Feeding rabbits naturally to reduce pellet consumption can be achieved. Take a minute each day to harvesting natural rabbit food between spring through fall from the garden and by foraging for it. Incorporate minimal amounts of fruit, flowers, and herbs also increases the levels of supplements being offered. The key to creating a balanced diet is knowing what to offer and how much.
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Feeding Rabbits Naturally
Whether you are raising rabbits for meat or as pets, the diet they are offered will need to consist of few basic items. A high quality hay, healthy vegetables, and clean water. It’s as simple as that. Well, somewhat.
The goal for raising rabbits as livestock, or pets, is the ability to provide these animals with as much natural food as possible. Keep a healthy rabbit herd by offering a variety of food options. And the prime way of achieving this is through feeding rabbits naturally. Naturally refers to the ability to provide fresh vegetation as a supplemental source of feed.
Knowing what vegetables, fruits, herbs and flowers to offer is vital. However, it is equally important to know how much to offer. These items in no way should replace a high quality hay, but instead complement it as a supplemental source of nutrients.
When offering pellets, provide the appropriate amount required. However, pellets can be supplemented as long as a nutritious balance of dark leaf greens is being offered. More often than not, pellets can be eliminated during the peak of gardening season. And even then, fodders can replace pellets during the winter months.
Many items, such as comfrey, plantain, borage, dandelion greens, flowers and many leafy greens can be dried and offered when fresh food is no longer readily available.
Preventing and Identifying Digestive Issues
Rabbits will consume just about everything put in front of them, even if it is not a healthy item. A rabbit’s digestive tract is very sensitive, and consuming the wrong foods can set them off almost immediately. In order to avoid this, offer vegetables, herbs, fruits, and flowers in small quantities. Also, make sure a variety of different foods are offered daily.
Much like raising poultry, a rabbit’s poop speaks volumes for how it is feeling. Soft feces, diarrhea, or signs of gas pain are indications that their digestive tract has been derailed. If this should occur pull back on the items listed below (except the pellets and hay) until the condition subsides.
Additionally, offering herbs such as lemon balm, comfrey, peppermint, plantain, thyme and even oats will help with diarrhea or soft stool and soothe the digestive tract. Shepherd’s Purse may also be used for severe cases of diarrhea, though use this herb with caution.
Minimizing Pellet Feed
Minimizing or replacing pellet feed can be done. However, in order to do this successfully the nutritional value must be replaced without adding calories. Make sure to offer hay as a free choice item throughout the day and increase the amount of dark leafy vegetables being offered. This method works especially well between spring and fall as the garden is in its peak.
Aside from fresh vegetables, fodders can be offered daily. Ideally, offer fodders during the winter months when the garden is no longer producing.
How Much Fresh Food to Feed
How much to feed will depend on the weight of the rabbit. Typically, feeding 1 to 3 cups of leafy greens a day, along with an unlimited amount of hay, will be sufficient. Other fresh items such as other types of vegetables, herbs and flowers will need to be offered minimally. Remember, fruit is a sweet treat to rabbits and should be offered sparingly.
Beneficial, and Not So Beneficial, Food Items
The following list is a guideline of supplemental items that make up a nutritious diet for your rabbit. There are a few things that, if fed appropriately, are classified as beneficial and healthy. However, these items can quickly cause a rabbit’s digestive system to crash. With this in mind, any questionable items were placed in the not-so-healthy list.
It’s always better to be safe than sorry.
Also, no two rabbits are the same. Each will react different to the type of foods being offered and how much it should consume. Offer new items very slowly, watching for any signs of discomfort or GI stasis.
Feeding Rabbits Naturally with Hay
The most important food item to offer rabbits is hay. Orchard grass, brome, oat hay, timothy, or a mixture of these grasses are classified as hay.
Though alfalfa is good for an adult rabbit (containing protein and calcium) it is not considered hay. Also, unbeknownst to most, alfalfa is a member of the legume family. Making alfalfa, overall, an unhealthy item for rabbits.
As required for a healthy diet, provide unlimited an unlimited amount of hay daily.
Feeding Rabbits Naturally with Vegetables – Dark Leafy Greens and Other Items
A great supplement to add to a rabbit’s diet is dark leafy greens. Below is a list of common greens to offer. Note, offer a variety or create a salad mixture of the following items keeping the amount to 1 – 3 cups per day, making up 75% of the daily offering.
There are some leafy greens which are high in oxalic acid. Consuming too much greens high in oxalic acid is toxic. With that in mind, these leafy greens can still be provided. However, these items will need to be offered in a small quantity, feeding only a few times a week. Why bother to offer greens high in oxalic acid? Because a variety of greens makes a complete nutritious diet.
Natural rabbit food such as leafy greens high in oxalic acid are marked with an asterisk (*).
- Bok Choy
- Bell Pepper
- Beet Greens*
- Borage Leaves
- Brussels Sprouts
- Carrot Tops
- Cucumber Leaves
- Fennel (leaves and base)
- Dandelion (Greens and Flower)
- Dark Lettuces (Romaine, Red Sail, Butter Crunch)
- Kolhrabi Greens
- Mustard Greens*
- Okra Leaves
- Radish Tops (including sprouts)*
- Raspberry Leaves
- Spring Greens
- Swiss Chard*
- Turnip Greens
- Zucchini (and other squash variety)
Offer the next list of natural rabbit food at a minimum, generally 1 tablespoon for every 2 pounds of body weight per day; making up 15% of the daily offering. The items on this list are high in carbohydrates and calcium. Consuming foods which are high in calcium tend to lead to calcium-based bladder stones.
- Bell Peppers
- Broccoli (stems and leaves*)
- Brussels Sprouts*
- Cabbage (any variety)*
- Collard Greens
- Zucchini Squash
*Please note, all the brassica vegetables are high in sulfurous compounds that can bother some rabbits’ digestive systems, giving them diarrhea or gas. However, offering a small amount every once in a while is okay.
Natural Rabbit Food – Flowers
Flowers to rabbits are like chocolate to humans. However, minimize this type of natural rabbit food, or treat, by offering flowers only once a week. Also, only offer flowers which have been grown in a chemical free garden. Many of the flowers, along with the leaves, listed here are medicinal and extremely beneficial for rabbits. These are marked with an asterisk (*).
Herbs Make Great Natural Rabbit Food
Overall, herbs are beneficial to rabbits. Offering herbs for both medicinal and supplemental reasons keeps a herd healthy. However, much like flowers, herbs should be offered sparingly. Vegetables and grasses should always take precedence over herbs. Herbs are also used to aid and treat conditions with rabbits. Knowing which herbs work best is the key.
- Fennel (tops and base)
- Lemon Balm
- Mint (all variety)
Feeding Rabbits Naturally with Comfrey
Many rabbit keepers offer comfrey as a supplemental feed option. Comfrey is a great source for vitamin A; it’s also immune boosting, and good for the stomach and gut. However, it has been alleged that offering comfrey to livestock can have a negative effect on their liver, though no scientific studies has proven this to be true for rabbits.
As with any type of greens, offer comfrey in moderation. Provide a large leaf every other day, along with other dark greens, fodders, and other vegetation that will make up a large percentage of a rabbit’s diet.
Feeding Rabbits Naturally with Fruits
Fruits are naturally high in sugar. Because of this, offer fruits as a sweet treat and in small quantities, roughly no more than twice a week. Providing too much fruit can interfere with a rabbit’s digestive system causing diarrhea and digestive issues.
- Berries (any variety)
- Cherries (no pits)
- Melons (any variety-skin and seeds included)
- Pineapple (skin removed)
Feeding Rabbits Naturally with Fodders
Another nutritious supplement for rabbits is fodders. Fodders are sprouted grains which is offered at their peak of nutrition. More times than not, barley or wheat grains are used to grow fodders. Many rabbit keepers will offer fodders during the winter months when fresh vegetables and greens are non-existent. However, since fodders are extremely nutritious they can be provided daily in place of offering pellet feed.
It is important for those new to sprouting grains to know the difference between sprouted grain and fodders. Fodders are grown 4 to 7 inches in height, whereas sprouted grains are only grown up to 4 inches.
The process for growing fodders is extremely easy, consisting of 3 basic items – barley grains, fresh water, and a sprouting tray. Barley grains grow the quickest and can transform into lush grass in 7 to 10 days.
What can Rabbits Not Eat
Contrary to popular belief, rabbits cannot consume everything. Many of the items listed here either are high in calcium or have no nutritional value. Consider avoiding these items altogether.
- Beans (and other legumes)
- Iceberg Lettuce
As a homesteader, the goal is to provide as balanced and nutritious diet as possible, without the use of a commercial pellets. Though for many, pellet feed is necessary. Is this diet sustainable? In truth, no. However, it will help to reduce feeding commercial pellet feed, and it is a healthier option.
Feeding rabbits naturally is achievable. Learning how to balance what to offer, and how much, will be tricky at first. However, once a nutritious feeding routine has been established your herd will be much healthier for it.
Are you interested in raising rabbits for meat? Here are two articles to help you with your journey.