Formulating Organic Rabbit Feed


By Diane Schivera, M.A.T.

Raising rabbits for meat is an increasingly popular farming operation in Maine. Rabbits don’t take a lot of space to raise and are efficient feed converters, with a feed-to-meat ratio for fryers of 4:1, or 20 pounds of pellets to 5 pounds of meat. Broilers’ ratio ranges from 2 to 6:1, depending on the breed and management methods.

Rabbits are a bit tricky to keep in a cage because of their “digging nature,”  but I have read comments by people who rarely have problems when they move the bottomless pen frequently – at least daily. Management is covered in “Raising Rabbits on Pasture” at https://www.mofga.org/Publications/MaineOrganicFarmerGardener/Winter20092010/Rabbits/tabid/1392/Default.aspx and “Raising Rabbits Organically at Rabbit Hill Farm” at  https://www.mofga.org/Publications/MaineOrganicFarmerGardener/Winter20132014/Rabbits/tabid/2709/Default.aspx. For information on housing, see “The Coney Garth: Effective Management of Rabbit Breeding Does on Pasture” at https://mysare.sare.org/MySare/ProjectReport.aspx?do=viewProj&pn=FNC10-824.

Finding or formulating organic rabbit feed has been an issue. When Cheryl Wixson of MOFGA-certified organic Rabbit Hill Farm in Stonington, Maine, tried feeding her bunnies alfalfa pellets and cracked corn, they rejected the pellets and ate the corn. Such behavior would result in a diet that is not well balanced.

The Internet offers other examples. Trinity Oaks in Texas feeds 6 parts oats, 1 part barley and 1 part wheat (https://rabbittalk.com/trinity-oaks-grain-feed-mix-t6809.html). Rise and Shine Rabbitry in Maine and Lupin Lapin Rabbitry in California also discuss natural sources of feed for rabbits (https://riseandshinerabbitry.com/2012/09/09/naturally-feeding-rabbits/ and https://lupinlapinrabbitry.weebly.com/how-we-feed.html).

These sources discuss different grains and wild or cultivated fresh vegetable matter, and they emphasize the importance of not changing diets abruptly. When feeding any livestock, introduce new feeds gradually.

The rate of growth of fryers will depend on the concentration of nutrients in the ration. Rabbits can be raised to the preferred weight simply on pasture, but that will take weeks longer than when they receive rations. Depending on your management method, how long chores take and how much your facility costs, pasturing can be cost-effective.

Water is critical for rabbits and must be available at all times.

Fodder (sprouted grains that are allowed to grow to about 2 inches tall) is a great option for winter feed. It supplies enzymes and live factors that nutritionists cannot completely measure presently.

In general rabbit pellets should contain a minimum of 18 percent fiber, 12 to 14 percent protein, a maximum of 3 percent fat and between 0.5 and 0.8 percent calcium. The fiber content should always exceed the protein content.

An adult rabbit will need 1/4 to 1/2 cup of pellets per 6 pounds of body weight per day. Always consider the need of each individual rabbit’s metabolism and its stage of production. Fryers or growing rabbits and breeding does will consume more pellets and generally can be fed all they want. Maintenance diets for bucks and for does that are not gestating or lactating can be minimal. Some recommend feeding just hay and other fresh supplement feed with no pellets.

Morrison’s Feeds (28 Creamery Lane in Barnet, VT 05821, 1-802-633-4387, www.morrisonsfeeds.com) will make a 17 percent rabbit pellet for fryers using alfalfa, soy, corn, linseed, peas, minerals and vitamins. It must be ordered in 1,000-pound batches that are put in 50-pound bags. It is shipped Land Air freight on a pallet, with a price (subject to market fluctuations) of $760 per ton plus about $109 for shipping to Maine. This comes to about $22 per bag.

I asked Gary Anderson, the animal and biotech specialist with UMaine Cooperative Extension ([email protected]), to formulate some possible rations using whole grains. Your rabbits’ preferences will determine how well they adjust to this diet. You might have to mix these rations with vegetable oil to convince your rabbits to eat the whole diet and not be selective. Anderson based these rations on the National Research Council (NRC) dietary requirements and avoided corn and soy, since many farmers try to avoid these grains because of allergies. Free-choice hay of the best quality available should be offered with all these diets.

Ingredients Percentage
Gestation
Barley 25
Oats 25
Linseed meal 17
Alfalfa meal 28.05
Salt 0.2
Vitamins and minerals 2.75
Lactation
Barley 22
Oats 22
Linseed meal 25
Alfalfa meal 28.05
Salt 0.2
Vitamins and minerals 2.75
Growth
Barley 24
Oats 25
Linseed meal 20
Alfalfa meal 28.05
Salt 0.2
Vitamins and minerals 2.75
Maintenance
Barley 32
Oats 31
Linseed meal 9
Alfalfa meal 25.05
Salt 0.2
Vitamins and minerals 2.75


“Raising Rabbits” at
https://www.bookstore.ksre.ksu.edu/pubs/C547.pdf is a valuable fact sheet with feeding and many other management suggestions.

Diane is MOFGA’s organic livestock specialist. You can contact her at [email protected] or 568-4142.

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