By far choosing the right pellet to feed your rabbits is the most important dietary choice that you will make. For the most part, your rabbit will eat just about any pellet you place in their bowl so their health and physical condition is your responsibility. Good quality pellets are most important in the younger stages of rabbit development because they are highly concentrated in vitamins and nutrients, helping to ensure proper weight gain. A quality pelleted food should be high in fiber (18% minimum) and be nutritionally balanced. As a rabbit reaches maturity, however, pellets should make up less of the diet – replaced with higher quantities of hay. Overfeeding pellets in mature rabbits can lead to obesity and other medical conditions which can slow down or interrupt your breeding process.
The ingredients that go into your rabbits pellets are just as important as the protein, fiber, fat, and vitamin and mineral content of the feed. Look at the label, a good quality feed will have alfalfa or alfalfa meal listed as the main ingredient. Alfalfa is high in crude protein (min 16%), and crude fiber (max 30%), with just about the right amount of crude fat (min 1.5%) and it is easily for rabbits to digest. Cheaper quality feeds simply list 'plant proteins' as the primary source of protein.
It should be noted that all pellets are not created equal. In fact, some of the more expensive pellets are the worst to give to your rabbits. For example Dumar Classic Rabbit Food sells for $9.99 for a 20lb bag ($0.50 a pound) at my local Tractor Supply (TSC). It has the lowest amount of protein (13%), and the least amount of vitamin A (1000 UI/Lb) and other vitamins and nutrients of all the other feeds available in my area. Not only is this feed more expensive, but it does not supply your meat rabbit with enough protein for normal healthy growth and it definitely does not supply your pregnant and lactating does (who need 18% protein) with enough protein to successfully give birth and feed her kits consistently.
Unfortunately, your choice of quality rabbit pellets may be limited to what is available in your local area. I am lucky, my local Tractor Supply carries two of the most popular quality rabbit feeds as well as their own house brand of pellets. Sometimes getting them to carry enough of the 50lb bags to supply my needs is a challenge and I have to buy the smaller more expensive 25lb bags.
Local feed stores almost always have cheaper prices than many of the chains, but their selection varies. If there are not many rabbit breeders in your area, they may not even carry any rabbit feed, and what they carry may be the cheaper lower quality type feeds. Many of them will however special order feed for you and if you buy it from them on a consistent basis, they will happily stock it for you.
I will be honest, when I first started raising rabbits I thought that there would be a wide range of feed prices depending on the brand. What I have found is that for a 50lb bag of feed the price between the three most popular options in my area Mann-Pro (which we use) $16.49, Purina Complete $17.99, and Producer's Pride (TSC house brand) $14.99 is about $2 - $3.50. Of these three, I would only consider using two either the Manna-Pro, or the Purina Complete simply because the primary ingredient in both is alfalfa, whereas the Producers Pride brand lists it's primary ingredient as 'plant proteins'. The use of variable plant proteins as opposed to alfalfa is one of the reasons I believe that the Producer's Pride rabbit feed has a low price point.
Tips For Purchasing Quality Pellets
No matter which brand of rabbit pellets you decide to choose, I have listed some tips to consider when purchasing your feed. They can not only save you money, but help to ensure the health and safety of your rabbits.
No. 1 – If you only have 2 to 4 rabbits, then buying a 25lb bag of feed versus a 50lb bag of feed will help your to maintain the freshness of the pellets. This is important as some of the vitamins and minerals may begin to degrade over time. However, once your rabbits begin to breed, your feed requirements will go up substantially so buying the 50lb bags is more convienant and will save you money.
No. 2 – Check the milling date of your feed. Located on the bottom of the bag should be a milled date indicating when the feed will milled. The last bag of pellets that I bought was date 3/9/16, I purchased them on 3/20/16. Therefore I know the pellets were milled and bagged only 11 days before I purchased them. This is important as some vitamins and minerals start to decay rapidly after 90 days.
No. 3 – Stay away from purchasing pellets at your local pet store or big box retailer. Primarily because they tend to sell inferior feed in small 3 – 8lb bags at almost twice the price of quality feed that you can purchase from your local feed store (see tip No. 4).
No. 4 – Avoid the brightly colored novelty rabbit foods. They kind with the seeds, and snacks already added to the feed. You know the type, the brightly colored bags labled 'Bunny Snacks' or 'Gourmet' variety. They are high in sugars, and lower in protein and they will definitely lighten your wallet. One such product is 'Kaytee Gourmet Variety Diet' It does not list the percentage of protein, fiber or carbohydrate in the product which is primarily made from seeds and fruits with some hay. One 3.5lb bag sells for $6.59, thats $1.88 a pound. If you bought 50lb's it would cost your $94.14, compared to the average price of a good qualty alfalfa pellet that is less than $20.00 for 50lbs.
No. 5 – Constantly changing feeds can make your rabbits sick increasing their chance of getting diarrhea and enteritis (upset GI system) which can ultimately lead to their death. Pick one brand of feed and stay with it. If you eventually decide to change feeds for a particular reason, that is ok, but do not buy one brand one week and another the next, and a third the week after that. Switching back and forth from feed brand to feed brand can cause you more nightmares that using a lesser quality feed. If all you can get is a less desirable house brand of feed from your local supplier, then you are better off using that and supplementing your rabbits diet, than switching back and forth between different feeds from week to week.
A Rabbit's digestive system is unique and is full of special microbes that help it break down and digest the various fibers and other food. Because of this, rabbit's require a fairly high amount of high quality fiber in their diet to maintain a healthy microbial population in the rabbits digestive tract for proper digestion and optimal gut health. In addition, a good quality protein source is essential for proper bone and muscle mass growth. Lower protein levels slow down growth and development of your young fryers and breeders. Remember pregnant and lactating does not an increased source of high quality protein to help them with the rigors of giving birth and feeding their kits.
Here at TAP rabbitry we use Manna-Pro feed for our meat rabbits. We have been real happy with the quality of the feed and it is falls in the middle of the road when it comes to price point. I know many breeders who raise rabbits for show that prefer the more expensive 'show' feeds such as Bluebonnet, Pen Pals, and Show-Rite. We have never used them, but I have placed a comparison of these products side by side in this article for your comparison. I am not sure of their individual price, but from looking a the labels, I can see no real advantage to using these feeds for my rabbit's as opposed to Manna-Pro.
Remember these are just my opinions based on my experiences and my research. You need to decide and feed what you think is best for your and your rabbits. I have attempted to give you all the basic information in one place that I think you will need to make an informed decision when choosing the right rabbit pellet for your herd. As always, if you have enjoyed this article or find it's information useful, please feel free to share it with your friends, and do not forget to send us a friend request on Facebook and Google+.
Other Related Articles On Our Blog:
Linga S.S., Lukefahr S.D., Feeding Of Alfalfa Hay With Molasses Blocks Or Crumbles To Growing Rabbit Fryers. Deparetment of Animal Science & Wildlife Sciences, Texas A&M University. http://www.lrrd.org/lrrd12/4/ling124.htm