Natural Feed - will this work?

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JG3

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Sorry for all my posts of question after question. LOL. Just starting out and I’m a researcher before jumping in.

Okay, for raising meat rabbits, I refuse to feed GMO pellet feed. I cannot get the non-GMO pellets because the minimum order is 1 tonne and that’s too much for a personal, backyard rabbitry.

We have decided to transition the rabbits we get to natural feeding. My only worry is meeting everyone nutritional need (I’m okay with them taking a couple extra weeks to grow).

My current feeding plan idea to transition them to is:
- hay (alfalfa/Timothy)
- fodder (going to make system and likely do year round, unless I can forage enough, but I’m not confident in trusting that starting out, I want a back up I can rely on)
- trace mineral salt lick
- forage from our yard (dandelion, comfrey, herbs, apple twigs)
- rolled oats, BOSS, pumpkin seeds, flax seeds, etc for those that need more energy or fat like pregnant and nursing does and growers

My questions are:

1. Does this cover all nutritional needs? Or is there something I’m missing? Obviously amounts of everything will depend on how each rabbit does, but is there an obvious hole anywhere?

2. For ease of storage and convenience, can I use Timothy/alfalfa hay cubes instead of loose hay? Will this provide enough of the long fibre to keep their systems moving? I also like the idea of it being harder to grind their teeth on, less hay waste and not worrying about hay bale storage. We would only really need to make sure we had some hay or straw for the nesting boxes.

3. Is the best way to lower the pellets, by testing them on the fodder and slowly increasing it, while slowly decreasing the pellets? As that’s where most the nutrition would be coming from.

Feel free to share any other thoughts and wisdom with me too. Thank you.
 
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Okay, for raising meat rabbits, I refuse to feed GMO pellet feed.

Out of curiosity, what do you have against GMOs? There is a huge misconception about them; without GMO food, much of we enjoy today would not exist. Corn, soy, canola, alfalfa, and potatoes are my favourite examples. More palatable, bigger yield, pest/drought/disease/etc. resistant, etc. are all things that traits that were introduced with selective and variation breeding.

In fact, most "non-GMO" products are not actually "non-GMO" at all. Foods from even 20 years ago compared to now are genetically modified. Brussel sprouts used to be bitter and gross, but now they are delicious and buttery. That's not your taste buds changing; that's "GMO."

I would bet that even the "non-GMO" feed you found is actually GMO. So I suppose what I'm trying to say is if you are still hard anti-GMO, a forage diet would have less GMOs (but probably not none, realistically). But I digress.

2. For ease of storage and convenience, can I use Timothy/alfalfa hay cubes instead of loose hay? Will this provide enough of the long fibre to keep their systems moving? I also like the idea of it being harder to grind their teeth on, less hay waste and not worrying about hay bale storage. We would only really need to make sure we had some hay or straw for the nesting boxes.

I currently feed pellets, and I'm also wanting to switch to natural when I have the acreage to do so. However, I was tired of the waste, mess, and storage of hay and tried out cubes last summer. I loved them and they were super easy. Most of my fryers went crazy for them, but the breeders were relatively uninterested.

Again, I fed pellets as well, but everyone did great on the cubes and no loose hay. The only issue I had with it was, at least the brand I got, there is molasses in it to keep it compressed. I didn't have anyone get too fat on them, but I did feed less than I would have feed loose hay to avoid those extra sugars. If you're ever worried about fibre then you can feed corn stalks as well, which I find easier to store than loose hay.

3. Is the best way to lower the pellets, by testing them on the fodder and slowly increasing it, while slowly decreasing the pellets? As that’s where most the nutrition would be coming from.

You got it. Diet changes should be gradual to not upset their gut. Almost every rabbit I've had prefers fresh forage over pellets anyway, so I'd suspect you have an easy transition.

What I do is start off with a handful of rabbit-safe forage on top of the pellets. As it gets closer to summer, I slowly increase the forage until they get free fed the forage (and also measured pellets) for the entire summer. I don't have any good way to do winter forage, so they gradually go back to pellets, grains, and hay for winter.

I think if you were to do it gradually how you describe, ensuring they have access to the mineral lick in this time, the rabbits should be fine. But, again, I also feed pellets so would love other input here!
 

JG3

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Out of curiosity, what do you have against GMOs? There is a huge misconception about them; without GMO food, much of we enjoy today would not exist. Corn, soy, canola, alfalfa, and potatoes are my favourite examples. More palatable, bigger yield, pest/drought/disease/etc. resistant, etc. are all things that traits that were introduced with selective and variation breeding.

In fact, most "non-GMO" products are not actually "non-GMO" at all. Foods from even 20 years ago compared to now are genetically modified. Brussel sprouts used to be bitter and gross, but now they are delicious and buttery. That's not your taste buds changing; that's "GMO."

I would bet that even the "non-GMO" feed you found is actually GMO. So I suppose what I'm trying to say is if you are still hard anti-GMO, a forage diet would have less GMOs (but probably not none, realistically). But I digress.

I currently feed pellets, and I'm also wanting to switch to natural when I have the acreage to do so. However, I was tired of the waste, mess, and storage of hay and tried out cubes last summer. I loved them and they were super easy. Most of my fryers went crazy for them, but the breeders were relatively uninterested.

Again, I fed pellets as well, but everyone did great on the cubes and no loose hay. The only issue I had with it was, at least the brand I got, there is molasses in it to keep it compressed. I didn't have anyone get too fat on them, but I did feed less than I would have feed loose hay to avoid those extra sugars. If you're ever worried about fibre then you can feed corn stalks as well, which I find easier to store than loose hay.

You got it. Diet changes should be gradual to not upset their gut. Almost every rabbit I've had prefers fresh forage over pellets anyway, so I'd suspect you have an easy transition.

What I do is start off with a handful of rabbit-safe forage on top of the pellets. As it gets closer to summer, I slowly increase the forage until they get free fed the forage (and also measured pellets) for the entire summer. I don't have any good way to do winter forage, so they gradually go back to pellets, grains, and hay for winter.

I think if you were to do it gradually how you describe, ensuring they have access to the mineral lick in this time, the rabbits should be fine. But, again, I also feed pellets so would love other input here!

Hi Mariah,

I have no issue with cross breeding, selective breeding, asexual reproduction, or genetic mutations that happen naturally. I do not consider that GMO, by the definition it’s known as today. It’s the genetically engineered biotechnology in a lab I take issue with. But I rather not get into the whys and debate over that. Everyone has their own opinion on it. GMOs aside though, we also avoid corn, soy and canola in general, as they are not healthy foods. So I don’t like the idea of feeds with that anyway, genetically engineered soy and canola is just an extra facet I want to avoid. I don’t expect every aspect I do to be perfect, but I’ll certainly try my best to create the healthiest meat I can for my family.

Good to know your rabbits liked the cubes and good point about any binders! The ones I found, they make pellets and cubes. The pellets don’t have a binder, but everything I read, it seems rabbits don’t like plain hay pellets and I’m going for the long fibre so pellets seem to defeat that purpose. LOL I’m unsure about the cubes having a binder. I’ll double check so I know if they’re getting anything extra like that, to keep in mind.

Im really hoping the transition will be easy. I’m banking on the rabbits instincts kicking in and preferring natural foods. LOL!

Question: If you had the option of buying breeders from a large commercial rabbitry, likely only a pellet and hay diet, OR breeders from a backyard rabbitry colony that would have more exposure the other foods like forage and veggies, which would you choose?

Im trying to figure out which is better, factoring in the commercial ones would likely love forage/fodder and I could transition them to what I want. Where the others may have already picked up picky eating habits?

Healthwise too, which would be healthier? A colony with more exposure or commercial in a barn with biosecurity protocols? And since I want to feed forage, that would mean exposure to bacteria off the ground, like possible cocci, which do you think would have a better resistance to that?

Weighing the pros and cons here but thoughts from experienced people would help.
 

RabbitsOfTheCreek

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Question: If you had the option of buying breeders from a large commercial rabbitry, likely only a pellet and hay diet, OR breeders from a backyard rabbitry colony that would have more exposure the other foods like forage and veggies, which would you choose?
I would choose the rabbitry. Less likely to have bacteria from the forage
 

MuddyFarms

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Hey @JG3 - Just a disclaimer: I have not fed a totally pellet-free diet, as of yet.

I have raised Californians and Rex from different breeders. Both absolutely loved the fresh forage (mostly willow and some sprouted grain) I gave them. I doubt they were fed anything of the sort where they came from.

The cubes I have been using are for horses and cattle and they have a bentonite clay binder in them. One of my bucks didn't like eating them until recently, but the others were happy with them from the beginning. They are an alfalfa/timothy blend from Standlee. They are so much simpler to feed and they like tearing into them, giving them something more to do with themselves. I make sure to put one into the nest box for the kits to start eating. I also do still use some hay, particularly for the kits in the nest boxes through weaning. I want the kits to eat hay as soon as they like, to hopefully start their gut right. Then I throw in some rolled oats for them, which they love. The hay and oats are gentle on their systems. But it was nice to hear that @Mariah's Meadows has fed only the hay cubes and no loose hay just fine. :)

I have a bag of timothy hay pellets (this is the huge pellets for horses, cattle, and goats; and which had no additional ingredients) right now. There has been a mixed response to them over the summer, although most of them seem to like it. I have to break them up and put them in a crock to ensure less waste from them dropping such huge pellets. I do know that it is at least somewhat common for rabbits to be fed plain alfalfa hay pellets in their diet when they are not being fed regular rabbit feed. Especially for the nursing does, who need extra nutrients, protein, fat. Maybe you would have access to some of those, too.

My rabbits love willow branches, and that is the main thing I have added into their diet. I did also feed slightly sprouted fodder at one point, and they loved that.

One thing I saw in your list is forage like apple branches. I have fed willow (this is a native willow that grows in a bush form) over several summers, and the bushes kept up pretty well with how much I was needing to feed. But trees do get used up pretty quickly and I am starting to go feed some other willows farther from the rabbitry that I found. Depending on how many trees you have, that may not be able to be much of the diet, although a good supplement. Trees are really my favorite forage option, since they can give so much nutritionally while also being a good roughage for them. I wish I had more of them!

Do you garden? There are things you can feed from that as well, like veggie tops and root crops. Not that you have to right now, just some more ideas for later. There is a book you could look into that I read a while back called, Beyond the Pellet: Feeding Rabbits Naturally, by Boyd Craven Jr. and Rick Worden. They try to give an understanding of how to formulate a good diet for rabbits without pellets. It isn't comprehensive, but it can give some ideas. They like to sow their yards with all kinds of herb and vegetable seeds to use for the rabbits. Some of those plants can be left to seed and come back the next year just fine.

Another grain/seed I just remembered is Camelina. That is a seed that was used instead of soy in a non-GMO feed for chickens we used to buy. It is a great protein option. I just checked and it does look like there were some trials for a GMO version of it, but I don't know if that gained traction or not. We used Camelina when we blended our own chicken feed, as well. In the chicken feed we used camelina, flax, and kelp powder (another thing I would recommend for nutrients) to round their grain mix out. It is a really tiny seed, but it has absolutely awesome potential. Here is a link from Feedipedia, which is a helpful resource whenever wondering about being able to use a food for rabbits. In the tab, 'Nutritional Aspects' they include info specific to use in rabbits.


Your feed plan looks pretty good to me (again, sadly not from actual experience, yet). Based on the research I have done over the years, you might want to give all the rabbits those seeds and grains, just more or less depending on what their working status is. I would think having those for everyone's diet would be important due to them needing the nutrients to round out the diet. I used to make a grain/treat mix to get the rabbits extra nutrients. I combined whatever small seeds or powders I wanted them to eat with some rolled oats and put a little watered down molasses into it to keep it together. That doesn't have to be fed in great quantities since it is basically a concentrate.

Those are some things I thought of while reading your posts here. Hope things go well for your rabbit venture! It is an exciting thing to get into.
 

MuddyFarms

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Protein is the biggest thing I have found can be difficult to get right when not feeding rabbit pellets. That's one big reason to add the camelina to the diet, since it is such a concentrated protein option.
 

JG3

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Thanks so much for your thorough and informative reply, @MuddyFarms!

I do have the Beyond The Pellet book, as well as, Keeping Poultry And Rabbits on Scraps, but haven’t had a chance to read that one yet. It’s a bit thicker, I read Beyond The Pellet in one sitting 😂

As for the apple branches, you’re exactly right, it will be more a supplement/treat for variety. My parents have 4 trees and they are trimmed back yearly (or should be 😉) and so I figured I’d grab twigs from them to store.

I do garden and planned to keep scraps and tops from there, I forgot to mention that! I also plan to specifically plant things for rabbits, like the herbs, basil, garlic chives, parsley, cilantro, etc. I have lots for variety.
I will also be planting comfrey this year and I know it produces a lot and we will feed some and dry some for winter use. Same with the herbs. Also, we will be getting raspberry bushes and can give those leaves. My yard is basically a dandelion and clover farm 😂 so we will have lots in that regard, when it’s the season.

Thanks for the input on seeds and grains! I found a good mix online a homestead uses as supplement just to round out extra nutrients and gives like a tablespoon worth here and there. That’s a good idea though to make it more of a firm treat. I’ll keep that in mind! That way I could add powders like you mentioned, because there was a few things I liked the idea of for nutrients or immunity but it’s easier to buy in powders, like echinacea for an immune boost occasionally. We do see wild rabbits in our yard often since there is bush behind us, actually it’s one that likes to have babies under our shed, LOL! So with that disease worry I want good immunity. Our garden is fenced off so wild rabbits don’t get in and the comfrey and herbs will be in raised beds to hopefully keep them out a bit! I just don’t know what’s in our soil currently from the wildlife, so we will be starting out in hutches until we get better understanding overall.
 

MuddyFarms

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Yeah- Beyond the Pellet is a pretty quick read!

Comfrey is one I hope to feed at some point. I have been a little nervous about feeding things that close to the ground, yet. I have multiple comfrey plants in my garden. Just beware! They will never be removed from wherever you plant them, so make sure you put them where you'll want them to be forever. Even a little tiny piece of root left in the ground will make a plant. That is great if you want to butcher it frequently, though! Comfrey should be a good help in your rabbit's diet since it is a faster one to get growing and would be able to produce so much. Even if you don't feed a ton of it all the time, by drying it for winter you would be able to use more overall. Sounds like you have some good variety planned for them. They should be happy!

I didn't put enough molasses to make the grain mix firm, just enough to lightly coat the grain and stick the powder and seeds to it. But you may be able to figure out a way to make it into cubed treats, or something. That seems like an interesting idea. :)
 

KelleyBee

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!

Question: If you had the option of buying breeders from a large commercial rabbitry, likely only a pellet and hay diet, OR breeders from a backyard rabbitry colony that would have more exposure the other foods like forage and veggies, which would you choose?

Im trying to figure out which is better, factoring in the commercial ones would likely love forage/fodder and I could transition them to what I want. Where the others may have already picked up picky eating habits?

Healthwise too, which would be healthier? A colony with more exposure or commercial in a barn with biosecurity protocols? And since I want to feed forage, that would mean exposure to bacteria off the ground, like possible cocci, which do you think would have a better resistance to that?

Weighing the pros and cons here but thoughts from experienced people would help.
I got my first two sets of trios from two different backyard rabbit raisers (not commercial). The first trio: the rabbit herd was individually caged in a barn. Farmer fed pellets,Timothy hay and supplemented oats and BOSS to pregnant and lactating does. The second trio: the herd again housed individually in a barn. Farmer fed only pellets, nothing else. None of the rabbits from either trio was ever fed forage, so I slowly introduced all to fresh forage, which all loved.

I recently wanted to add one male to my Silver Fox trio because I want a bit more genetic diversity to help obtain the ARBA breed standard. I found another backyard breeder, but she had her herd on the ground, so I chose not to get one of her rabbits. My breeder herd has never been on the ground. (I am not adverse to having my grow outs destined for the freezer on the ground, but I am adverse to my breeders, whom I consider as long-term residents, being on the ground due to potential exposure to troublesome things such as parasites, soil born viruses and bacteria.)

As to your question regarding buying a trio from a large commercial breeder, I don’t see why not unless they are administering vaccines, antibiotics and other medications to their herd as a matter of course for outbreak prevention, etc. Overcrowding in a rabbitry increases the risks of disease outbreaks.

As for picky eating, I don’t think you will avoid or obtain any greater degree of such an issue no matter from where you get your initial trios. Individual likes and dislikes are just that: individual. And from my albeit limited experience, there seems not to be much variation from one rabbit to the next in terms of pickiness. One of my rabbits is most picky compared to all the others and I simply don’t give her whatever forage I know she will not consume. More for the others and less for her by her own choice.
 

JG3

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I got my first two sets of trios from two different backyard rabbit raisers (not commercial). The first trio: the rabbit herd was individually caged in a barn. Farmer fed pellets,Timothy hay and supplemented oats and BOSS to pregnant and lactating does. The second trio: the herd again housed individually in a barn. Farmer fed only pellets, nothing else. None of the rabbits from either trio was ever fed forage, so I slowly introduced all to fresh forage, which all loved.

I recently wanted to add one male to my Silver Fox trio because I want a bit more genetic diversity to help obtain the ARBA breed standard. I found another backyard breeder, but she had her herd on the ground, so I chose not to get one of her rabbits. My breeder herd has never been on the ground. (I am not adverse to having my grow outs destined for the freezer on the ground, but I am adverse to my breeders, whom I consider as long-term residents, being on the ground due to potential exposure to troublesome things such as parasites, soil born viruses and bacteria.)

As to your question regarding buying a trio from a large commercial breeder, I don’t see why not unless they are administering vaccines, antibiotics and other medications to their herd as a matter of course for outbreak prevention, etc. Overcrowding in a rabbitry increases the risks of disease outbreaks.

As for picky eating, I don’t think you will avoid or obtain any greater degree of such an issue no matter from where you get your initial trios. Individual likes and dislikes are just that: individual. And from my albeit limited experience, there seems not to be much variation from one rabbit to the next in terms of pickiness. One of my rabbits is most picky compared to all the others and I simply don’t give her whatever forage I know she will not consume. More for the others and less for her by her own choice.
Thanks for your input, KelleyBee!

I agree about the breeders not being on the ground due to risks, that’s why I was leaning towards the commercial rabbitry housed separately in the barn, but was wondering if the colony on the ground may have some resistance or immunity built up Because of that. But I’m not sure I want to risk that. But then I was worried the large rabbitry because they haven’t been exposed would be more vulnerable 😂 I’m likely over thinking it. We’re leaning towards the large rabbitry out of ease and Knowing more about them.

Good to know all yours loved forage and arent picky bunnies!
 

MuddyFarms

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@JG3 Here is an article from the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association about how they formulated a type of organic rabbit feed. They have some tables in it showing some ways you could mix things. It could give an idea for how much of each category might be needed in a mixture. Those tables were done without corn or soy, although it uses some other things that you probably won't. Just thought it interesting.

Formulating Organic Rabbit Feed - Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners
 

MuddyFarms

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This is interesting! Do you have some information on "vitamins and minerals, 2.75%" ?

Thanks for posting this link!

Sure! Glad to share things like this when I find them.

I don't know what their vitamin and mineral mix was, but I do know that certain feed stores here will sell vitamin and mineral mixes that you can use in your own feed blends. It is a common thing with farmers to use them. Here is a link that has some different blends for certain animals. I do not know if any of these would work for rabbits, so that would have to be looked into. They also have a linseed meal there on that page (over 20% crude protein). You can see their prices and nutritional info if you click on each mix. They sell a mix called "Crafts-Min Organic" that is an all-natural, organic, non-GMO, no-byproducts type of vitamin and mineral mix, as well as others. Grass Farmer Supply is just the first one that came up online; there are undoubtedly others as well.


You also may be able to contact either the woman that wrote that article or the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association to see if you could find more details on what they were using in that ration they made. If anyone finds out, it would be great to have it posted here.
 

MuddyFarms

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MnCanary

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Is there anything specific that you are thinking might be difficult?
Well, how to evenly mix minute quantities into very large quantities. Or how to even access these vitamins and minerals.

I've seen mineral / vitamin pre-mixes for large animals, I've not seen anything for an animal as small as a rabbit. Is there such a thing?

For most of my life I operated greenhouses. Mixing soil and mixing fertilizers gave me an appreciation for what's involved to evenly mix tiny quantities in large batches.
 

JG3

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Started my fodder growing experiment today. Soaked two small batches, two different ways and seeing if I’m successful! This morning the bottom one in the images has sprouts starting!! I’m more giddy than I should be, but I honestly thought they wouldn’t grow because they didn’t expand much while soaking and were still quite hard. The top one has about 5 sprouts, not doing as well as the other. All the white dots are the sprouts but it seems a little blurry to see them after upload.
 

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