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From Countryside & Small Stock Journal, 80(4):51-52, July/August, 1996.



“Old-Fashioned” Ways To Feed Rabbits

Price of feed too high? It’s time to check out alternatives!



This article, which appeared in our November, 1919 issue, not only addresses homegrown feed, but also treats the “old” European method of feeding. In addition, it adds a historical perspective modern homestead rabbits should find valuable.



Grow your own rabbit food. Perfectly safe if fed with discretion, and Nature’s tonic from April to November.



M. W. Meek

Reprinted from Countryside,

November, 1919



It is absurdly true that not one-third of America’s rabbit breeders realize the enormous value of green food for rabbits. When we contrast the fact that every feeding bulletin in print by English authorities on rabbit keeping are unqualifiedly in favor of green food as an indispensable part of the daily ration for rabbits, with the fact that many breeders in America question with all seriousness the advisability of feeding green food to rabbits at all, and allow their rabbits to go month after month without a single taste of green herbage (which is the natural food of rabbits), we have a condition which requires nothing but a trace of ordinary horse sense to untangle.

Successful, profitable, and intensive rabbit culture has been practiced in England for over 35 years, and rabbit raising is an institution over there. In short, rabbit keeping is an industry in England, and not a fancy.

Green food is the basis of everyday rations for rabbits in England. It is the natural food for rabbits. It must be fed with some discretion, we admit, but any food must be given with judgment, as far as that goes. Stock bucks, does in kindle, nursing does and fattening stock may all be fed green food with safety, providing a small allowance is started with, and the ration is increased gradually, and plenty of variety is observed.

A slight looseness of the bowels may be observed when feeding heavily on green food. This can be counteracted by a regular supply of hay, which should always for part of the daily ration. Oats or oat substitutes should be included in the daily diet, in order to keep the flesh trim and add weight.

Not only are the root crops, like Swedes, carrots, mangels, chicory, etc., invaluable for the green food which their foliage provides during the summer months, but their roots are indispensable for winter use. With these crops nothing is wasted.

Dandelions are better than any tonic which money can buy. Plantain is also a tonic plant, and greatly relished.

Shepherd’s purse, little known in this country, and comfrey, are two plants without which no rabbit keeper should be at any time. These are Nature’s own cures for looseness of the bowels and diarrhea, and can be fed whenever stock is affected in that manner with reasonable assurance that a cure will be affected. A small patch of comfrey or shepherd’s purse will be worth many dollars in summer time when young stock is attacked with diarrhea and needs relief immediately.

Colossal (or thousand headed) kale provides an enormous amount of winter food, and the imported variety sometimes grows to a height of five feet, with luxuriant wide spreading foliage. Dried and put away for winter, it is a welcome addition to the monotony of hay and oats.

Giant chicory should be planted early in the spring, and will produce the entire summer. The foliage is succulent and grows very quickly, and as the outer leaves are pulled off and fed, new shoots take their place and grow rapidly. The roots are also fed, and make splendid winter food.

Carrots are indispensable. Every rabbit keeper should devote a part of his garden to the larger varieties, best suitable for rabbit food, and as the rows are thinned out, they can be fed whole. For winter, nothing can take their place as a change in the rabbit’s diet.

The garden Swede, or rutabaga, is about the most useful crop generally sown, as it can be planted early in the spring and will produce an abundance of large leaves or stalks. The roots are fed in winter in the same way as carrots and mangels.

Mangels are ideal food in winter time. They grow to an enormous size, sometimes weighing 15 to 20 pounds, and are saturated with sugar juice, which supplies the needed moisture. The foliage can be fed in summer, and with a large supply of mangels or sugar beets for winter, your stock is in clover.

Swiss chard can be grown anywhere and is one of the best green foods. The green shoots can be fed early in spring, and will provide green food during the entire summer. It is full of nourishment, easy to grow, and particularly valuable to the city gardener.

One of the most important things to remember in sowing any of the root crops for the best results is the importance of thin sowing, as the plants take up a great deal of room. The drills should be at least a foot apart and the seed dropped in these at the distance of three to six inches.

And another important thing: do not feed your rabbits any green food upon which bug poison has been sprayed. Many of the deaths resulting from feeding cabbage and lettuce leaves, which have been attributed to green food, are directly traceable to bug poison and not to the green food. Bordeaux mixture and other bug poisons are death to rabbits.

Potatoes are among the best of the fattening foods, but should never be fed raw. Boil them until quite soft, skins and all, and dry off with meal. They can be fed four or five times weekly. If they are not all eaten at once, the remainder should be thrown away as colic will result form feeding the remainder when cold and sour.

Green leaves having a medicinal effect like comfrey, shepherd’s purse, plantain, etc., can be kept for the winter, according to the English writers, in the following manner, which keeps them fresh and arrests decay.

A tight wooden box, similar to a cracker or soap box, is used. Spread the green leaves in the bottom, making a layer about four inches deep. Over this sprinkle common salt about half an inch thick. Spread another layer of leaves over the salt, and then another layer of salt, until the box is filled. Press the contents of the box down with weights, which may be removed after about three weeks. The leaves will be fund to remain green nearly all winter, and are an undoubted treat in winter time. They should be fed to adult rabbits only, and the salt should be wiped from the leaves before feeding. In conclusion, green food is a boon to rabbit keepers if the proper kind is grown, and care used in feeding. The seed costs little, and sunshine, good soil, and rain does the rest.
 

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Awesome article! That's a print-and-save!

Thanks so much!
Meg
 

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jil101ca said:
Very interesting, would you mind if I copied it and put it on another web site about rabbits?

I certainly don't mind! The folks at Countryside might, but I figure that since it is a reprint of such an old article that it is likely in the public domain. Go for it! :D

MaggieJ
 

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Good article, just what we all need to know, with the feed and all prices rising.
I butchered another batch of forage raised rabbit yeasterday.
I am planting extra garden space for the rabbits and Dh is working on a barter trade for bales of timothy hay for this winter.
We are also testing to see if they will eat enough of those hay cubes to get by.
Went shooting this week end and cut several tubs of grasses for the rabbits. My little city lot is keeping up with their needs but I can cut a big barrel of extra grass in just a few minutes up around the shooting range.
 

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This is how I raise my rabbits. That article was posted here a while back and has been an inspiration to me. I haven't bought rabbit food at all this year. My bunnies eat mostly grass in the yard. I use a grass catcher on the mower and empty the catcher into the colony. They love it!
 

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Spinner said:
This is how I raise my rabbits. That article was posted here a while back and has been an inspiration to me. I haven't bought rabbit food at all this year. My bunnies eat mostly grass in the yard. I use a grass catcher on the mower and empty the catcher into the colony. They love it!

Spinner, do you store the grass over winter?

I've been thinking about harvesting my comfrey and drying it, but wonder if using the salting method described in the article would give the rabbits too much salt (even if I do wipe it off).

How does everyone else store their greens for Winter use?

Pony!
 

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Pony said:

I've been thinking about harvesting my comfrey and drying it, but wonder if using the salting method described in the article would give the rabbits too much salt (even if I do wipe it off).

How does everyone else store their greens for Winter use?

Pony!
Quite honestly, I don't know why anyone would bother packing in salt when these greens dry so well. I know rabbits benefit from some salt, but I think that might be too much, even brushed off. Could easily be wrong, however!

Any of the greens you are feeding should dry just fine for winter use. Last year I dried a lot of raspberry canes with leaves and willow branches from our weeping willow, plus miscellaneous greens in smaller quantities. The rabbits relish them in winter time as a change from hay. I'm way behind this year. Because of the dry weather, the raspberry plants have dropped most of their leaves, but I should be still able to get medicinal quantities of raspberry, strawberry, plantain and comfrey and as much willow as I can store. Anything big enough, I tie in bunches and hang to dry, like herbs. Smaller leaves I spread on a screen to dry.
 

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We tryed drying beet leaves, for the rabbits. They dryed fine, but are so brown, I don't see that there is much food value left in them.
 

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Pony said:

Spinner, do you store the grass over winter?
I have wild greens available year round. I don't have to store them. I watched wild rabbits and seen that they find food even in the winter. I just pick from what the wild rabbits eat. I bought mangle seeds this year and will plant them next spring. Then I'll be storing mangles for them. I've been planning to build a greenhouse for years, even started it once, but it got turned into a storage shed before I completed it. When I eventually get a greenhouse built, I'll grow fresh greens for them all winter, but winter is only a month or two most years.

I have a new idea I'm going to try for the colony. I'll build 2 colony pens and plant greens in both. Then move the bunnies from pen to pen. I'm hoping that will let each pen recouperate during the rotation. I might have to build 3 or 4 pens to get the system to work well. It didn't take them long to kill off the grass in a single colony.
 

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SquashNut said:
We tryed drying beet leaves, for the rabbits. They dryed fine, but are so brown, I don't see that there is much food value left in them.
Did you dry them in the sun? That will affect the colour... although not the food value, as far as I know. I had the same problem with alfalfa last year. A warm, breezy place in the shade is best... but is not always easy to find.
 

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MaggieJ said:
Quite honestly, I don't know why anyone would bother packing in salt when these greens dry so well. I know rabbits benefit from some salt, but I think that might be too much, even brushed off. Could easily be wrong, however!
I read somewhere that packing them in salt will keep them preserved, but not dried. When they are pulled out of the salt, they are like fresh instead of dried. I haven't tried it so I don't know if that's true or not. They said the salt can be brushed off and reused to repack greens again the following years.
 

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Yay another natural rabbit food article! Thanks so much for posting this! When we first started to consider rabbits I started researching and found it very odd that everyone feeds pellets. I thought "that's not what rabbits eat" and fresh greens are so readily available, why not? I have been gathering items to build a cold frame so I'm trying to gather extra to make an extra cold frame for rabbit food next winter. Natural food info has been hard to find, though so I'm very greatful for this article!!
 

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I'm good with how to dehydrate the greens, but not storage... Do you put them in bags (paper? plastic?), let them hang somewhere, put them in canning jars? In the freezer?

I dried a big ol' mess of comfrey, and put it into a Rubbermaid container and it got moldy all throughout. But they WERE dry when I put them in -- crunchy dry.

So I'd like to know how others store their bunny greens.

THANKS!

Pony!
 

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I store mine either in open sacks (old pellet bags work great1 :D ) or hung up in bunches like herbs. At least that way the air can circulate which I HOPE minimizes that chance of mould.
 

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The plastic might have sweated and caused the mold. I'd store them in something that breaths like paper or cloth bags.
 

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That cat! Forgot about that furry addict! Maybe a cardboard carton with lots of air holes punched in it? Or a clean burlap sack? Or perhaps old pillow cases from the thrift shop? Nice thing about fabric sacks is that you can put a loop on them and hang them out of the Comfrey Cat's reach.
 

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Good ideas. I have some old pillow cases upstairs that I can use. I can hang them... hmm... Zonker (aka Comfrey Cat) knows no limits -- except for the countertops. Oh! I know! I'll hang them in the unheated bedroom!

Huzzah!

Thanks again for all the help!

Pony!
 
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