We are continuing in our Getting Started with Meat Rabbit Series. Read the first post on housing by clicking here.
Once you have your housing set up for your future meat rabbits, you need to prepare to feed and water them.
Rabbits are very simple to feed. All they need is show or breeding rabbit pellets, and grass hay.
Fresh Veggies? Fodder?
Many people picture rabbits eating fresh carrots and greens. It is true that rabbits that have been carefully brought up on this diet, or carefully transitioned to this diet, can eat it well in addition to some pellets and hay. However, rabbit digestive tracts are very sensitive, and if they are given fresh veggies when they are not used to them it can quickly kill them. If you have access to a lot of cheap fresh produce (that is not rotten or moldy) then you might want to consider trying to get your rabbits on this diet. However, it needs to be a careful process, and they will still need hay and pellets. And no matter how careful you are, you still might accidentally kill some of your rabbits with this diet.
Fodder is another option for feeding rabbits. But again, like fresh veggies, you can kill your rabbits with it. I know several people who have tried to switch their rabbits over to fodder diets and caused a lot of sickness and death in the process.
Do your research and be very careful if you want to use one of these diet options.
Here at Willow Creek Farm we choose to use show-rabbit pelleted feed from a nearby feed mill. We feed it to our rabbits in J-Feeders. The great thing about J-Feeders is that it is quick and easy to feed the rabbits from outside the cage, and you can fill them up if you are free-feeding the rabbit and it wont need to be refilled for a couple days. Also, they are metal and thus chew-proof.
All you need to do is cut a properly sized hole in your cage, and then it slips in the hole and clips on the bars.
Most of our rabbits are free-fed pellets. That means they always have access to unlimited amounts of pellets. This is especially important for weanlings and growing young rabbits, as well as pregnant and lactating breeding does.
Some adult breeding does, and many breeding bucks get to the point where if they are free-fed they will get fat. Obesity in rabbits will cause them to not breed well and not give birth well. It is important to keep your rabbits at a good weight so they are in good breeding condition.
For the adult breeding bucks, and the adult breeding does who tend to get too fat we feed approximately 1/2 cup of pellets twice a day (1 cup per day). We check their condition often and adjust their feed amounts accordingly to keep them healthy. Does that are on this diet and are being bred are given unlimited pellets for the last week of pregnancy through weaning. They are only on the diet when they are not pregnant and for the first three weeks of pregnancy. In general, our breeding does don’t need to go on this diet because we re-breed often and the pregnancy and lactation keep them at a good size. We have only had one breeding doe in all the years we have been breeding that needed to be on 1 cup a day of pellets and she was a White New Zealand.
In contrast, we have had several does that became underweight because of breeding and lactating despite unlimited pellets, they are usually the Rex does. When we see that a doe is getting thin we don’t re-breed her right away and we give her time to gain healthy weight before she is re-bred.
We give our rabbits unlimited GRASS hay – NOT alfalfa. Some people will say that hay will kill a rabbit as fast as fresh veggies will. We disagree. Our rabbits do very well eating unlimited grass hay and we believe the roughage is good for their digestion. However, as I said before, rabbits have sensitive digestive systems and don’t do well with diet changes. So when we buy a new rabbit that hasn’t been eating hay we are very careful to slowly introduce it into their diet. We don’t just give it unlimited hay right away.
To introduce grass hay into your rabbit’s diet start by just giving about 4-5 pieces of hay that are about 6 inches long. Watch their droppings for the next 24 hours. They should be well-formed round pellets that dry quickly. If they become soft or very wet then the rabbit is not tolerating the new feed well. If they are looking good and normal, then give them ten pieces the next day, 15 the next, and so on, slowly building up the amount and keeping a close eye on their droppings the whole time. It should take 3-4 weeks to fully transition them onto eating unlimited hay. If their droppings get soft or wet then stop the hay until they become normal again, and start back at the beginning with just a very small amount and try to work back up.
Using water bottles is a very clean and easy way to water rabbits. They hang on the outside of the cage with the spout sticking through the bars.
We always keep two bottles per adult rabbit and an additional two bottles for weanlings. Why? Because in the winter here in the Rockies the bottles will start to freeze between morning and evening feedings. So we always have one in the house thawing while there is one on the cage. We switch them out at each feeding. Also, depending on how many weanlings are in one cage, we often need to put two bottles per weanling cage to keep them all hydrated enough.
It is very important to be sure your rabbits have constant access to water. Especially when it is hot, they need plenty of fresh water.
Feeding and watering rabbits is very easy and low-maintenance if you have the right set-up.