Can I raise rabbits on hay alone?

Discussion in 'Rabbits' started by Maria, Jan 9, 2009.

  1. Maria

    Maria Well-Known Member

    Messages:
    331
    Joined:
    Apr 24, 2003
    Location:
    Missouri
    I used to raise meat rabbits on pellets when I was a teen. Now I'm interested in getting started again, but am wondering if I can feed them hay only. We grow our own hay, you see, and it would be nice to have another set of creatures I can grow for meat on the hay.

    The hay is a mixed timothy, orchard grass, brome, red clover and lespedeza and some weeds of course- we don't spray the fields. I am feeding this to our cows right now and they are keeping their weight just fine with no grain. Would rabbits be OK on that diet too?
     
  2. pookshollow

    pookshollow Pook's Hollow

    Messages:
    4,570
    Joined:
    Aug 22, 2005
    Location:
    Ontario, Canada
    From everythng I've read and past experience, I would have to say no.

    I tried cutting back on pellets and feeding more hay this fall. Ended up with some small litters and thin does, so went back to normal pellet feeding. Does look good, litters are 7 and up.
     

  3. MaggieJ

    MaggieJ Well-Known Member Supporter

    Messages:
    11,272
    Joined:
    Feb 6, 2006
    Location:
    Prince Edward County, Ontario, Canada
    Hay alone will likely keep them alive, but they won't do well.

    I believe that hay can be the cornerstone of a great rabbit diet, however, if it is judiciously supplemented with small amounts of grain and fresh greens and other ingredients. You will still be able to raise meat rabbits very cheaply, since much of their food from April to November can be gathered for free. But they do need the energy and certain vitamins that grains and fresh foods provide in order to prosper.

    This forum has tons of info on what we generally call natural feeding. Many of us no longer feed the traditional rabbit pellets. Instead we are attempting to feed rabbits as they were fed before pelleted feed became available. It is very much in keeping with the homesteading spirit of this forum. Start with the "sticky" threads at the top and proceed through all the recent threads on making a home ration for rabbits. It's a work in progress and most of us are not totally satisfied with the current results... but we feel we are on the right track.

    This is probably not a good approach for people raising rabbits for show or for sale to a meat processor. Rabbits raised on natural food generally take much longer to reach market weight and the processors want them young. It's fine for one's own use or for occasional sales to friends, neighbours and family.
     
  4. Honorine

    Honorine Carpe Vinum Supporter

    Messages:
    1,735
    Joined:
    Feb 27, 2006
    Location:
    PA
    Domestic rabbits need more than just hay to thrive and produce, they have been bred to build muscle and mass and produce heavily, and they can't do that on hay alone. There are a few breeds that have a more natural wild body shape that might do alright on mostly hay but those are not meat breeds, and they still won't produce well enough for you.
     
  5. jil101ca

    jil101ca Well-Known Member

    Messages:
    1,713
    Joined:
    Jul 1, 2007
    Location:
    Northern Ontario
    I tried just hay alone last year on half a litter just to see. The 4 kits fed only hay were very small/thin and way behind their litter mates who were fed hay and pellets. i stopped my experiment when the hay fed 4 were 8 weeks.
     
  6. Beaniemom

    Beaniemom Well-Known Member

    Messages:
    2,209
    Joined:
    May 25, 2007
    Location:
    New York
    What kind of hay is it? I'd be more inclined to say yes if it were alfalfa hay, but you would probably still need to suppliment with grains or fresh stuff to be sure they got all the nutrients they needed.
     
  7. Maria

    Maria Well-Known Member

    Messages:
    331
    Joined:
    Apr 24, 2003
    Location:
    Missouri
    Well, darn. I was hoping for another way to convert hay to meat. Well, I chose my cows with breeds that would do well on grass/hay alone. Are there breeds of rabbits that would do OK on a diet of orchard grass/ timothy/ brome/red clover/ lespedeza?

    That would probably be wild rabbits, right? :/
    Maybe I should just drop the whole idea. I don't want another animal I'd have to buy feed for.
     
  8. MaggieJ

    MaggieJ Well-Known Member Supporter

    Messages:
    11,272
    Joined:
    Feb 6, 2006
    Location:
    Prince Edward County, Ontario, Canada
    If you can grow hay, you can grow oats and barley. For a small rabbitry, you could harvest the amounts needed with a scythe. It would give you excellent straw as well. How about black oil sunflower seeds? They are easy to grow, high in protein and fat and will be a good supplement to hay and a bit of grain. These are just a couple of examples. If you truly have the interest, there is no reason why you cannot raise rabbits entirely from what you can grow. Just not "hay only".
     
  9. Terri

    Terri Singletree Moderator Staff Member

    Messages:
    14,257
    Joined:
    May 10, 2002
    Location:
    Kansas
    Ih Homesteading today magazine, there was quite a bit about how, in Croatia, they were raising rabbits on hay and grain.
     
  10. Honorine

    Honorine Carpe Vinum Supporter

    Messages:
    1,735
    Joined:
    Feb 27, 2006
    Location:
    PA
    In theory the following breeds which have a natural body type could be fed mostly hay-Silvers, fawns and browns only, blacks are much blockier and meat type, Tans, Brittania's, Himalayans and possibly Belgian Hares. They have less muscle mass to support, I still think they would not produce as well, and of course produce a much less meaty, smaller carcass. I have considered setting up a colony situation with my older Silver does, I think they would do very well in such a situation, and planned to feed them a lot of hay and greens that I harvested from my property. Silvers are tough little rabbits, quite thrifty, in fact they are the original wild european rabbit with a genetic color mutation. They do tend to be seasonal breeders, your not going to get as many litters out of them as you would a meat type rabbit. Tans I can see being similiar to the Silvers in many regards, they would need more supplement though possibly. Himmies I know little about, you'd have to talk to a breeder. Belgians would be very interesting, they most likely would still need some supplementation, but possibly less than the meat breeds. Brits have terrible temperaments, are tiny but thrifty. I don't know what your expectations are, you could try with any of these breeds, if it didn't work you eat them.