Looking to minimize feed costs with natural feeds

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Pard

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Hello. We have a breeding trio of New Zealand whites which we breed intensively. We rebreed at two weeks, wean at four, and end up with roughly 8 litters per doe, per year. That's 16 litters a year, averaging 10 kits a litter, so 160 fryers a year.

We butcher at 10 weeks, and find that it's taking about 4 pounds of feed for each 1 pound of meat to get them to butcher weight (or sale/trade weight, whichever helps us out the most). Right now, just for the fryers, I'm paying $15.00 a 50# bag of 15% rabbit pellet. We go through about 45 bags a year on fryers, or $675.00 worth of feed.

We also free choice whatever hay our horses have on hand, but I don't factor this into cost because the rabbits eat the hay that I'd be throwing into the compost anyways (outside 3" to 6" of a round bale).

My coop has 50# of alfalfa pellets for the same price as TSC has for rabbit pellets. Instead of 15% protein, however, it's 18%. If I fed this I could get my fryers grown out quicker, and probably reduce the amount of pellet feed.

I also have barley which I am sprouting to supplement my chickens' compost diet. I'd be willing to set up a fodder system to feed the rabbits barley fodder to further supplement their diet. Another consideration is tractoring the fryers on my lawn which I mow as little as possible as it is. And I'm attempting to contact my neighbor (they own the land next to me, don't use it, and live about five hours north) because they have 6 acres of kudzu that I'd love to harvest and feed to my rabbits.

Anyone have good experience feeding alfalfa pellets instead of rabbit pellets? How do you supplement this diet? I've read that some people can't convince their rabbits to eat the alfalfa pellets or that they will only take cubes (the cubes here are more expensive and have less protein). I don't really have any land I can dedicate to growing their food as all our land (minus the front yard) is being farmed or is a chicken/dog run.
 

alforddm

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On that schedule the most litters you can get per doe per yr is 8... but on to your feed questions...

I wouldn't feed the outer hay to the rabbits. Rabbits should preferably have horse quality hay. They are very sensitive to mold.

Alfalfa just by itself will not maximize growth
As a source of energy, alfalfa cannot fully meet the growth requirements of commercial rabbits, mainly because of its physiological limitation in ingestion (Fernandez-Carmona et al., 1998).

If the alfalfa is fed as a sole feed (possibly along with sprouted barley) your going to end up spending more on feed because your going to end up having to feed quite a bit past 10 weeks to get the same growth. The rabbit pellets are just more balanced. Does your coop not carry a brand of rabbit pellets? The best way to save on feed costs is to get a cheaper feed. Cheaper doesn't necessarily mean lower quality. A closer mill is often cheaper just because of shipping savings.

You can forage feed rabbits successfully (and alfalfa could be a big part of that) however, unless you do a ton of research on balancing your feed stuff your going to end up with slower growth. That would possibly be acceptable trade off to the costs of your feed, it will just depend on how much foot work your willing to do.

Consider adding rolled oats, sunflower seeds, and either feed peas or soy to the diet you have planned. Your going to need something to bulk up the sulfur amino acids and lysine. If after doing all the balancing and adding the other things, you may find it's just cheaper to feed the pellets.

http://feedipedia.org/ is a great resource for livestock nutritional information.
 

Pard

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Oops, I didn't even notice the added '1' when I started doing all the calculating. :lol:

It looked good because we always end up with just about 600lbs of meat a year and somehow I was getting that with 18 litters. Thanks for the correction!

Sadly, the coop does not carry rabbit feed. In fact that only thing they carry which even deals with rabbits is rabbit poison.

I'll keep hunting for cheaper feeds, if the alfalfa won't speed up things then I'll avoid it since I'm trying to keep these costs down. We're breaking even or just scraping a profit at the moment but this year I want to really try and ramp up the profits to see if it's a viable side income for us (which we've never seen the rabbits as). My wife's equestrian business is making as much as my office job and we're trying to find ways for me to quit my job.

I can still supplement with forage though. Especially if I'm given the green light to start taking kudzu from my neighbor's property. There's enough kudzu to feed my horses!

The hay isn't moldy or really bad at all. The hay we buy is usually delivered to us within days of being baled and then we age it in our hay barn. The issue is that that outer ring is very compacted and the horses just don't eat it. The bad hay we compost, which is usually a few spots here and there and whatever is touching the ground on the bottom most bales, but the stuff I'm feeding the rabbits is good material it's just that our horses are spoiled.

Edit- I did some googling and found that there is a place that makes dog food and happens to also sell 16% rabbit pellets for $13/ 50# bag. That might be the new feed of choice. Also, I'm fixing my calculations in the original post.
 

Dood

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Genetics plays a big role too

I switched to a more natural diet 4 years ago and my stocks growth rate droped significantly but since their feed costs were practically zero over the summer I kept up with it and heavily culled, keeping only those that thrived on hay, grains and forage (when in season) and now my meat mutts get to a meaty 5 pounds in 10 weeks on this diet

I've successfully done the same with my Coturnix quail and my bloodline gets to 10oz in 8 weeks on a 20% protein duck starter mash
 

alforddm

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Some good info on Kudzu and rabbits from feedipedia.org

According to a digestibility trial conducted with Pueraria phaseoloides used as only feed, a digestible energy content of 7.2 MJ/kg DM was proposed for green tropical kudzu with a nitrogen digestibility coefficient of 63% (Raharjo et al., 1986). When sun-dried tropical kudzu was included at 0%, 20% and 40% in pelleted diets by substitution of the basal diet, the nutritive value was only 3.8 MJ DE/kg DM and N digestibility was 24% (Akoutey et al., 2012b) probably due to late maturity and to of bad harvest and/or drying conditions: the kudzu used in the study contained 15-17% ash, twice the average value. However, in a fattening test made with kudzu hay incorporated at 0, 20 or 40% in balanced diets, growth rate and feed efficiency were better than in the control diet with 20% kudzu hay, but they were significantly reduced with 40% of kudzu hay in the diet (Akoutey et al., 2012a). Reduced growth rate was also observed with 40% of kudzu hay (31.6 g/d) compared to 40% alfalfa hay (39.7 g/d) or 40% Arachis glabrata hay (39.7 g/d) (Gomez de Varela et al., 1983).

As a conclusion, fresh Pueraria phaseoloides forage can be used without restriction in rabbit feeding as source of fibre and protein. However, tropical kudzu protein cover only ~65% and ~75% of the requirements for sulfur-containing amino acids and lysine respectively, and only 80% and 50% of calcium and phosphorus requirements (Lebas, 2013). The precise nutritive value of tropical kudzu hay has not been established yet, but this dry forage could certainly be used as a good source of fibre.
http://feedipedia.org/node/257
 

hotzcatz

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We were feeding commercial high protein rabbit pellets (Nutrena Performance 18%) and noticed significantly decreased fertility and litters over the past few years. Apparently, there is some sort of herbicide sprayed on alfalfa crops to ripen them all at the same time. (Personally, it sounds more like an organized kill off instead of a true ripening) but they spray the fields and then harvest the alfalfa and make pellets. If it's grain, one could hope that the herbicide wouldn't be on the actual grains themselves, but when the product is the leaves, how do they get the chemical residue off the alfalfa? Or do they even try?

Apparently, this spray then harvest method was legalized and started around 2011 (if internet data is accurate) and it would have taken a few years for it to get into widespread use, one would think. Checking back over my database, in 2011 we had 26 matings and 16 of them were successful and resulted in 79 live babies that grew up into adults.

This was my first year with bunnies, so some of the unsuccessful matings may have been from lack of a proper haircut or some sort of operator error on my part. These are angora rabbits, and they have smaller litters than meat bunnies.

In the last twelve months, we have had 23 matings, although five of them are due next week, so we don't know if they will be successful or not. Of the remaining 18 matings, only two of them were successful. One was a litter of three but two were stillborn. The other was a litter of three but the mum never made milk and we lost the whole litter. Which means one live adult out of 18 matings.

I'm not sure when we started using the 18% protein pellets, but it's been several years. Another breeder called me to ask if there were any litters here since she wasn't seeing any litters at her place. We were both using the same feed.

On the five currently bred does, we brought in a buck that had been eating a different brand of bunny pellets, Purina Pet Bunny or some such. He bred four of the does and one buck here who was still on the Nutrena feed bred the other. We've cut back on the Nutrena feed and gone to much more forage and now the Nutrena is only being fed to the woolers and not the breeding herd.

Of the four does bred by the buck eating the different feed, two of them have made nests early, so I'm hopeful that if it was a feed problem, it was specific to the bucks and not the does. Since then, we've sourced organic alfalfa which is supposed to not have been sprayed before harvest. We will see how the litter size and litter frequency look for the next round of litters. As soon as the current bags of the suspect feed are gone, we probably won't buy anymore of at least that brand.

For natural feeds, do you have access to mulberry leaves? According to some of the folks who wrote the 'Rabbit Production' book, up to 40% of their diet can be in mulberry leaves with no appreciable difference in litter size or weight gain.
 
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