Tuesday, March 29, 2016

How And What We Feed

The one question I have received most often when someone is purchasing rabbits from our rabbitry is what type of feed do we use and how much do we feed. First, I am going to say that almost every breeder of meat and show rabbits have their own unique methodology to feeding their livestock. My friend and rabbit mentor Steve Coyne feeds totally different from me although we use the same feed.

Steve tends to feed his rabbits more pellets and less timothy hay than I do. Whereas I tend to give my rabbits more timothy hay and a smaller portion of pellets. Steve and I both raise beautiful rabbits, now most of that comes from the fact that we both have strong bloodlines in our barns. In fact, most of my stock here at the TAP rabbitry comes from Steve's barn, with a couple of New Zealand's thrown in from show breeder Bonita Hunt (Honey Grove, TX) and some awesome American Blues from John Head's Rabbitry in Dayton, Texas.

So which feeding program is better? Well, neither I would say? How can that be you ask? Well the proof is in the condition of the fur and the meat of the rabbit. Many times throughout the year Steve and I butcher together, and while Steve feeds his rabbits a higher portion of pellets, I have never seen any of his rabbit carcasses that were fatty. In fact, I happen to think Steve's rabbits look exceptional. My rabbits as well when dressed out have very little fat and have great muscle mass (meat yield).

So how can two different feeding programs that use the same feed get equal results? I suspect that Steve's rabbits get more of their protein, fiber, and carbohydrates from pellets than mine, while my rabbits get more protein, fiber, and carbohydrates from timothy hay than his. However, overall I believe that both of our rabbits get the same approximate amount of nutrition, just from different sources. This hypothesis would seem to be validated as rabbits of the same age from both our barns yield the same approximate amount of meat per carcass when dressed out side-by-side.

So what does all this mean? Simply that there are many ways in which you can feed your rabbits to make sure that they get the necessary amount of protein, fiber, carbohydrates and fats that your rabbits need to keep them healthy while maximizing your meat yields.

What We Feed, And How Much

If you look on the back of your feed bag you will see that many manufacturers have a table listed on the feed regarding what they consider to be the necessary amount of feed that you should give your rabbits to ensure that they get the necessary nutrients, vitamins, and minerals they need for healthy growth. You will notice that most manufacturer's recommend feeding your rabbits by weight, but I do not know many meat breeders that take the time to weigh all of their rabbits once a week to determine the weight of the animal.

John Gillis, who was Steve Coyne's friend and rabbit mentor was a prolific breeder of New Zealand rabbits whose rabbits won many awards at rabbit shows. Steve told me that John had an old 6oz mushroom can that he used to fill and feed his adults rabbits with and Steve said his rabbits always looked healthy. So now you know why we started out feeding our adult rabbits ¾ cup (6 ounces) of pellets daily. Eventually we began adjusting or feeding program to suit our own individual needs depending on the age of the rabbit.

We feed all of our rabbits by age rather than by weight (12 weeks and older, non-pregnant or lactating) a big handful of timothy hay in the morning and 6 ounces of Mann-Pro each evening. I have listed the feeding program that we follow. It works for us quite well and the rabbits appear healthy and happy.

Bucks and Non-Pregnant, Non-Lactating Does
Kits 4 to 12 weeks old: 6 ounces of pellets per kit twice a day (12 ounces total)
12 weeks old throughout adulthood: 6 ounces pellets per rabbit a day

Pregnant or Lactating Does
Week 1: 6 ounces of pellets twice a day, 1 teaspoon Calf-Manna twice a day.
Week 2 until the kits are weaned: 6 ounces of pellets a day, 2 teaspoons Calf-Manna in the morning, 1 teaspoon in the evening.

Regardless of age, all rabbits get a large handful of timothy hay every morning placed in their hay basket. For grow out cages that have multiple rabbits, we make sure that they have sufficient hay related to the number of rabbits in the cage. Now, I realize that a “one big handful” is not a very scientific portion of hay. In fact, my friend Steve's hand is twice my size (he is almost 7' tall) but I try not to make it over complicated, use your best judgment. Personally I do not think you can feed your rabbits too much hay and it is relatively cheap.

In addition to our daily feeding regimen, every Monday morning we feed our rabbits our Black Oil Sunflower Seed (BOSS) snack mix. It is a combination of BOSS, whole grains oats, with a teaspoon of Calf-Manna growth and conditioning supplement. You can find our recipe by clicking on the BOSS snack mix link.

Evaluating Your Feeding Program

So how do you know if your feeding your meat rabbits enough pellets and/or hay? Checking for obesity is not always that easy, but in general you should be able to feel the rabbits ribs without seeing them. When you run you hands over the back of your rabbit you should be able to feel the spine, but it should not be to prominent or sharp and pointed feeling. If you can see your rabbits ribs and it's backbone is way to prominent then you need to increase the amount of pellets you are feeding your rabbit.

If your rabbits dewlap is so large it touches it's elbows when it is sitting up it is probably too fat. If you see loose skin that touches the ground around your rabbits backside, then it is probably too fat. If your rabbit has large loose folds of skin behind it's head and over it's shoulders then your rabbit is probably too fat. Kinda sounds like a Jeff Foxworthy redneck joke doesn't it? Having said that, if your rabbit meets any of these criteria, then you probably need to decrease the amount of pellets you are feeding your rabbits.

If for some reason you are are not satisfied by your observation skills, then by all means break out the scale and weigh some of your rabbits. Compare them with the average size of the breed that your raising to determine whether your livestock meets the breed standards or not, and adjust your feeding accordingly.

Transitioning From One Feed To Another

If you just brought your new rabbits home and you are going to use a different brand of feed than the breeder you purchased your rabbits from, then you will need to transition your rabbits to the new feed. As a breeder I offer all my customers some of my feed to help them transition their new rabbits from my feed to theirs if they are going to use a different brand than the Manna-Pro that we use. If the breeder does not offer you any transitions feed when you purchase your rabbit(s) do not be afraid to ask for a small amount of the feed they use to help you transition your rabbits to your new feed.

When you get home, your new feed needs to be introduced into the rabbits diet gradually over a period of about 7 days. A simple way to do this is to feed about 2/3's of the original food and 1/3 of the new diet for 2 days, then half of the original diet and half of the new diet for 2 days, and then 1/3 of the original diet and 2/3's of the new diet for 2 days. After these 6 transition days, the new diet can be fed without the original diet.

We feed all of our rabbits (12 weeks and older, non-pregnant or lactating) 6 ounces of Mann-Pro each evening. We use the formula outlined previously to transition any new rabbits to our herd from other breeders who do not use Mann-Pro rabbit feed. Because I like to keep it simple and fractions scale some people, I have broken down our transition regimen into ounces.

Day 1, 2: 4 ounces original feed, 2 ounces Manna-Pro
Day 3, 4: 3 ounces original feed, 3 ounces Manna-Pro
Day 5, 6: 2 ounces original feed, 4 ounces Manna-Pro
Day 7: 6 ounces Manna-Pro


Some breeders will look at our feeding regimen and think that we do not feed enough, but the proof of our success can be clearly seen when we observe our breeders, and dress out of feeders (the ones we eat). Steve and I have two clearly different approaches to feeding our herds, but we both get quality results and our rabbits appear happy and healthy. As a breeder of meat rabbits you will have to examine all of the data and come to your own conclusions. You may choose a feeding program that is similar to Steve's or one that is more like mine, of you may tailor one to meet your own individual needs.

Remember, different situations require different solutions. Eventually you will find a feeding program that works for your and your rabbitry. 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+.

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Rabbits: The Feeding and Care Of A Successful Rabbitry

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