Care and Management of Rabbits/Chapter 11
FEEDING ADULT STOCK
FEEDING ADULT STOCK
We have already hinted in a general way as to the sort of a ration required for rabbits. The domesticated rabbit is a very rapid grower. He is a meat animal and he must be fed in much the same manner as a beef animal. This should be kept in mind at all times.
That means that he needs a balanced ration composed of the proper elements of concentrates, roughage and succulent food. It has always seemed to me that the reason why so many people have trouble with their rabbits is that they do not take this fact into consideration. They try to feed green food alone, or grain alone or hay alone, and expect the rabbit to get along famously on such a ration.
If you stop to think that no man could live on oats alone and make a good development, you will begin to see why the rabbits cannot be expected to do something that is contrary to Nature.
Getting the results out of the herd is merely a matter of supplying the proper raw material in the form of feed, and the rabbits will convert it into meat in a more efficient manner than any animal you ever had anything to do with.
During my first summer with rabbits I fell into the error so many people do by supposing that the rabbit did not need anything but green food. I was very lucky that summer. The rabbits got along all right and seemed to grow nicely. But later in the season I found that they were under weight for their age. They had not had the proper ration.
What does the rabbit eat, is a question most frequently asked by beginners. The adult rabbit will eat almost anything that is wholesome and sweet. They like carrots, beets, whole and rolled oats, stale bread, skim milk, clover and alfalfa hay, timothy, straw, dandelions, lettuce, lawn clippings, wheat bran, alfalfa meal, in short, almost anything that it is possible for them to eat.
Feeding the adult rabbit is not a hard proposition. The rabbit has now reached its weight and proper development for its breed and all that is contemplated by the feeding is to maintain it in this condition.
Where you are feeding pregnant does, a little different arrangement as to the quantity fed is made, as does expecting a litter should be allowed to eat all that they want.
For other adult stock, however, it is best to feed them a regular allowance sufficient to maintain flesh and condition and not feed them more. To overfeed will induce bowel trouble and make the rabbits fat and flabby. No rabbit, to be desirable for show or breeding, should be allowed to get fat. They should be just well filled out for their frame.
Two and one-half ounces of whole oats per adult rabbit is the proper feeding for the morning. This is just a good double handful. If you can get rolled oats at a figure cheap enough to warrant its use it will be better for them, as there is not so much fiber as in the whole oats.
The rabbits will like a change, so every other morning alternate the feeding with a mash made by soaking whole oats over night in water. This is to soften the hulls and give the oats greater bulk. Then drain off the surplus water and add as much wheat bran as oats and then put in as much alfalfa meal. The bran and alfalfa meal is dry when mixed in with the oats and they absorb the excess moisture so that the mash is crumbly and not sloppy. Salt this mixture to taste, about a tablespoonful of salt to twenty rabbits. Give three ounces to each adult rabbit. Nursing does should have all they and the litter will eat.
If you can procure ground beet pulp add it to the mash after soaking over night. It will further balance the ration and add much to its value, besides cheapening it considerably.
The rabbits are given fresh water with each feeding and if the water crocks are dirty they should be scalded out thoroughly. Do not expect the rabbit to drink filthy water. It will not do it because it is one of the cleanest animals in existence and it will not drink contaminated water or eat bad food unless starved to it.
No more feeding is necessary until night when a good-sized handful of clover or alfalfa hay should be given to each rabbit. It is hard to say off hand just how much each animal should have. That is a matter of the individual rabbit and of observation. The rabbit should have all that it will eat up clean in the night and no more or less.
Alfalfa hay, while a little more expensive in the Middle West and Eastern portion of the United States than any other hay, is undoubtedly the best hay to use, as it contains a better feeding value than clover, having about three times the protein content that clover has.
One summer I conducted an experiment with peanut hay as a forage for rabbits and I consider it the equal if not superior to alfalfa. If you live in the South or are where you can secure peanut hay for your rabbits, use it by all means. It keeps them in better condition and gives a decidedly delicious flavor to the meat of the commercial stock. It is profitable to raise it for this very purpose, if you are situated so that it can be done. You will get two crops from the venture, peanuts and hay, besides adding to the fertility of your soil, as the peanut is a legume like clover and alfalfa and adds more to the soil than it takes away.
Some successful breeders only feed their stock once a day and they keep the hay before the rabbits at all times in hay racks. This is probably a desirable thing to do where the labor element is a serious problem, but it is a matter of individual preference.
Twice a week at least give the adult rabbit one large carrot for breakfast as a tonic. They like nothing better and in winter it is especially valuable in keeping the stock in condition. If you have a small garden space, you can raise enough carrots for this purpose, or a dime's worth a week should supply the small family rabbitry with the necessary tonic. It is money well spent.
As for green food, it can be fed the adult rabbits with less likelihood of disastrous results than is true in the case of young stock.
It is better to consider the green food as merely an element in the ration. During the summer, I alternate the hay evenings with green clover, lettuce, chicory or dandelion leaves.
The dandelion makes an excellent breakfast for the rabbit on summer mornings and can take the place of the carrots which are given during the winter. Dandelions are an excellent kidney regulator and if your rabbits seem to be "off feed" or discharging "red" water, a feeding or two of dandelions will soon put them back in condition.
In feeding green food, however, some precautions must be observed. It must be fed fresh and must not be allowed to stand in a basket or pile for any length of time before feeding. It will heat and become sour and cause you a nice lot of trouble if fed in that fashion. Feed it promptly and give only what the stock will eat up clean.
Now a word about cabbage. There seems to be an impression among beginners that cabbage is the ideal green food for rabbits, because most of us have noticed now greedily the wild cotton tail goes after the cabbage in our gardens.
The rabbit likes cabbage and will eat it greedily, but it is not desirable for the reason that it has a severe effect upon the kidneys. Furthermore it causes a terrible odor around the hutches. Lettuce, dandelions or chicory leaves are all as good as cabbage and they do not have this injurious effect upon the kidneys, so cabbage should not be fed at all, or only very sparingly at most. It is apt to throw all of your stock into diseased conditions which the beginner cannot cope with.
Feed the rabbits intelligently and do not overfeed. It hurts the rabbits and your pocketbook as well. Do all that you should in the way of feeding, but why do more?