Feeding Rabbits Grass — and other free foods

Very very frequently I read, and hear, people say that you can not feed rabbits many greens. Whether they mean greens as in kitchen vegetable scraps or greens as in weeds and grass, their wrong on both accounts.

I don’t care if you read advice from the “top bunny raiser in the country” and he/she says that is will cause diarrhea. I am here to say it won’t if done correctly.

There are a few rules.

Rule one is if your bunny has never had anything but pellets….introduce greens slowly and over a period of a week or so. Start with a small hand full. About the size you might pick to feed to some strange horse through a fence. Then add more each day. Keep pellets in your rabbits cage so it can also have the pellets it is used to eating too. Some rabbits, when not familiar with greens, can take up to a month to get used to eating them. Be patient. After a month, as long as your bunny has been eating some of them, but is not eating much, you can start cutting back on their pellets to kind of force them to eat the grass. Kind of like not giving kids cookies before dinner.

Two….you can’t feed anything poisonous. Now, most weeds and greens in our yards are not poisonous (even though people will tell you they are —most people really don’t know for sure) however occasionally you’ll have some so I recommend a good book on wild foraging.  Anything you can eat…so can your buns.  Within reason which brings me to rule three:

Don’t feed your bun only one green food source all the time. If you give your rabbit(s) something like Dock everyday, as their sole source of food, they will get sick. They will not have enough variety to allow for enough nutritional variation.

Lastly, if you give greens from the first day your doe has kits….they will always grow up being able to eat greens. Don’t listen to people who say it will kill them. It won’t. They will start slowly as mom gradually begins to wean them. This is always true unless you stop for a very long time. Like in the winter if you have to feed only hay for months at a time, add back greens over a period of a week or so just like when starting a new rabbit on greens.  However, if you pick what you can when you can during the winter and early spring all will work out. Nature knows animals can’t move directly from a diet of tree bark and stems and dried grass to the next day filling up completely on only green grass. The grass is very moist and will upset their bacterial balance, which is why as spring comes on we have a mix of dried grasses/weeds and some growing spots. It’s natures way of slowly moving the wild animals back to a diet of all fresh greens.

If you read some old post you will find that we decided last year we would attempt both raising our rabbits only on grasses during the spring/summer/fall and drying some of our own hay. This is what we found:

We used almost NO pellets at all during the spring, summer and early fall. By later fall we could still supplement about half of our rabbits diet with greens. By winter we have been able to supply an extra large handful at least once a week and occasionally up to a couple times a week. However, this year has been very very warm and our weeds/grasses are growing still. Albeit slowly. In a really cold year it would have been all hay I am pretty sure. I do have about 1/3 of my adult rabbits that will eat all their hay first over any pellets if it is good hay. This brings me to the issue of cutting and drying our own hay.

We did cut, and dry, some of our own grasses. Once dried I stuffed old feed sacks full and packed them tight and taped them shut.  A few must have been too damp because they were moldy when we opened them (thus thrown away to the compost). Others came out great and the rabbits BY FAR preferred our hay/dried grass over the bales we buy. However, I did not put up enough. I could have….but I wasn’t sure it would work. Now that I know that it will I will be more careful about the drying and put more up. Maybe even picking a spot in my barn to just kind of “stack” it like they did in the old days instead of trying to bag all of it. Another idea is to make one of those wood hay bale presses. I am sure it would work for the scale and amount we would do and we could make our own easily enough from wood scraps we have around here.

This brings me to the summation of this post. Rabbits are SUPER for self sufficiency. Of all the animals we have purchased they are one of the easiest to care for,  are small, quiet and take up little space, absolutely can be raised without any outside inputs, and produce readily and without much difficulty.  I am not saying rabbits are the only livestock to keep, just that they are much easier than most people realize. Much more so than some livestock we have raised and of course their size makes them appropriate not only for any size person, but any size housing lot except for maybe an apartment. Even then I am sure some people keep them because really, how would you know.

Oh yes, and recently I read one person say NOT to put fresh rabbit poo around plants because it would burn them. Hog wash! Rabbit poo can be put on plants straight from under the cage as it is a “cold” manure and will not burn your plants. Just ask my plants…they’ll give you the dirt :-)

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8 Responses to Feeding Rabbits Grass — and other free foods

  1. Hayden says:

    Wonderful post, thanks so much for sharing your experience. Was just thinking abt. this last week. I’d become convinced that the pellet people were incorrect, for the reasons you mention. Gut bacteria need time to adjust to any diet change. To listen to the pellet people, you’d think that domesticated rabbits are an entirely different species from their wild brethren! But I’ve zero actual experience and this was a great confirmation of my bias. One word – ragweed. I was told that it’s poisonous to rabbits. In the wild they simply avoid it. But my informant fed it to his caged rabbits when he was a small farm boy, and it killed every one. Ragweed is terrific for chickens (I chanced it since I read that pheasants thrive on it) and they just love it.

    Salatin’s son raises rabbits on pasture by mowing, then stretching chicken wire tight to the ground and pegging it down. The grass grows up through, the bottomless rabbit cages are pulled across it, moved daily as with chickens and other livestock.

    In 2013 I want to try them day ranged, moving them down the aisles of a small elderberry orchard I’m planting this year – chicken wire on the ground, electric poultry net enclosure, and shelter with a floor & deep bedding for night/rain storms etc. I figure there’s no better way to condition/build soil quality.

    • Monica says:

      Hi Hayden,

      Not sure about ragweed. I could neither find a yes or no on that in any of my books. In regards to rabbits specifically I mean, but since I don’t have a lot of that around it is irrelevant for me. Also, as I understand it Daniel Salatin uses slatted bottom cages instead of chicken wire under his rabbit. We use slatted edges and open bottom though it is a bit harder on our very un-level hills/pastures. No matter though since it’s really what works for “you” specifically. You know that old say: what works for one may not for another. It is nice to see different ideas though so there will be an ability to pick and choose what we think might work best for our situation :-)
      And good luck with the day range. We like it when we get to do it. We’ve also thought of a movable cage with wire bottom that we could leave in an area for a bit longer than an open bottom pen. That way the rabbits would not get sick by sitting in their own excrement but the garden bed/tree/fruit bushes/whatever could get a good weeks dose of rabbit poo instead of just one days worth. We have some areas that need a bit more than just a days worth of poo pellets on them. Worms do so love them too which makes it a double good thing for any area that gets even a tiny bit.

  2. Michelle says:

    Hi Monica,

    Thanks for your good post. I’ve switched my rabbits completely off commercial pellets on to hay, weeds, herbs, grass, oats, barley and alfalfa pellets. I lost a bunch of rabbits to a bad batch of commercial pellets. Still have some ups and downs with them; likely due to whatever the toxin was in the pellets still in the young rabbits’ systems. I’m keeping almost all of the young does that survived the bad batch of pellets for future breeders. Rabbits can be completely sustainable with a little bit of leg work. FYI: I have Cremes, Chins and Silver Fox as well as some commercial breeds.

    • Monica says:

      Hi Michelle,
      Thanks for the input. I think often people won’t switch off pellets because they feel that only one person is doing it and so they are unsure about it. Hopefully it will become more common for books/authors/articles to not insinuate that by feeding other than just pellets your practically indulging in rabbit cruelty :-D
      However as you mentioned….it does take a tad longer than just scooping out a pellet. Not that much more though. Even with the amount of rabbits we have to care for, and with their cages being spread over almost an acre and half it still only adds an extra 20 minutes at most for me (some of which is in the watering since as mentioned….we have our cages spread around and don’t have water close to all of them).

      Have a great day.

  3. Hayden says:

    The thing about animal cruelty for feeding other than a commercial diet really burns me up. I got started on normal food diets when my dog was just 10 weeks old (he’s nearly 6 now.) My vet told me I’d kill him. I’d read extensively, but so many voices arguing abt. the ‘correct’ dog diet didn’t help. Finally I realized that it was no different than the human nutritionists arguing, and that if I can be trusted to supply nutrition for a child, I can be trusted to feed my dog. He’s very healthy, with none of the usual allergies or problems with his fur that are common to Bichon’s. Groomers always comment on how thick and white his fur is, and are surprised that he doesn’t have tear stains like most small white dogs. I just follow a middle path, varied selection of meats and veggies in proportions appropriate to him. Recently started exploring what I need to learn/grow to either supplement or replace purchased layer mash – and yep, most of the articles I read said it was “cruel” to feed a diet other than commercial packaged food. Given what’s in some feed that they accept, that’s just plain boy cow poo-poo.

    • Monica says:

      Your right Hayden. With any animal, be it cow, horse, goat, dog, cat etc. the old saying is “by the eye of the farmer” (or something similar anyway). Meaning that the farmer has his/her eye on them and feeds/cares according to what they notice. No longer is that done or encouraged. It’s pretty much a one size fits all. Even though in my experience, no matter that we want to try and feed “out of a bag” (for humans or animals), and hope for the same result for each and every one of them….it just doesn’t work that way. I watch my dogs and if they look to thin, I add more food. If they start looking heavy, I take some away. Of course…I pay attention to what they eat. And I think that is the key to anything good about life as a whole: Paying attention :-)

  4. Michelle says:

    Hayden, I’ve been feeding my cats a home prepared raw diet for over 25 years now, my dogs too. I’d be interested in hearing about your research for feeding your chickens a diet other than layer mash. I’m on that quest as well. Maybe Monica would share my e-mail address with you. Thanks!

    • Monica says:

      Michelle, I will pass your email along to Hayden. Also, try adding Black Soldier Flies to your set up. You’ll love them. They will eat everything: guts from butcher animals –if you have too many or maybe they are the same animal as the others you are feeding (think chicken or pigs here who will eat their own), moldy leftovers out of your fridge. Anything you don’t want to feed your cats or dogs. Poop (including pig and human as I am told though we don’t feed our that……yet :-D ). And on and on. In return they give you great bird food that can be frozen and saved (or dried as I understand though I don’t know how exactly) and that is super high in protein and fat. Also…even chickens will eat duckweed. We keep a couple hand fulls of duckweed over winter year to year in a glass “jar” with a lid and put it back out when it warms. That stuff grows crazy fast and you can either mix it in the feed for chickens/turkeys etc or just float it in duck/goose drinking water.

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