I see many people in various Facebook groups and other online forums asking if their rabbits are making good weight, or asking how to raise rabbits naturally off hay, grasses, vegetables, gardens, tractors, etc.
A well balanced nutrient content is important for any animal, which is why there is a nutrient label on a bag of feed. Years of study and research goes into determining the optimal nutrients for health, growth, and development (for all livestock, not just rabbits). These values may change minimally between brands but generally remain within close range of each other. You’ll see it noted as minimum-maximum on the nutrition tag. It’s a range which outlines acceptable range of that item.
I don’t understand why people expect rabbits not fed on a nutritionally complete and balanced pellet to gain and grow the same as rabbits who are.
There is a saying in the world of livestock, “breed to your feed”, which basically means one has retained the offspring from successive generations that grow and develop optimally on the particular feed one uses. Commercial livestock have been bred under this concept for decades. To revert back to feeding “off the land”, the same saying applies. Keep back and breed offspring that do well on a nutritionally varied, unbalanced and inconsistent diet, (which is what you get when you throw random food at your herd). Eventually you will have rabbits that do well fed in this manner, much the same as wildlife (rabbits, deer, squirrels, boar, etc) have managed to do well. Don’t expect it to happen in just a few generations though.
Unless you’ve studied the nutritional content of what you’re ‘naturally’ feeding them, so as to provide a well balanced diet, don’t expect to meet optimal growth.
They will certainly survive on a random diet, but it is highly unlikely they will actually thrive on it. If they ‘seem happy’ on it, please realize that doesn’t hold much meaning. Give a child a dinner of chocolate cake and they’ll ‘seem happy’ too. It doesn’t mean it’s the best dinner for them.
Otherwise I’d happily live on bacon, pizza and ice cream. And coffee.
I have seen and dealt with “naturally” fed rabbits firsthand. I’m not just pulling this concept out of thin air.
I purchased 9 rabbits (seniors and juniors) years ago from a guy getting out of rabbits due to their poor development. Come to find, he thought they could live on hay (timothy, coastal, and alfalfa) and weeds/forage. Based on the ages and weights on their pedigrees (I even contacted the original breeder to verify they were weighed at the time of sale), every one of them had lost 30 – 50% of weight from the time of purchase – only 3 months earlier. It took me 6 months of proper feeding to get 7 them back to correct weight and health. 2 didn’t make it, (one 13 month old, one 8 month old) and upon necropsy, were devoid of any fat whatsoever, and had serious muscle wasting. Wasting can occur when muscles (meat) deteriorate due to the lack of or improper sustenance. They were also loaded with kidney stones. I would guess that too much alfalfa and certain weeds (which often contain oxalic acid), may have been the primary contributors of the stones.
Sorry for the book, but I just wanted to provide some food for thought. I’m not asking any questions, or telling anyone how to feed or raise their animals. Do what you want, but please do not do it in ignorance. Those animals (whether it be rabbits, chickens, or whatever) who are giving their lives for your sustenance, deserve a little consideration.