Thoughts about hay lacking diversity my rabbits want

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BuffBrahmaBantam

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I am increasingly interested in obtaining a diverse hay mix, after watching my rabbits, and want to know if anyone, anywhere has seen a hay mix for sale that is not one or two grass species or alfalfa.

I have been watching my rabbits and notice how much they look for diverse plants when I bring them lawn or garden offerings. What has really struck me is that now it is winter, the grass is terrible quality by my visual assessment, buried in snow, and dry, but my doe still waits by her pen gate for scraps of this grass. Ditto for wrinkled, frost frozen broccoli and kale leaves, strawberry leaves, sprigs of aster/goldenrod gone to seed, and similar. Lacking a better explanation, I assume she is looking for diversity in her diet. She has a litter right now and has free access to pellets, alfalfa hay, and orchard grass hay that is sweet-smelling. She gets oats and wheat in the evening and has a mineral and salt lick. Why does she want these other things to eat?

I wonder if our human obsession for perfectionism is messing up our rabbits. All the hay I’ve seen for sale is advertised as one species like Timothy, orchardgrass, alfalfa, (sometime alfalfa mixed with one of these grasses) when I’m starting to suspect my doe wants all sorts of things in her hay, like dandelion, clover, broadleaf ‘weeds’, etc, etc.

What do you all think about this theory of mine?
 

Cindy in SD

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The hay we get here tends to be pretty variegated. If you can find some guy who hays his place and sells it on Craig's list or the feed store bulletin board, you might get more of a mix, if you can get 40 lb square bales (as opposed to 600-800+ lb bales).

Or you could look around for a place to buy a scythe and cut your own. The grass clippings you get from mowing won't work (as you've probably found) since it's chopped up small. If you use a string trimmer or scythe, you can rake the grass (etc.) up to feed, or spread it out in the sun to dry for a few hours, then sqoosh it into a trash can with twine inside crossed both ways to tie it, tap it out then stack it somewhere cool and dry. It's not that much work unless you have quite a large rabbitry or a l-o-n-g winter (as we have here).
 
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The hay we get here tends to be pretty variegated. If you can find some guy who hays his place and sells it on Craig's list or the feed store bulletin board, you might get more of a mix, if you can get 40 lb square bales (as opposed to 600-800+ lb bales).

Or you could look around for a place to buy a scythe and cut your own. The grass clippings you get from mowing won't work (as you've probably found) since it's chopped up small. If you use a string trimmer or scythe, you can rake the grass (etc.) up to feed, or spread it out in the sun to dry for a few hours, then sqoosh it into a trash can with twine inside crossed both ways to tie it, tap it out then stack it somewhere cool and dry. It's not that much work unless you have quite a large rabbitry or a l-o-n-g winter (as we have here).
Just a word to the wise concerning finding some guy who hays his place and sells it on Craig's list...

BEWARE what assortment of plants you may find in it. This summer I had the biggest heartbreak since I began raising rabbits, due to hay bought from a guy on craigslist.

I lost over a dozen rabbits, including no less than 5 Best in Show prime breeding animals, to hay that was baled up with lupine. We noticed some broadleaf weeds (as well as other weeds) but didn't think too much about it, I guess assuming they were dandelion. WRONG! Many species of lupine, in some areas known as locoweed, contain an alkoloid that is a wicked neurotoxin. The tiny mini rex died faster than the big Satins, but all the rabbits died horrible deaths. :(

The flowers of different species can be larger or smaller, blue or purple or yellow, but the leaf shape is distinctive. Not all lupines are toxic, in fact some are valuable food plants. However, the ones that are dangerous contain alkoloids in the seeds and pods that are very toxic. Being dried and baled in hay does not remove this danger. This is what some of them look like:
1669329276053.png 1669331125998.png

Other poisonous weeds here in AK include buttercup, nightshade, monkshood, cow parsnip, poison hemlock. It is really worth it to make very sure none of your local deadlies are in the hay you buy!
 

BuffBrahmaBantam

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Just a word to the wise concerning finding some guy who hays his place and sells it on Craig's list...

BEWARE what assortment of plants you may find in it. This summer I had the biggest heartbreak since I began raising rabbits, due to hay bought from a guy on craigslist.

I lost over a dozen rabbits, including no less than 5 Best in Show prime breeding animals, to hay that was baled up with lupine. We noticed some broadleaf weeds (as well as other weeds) but didn't think too much about it, I guess assuming they were dandelion. WRONG! Many species of lupine, in some areas known as locoweed, contain an alkoloid that is a wicked neurotoxin. The tiny mini rex died faster than the big Satins, but all the rabbits died horrible deaths. :(

The flowers of different species can be larger or smaller, blue or purple or yellow, but the leaf shape is distinctive. Not all lupines are toxic, in fact some are valuable food plants. However, the ones that are dangerous contain alkoloids in the seeds and pods that are very toxic. Being dried and baled in hay does not remove this danger. This is what some of them look like:
View attachment 32590 View attachment 32591

Other poisonous weeds here in AK include buttercup, nightshade, monkshood, cow parsnip, poison hemlock. It is really worth it to make very sure none of your local deadlies are in the hay you buy!
How terrible!
 

BuffBrahmaBantam

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The hay we get here tends to be pretty variegated. If you can find some guy who hays his place and sells it on Craig's list or the feed store bulletin board, you might get more of a mix, if you can get 40 lb square bales (as opposed to 600-800+ lb bales).

Or you could look around for a place to buy a scythe and cut your own. The grass clippings you get from mowing won't work (as you've probably found) since it's chopped up small. If you use a string trimmer or scythe, you can rake the grass (etc.) up to feed, or spread it out in the sun to dry for a few hours, then sqoosh it into a trash can with twine inside crossed both ways to tie it, tap it out then stack it somewhere cool and dry. It's not that much work unless you have quite a large rabbitry or a l-o-n-g winter (as we have here).
That is neat! I’m so glad you shared that. I wish I were in your area. That is interesting that you find some diversity in your region at least in some bales.

I should note that we live in a hay producing region. Hay is one of the main “crops” aside from fruit and hops, and apparently the hay is good enough to feed million dollar racehorses and huge amounts are exported (not sure if that is the best word but I mean to say it is trucked out and sold throughout the US and oversees).

We only get hay from local farmers and we have not seen anything very diverse. From what we can tell, they are under pressure to manage their fields for specific grasses or alfalfa for the same reasons the big commercial producers are, or it is the easiest thing to do because buyers don’t want weeds. We will continue to ask around but people look at you like you’re crazy if you ask for organic hay around here. I haven’t had the courage to ask some to grow weedy hay for me, LOL. We have friends that have nice diverse hay but they have a commercial organic livestock operation and need every bale they can get. They likewise cannot buy in organic hay (can’t find it) and they have a big network. I wonder if we lived in a place where hay was not such a commodity crop we’d have more options?

Believe it or not, I have a scythe but our property is too small, shaded and marginal to produce any amount of hay worth speaking of. I use the scythe on a small patch of grain I grow every year. I agree that doing it myself on my property would be the best thing! We are just dying to move from this house and get a bigger, sunnier property. But until then, we are reliant on buying in hay:( Hopefully in a year things will be different and we will have a big sunny property where I can scythe my own hay for my buns. I so badly want a homestead. I dream of this every day!
 
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I love the suggestion of gathering for your rabbits but PLEASE let it dry more than a day.
Hay is cut, raked into windrows, dried on one side and then flipped over to dry on the other before baling.
If enough is piled together it will begin to compost inside and create enough heat to start a fire.
 

BuffBrahmaBantam

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I love the suggestion of gathering for your rabbits but PLEASE let it dry more than a day.
Hay is cut, raked into windrows, dried on one side and then flipped over to dry on the other before baling.
If enough is piled together it will begin to compost inside and create enough heat to start a fire.
That’s not a problem where we live. It is super dry and arid all summer. Things dry very quickly.

On another note, I was reading Laura Ingalls Wilder and she talks about Pa harvesting native prairie hay and selling it back east. I imagine that hay would have been diverse! Before pesticides had been invented…
 
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Preitler

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I do make about half of the hay I need myself. Around here toxic plants aren't much of an issue - buttercup is fine once dried, hemock close to nonexistent since the pastures here are used for cattle for many centuries, stuff like butterbur doesnb't effect rabbits. I also gather plants elsewhere and mix them in, like nettles, butterbur, clover, goutweed etc.
Farmed, single species hays are pretty much unheard of around here, how is that done anyway without the use of herbizides to keep everything else out, and without doing damage to the soil long term? Here a huge diversity of plants in hay is a sign of quality, apart from the nutrational values it also shows that the pastures aren't over-fertilized, and nitrte levels aren't too high.

It takes 2-3 days to make my hay, I dry it on big plastic sheets so no moisture comes up from the ground, and if rain comes I just roll up the sheet to cover the hay. Dry, sunny, somewhat windy days are best.
I bale the hay and store it under the roof of the shed. I only feed 6 rabbits through winter, the other 10 bales I get from a local farmer.
 

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