silage and haylage

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Nov 5, 2011
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I have looked into it before but now with the sheep and considering things I can grow/make for many livestock to feed, especially through winter.

The biggest thing about it is that you have to have a plan so that once a container/bale/etc is opened you can feed it out quick enough before it starts to turn. Once opened to the air it starts to change and go off.

For the sheep I know to estimate they need 3% to 4.5% body weight in feed/forage/hay. I don't know of any estimation like that for the rabbits. And as I plan for the future I would really like to consider trying breeding guinea pigs again. I won't be able to do it for a few years once several other things are well settled. But that goes into the consideration of how much I would think about putting up.

With the sheep I'm aiming at a flock that ewes average 100-140#. Thinking for winter I'm looking at.. 3% would be 3# to 4.5# per ewe plus they'd get hay and late gestation grain increase that would decrease to weaning lambs. For my current flock size (24 sheep) that would be 72 to 108# haylage or silage per day, lets say average of 90#. Probably feeding it Nov through March, so lets say 150 days.
150 days x 90# per day = 13,500#
:shock: :lol: Obviously I'm not able to do that right now. And without machinery or a silo to boot.

So I'm thinking this year I'd like to see if I can get those real heavy bags and pack it inside metal barrels. I just need a place to store it that mice and coons can't wreak havoc on the bags. Although properly sealed silage is supposed to keep away such pests because there isn't a food smell to it but pests like to nibble everything just because so I'd rather not chance it.
Put it up for the rabbits and if I'm not getting through it quick enough I will feed some out to the sheep to keep from losing it to spoilage. This would also learn the sheep to it if I get round to making much more for them too.

This is some 3 and 6 mil contractor bags that look like I could use well enough and maybe even be able to reuse. 30gal to 95gal sizes. The 55-60gal in 3mil is 15 bags and $21 a box, $20 if you get 3 or more. I haven't checked what mil the stores carry/how many bags if I can find the same cheaper locally and not pay shipping.

But I figure if I can make a few bags to test how difficult it is to get right in bags... Well heck I could at least do enough to really supplement the rabbits. And the nutrition of it is much better than hays. I would like to try to do some bags with forages (mixed grasses, weeds) and some bags with crops (corn, sorghum, millet, etc) depending on what kind of area I can commandeer in spring to plant.

And I am lucky enough to have neighbors that had dairy cows until last year and they did silage. So I hope to be able to ask them about tips for good silage/haylage.

I don't keep too close track of the rabbit feed since I only have three adult rabbits right now and not breeding much, I don't go through many bags of feed. But estimating 7# adults and feeding breeding does 1lb of haylage/silage (alternating as working through the bags) plus choice of hay and pellets (which I'd guess they'd eat little)...
Right now I've got a Dutch doe, a Mini Rex doe, and a 1/2 dutch 1/4 mini lop 1/4 Flemish doeling. If I fed 3#/day that's 21#/week.. 546#/six months. Depending on how much ends up in each bag I think that could be doable. If I find a good storing area.

I am looking at this site already for planting areas that will get grazed by the sheep. I think the mix I've come up with (with their super epic calculator!) will be perfect as well to cut some for silage experimenting and cutting for fresh forage for the rabbits(/guinea pigs). It'll be $66 for ~56# seed, plus whatever shipping will be. That's supposed to be enough to broadcast plant 1 acre but it'd probably end up an area I'd plant and do a couple years.
If I can get dad to agree to commit to an area I'm gonna go ahead and go forward with that to see what shipping estimate will be.. (and probably buy it because I clearly don't have enough to do and I'm glutton for punishment)
And I have quite a bucket of "indian corn" from the last several years that I'd hand shelled into jars but not planted. That would be fine corn silage.

__________ Fri Jan 04, 2019 12:28 am __________

I've not actually handled haylage or silage before. I asked dad and he thinks if I packed the bags in a barrel that a full barrel size bag would be around 250-300# :eek: :shock: Sooo...

Let's say I buy 42gal bags at the farm store, 20 in a box. They are 3mil. I fill them about half way and estimate them at 100+# each. I could do 2,000#! :p :mrgreen: Even with breeding regularly I could go up to feeding 5# out a day and have enough to feed for 400 days if this is any kind of near true estimate! :shock:
If I can swing it ((after paying the insurance.. oops no seed order for me yet..)) I want to finally buy a livestock scale (it's decent priced and goes to 120# so should last a bit until I can buy a 'real one' that goes to a couple hundred pounds). Then I can weigh the bags and know how much gets put up.

I could still pack them in a barrel I think. I'd probably only need one other person to help me. One to scoop in and manage chopping, one to stomp pack bags and tie em off.
And I didn't think about it until I was asking dad just now but he has a little brush chopper. He thinks it would totally work for the scale I'm talking. I'd just need to figure out a system to move the forage from the hill/field to near the barn. And set up there to not have to move the packed bags too far. And If I build some kind of elevated floor there is a corner of the barn near the feed that is unused. I could pile the bags there. I'll have to watch for mice though! I can't think of anything around that. I have mint spray that's supposed to keep away mice and coons etc but I've not tried it yet.

.....well this has quickly gone from hypothetical to talked myself into it and basically planning... So I guess we shall see how it progresses I suppose. If I can get a raised floor built before spring... hmm... I need to look at the rest of this forum section again and the ebooks. I think if I can make the time to cut and pack it that I could stop buying feed altogether once this is in place. I'd just be buying mineral.. maybe some oats and stuff.. Well heck I was not expecting this enlightenment when I started this thread... <br /><br /> __________ Fri Jan 04, 2019 2:50 am __________ <br /><br /> Reviewing the ebook downloads...

In 1818 some sketchy stuff was recommended but I'm trying to figure out what growth rates was expected on these natural diets.
One book says the NZ rabbits weights- 4.5# at 3months, 5# at 4months, 6# at 5months, 8# at 8months, does 10# at 12months, bucks 9# at 12months.
Dutch- to be under 5#

Maintenance feed per rabbit
morning- 0.158# (2.53oz) alfalfa, 0.127# (2oz) barley
night- 0.158# (2.53oz) alfalfa, 0.07# (1.12oz) bran, 0.053# (0.85oz) beet pulp
double maintenance feed for does with litters 2wks old through 6wks old (weaning)
double maintenance feed for weaned litters

Just after that the give example with those feed rates says "with the stock above described, litters of 5, 6, or 7 youngsters will dress an average of 10# per litter at 8wks"
10# dressed plus 50% offal = 15# divided by a litter of 5 = average 3# at 8wks butchering.

1914 publication...
Talking about feed conversion and profit margin, it gives some price of feed/# vs how much feed to grow a 4# fryer and shows 13 to 16# feed.
Average litter 8 or more
weight of litter @ 4wks total 10#
4# at 8wks left with doe, 4# at 9wks if weaned at 4wks
maintenance 12% protein, nursing does and growing young 17% protein
maintenance for 5# =3oz.. 10# =4-6oz
pregnant does 5# =4oz.. 10# =4-6oz
nursing does full feed
2.7# feed produces 1# meat between 4-8wks

1966, slightly revised 1971
maintenance protein 12-15%
does with litters 16-20%
surprisingly still suggested to give cow or goat milk to all rabbits

hay and oats, if you can't find oats then barley. All the greens they'll clean up before it's gone wilted and off.

winter keeping to feed- carrots, parsnips, turnips, rutabagas,
summer garden- new Zealand spinach, trimmings, weedings
grains- oats, barley, wheat. keeper should have small hand mill to prepare own oats.

"feed the hares as one feeds sheep and there can be little room for error"
1.5 part bran
1 part ground oats
1 part whole oats
.5 part whole wheat
.5 part cr corn
.25 part hominy
all mixed thoroughly

3 days- oats & greens (in winter, carrots)
1 day- warm mash 3part bran to 1 part barley meal
3 days- wheat or barley & greens (in winter, swede turnips)
Dec 6, 2013
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Piney Flats ,Tn.
Have you read "Keeping Poultry And Rabbits On Scraps"
First issued in 1941, when the national crisis made it essential for every scrap of kitchen waste and spare time to be used for increasing the nation's food resources, this book enabled the meagre official wartime rations to be supplemented in thousands of homes by a regular supply of eggs and meat, at a minimum of trouble and expense.


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Nov 5, 2011
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It's that time of year.. The weather can't decide if it's hot, clear, overcast, or raining.. And thus begins this year's hay season.

So it's off to the races for me. I'm hoping to wean lambs next weekend. (gasp! already?!) With dad planning what areas/fields to do when I'll be needing to have things ready to go if I'm going to get some gathered up to chop and make silage/haylage with. Along with the ten million other things that need doing of course :| :roll: So I've been brainstorming while I sit with my grandmother who is recuperating from a fall and some illness and needs assistance at all times.

For the sheep I've run up estimates of feed needs for the year and needs. First number is dry matter (DM) intake per day as percentage of body weight. Second number is lbs DM needed per sheep per my flock average weight.
Maintenance- 2%.. 1.5#
Gestation- 2.5%.. 1.8#
Late gestation- single 3%, 2.1#.. twins 3.5%, 2.5#
Lactation- 3.5%.. 2.5#

For my current (kinda) ewe flock of 20 ewes that equates to total needs per 'seasons' of...
breeding- 840#
gestation- 3,060#
late gestation- 1,680#
lactation- 2,500#
maintenance- 4,800#
--total- 12,880# DM in a year. But the important part for silage estimating is without the maintenance, so 8,080#

Of course the difficult part is balancing that number in different seasons with grazing, hay, grain, and silage. I know the sheep need 1.8# but that doesn't spell out how much is whole corn, how much is pasture. Or in the winter with no pasture, how much is hay, silage, grain? It's all a balancing act.
So to be on the safe side I've added it all up as if I was talking just silage to feed out. Of course it won't be, but I need a number to kind of go by for the rest of the thinking so this will be a max high estimate that should be much more than I would need of silage to feed out.

I'm not entirely wrapping my head around measuring dry matter (DM) yet but I've watched a few videos on how to measure it by microwaving the forage material carefully until dry and comparing the fresh and dry weights. 10oz fresh turns to 6oz dry= 60% DM, 40% moisture (totally making up numbers for example). If nothing else it should help me better narrow down how much silage I'll need to feed out.
If my silage is 40% moisture I'll need to put up at least 40% more forage because I need to feed out # in dry matter terms, not actual weight terms. I hope that makes sense, I'm only barely wrapping my head around it so far! :shock:
In my reading it says haylage is to be 50-60% moisture putting up. You have to have proper moisture to get the fermentation balanced. Not enough sugar or not enough moisture will cause spoilage and/or mold issues. And more reading states grass silage is- to be cut when grass begins to head out.. wilt to 65-72% moisture.. chopped 1/4 to 3/8 inch.. packed tight to prevent spoilage and reduce air movement.
The difference in haylage vs grass silage seems to be texture and age of plants. Stemmy and more dry is haylage. Leafy and more moisture is grass silage.

One forum post comment, I think from a UK homestead forum, seemed to have done a bit of small scale silage and said that any silo or pit needs to be fed out at 6 inches a day to keep from spoiling. So a barrel full needs fed out 6inches deep a day, or a 10ft diameter silo needs fed out 6inches deep a day.

Here comes the part where I break my brain trying to think of the best way to make storing and feeding out manageable (IE, doable in a way that I'm going to actually do and not stab people)... :lol:
So I need to gather some test forage and do a DM test to see what the DM% is right now. Grass silage is supposed to be 65-72% moisture, so if I needed 100# DM I have to put up 165 to 172# actual weight. My 8,080# (4 ton) plus 70% means I put up 13,736# (almost 7 ton). :|

A 5gal bucket has a volume of .86 cubic ft. My current idea is to do a test.
*test run forage through branch chopper to see how fine cut it does
*measure DM of forage
*test pack a 5gal bucket of silage
*weight of bucket of silage, minus bucket
*bucket is X #s silage in .67 cubic ft minus moisture % = DM of silage in .86 cubic ft = how much cubic ft do I need of this silage?
*How much cubic ft = 30, 40, 50#DM? Would it work to use plastic 55gal barrels (est 7.35 cubic ft) and easily have portions of a few days silage? Would it be easier to build some 'mini silos' from slab wood and line with plastic? How much would portion into heavy duty trash bags easily that could be stored in a slab wood 'silo'?

One PDF I found of an old book on silos was a graph of silo height and diameter into how many tons it would store. The smallest given was 8ft diameter by 20ft tall holds 18 ton (36,000#). That's 35.82#/cubic ft. Meaning my 5gal bucket would estimated to weigh 30.8#. Assuming 70% moisture/30%DM that only gives me 9.24#DM. That'd be a whole lotta buckets! :roll:
Assuming that to be near accurate..35.82# actual turns into 10.74#DM feed value per cubic ft. 8080/10.74= 733 cubic ft.
I have messed with the math a while and to get 6inches off at a time it would have to be small, like 2.5x2ft (maintenance) up to 3x3ft. I need to get some sleep and revisit. Too much math for this gal.. :x

This is mostly about the sheep right now. But if I get this going and it isn't going to be too ridiculous to manage I'm going to introduce it to the rabbits and see what happens.

For anyone curious, I did see somewhere that rabbits are 5% (maintenance) to 9% (with litter) DM. So a 5# rabbit 5% (.25#/ 4oz)... 9% (.45#/7.2oz).. For the above silage that 5gal bucket is 9.24#DM would be 37 maintenance rations or 20 with litter rations. Of course that's just dry matter, not minerals and all the other goodies. But something to think about.

__________ Mon Jun 10, 2019 2:48 pm __________

Fresh material 2.3oz
dried material .9oz
DM is 39%, moisture is 61%

So this forage is actually stemmy and a bit dry and better as haylage. Which according to various forums people tend to say their sheep will eat the stemmy stuff fine as hay but not as haylage, much prefer grass silage leafy stuff and hay. We shall see I suppose.

Seeing as the rabbits wouldn't need much at all.. I'm considering hand cutting a little odd shape area near the barn that isn't easily mowed. Maybe I'll use this as my test bucket. I could pack it into (bread?) bags, then really pack in the bags into the 5gal bucket. This would give me little portions to feed the rabbits and easily stored in the bucket with lid.

Assuming the packed bucket weighs 30.8# and my new estimate of 39%DM would give me 12#DM in the bucket. 12# divided by 4oz ration is 48 maintenance rations. 30.8 divided by 48 rations is actual weight rations of 10.3oz. Just to check.. 39% of 10.3 is 4.
So two maintenance rations is 20.6oz/1.3# per bag and 24 bags into the bucket.

It just occurred to me that someone wanting to do this without a machine chopper could use a board to lay the forage on, and chop off the edge of the board with a machete. Let it fall into a bucket or trash can then bail that into your bags/barrel/etc to pack in. <br /><br /> __________ Thu Jun 13, 2019 11:05 pm __________ <br /><br /> Guess what?! :p I was wrong! :lol:

To calculate as-fed from your dry matter it's #DM / 0.00(DM % as decimal) = as fed.
Example... 39%DM haylage.. 1.5#/0.39= 3.85# as fed haylage.
90%DM corn.. 1.5#/0.9= 1.67# as fed corn.

So 3.85# x20 ewes = 77# haylage per day

Rabbit wise that's 5# rabbit maintenance .25#DM/0.39= .64# (10oz) as fed haylage.
30.8# bucket/.64#= 48 maintenance rations.

(time passes)......
HOW THE HECK... I messed up the sheep math but managed to get the rabbit math correct?! :shock: :| I have no idea. I can kind of math but I don't know what I did wrong/accidently right to do that :lol:

Sooooo... 8,080#DM estimated breeding through lactation becomes... 20,718# as fed haylage... :x Going by the PDF info 35.82#/cubic ft... 578.4 cubic ft silo..

1.5#DM is 3.85# as fed.. x23 ewes is 88.55# a day. 88.55/35.82= 2.472 cubic foot a day.
2.5x2ft by 6inch deep is 2.5 cubic ft.
2.5x2ft by 116ft is 580 cubic ft. So 12 mini silos 2.5x2x10ft (50c ft each) 600c ft total.
I've come up with this.. kind of locker silo idea.. Because obviously a 2.5x2ft and 10ft tall won't stand sturdy. So my idea is to build like a big double sided locker section. Both sides have 6 'lockers', each 2.5x2ft inside and 10ft tall. Each 'locker' has sectioned doors that slide in the front, 1ft deep and as wide as the locker. There you only open it as much as I can use in at least 2 days. Slide up the top door for access and cover when done. By the time you work down emptying the locker, the doors stack up and leave an empty silo locker. It would have to have a roof over it. The top of the silos would have to be pieces of carpenter trash bags, weighed down with a board and rocks etc weight.
The only thing I can't figure out right now is the best way to line it. Frame it with plywood and 1x8s... At first I was thinking line it with plastic sheeting. But I don't know how gluing that to wood would be over time. Then of course I thought of something like that spray water sealer stuff :mrgreen: Of course how safe would that be to pack in silage?

Then I was thinking I could just build a bigger version, with fewer lockers but the same cubic ft, and just pack it in with heavy duty bags packed with silage. I could slide out the top door and roll out a bag to feed out. The silo would keep it in less sq ft ground wise. And hopefully be able to try and mouse-proof it a bit from breaking into the bags. And it would be limited to opening up a bag at a time so the rest wouldn't spoil.
Dec 6, 2013
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Piney Flats ,Tn.
Study on using of silages in feeding of rabbits [1987]
Piatek, B. Niedzwiadek, S. Cieciak, F. (Instytut Zootechniki, Krakow (Poland))
White New Zealand rabbits from age of 38 days till slaughter at the age of 90 days were fed on a diet containing grass silage, legume silage, rye silage, maize silage, maize and beet leaf silage or silage from steamed potatoes. The highest slaughter body weight in rabbits given a control diet was observed. No negative effect of diet contained silages on carcass dressing and meat quality was stated


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Nov 5, 2011
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I'm getting a round bale of haylage from the neighbor. Going to try it with the sheep and bring some to the rabbits. See how they like it.


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Nov 5, 2011
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Things have been busy so I didn't get to try making any silage. It popped back into my brain because I also didn't end up getting the haylage bale from the neighbor. Which in the end is ok because I was a little worried about listeria/listerosis and my ewes being bred.

I'm grazing the sheep with electric netting and in the new field I have to mow strips to setup the fence. Sitting here today, getting some much needed rain, I realized heck! I could gather up what gets mowed and try packing it up for little bags of silage. With just one rabbit right now and thinking about breeding again I think it would be feasible to do and feed silage as a fair portion of the diet. Once I work the rabbits into eating it and make sure their stomachs even out with a new normal.

This explains the steps silage goes through fermenting. ... on-process

So if I can do some small bags in the next week.. And I get a buck and breed my doe Aug 1, due Aug 31.. Separate litter Oct 1.. The silage will have 13 weeks to ferment and be ready to feed for sure. I can introduce it to the litter, get them used to it, and also use them as a test to see how they do with eating it. I'll probably also introduce it to the doe but probably work her over slower. If it's going well I can integrate it into a main portion of the feed and use much less pellets.

So if we assume that all goes well.. I have a buck and doe and breed her a month after weaning her litter..
Oct- maintenance
Nov- bred, maint
Dec- nursing
Jan- maint
Feb- bred, maint
March- nursing
May-bred, maint
July- maint
Aug- bred, maint
Sept- nursing
Oct- maint
Nov- bred, maint

For the buck 5# needs 5%DM= .25#/4oz each day
.25 x 365days = 91.25#DM a year
Going with my previous test above of 39% DM that would be: 91.25/0.39= 234# actual feed a year and .64#/10.2oz per day. This accounts for the moisture in the feed.

For the doe 5# needs 5%DM maintenance and 9%DM nursing.
10 months maintenance. 300 days. .25 x 300 = 75#DM
5 months nursing. 150 days. .45 x 150 = 67.5#DM
142.5#DM a year
Again with the previous 39%DM that is: 142.5/0.39= 365.4# actual feed a year. Maintenance ration .64#/10.2oz. Nursing ration 1.15#/18.4oz.
Here is where I think pellets or grain mix comes in. Even after a rabbit is used to, or has been raised on, a diet with silage and has the stomach capacity... How limited is the capacity by being pregnant? I know this is an issue for sheep and goats, you have to use a more concentrated ration late in gestation to make sure they can eat less and still get what they need. I'm not sure it's as big of a deal with rabbits but getting a rabbit to eat that much in a day seems like a lot. I hypothesize that the pregnant ration would do better to be the normal ration with extra pellets/grains.

Ok so for only feeding the breeding pair of rabbits the total is 600# actual silage amount. For amount/space idea that is.. "A single bale of baled silage (4 feet by 4 feet) at 50 percent moisture may contain up to 600 pound of forage dry matter." 600/0.50= 1,200# actual silage amount. (quote from For actual real life what that would mean storage wise I'm not sure yet. It will depend on what method (bags, buckets,..) and what they end up weighting.

I also am not great right now at regularly cutting forage. So the rabbit is varying how much of the diet is forage vs pellets right now. She hasn't had any issues and self regulates. I think for me, at least the way life has been going, it would be better to plan out how much I'd need for the entire year. Then I'll know if I can get that amount put up in a big work day, or a couple smaller work days, then I will know it's there and ready to be fed easily.

__________ Fri Jul 10, 2020 6:53 pm __________

"One book says the NZ rabbits weights- 4.5# at 3months, 5# at 4months, 6# at 5months, 8# at 8months, does 10# at 12months, bucks 9# at 12months." From my above post.

4.5# at 3 months. 4.5#/90 days= 0.05#/day growth.
5# at 4 months, so half a pound in a month. 0.5/30= 0.017#/day.
6# at 5 months, so one pound in a month. 1/30= 0.033#/day.

If anyone has weights on their natural fed rabbits at month ages I'd be interested to see what your rates are like. It's odd because the sheep do so much more. Obviously they are bigger and different, it's interesting though. My ADG (average daily gain) for the lambs varies from .23#/day on the not so good ones to .47#/day on the best ones. At the first month weight they grow the fastest and I've had them over .5#/day. Of course as they get older the rate slows down.

Math for the grow outs feeding is a lot of extrapolation...
"double maintenance feed for does with litters 2wks old through 6wks old (weaning).
double maintenance feed for weaned litters.
Just after that the give example with those feed rates says "with the stock above described, litters of 5, 6, or 7 youngsters will dress an average of 10# per litter at 8wks"
10# dressed plus 50% offal = 15# divided by a litter of 5 = average 3# at 8wks butchering."
It doesn't really say if double maintenance is the feed for the weaned litter together? Individually? That the kits are going to be starting to eat moms ration...

:| Hmmm... I'm just going to have to find out and try to make a lot of notes. Since this will basically be free fed to the growouts I'm going with the starting assumption of 9% DM of the litters weight by how many are in each growout cage. So 10# total in a growout cage would be 9% of 10# = 0.9#DM/0.39= 2.3# actual ration. See if they are cleaning it up fast or leaving a lot by the next feed time.

A quote from MaggieJ on another natural feeding thread "Kits raised on a natural diet do tend to grow more slowly than those fed pellets. I find it takes 14-16 weeks for them to reach the magic five pound mark instead of 10-12 on pellets."
Pellet diet 5#/12wks = .417#/week gain. per day is .06#.
Natural diet 5#/16wks = .313#/week gain. per day is .045#.
So that isn't a huge difference. Before weaning I'm not sure, I'll just have to have extra feeders and see. <br /><br /> __________ Mon Jul 27, 2020 4:41 pm __________ <br /><br /> You ever get so mad when you can't find something for a long time and then randomly you find it, somewhere you've looked a hundred times, somewhere out in plain sight not even hidden... :|

The Homesteader's Handbook to Raising Small Livestock by Jerome D Belanger (copyright 1974)
"As an average, dry does in breeding conditions consume 3.8% of their live weight daily. In other words, a 10-pound doe eats 10 times 0.038 or 0.38 pound (six ounces) a day. This would amount to 2.5 ounces of grain and 3.5 ounces of hay. If green feed or root crops are fed, the quantity should be limited to 1.6 ounces. Using this formula, the quantity fed can be adjusted for does of other weights.
Bucks and does under six months of age being developed for breeders will consume 6.7% of their live weight daily. A rabbit that weighs four pounds at weaning will need about 4.2 ounces daily, but the quantity increases with the weight of the rabbit."
"A bred doe and does with litters should be fed all they will eat without waste."
Dec 6, 2013
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Piney Flats ,Tn.
Having fed rabbits on a "natural" no grain diet for years,
I would suggest you adopt a plan to check individual breed stock rabbits weekly, for over or underweight..
then adjust your "individual"feed program accordingly.
Individual rabbits, have vastly different appetites,and feed efficiency .
Young rabbits [out of the nestbox] and the milking doe, can be fed "a full energy" ration.
[IE:lots of high energy root crops]
But, as soon as the rabbits are weaned, the weight of the doe becomes a major concern,
and she should be fed accordingly.