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  #1  
Old 10/11/07, 09:23 AM
 
Join Date: Feb 2006
Location: Prince Edward County, Ontario, Canada
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Feeding Rabbits Naturally

Tracy has kindly offered to give us a sticky for this thread about natural feeding for rabbits. We can use it to discuss all aspects of natural feeding: using weeds, trimmings from safe trees, garden produce, grains and hay for our rabbits. While this method of feeding is of limited use in a large rabbitry, it has, I believe, great potential for raising backyard or homestead rabbits. It also provides a more varied and interesting diet for the rabbits.

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Old 10/11/07, 10:14 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by MaggieJ
Tracy has kindly offered to give us a sticky for this thread about natural feeding for rabbits. We can use it to discuss all aspects of natural feeding: using weeds, trimmings from safe trees, garden produce, grains and hay for our rabbits. While this method of feeding is of limited use in a large rabbitry, it has, I believe, great potential for raising backyard or homestead rabbits. It also provides a more varied and interesting diet for the rabbits.

And it makes them into vicious cage door stalkers! I was nearly knocked over by the horde that stormed the door this morning.

What am I going to do when things turn brown and the snow flies? I have to get some seedling trays set up in the Anti-Catatorium soon. There were a couple of dandelion flowers gone to seed. Hope Nick didn't mow them over on Saturday...

BTW, I had an interesting experience with drying comfrey. I'll go put it on the sticky thread, though.

Pony!
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  #3  
Old 10/11/07, 11:47 AM
 
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Location: Prince Edward County, Ontario, Canada
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Fresh Foods for Winter Feeding

Quote:
Originally Posted by Pony

And it makes them into vicious cage door stalkers! I was nearly knocked over by the horde that stormed the door this morning.

What am I going to do when things turn brown and the snow flies? I have to get some seedling trays set up in the Anti-Catatorium soon. There were a couple of dandelion flowers gone to seed. Hope Nick didn't mow them over on Saturday...

BTW, I had an interesting experience with drying comfrey. I'll go put it on the sticky thread, though.

Pony!
Good question, Pony! And yes, I got mugged today too!

I make sure I have in a good supply of hay: some alfalfa/timothy and some grass hay. I bought fifteen bales back in the summer and can get more if I need it. Grain is easy to get from the feed store andy time of year. In winter, those are the basics. Dried plants saved from summer provide variety and extra nutrients. Still, bunnies crave fresh, green foods in winter the same as we do. Rather then feed them expensive fresh foods from the store on a regular basis, try some of these ideas. (I do give my rabbits an occasional chunk of store-bought apple or carrot as a treat.)

GROW GRAIN GRASS: Fresh foods are nice for the buns and I buy some dollar store rectangular dishpans, put about two inches of soil in them and plant grain: wheat, rye, oats. I don't bother with drainage holes. It's the same idea as growing "cat grass" but on a larger scale. When the grass is about four inches long you can start harvesting it and you will get several harvests from one tub before it gets discouraged. Then just start over. You will want more than one on the go so there is always some grass ready to cut.

SUNFLOWER SPROUTS: Another dishpan, this one planted with sunflower seeds. Start cutting them once they have true leaves or let them grow on for a bit. Replant as needed.

POT UP WEEDS: A dishpan of transplanted weeds - especially dandelion and plantain - will give your rabbits tasty nibbles all winter. Try to find small plants as they are easier to transplant. Sprinkle on some of those dandelion seeds too, but they wil take much longer to establish themselves.

FORCE TWIGS: Twigs cut from safe trees can be fed to the buns as is all winter long, They relish the bark and buds and it is good for their teeth. It should also be possible, however, to bring some twigs inside and put them in a jar with a couple inches of water. It will take a bit of time, but they will break dormancy and begin to leaf out. When ready to serve, remove the part that was sitting in water... It could have mould on it.

SWEET POTATO VINE: In spite of their name, sweet potatoes are not from the same family as regular potatoes. Sweet potatoes have edible vines and leaves. You can start them by pushing in toothpicks so that only the base is in water. They will soon sprout and send up lots of edible greens.

Just a few ideas to get the ball rolling. Keep in mind that it is not necessary to feed the same quantities of greens in winter as you do in summer. We change emphasis in our own diets with the seasons and it is natural to do the same thing with our rabbits. Wild rabbits manage fine on very little fresh food in winter. (Of course, they are not breeding in winter either, so the demands on their bodies are less.)
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Old 10/11/07, 04:25 PM
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I am planning on using my seeds from the squashes gtown in my garden to make sprouts for the rabbits.
They ate the volunteers from the garden this summer so it should work.
I coudn't get them to just eat the seeds.l

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Old 10/11/07, 04:31 PM
 
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I've been able to find baking sheets and the like at the thrift shop in town for thirty cents or so, thus sparing my decent pans for human use. You guys might check around if your low on spares too.
I've also had luck wrapping a bundle of seeds in cloth or a paper towel (I like cloth better) and tying the top shut, then swishing thw whole things through water once a day and hanging in a sunny window. Sprouts aplenty with little space used to grow them!
I wonder, could you put carrot tops in a pan of water for sprouting like sweet potatoes? Anyone tried this?

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Old 10/11/07, 08:57 PM
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I use the styro trays from various store products. They work GREAT for starting seed. I think I will use some compost from the garden mixed in with seed starter to ensure that there are plenty of nutrients in the plants.

I'm also going to pot up the parsley plant from the garden, and see if I can salvage what's left of the basils as well. Those rabbits are SLAVES for basil -- even that stand-offish Cal doe!

Pony!
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Old 10/12/07, 02:57 PM
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I have a netherland buck who will NOT eat grass or anything like that. he is a hay and pets kinda guy any suggestions?

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Old 10/14/07, 09:42 AM
 
Join Date: May 2002
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This year we had an abundance of sunflowers. The rabbits LOVED them.
I first introduced the leaves from the plants slowly. After they were accustomed to the leaves they were fed the entire plant, stalk heads and leaves.
I will be planting more sunflowers next year. The other benifit is that the mature plants provided shade as they were planted on the outside of the green house so it helped shade the building where the rabbits are housed.

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Old 10/14/07, 10:30 AM
 
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Location: Prince Edward County, Ontario, Canada
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Tracy
This year we had an abundance of sunflowers. The rabbits LOVED them.
I first introduced the leaves from the plants slowly. After they were accustomed to the leaves they were fed the entire plant, stalk heads and leaves.
I will be planting more sunflowers next year. The other benifit is that the mature plants provided shade as they were planted on the outside of the green house so it helped shade the building where the rabbits are housed.
Sunflowers are great, aren't they? You can plant as thickly as you please and then pull the extra seedlings for an early spring green. Leave some a little longer and use them as "cut and come again" greens. Let the best ones mature for seeds. And they do provide shade.

Grape vines, even wild grapes, are another good "greens plus shade" plant.
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  #10  
Old 10/25/07, 09:19 PM
 
Join Date: Feb 2006
Location: Prince Edward County, Ontario, Canada
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My picks for the top 10 wild plants in Zone 5

I'm in Zone 5, on the northern shore of Lake Ontario. Here's my top ten common free wild plants for green feeding. In all cases all the above-fround parts are safe for rabbits.

1. Dandelion
2. Round-leafed Mallow
3. Plantain
4. Raspberry
5. Chicory
6. Sow thistle
7. Willow
8. Clover - red or white
9. Sunflower
10. Lambs-quarters

What zone are you in and what's tops on your list?

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  #11  
Old 10/27/07, 07:13 AM
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I'm Zone 5a, NE IL.

So far, the plants I use regularly are

1. plantain
2. round-leaf mallow
3. dandelions
4. raspberry
5. clover
6. comfrey

Nick and I are going to go hunting around the roadside ditches, where chicory grows wild around here. Also trying to locate a friend who has a willow tree. Going to plant some sunflower seeds for the greens (inside). Have to look and see what seed I have to start an indoor rabbit garden.

Oh! And we give the rabbits apple tree sticks to nibble.

Pony!
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  #12  
Old 10/27/07, 08:24 AM
 
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Location: Prince Edward County, Ontario, Canada
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If you find some chicory, consider transplanting a few plants into a corner of the yard. Gathering from the roadside (unless it is a seldom-used backroad) could be a problem due to the exhaust fumes. Kanable's book warns against it... OTOH, her book was written in the 70's before unleaded fuel and emission controls. If you transplant some and cut it right back to the ground, the new growth should be fine and in a year or so you'll have lots.

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Old 10/28/07, 07:45 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by MaggieJ
If you find some chicory, consider transplanting a few plants into a corner of the yard. Gathering from the roadside (unless it is a seldom-used backroad) could be a problem due to the exhaust fumes. Kanable's book warns against it... OTOH, her book was written in the 70's before unleaded fuel and emission controls. If you transplant some and cut it right back to the ground, the new growth should be fine and in a year or so you'll have lots.

Good idea. THanks!

I could also just collect some seed and get it started inside. I saw some dandelions going to seed out in the yard, too, so I'll see what happens when I plant those inside as well.

I realized yesterday that I left a couple plants I use off the list:

lemon balm
basil
parsley

Pony!
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Old 10/28/07, 09:07 AM
 
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Location: Prince Edward County, Ontario, Canada
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Pony

Good idea. THanks!

I could also just collect some seed and get it started inside. I saw some dandelions going to seed out in the yard, too, so I'll see what happens when I plant those inside as well.

I realized yesterday that I left a couple plants I use off the list:

lemon balm
basil
parsley

Pony!
Seed should work, but it will take some time to get plants big enough to use. If you pot up the plants, cut them back to soil level and give them a sunny window and some water, you should have lovely fresh greens in a couple of weeks.

Parsley, basil and lemon balm are all great for rabbits and they provide a nice variety of flavours. (My cat likes the odd nibble of basil too.)
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Old 11/13/07, 07:26 AM
 
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Maggie,

Many thanks for your informative posts on natural feeding. We started in a small way late this summer. We're still using mostly pellets but would like to change over completely next year. I'm kind of looking for how much dried feed you give each rabbit per day as a basis for storing foodstuffs for the winter when you get it figured out.

Our rabbits really liked cattail leaves and corn stalks, fresh and dried. We have some dried corn stalks from before the frost so they're good and green. No cattails put away but plans for next year. We buy alfalfa hay plus I'd have to buy grains, mostly for the fryers. We have 10 bags of cob corn coming today to use as a 'heat feed' for the cold times since we're in a cold area living on the line between zones 3 and 4. I'm going to spend alot of time this winter figuring out how to dry and store dandelions,
raspberry leaves, cattails and other feeds from the safe food lists.

Thanks again, to all, for the great ideas and discussion.

Lisa

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Old 11/13/07, 07:46 AM
 
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Thanks, Lisa, for your post. I'm still feeling my way with the natural feeding. The hardest part was beefing up the youngsters. They are getting there now since I added molasses and sunflower oil to their grain mix. Just a little made such a difference!

Rabbits can live on good hay alone, fed free-choice. I don't recommend it, but it provides a baseline for planning. In winter, some grain is a good idea -- and I found that the does needed it when they are lactating too. The dried greens are great for the rabbits: they provide variety and interest and lots of nutrients. But I think one has to adjust the amount fed to the supply you can dry and store. I know someone who has been drying the same quantity that she feeds fresh, more or less, and that seems as good a way of estimating as any. Don't forget that you can also feed windowsill greens to the rabbits, especially if you start to run low in late winter. Grain grass is the easiest and very fast-growing... and you can cut it several times before it starts to get straggly.

This will be my first winter feeding the rabbits without pellets... so I am still breaking new ground. Looking forward to comparing notes with you as we go!

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Old 11/14/07, 07:04 AM
 
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Do you think dandelion greens picked and dried this time of year would contain enough nutrients to make it worthwhile? There's been quite a few freezes but the dandelions are still green. The cattails went to pot a couple months ago so those will have to wait til spring. Which grain, besides oats, are good for winter/lactating/beefing feed? We have pretty much anything available from the feedmll although last year when we fed grain with the pellets they didn't much care for the barley in hulls. We built a greenhouse for winter greens for us this year, plan to use cull plants (slug eaten, etc.) for the rabbits but could sprout grains and sunflowers.

Storage space here is pretty much unlimited, we'll hang bags from the rafters in the machine shed which is where the corn stalks are.

This is really going get interesting.

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Old 11/14/07, 08:03 AM
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Things are still remarkably green here, too. I'm still picking dandelions, comfrey, grass (which they TOTALLY love), mallow, raspberry. The parsley and basil are history, though.

Found out that the buck loves maple leaves, too.

I've dried a bit of raspberry, some dandelion, some comfrey. Maybe ought should get out there and grab some grass to see how it dries, but also have quite a bit of hay. Don't know how far a bale will go over the winter; may be that I am too optimistic.

But we'll see. The buns seem to prefer greens over pellets, and I've been chopping up greens and adding it to the chooks' food too. Darned rabbits rush the cage door (should have seen them this morning!) knowing that I have a bushel of greens to share out among them.

Maybe by next Spring, I'll be catching up to Maggie and feed without pellets (or not...)

Pony!
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Old 11/14/07, 09:17 AM
 
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Lisa, there is some controversy about feeding greens that have been frosted. I've never had problems doing so and I've never known anyone who has had problems... but some of the books mention it. (I've come to the conclusion that a great deal of what is in the books about non-pelleted food is not reliable. Tell me that the cottontails are not eating frozen greens. )

One thing you could do is to pot up some dandelions etc. and keep them in your greenhouse... It would provide healthy nibbles all winter long. You can feed maple twigs and branches all winter, likewise willow and apple. My buns love them. If you want you can force them on a windowsill and feed when they green up. I'd cut off the end that has been in water, however, because it may go mouldy.

I doubt one bale of hay will take them through the winter, unless you are very careful to prevent them wasting it. If you can get some more and you have the storage space, I suggest you do so. We bought 15 bales last summer and I am hoping it will see them through until haying next spring... but I admit I have not been particularly careful with it and a lot gets trampled. Hay is $3 a bale here, so not a big concern. A cage full of youngsters can really eat a lot of hay... a lot of anything. Once my current litters are in the freezer, hay consumption will drop here... I am only overwintering three does and a buck.

Ideally, a mix of oats, wheat, rye and barley would probably be best. Oats and barley are more patatable to rabbits if rolled or crimped; see what your feed store carries. I'm feeding a scratch that has oats, barley and wheat (I think) plus cracked corn. I mix it half and half with crimped oats, mainly to dilute the cracked corn. The rabbits don't like it and every morning I throw a handful or two of the corn they leave to the chickens and geese. My chickens free range and I give them their main food in the late afternoon. IF I get a bit more organized, I will likely buy sacks of whole wheat, crimped oats and barley and mix my own. Storage is a bit of a problem.

I'm out of time... gotta run but will be back later.

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Old 11/14/07, 10:54 AM
 
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Pony, I wouldn't be surprised if you are already ahead of me, even though you are feeding pellets. There is no way I am giving my buns anything like a bushel of greens this time of year! It must take you ages to gather them all!

I just don't have the energy to do as much as I would like.... I came to the homesteading thing rather late. My now-ex and I talked about it when we were young, both before and after we got married, but then he lost interest. So instead of coming to this lifestyle at 25 or so, I didn't get here until I was into my 50's. And I've never been a high-energy person like my sister.

I notice as the greens get cut back in the fall, the buns attack the alfalfa/timothy hay with the same enthusisasm. My sister (who owns and runs a small restaurant in Muskoka and who is accustomed to buying in bulk) brought me a fifty pound bag of carrots that she got for $5 - a present for the bunnies. So they will get regular carrots until they run out. We will use some of them too, of course, because they will go soft before they buns can eat them all and I will likely dry and freeze some. The buns should enjoy dried carrots later in the winter and we will enjoy the frozen ones!

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