, but still need to buy about 8 bales per year. They get hay offered throughout the year, in summer it gets ignored most of the time, but sometimes they need it, it's good for their tummy.

In winter I feed hay, a handful of pellets twice a day for 6 10lbs rabbits, and stuff I grow in my garden, pumpkin, topinambur, apples, chinese gabbage.

My rabbits are local farm mixes, and farmers here never were inclined much to buy rabbit food, rabbits mostly are side projects when there are sheep, cows or horses anyway. I think barley is the most common stuff fed additionally.

Of course it takes longer for them to grow out, I try to have the litters in spring when the grass is rich, and butcher at about 18-20 weeks, bucklings first when tensions start. Imo rabbits aren't bred for performance for that long as other lifestock, so I would think that chances are good that many do ok with a pellet free diet.
 
I'm looking into feeding my rabbits with just hay, foraged items, and garden herbs and greens. I'd like to be able to wean them off of pellets and get them onto an all-natural homegrown diet. Is this possible to do?
I weaned my rabbits off pellets years ago. I feed field peas which I soak overnight then drain and allow to sprout. I also feed whole oats, and in winter some black sunflower oil seeds, I feed a Timothy alfalfa horse hay mix and in summer feed loads of fresh grasses and some garden goodies. I grow sun chokes and cut them regularly for the buns. I feed an assortment of tree branches summer and winter including pine/spruce branches. Different trees provide different benefits to the buns.
I give them ACV in there water and always have one block minerals and one blue salt.
Note; I mix Diatomaceous earth food grade to the peas as this has many benefits including killing parasites.

Any other questions please ask.
 

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I offer pellet feed and local hay. However, I have quite a few that will generally hit the hay first every day. They ignore the pellets. I do feed alfalfa/timothy in the coldest months (like when it was -45 a few weeks ago) and then slide back into timothy/orchard in the warmer months with no issues. I feed them greens from my yard and inside/outside gardens. They often get herbs. I simply start off with a leaf and slowly work the new plant into rotation. I also dehydrate greens into a blend (dandelion, kale, spinach, mint, etc) for my personal use that I share with the dogs and rabbits in the winter. It is a lot more work to feed straight forage , hay etc. But doable. I have added clover for ground cover, grow sunflowers,squash, greens, etc...
 
Thank you all for your help. I've been researching more and I've found that I should be able to feed them lots of things homegrown...I've put together a rough outline (shown below). Is there any commentary you might have that way I can improve it?


Base
  • Alfalfa Hay

Primary

  • Dandelion (Greens and Flower)
  • Chickweed
  • Kale
  • red/purple clover
  • Dried Nettles
  • Sunflower (Whole Plant)
  • Comfrey

Secondary
  • Beet Greens
  • Yarrow
  • Mullein
  • Carrot Tops
  • Cucumber Leaves
  • Dark Lettuces
  • Radish Tops (including sprouts)
  • Turnip Greens
  • Plantain
  • Lemon Balm
  • Maple Leaves


Sparingly
  • Zucchini (and other squash variety)
  • Calendula
  • Rose
  • Chicory
  • Mint (all varieties)
  • Sage
 
I've actually never made a list, but it's a lot like my feed except the addition of pellets on the side. Also willow branches, apple tree branches etc . for chewing, keeping the teeth shorter. I grow most of these although our season is quite short. Winter is my biggest challenge. Dehydrating or air drying bundles of plants, herbs, etc works well. I do give mine the whole sunflower plant - not always with a lot of seeds if the birds get to them first. However, they eat the leaves, stalk, etc adding lots of fiber. I share my "Salad bar" garden and medicinal garden with the rabbits. This summer I'm reorganizing the rabbitry area. Adding more gardens, reseeding red clover, chicory... and planning an area to store hay, straw, whole dried sunflower plants, etc to help me through the winter. My rabbits like the barley straw - good for nest boxes and eating. Mine eat prickly lettuce, yarrow and other foraged material. Looks like you are on a good path.
 
No beet or turnip greens, high in oxalates. I avoid oxalates where I can. Mine, given the choice, don't even touch it.
If cucumber leaves taste anything like pumpkin leaves they are safe from rabbits - and when my rabbits leave something alone I respect that. They are not fans of pumpkin, it's an aquired taste, in the garden they just take a test nibble (and spoil the fruit :(), but don't eat it, in winter they are not overly enthusiastic about it but in the end of the day it's gone.
Comfrey - read up on that. My approach though is to offer them a huge variety, and they know better than me what they can stomach or not, I let them get this level of experience.

Nettles are great, I cut them, spread them on a sheet, roll it up and knead it to destroy as much stingy hairs as possible, let it wilt for half a day or so in the sun and feed it, or just make hay with it. Last year I collected the seeds when they were big and green, dried it, great treat through winter.

Be carefull about mint and nursing does, it is said to be quite efficient at drying up milk

Half of the stuff I feed I don't know what it is, but when used to a wide variety they themself know best what they can stomach, or how much of it. Ivy and other plants found on many "toxic lists", got eridicated in my yard. Imo they use somewhat "toxic" plants as medicine when given the chance to learn to select.
 
Last edited:
Thank you all for your help. I've been researching more and I've found that I should be able to feed them lots of things homegrown...I've put together a rough outline (shown below). Is there any commentary you might have that way I can improve it?


Base
  • Alfalfa Hay

Primary

  • Dandelion (Greens and Flower)
  • Chickweed
  • Kale
  • red/purple clover
  • Dried Nettles
  • Sunflower (Whole Plant)
  • Comfrey

Secondary
  • Beet Greens
  • Yarrow
  • Mullein
  • Carrot Tops
  • Cucumber Leaves
  • Dark Lettuces
  • Radish Tops (including sprouts)
  • Turnip Greens
  • Plantain
  • Lemon Balm
  • Maple Leaves


Sparingly
  • Zucchini (and other squash variety)
  • Calendula
  • Rose
  • Chicory
  • Mint (all varieties)
  • Sage
Caution on the alfalfa it’s not actually hay it’s a legume. Feed a Timothy or orchard grass Alfalfa mix, 80% Timothy and 20 % alfalfa. Find someone that sell small square bales of horse hay as horse have the same digestive system as horses.
 
Caution on the alfalfa it’s not actually hay it’s a legume. Feed a Timothy or orchard grass Alfalfa mix, 80% Timothy and 20 % alfalfa. Find someone that sell small square bales of horse hay as horse have the same digestive system as horses.
Thank you all for your help. I've been researching more and I've found that I should be able to feed them lots of things homegrown...I've put together a rough outline (shown below). Is there any commentary you might have that way I can improve it?


Base
  • Alfalfa Hay

Primary

  • Dandelion (Greens and Flower)
  • Chickweed
  • Kale
  • red/purple clover
  • Dried Nettles
  • Sunflower (Whole Plant)
  • Comfrey

Secondary
  • Beet Greens
  • Yarrow
  • Mullein
  • Carrot Tops
  • Cucumber Leaves
  • Dark Lettuces
  • Radish Tops (including sprouts)
  • Turnip Greens
  • Plantain
  • Lemon Balm
  • Maple Leaves


Sparingly
  • Zucchini (and other squash variety)
  • Calendula
  • Rose
  • Chicory
  • Mint (all varieties)
  • Sage
Tree hay is very healthy for rabbits.

 
Caution on the alfalfa it’s not actually hay it’s a legume. Feed a Timothy or orchard grass Alfalfa mix, 80% Timothy and 20 % alfalfa. Find someone that sell small square bales of horse hay as horse have the same digestive system as horses.
Thank you. I'll consider that. Do you have any suggestions as to where I could buy seed?
 
No beet or turnip greens, high in oxalates. I avoid oxalates where I can. Mine, given the choice, don't even touch it.
If cucumber leaves taste anything like pumpkin leaves they are safe from rabbits - and when my rabbits leave something alone I respect that. They are not fans of pumpkin, it's an aquired taste, in the garden they just take a test nibble (and spoil the fruit :(), but don't eat it, in winter they are not overly enthusiastic about it but in the end of the day it's gone.
Comfrey - read up on that. My approach though is to offer them a huge variety, and they know better than me what they can stomach or not, I let them get this level of experience.

Nettles are great, I cut them, spread them on a sheet, roll it up and knead it to destroy as much stingy hairs as possible, let it wilt for half a day or so in the sun and feed it, or just make hay with it. Last year I collected the seeds when they were big and green, dried it, great treat through winter.

Be carefull about mint and nursing does, it is said to be quite efficient at drying up milk

Half of the stuff I feed I don't know what it is, but when used to a wide variety they themself know best what they can stomach, or how much of it. Ivy and other plants found on many "toxic lists", got eridicated in my yard. Imo they use somewhat "toxic" plants as medicine when given the chance to learn to select.
Ok. Thanks for letting me know.
 
Thank you. I'll consider that. Do you have any suggestions as to where I could buy seed?
Some ranch feed stores carry seed.

I buy the alfalfa mix 2nd cutting because it is generally less stemy, more leafy. My horses love alfalfa but it can be too "hot" outside of winter . Definitely good advice to buy it mixed - or mix it yourself at feeding. I have heard that alfalfa is best for only young rabbits due to the high calcium which runs around 30-40% availability (the rest of the calcium -calcium oxalate) has low availability. However, I still feed it to everybody when we drop into the negatives. I also have alfalfa/timothy cubes. Some love it other don't. Some simply play with it. My rabbits will eat the occasional beet leaves. They are also fed spinach which contains oxalates (which binds with calcium). I feed all things in moderation and feel like it balances out. Some rabbits ignore particular feed and that's ok. Others love it. But again , the advice from Prieter is good. Many people avoid all greens with high oxalates. I believe it passes through unabsorbed because it combines with the calcium which blocks the absorption. (Something like that...lol). Go armed with your gut and knowledge.
 
  • Mint (all varieties)
  • Sage
Like mint, sage can reduce milk production. My mother-in-law made special stuffing for me without sage for years, not realizing that I only needed to skip the sage while nursing.

I've found that the local rodents don't care for spilled rabbit pellets, so feeding just pellets didn't seem to grow the mice/rat population any, we switched to pellets when we raised rabbits in town. But the pests love the spilled whole grains, so you'll need to be more vigilant if you're feeding whole wheat, oats, barley, sunflower seeds, flax seed, etc. Also, any spilled grain in the manure will happily sprout in the garden. Fine if you want to harvest more grain, not so good when the grains swamp out the veggies you planted. I'm still happy we use whole grains and fresh feed, but be aware there are some issues to deal with as well.
 
Thank you all for your help. I've been researching more and I've found that I should be able to feed them lots of things homegrown...I've put together a rough outline (shown below). Is there any commentary you might have that way I can improve it?


Base
  • Alfalfa Hay

Primary

  • Dandelion (Greens and Flower)
  • Chickweed
  • Kale
  • red/purple clover
  • Dried Nettles
  • Sunflower (Whole Plant)
  • Comfrey

Secondary
  • Beet Greens
  • Yarrow
  • Mullein
  • Carrot Tops
  • Cucumber Leaves
  • Dark Lettuces
  • Radish Tops (including sprouts)
  • Turnip Greens
  • Plantain
  • Lemon Balm
  • Maple Leaves


Sparingly
  • Zucchini (and other squash variety)
  • Calendula
  • Rose
  • Chicory
  • Mint (all varieties)
  • Sage
I always give a mix of as many things as possible. Fun to watch them pick and choose their favorites. Many things we weed from the garden are good. Mine especially like daisy, which has become weeds in my garden, violets, viola, marigold, bee balm. Strawberry leaves. Anything in the Cole family is the first picked. I give branches from Brussels, rutabaga, kohlrabi, kale...Corn stalks roots and all (no cobs). Evergreen branches. Lots of berry bush and IMG_20230319_165323456.jpgIMG_20231031_101355262.jpgIMG_20231031_101355262.jpgIMG_20231207_103800438.jpgIMG_20230928_090414630.jpgIMG_20230901_151220832.jpg]IMG_20230917_184918628.jpg tastes. For example the breeders eagerly devour the spouted oats. Those in the grow out pens often leave them sit.
 

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I always give a mix of as many things as possible. Fun to watch them pick and choose their favorites. Many things we weed from the garden are good. Mine especially like daisy, which has become weeds in my garden, violets, viola, marigold, bee balm. Strawberry leaves. Anything in the Cole family is the first picked. I give branches from Brussels, rutabaga, kohlrabi, kale...Corn stalks roots and all (no cobs). Evergreen branches. Lots of berry bush and ] tastes. For example the breeders eagerly devour the spouted oats. Those in the grow out pens often leave them sit.



By daisies do you mean wild? Also- when you are feeding them evergreen branches, it appears that you are using white pine. Is that on purpose, or would any type of evergreen work?
 
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