Friday, December 26, 2014

How to Cut Costs on Rabbit Feed


Raising meat rabbits is a great way to grow and process your own meat for urban homesteaders. They are quiet, don't take up much space, multiply quickly, and are very cost efficient. After the initial set up of cage and watering and feeding systems, the only cost for raising rabbits is the feed. While the feed isn't too expensive, (about $15-$20 for a 50lb. bag), there are some simple ways to cut even these costs pretty significantly.

Rabbits can live healthy lives in captivity with up to 90% of their diet consisting of greens and natural materials. By feeding them greens, they have a more balanced, varied, and natural diet for your rabbits. Here are a few easy ways to cut food costs with minimal effort.

1. Trees and Leaves
My rabbits love eating leaves from trees. We have several "trash trees" that grow little saplings around the edge of our yard. No matter what I do to cut them back, I can't seem to kill them for good. Once I got rabbits, I started cutting off the new shoots and small branches and putting them in the rabbit cages. They nibble off all the leaves, and then we put the wood through the mulcher to add to the compost. Not only does this replace pellet feed, it adds mulch to the compost, and keeps my icky weed trees in check. They can't grow faster than my rabbits can eat! Also, after a storm sometimes branches of bunches of leaves will fall out of my oak trees, and the rabbits love those. So I just gather them up and fill the cage :)


2. Weeds
Weeds always annoy me because they take nutrients from my plants, are a pain to pick, and can't be composted unless you want them all to multiply. Lose, lose all around. But with rabbits, weeds can actually serve a purpose to replace feed. When I weed my raised beds, I put all of the weeds in a bucket, and then dump it into the rabbits cages. They LOVE eating weeds, and I love having a place to dispose of them where I know they wont end up back in the garden :)

3. Kitchen Scraps
I have always composted my kitchen scraps, but now I divide my scraps into to different containers- one for the compost pile (which usually becomes chicken food) and one for the rabbits to eat. Rabbits will eat carrot, radish, and turnip tops, any vegetable ends like celery, and some fruit rinds like watermelon and pineapple. Oddly enough, lettuce isn't good for rabbits, so just toss that in the compost. You may be wondering how your compost pile will ever grow if you feed it all to the rabbits, but trust me, rabbits compost these items MUCH faster than the compost pile would, and they make meat while they're at it!


4. Garden Waste
At the end of a season when pulling up your plants, instead of tossing them in the compost, toss them to the rabbits. My rabbits favorites are the leaves and stalks of bean, peas, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, cauliflower, broccoli, cucumbers and peppers. The only thing I have found so far that they didn't like was green onions. Also, sometimes I have plants that get destroyed by bugs and can't be eaten or that have leaves at the base of the plant that turn yellow. I trim these leaves off and give them to the rabbits as well. Giving them too much of one kind of plant all at once can mess with their digestive systems, so I usually pull a few plants a day for several weeks instead of emptying the garden all at once.


5. Lawn Clippings
We have a lawn mower with a bag so we can collect our lawn clippings. We put most of it into the compost (where the chickens happily slurp up the trimmings), but we also put some in a bowl in each of the rabbit cages. They love grass (go figure) and will eat as much as I put in there.

6. Prunings
At the end of each season, I cut back all of my plants, pruning, dividing, etc. This is a great time to find some treats for the rabbits. My rabbits eat banana leaves, ginger, and fruit tree trimmings just to name a few. I would look up some of the plants in your yard before giving it to them just to be sure, but most things make a great treat for the rabbits.


7. Free Ranging
My rabbits love to hop around in the back yard and nibble in the grass. We try to take the rabbits out of the cages every so often and let them run around in the fenced in yard. We do have to stay out with them to keep an eye on them, but they love the freedom to hop around, play with the chickens, and nibble all the different things on the ground.

Some of the plants that I feed my rabbits can supposedly cause diarrhea, but I guess it depends on your rabbits because mine have never had any problems. Keep an eye on your rabbits though to see is they have a bad digestive reaction to any plant in particular.


Food Determines Mood
Now that we have been feeding our rabbits greens pretty regularly for a year now, we have noticed that they have become much more friendly and cuddly, especially our breeders. They ignore when we fill up the pellet container and wait at the cage door for their treats. The greens are what they really want! Now, raising the baby rabbits for meat on mostly greens will slow down their growth rate, so I would give them greens in moderation if you are on a time schedule, but for the breeders, the more greens the better!

Do you have some tips for cutting the cost of feed for your meat rabbits? Feel free to share!