A large part of raising animals for meat is getting them to grow without spending a fortune on food. With rabbits in NZ we have Rabbit Calicivirus in our wild population, so we cannot just feed grass/forage that has been touched by wild rabbits.
Feeding rabbits without pellets is possible, the challenge to naturally feeding rabbits is getting the protein levels high enough for good rabbit growth.
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WARNING: This diary discusses housing and raising of rabbits for human consumption as well as feeding rabbits naturally. If this topic disturbs you, please do not proceed.
Part of the permaculture principles is to avoid bringing in things if you can or are growing something that would work instead.
In permaculture they say that often the problem is the solution – got weeds in your veggie patch? They may well be suitable (free) rabbit food for feeding rabbits naturally!
The benefits to feeding rabbits pellets
Pellets are an option for feeding rabbits. The pluses are they are a complete food, developed for optimum growth and they are convenient.
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The negatives are they are very pricey (up to twice the price of the individual components); they rely on a company not screwing up the nutrition and killing your pets; they are very processed and they have no variety; and you have to bring them in from off site.
There are better ways to feed rabbits more naturally.
Feeding rabbits without pellets
We are aiming to be pellet-free with our rabbits. We have weaned our pallet fed rabbits on to more whole foods very slowly, a few tablespoons at a time.
This gives their gut bacteria tie to develop and change to digest the whole/fresh foods properly. These days we are feeding our rabbits a mix of lucerne hay (alfalfa), whole barley, rolled/crushed oats and pellets with free access to meadow hay and a salt block.
To this twice a day we add a range of fruit/vegetable/greens/weeds/grass for them to enjoy. We are aiming to get rid of the pellets all together once this current bag is eaten, and I would like to find a source of sunflower seeds for healthy oils to help keep their condition on for the cooler months.
Safe Foods for Feeding Rabbits
Below is a list of healthy safe foods for feeding rabbits naturally. Remember if you cannot correctly identify the plant, don’t risk giving it to your bunny!
Apple – fruit, branches
Apricots – not the stone though
Baby Sweet Corns
Banana fruit and peel
Barley grass, seeds, sprouts
Basil: Lemon, Globe, Thai, Mammoth, Sweet, Genevieve
Beetroot – greens and root
Blackberry stem – leaf and fruit
Bok Choy/Pak Choy**
Carrot – greens and root
Cherry – not the stones
Currant (black and red)
Dill: Fernleaf, Mammoth
Dock BEFORE FLOWERING
Eggplant – purple fruit only; leaves toxic
Goutweed BEFORE FLOWERING
Grapes (fruit, leaf and vine are edible)
Ground elder BEFORE FLOWERING
Lavender Not for pregnant does; can cause fetal expulsion
Lettuce (Dark Green/Red Leaf, Butter, Boston, Bibb, or Romaine)
Melon (all melons)
Mint: Pineapple sage, pineapple mint, apple mint, orange mint, peppermint, lemon thyme, cinnamon basil, lime basil, lemon basil, sweet basil, licorice basil, “licorice mint” (anise hyssop), spearmint, peppermint, chocolate mint, and basil mint.
Orange – NO PEEL- segments only
Parsley: Curly and Flat-Leaf
Peach – not the stones
Pear – fruit and branches
Plum – not the stones
Poplar (not black)
Raspberries – fruit, twigs, and leaves
Rhubarb STALKS ONLY – POISONOUS LEAF
Salad Burnet / Small Burnet
Squash: Yellow, Butternut, Pumpkin, Zucchini
Strawberry – fruit and leaves
Tomato – red fruit only
Wheat Grass, sprouts
** Give in small – moderate amounts due to gas causing properties – feeding rabbits too much may cause bloat
Limit sugary fruits to 2T per day feeding rabbit to prevent obesity and tooth decay.
Toxic Plants for Rabbits
This is a list of some known toxic-to-rabbits plants.
All plants that grow from bulbs
Arum lily (cuckoo point)
Buttercup (small quantities dried within hay is ok)
Deadly nightshade (belladonna)
Hellebores (christmas rose)
Lily of the valley
Scarlet runner toad flax
If in doubt, leave it out (don’t feed it!).
Tell me what you feed your rabbits in the comments below!
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