The wild rabbits of Europe from which our domestic rabbits have evolved lived in burrows, and the first attempts at domestication merely involved duplicating this natural habitat inside of walled gardens to protect the rabbits from natural enemies.
As in most other endeavors, it seems that significant change didn't come about until the twentieth century. The modern rabbitry is likely to have not only sanitary wire-floored cages for each mature animal, automatic watering (probably with a medication proportioner hooked in), and time-controlled, scientifically planned lighting, but even heating and air conditioning!
Obviously, the homesteader with three or four hutches will probably want something between these two extremes.
Every craftsman knows the value of good tools: they can make the difference between a good job and a poor one. The tools of rabbit husbandry are not only the stock, but also the equipment. The very best stock can be ruined by poor care, and sagging wire floors, or filthy solid floors, or water crocks that are so easily tipped the animal is usually thirsty, or improper nest boxes that contribute to the loss of young. All these and more amount to using poor tools, a handicap even skill and experience can't overcome. Good equipment is not a cost, but an investment, and the time and money it saves over the long run will make the higher initial cost seem insignificant.
It's generallya good idea to start at the top when considering equipment. Look at the best setup available, and if it isn't practical for your specific purposes or situation, then decide where to cut corners. In this regard, you could do no better than to visit as many local rabbitries as possible. (And I'll keep my fingers crossed that you'll be able to find a good one! Many so-called rabbitries are a disgrace to their owners and a black eye for the entire rabbit-raising fraternity.)
Naturally, there are local variations in the type of facilities needed. In the warmer sections of the country, even large rabbitries are commonly rows of hutches in the open or perhaps under some form of shade. Total environment facilities are on the increase even in those areas, however. Not only is heat a greater danger to rabbits than cold, but most of the larger farms are in mild climates, and the larger farms are the ones that have more to gain from ideal housing.
Air conditioning has not worked out too well, but in areas that get hot, roof sprinklers are often used to keep down temperatures inside the rabbit buildings. An even better cooling method is the pad and fan system. This is installed in one end of a long, totally enclosed building. Water is recirculated from a trough at floor level to the pad material at the ceiling. It's sprayed or dripped on the padding, and it trickles back down to the floor trough. Large fans blow through the wet padding material, and the evaporative effect of the moving air effectively cools the rabbitry.
A fan and pad system obviously isn't going to be economical for a couple of hutches, but many small raisers simply obtain the same effect by hanging a wet gunny sack on the windward side of their cages in really hot weather. This trick can save a doe that's due to kindle in hot weather, and naturally, her litter, too.
Cold weather is less of a problem, so long as the animals are kept dry and out of drafts. Large rabbit buildings in the North should be heated in the winter, but primarily to keep the automatic watering system from freezing and for the comfort of the raiser. Ventilation is very important in winter, too.
The type of facilities you decide to use then are dependent not only on your personal tastes and financial position, but also on the size of your herd and your location. There's a wide range of possibilities even within those limitations.
Picking the Building
Starting at the top, perhaps (I say "perhaps" because there's a lot of disagreement among experienced breeders on almost every phase of rabbit raising!) the best arrangement in any climate is a fully enclosed building in which all-wire cages can be hung. The ideal, of course, would be a building specifically designed for rabbits, preferably in the shade. Without artificial heating, cooling, or lighting, it should have plenty of windows to let in sunlight and fresh air during the winter.
Two of the most common buildings used are old hen houses and garages. Earth floors are preferable because they remain drier and are easier to clean. Concrete can be gotten really clean, but the job will have to be done more often. Wood will absorb urine and spilled water and will rot, as well as cause odor problems.
In converted hen houses and garages, cages constructed of one-inch, 12-gauge galvanized-after-welding mesh can be hung from the rafters or ceiling. The heavy gauge welded wire is a necessity. Rabbits chew on poultry mesh, and although they don't tear it apart, they might injure their teeth on it. The cages are suspended from the ceiling with 14-gauge wire. Don't support them on wooden posts or benches. As was mentioned before, wood and urine are incompatible, and furthermore, such supports allow snakes and rats to get too close to the cages. Even if a rat can't get into a cage, it will chew off the feet and legs of babies through the wire.
The generally accepted rule of thumb for cage size is one square foot for each pound of rabbit. A nine-pound doe, then, would be comfortable in a cage 36 by 36 inches, with at least 18 inches of head room. If you have short arms it would be a good idea to have the cage only two and one-half feet wide, and longer, so you can reach to the back of the cage. If you have a choice, make the cage larger rather than smaller. Even with one square foot per pound of mother, with six or eight babies growing up, you'll soon have wall-to-wall rabbits. Each mature animal needs its own cage. More than one will fight, and two does together can induce false pregnancy in each other.
This set-up approaches the ideal for the homestead. But what if no outbuilding is available?
An outside hutch, or a series of them, is certainly acceptable. Rabbits have been raised this way for years and will probably continue to be raised this way. But some of the principles just mentioned should still be kept in mind.
For example, wood is probably the basic construction material for outside hutches. But remember that rabbits chew on wood that's not protected by wire, and wire over wood tends to trap droppings, making sanitation difficult or even impossible. And urine-soaked wood stinks. Keep this in mind as you build, and you'll save much grief later.
Wooden floored hutches are certainly acceptable. The main complaint with them is that they must be cleaned daily, a chore the commercial raiser, or even the busy homesteader, would rather avoid. Sawdust or shavings make good bedding, and you'll be amazed at what one rabbit contributes to the compost heap! But be prepared for that daily cleaning.
Raising Rabbits in Colonies
New rabbit raisers often ask about raising the animals in colonies, much like the walled gardens of the Romans we mentioned as being the first "kept" rabbits. It can be done. In fact, Countryside & small stock journal recently reported how rabbits could be raised this way with a minimum of labor and expense.
In one particular case, an area 16 by 16 feet was marked off and was dug out to a depth of two feet. At the corners, 12-foot posts were placed, two others were set at the middle of one side for a doorway, and center posts were set on the other three sides.
Bales of hay were stacked tightly in the depression, two bales thick. The baling twine was removed after the hay was in position. Poultry mesh was stapled to the posts, a hinged door set in place, and the entire thing was covered with black plastic for waterproofing. A large water trough was made from an eaves trough, and some oats, bone meal, and mineral was tossed on the hay.
One bred doe was placed in the enclosure. When her first litter was weaned, she was rebred and returned to the warren. After that, except for watering and feeding (grain and kitchen and garden waste), the rabbits were ignored for six months.
At that time, so the report went, the family of seven removed as many rabbit fryers as it wanted. They had rabbit nearly every day, and they had rabbits to sell! The rabbits tunneled into the hay and lived a fairly natural life.
For the homesteader who doesn't really care that much about rabbits, or who (mistakenly, in my opinion) isn't interested in stock improvement, this system could have some merit. There is no opportunity for selective breeding, which means the quality of the stock will be gradually lowered with a resulting loss of efficiency and meat quality. It is impossible to maintain any type of records necessary for such breed improvement anyway. So we pass this on, not as a recommendation, but as a point of interest and a possibility for those subsistence homesteaders who like to eat rabbit but don't care about raising them. So far as real rabbit breeders are concerned, this is just one step above going out in the woods and hunting rabbits.
In addition to the cage itself, you'll need a nest box. The nest should be removable, not built as part of the hutch. In fact, the buck doesn't need a nest at all, and the doe gets one only five days or so before she's due to kindle. She doesn't need it except to have babies in, and to have it in the cage after the babies are born just means added work for the keeper, because of the extra clearing it requires.
The nest is generally about 12 by 24 inches by about 12 inches high for breeds such as New Zealands. They can be made of wood or sheet metal. In the summer some large rabbitries use wire nest boxes lined with paper. The paper is merely disposed of, and cleaning and sanitation labor is kept to a minimum.
The nest should have a top. Mother rabbit will enjoy sitting on it, and it provides a good place to get away from it all (meaning eight or so playful, squirming little rabbits) every once in awhile. The top will also help keep the babies warm in cold weather.
There are two general types of nest boxes: one with the entrance hole cut at the top of one end, and the other with the entrance at one end of the top. In either case, the hole is about six inches from the floor to prevent the babies from being dragged out, or from getting out before they're smart enough to know how to get back in. Also, the mother is less likely to trample her young if she has to leap up and into the nest.
Metal nests can be purchased from any rabbit supply house whose address can be found in the rabbit or small stock magazines, Someone handy with sheet metal could build his own based on the general specifications for wooden ones, given here:
Cut three one-inch boards 12-by-24-inches. One is the floor, the other two are sides. Cut off one corner of the sides so the angle runs from about six inches from the floor back to about 12 inches from the front of the box. Then use a 12-by-six piece for the front, a 12-by-12-inch piece for the back, and a 12-by-12-inch piece for the top. If you're handy with tools, fix it so the top and bottom can be removed to facilitate cleaning between litters. The edges can be protected with metal to prevent the rabbits from chewing on them which will save you time in the carpentry shop building new nests.
The commercially available metal boxes have perforated hardboard floors which rest on flanges formed by the sides and ends being angled underneath. These floors are easily removed for cleaning.
Nests, especially wooden ones, are best cleaned by scraping and scrubbing, then lightly burning with a torch. This destroys hair that soapy water and elbow grease can't remove and effectively disinfects the nest. An airing in the sun is a good idea then too.
Even more important than the nest are the feed and water utensils. Water - the "cheapest and most important feed" - should be available at all times, and it should always be clean and fresh, and the proper utensil is important if this goal is to be met.
During warm weather, a doe and her litter will drink as much as a gallon of water a day. A water dish, then, should hold at least one-half gallon. A coffee can or similar vessel can be used, and even though it's not ideal, it is inexpensive. Any sharp edges should be turned in and hammered smooth. Most rabbits will delight in picking up such water dishes and dumping them over as fast as you can fill them, so fasten them down securely!
A much better method of watering is to use half-gallon stoneware crocks made for the purpose. These have thick bottoms, which add enough weight so the rabbits can't toss them around, and concave bottoms and sloping sides, which allow the ice to rise as it forms in the winter, avoiding breakage due to freezing.
Still another type of watering system involves a metal trough, inserted through a 2-inch hole cut in the wire of the cage front. The shape of the trough protruding outside the wire allows it to be filled and emptied without opening the cage door. This is a real time saver if you have more than a few hutches.
Liver coccidiosis is almost impossible to control completely with any of these watering methods. Even with the best of management, dirt and droppings will get into the water to contaminate it. Furthermore, hand watering can be a tremendous chore: one breeder reported spending four hours a day - 365 days a year - just watering her herd of 200.
The answer is automatic watering. There are cup-type waterers on the marker, but these are much less desirable than the dew drops, a nozzle affair that even young rabbits learn to drink from with surprising speed and ease. Automatic systems involve a pressure reduction system with a float valve to reduce the pressure from the regular water source. With too high pressure the rabbits have a hard time drawing water. A pressure breaker can be made using a barrel with a float valve, but this will take some experimenting, because too little pressure will cause the dew drop valves to leak, and with too much pressure the rabbit can't trip the valve with its tongue.
From the pressure reduction tank, a half-inch pipe (and plastic pipe is much easier for the non-plumber rabbit raiser to work with) is run past each hutch. The supply pipe is outside the back of each hutch so any dripping will not wet the rabbits. About nine inches above floor level is right for medium-sized breeds such as New Zealands. This sounds high, but the young rabbits stretch easily to reach the water. With plastic pipe, the dew drop valves are merely screwed into the pipe at the desired locations.
Of course, there are drain valves and vents to eliminate air bubbles and a few other more or less technical considerations. Anybody serious about a system like this would certainly want to investigate more fully than the homesteader we're concerned with here, but, once again, the ingenious homesteader can take a leaf from the page of the successful large operator.
The full-scale automatic watering system isn't practical for a small set-up, but some of the benefits, particularly a constant supply of water and a supply that is impossible to contaminate, can be had by improvising on the larger system.
The dew drop valves themselves are inexpensive and they can be inserted into plastic jugs, such as bleach and other household items come in. A rack is made to hold the jugs upside down (you need air vents in the bottom of the jug which becomes the top of the waterer). Watering becomes a once-a-day chore as long as it doesn't freeze, but even more important from the standpoint of good management, the rabbits never run dry, and their drinking water will always be fresh and clean.
The handyman might see in this an opportunity to go even a step closer to the fully automatic system, with a larger supply tank and the usual pipe running to each hutch. This is fine, and although the large tank can be filled with a hose, it shouldn't hold so much water that it becomes stagnant. Fresh water should be drawn each day, especially in very warm weather.
As far as feed utensils go, coffee cans can also be used as feed dishes, with most of the same limitations they have as watering dishes. Again, crocks are handier.
The almost universally accepted feeder is a metal box which attaches to the outside of the pen. A trough portion goes through a hole cut in the wire. Some models have screened bottoms to permit "fines" (the dusty portions of feed) to sift through. The rabbits will not eat the dusty feed, and, if left in the cage, it can cause respiratory problems. A rabbit breathes through its nose - it cannot breathe through its mouth - and its nose is very complex and sensitive.
Like the trough waterer, this feeder enables the keeper to go down each aisle and feed each animal without the bother of opening each cage door. For does with litters on full feed, these hoppers have the added advantage of holding more feed than crocks, with less waste. Baby rabbits, particularly, are prone to think a feed crock is a potty seat.
Automatic feeding of rabbits has not been developed mainly because there doesn't seem to be any way to handle pellets without undue breakage and the attendant waste.
Hay mangers are not in common use in commercial rabbitries because the usual commercial ration is a complete pellet, which contains hay. Feeding anything other than pellets would be nearly impossible for the 600 or more working does needed to provide a full-time income. Fanciers, however, often claim that extra hay is an important part of their conditioning programs. Homesteaders will no doubt want to make use of hay, as we'll see in the chapter on feeding.
Hutches can be constructed with V-shaped mangers between each two units. The end is open, and the caretaker can go down an aisle and feed two hutches at a time simply by stuffing hay into these mangers. With all-wire cages, the manger can be built to fit inside, if the cage is large enough. It can also be fastened outside the cage, and the rabbits can pull hay through the wire.
Other Important Equipment
Although it may not seem as basic as a feeder or waterer, one of the most important items of equipment in the rabbitry is the hutch card holder. The hutch card is where you record the rabbit's life history, an absolute necessity when it comes to culling, intelligent breeding, and selection of future breeding stock. This card lists the sire and dam, date of birth and other pertinent data, date of each breeding, buck bred to, (if a doe) number born in each litter, number weaned in each fitter, and weight of the litter at weaning and perhaps at other selected times. Commercial feeders have two flanges on the outside to accommodate these hutch cards, which can be hand printed or are available already printed from several of the larger feed companies.
Another must item for most small rabbitries is a metal garbage can in which to store feed. You don't want to encourage rats and mice in your rabbit barn, and you certainly don't want to feed them.
A scale is handy. A regular kitchen one will do, although it may take some patience to convince a young rabbit to stop wiggling long enough so you can take a reading. A hanging type is better. Suspend a basket from it and place the rabbit in the basket.
Another item you may want to include, at least when you get into operation and can see its value, is a small propane torch for cleaning nest boxes and cages. (That fur is terrible stuff to clean off in any other way, and manure tends to cling to it.) A measuring cup or small tin can that holds a known amount is useful for doling out the proper amount of feed, generally about five ounces a day for bucks and does without litters. Of course you'll need various cleaning tools, depending upon the type of hutches used, but a garden hoe with a sawed off handle is useful for a variety of jobs.
Feeding is easily the most important (and most expensive) part of livestock raising. As much as 75 percent or more of the total cost of raising meat involves feed. Not only is feeding expensive, but for the conscientious breeder, especially if he's interested in organic feeds, it can be quite complicated.
Some people no doubt will be surprised to learn that feeding rabbits is either expensive or complicated: they expect to toss them a few lettuce leaves or a carrot, and let it go at that. Farmers like that don't usually stay in the business very long.
A Balanced Diet
Rabbits are livestock and, as such, need a balanced diet with adequate vitamins, protein level, minerals... everything in other words, the health-conscious organic gardener looks for in his own diet. Diet is especially important for nursing stock and rapidly growing youngsters.
Rabbits are vegetarians, but that doesn't mean they can thrive, or even survive, on salads. A doe and an eight-week-old litter would need about 50 pounds of cabbage a day, for example, to get the protein they need. That amount would obviously kill them, even if they could eat it. Fifty pounds of,cabbage contains about six gallons of water! And of course, this is just considering protein, but we know that the type of protein is important, too. While protein was formerly thought to be the basic building block, (protos means first, or it has since been broken down into amino acids - some 23 of them. Some of these amino acids can be synthesized in the stomach. About half cannot be "manufactured" by the animal. These are called "essential amino acids" and must be present in the feed.
Obviously, the easiest way to make certain your animals have all the nutrition they need, at least according to the best knowledge of today's science, is to feed a commercial prepared ration. For rabbits, this is a complete, pelleted feed.
The major ingredient in rabbit feed should be legumous hay, generally alfalfa. The grains are generally selected on a least-cost basis, which is affected by location, time of year, and other factors affecting price. Minerals, supplements, preservatives (yes, animal feeds often contain preservatives too), and sometimes medications, are all mixed into the ground hay and grain.
But such ground feed is moistened with steam, forced through dies which shape it like spaghetti, and the "strings" are cut into three-eighth-inch lengths. The result is a hard, dry pellet which is palatable to the rabbit, and supposedly contains everything the animal needs to thrive.
For the commercial rabbitry, pellets are the only economical way to feed because of labor requirements. For the homesteader, especially the organic homesteader who wants the meat he eats to be the best possible, there are several alternatives.
Grains & Hay
For many small farmers, the biggest problem in feeding stock organically is obtaining organic grain. Not enough large acreage farmers are organic, and the small place too often can't support feed grains. You couldn't turn a combine around on the fields most homesteads require! Hand harvesting is possible, but impractical for most people, especially those part-time farmers who must spend their days at other jobs.
And then too, of course, many rabbit raisers are in such locations that there simply isn't room for growing crops. The answer to this problem is highly variable, but the point is, the main ingredients of rabbit feed are hay and grain. Don't plan on feeding rabbits from an ordinary vegetable garden.
Home-grown feeds obviously won't be pelleted. This means you'll need hay racks for each cage, in addition to grain feeders. Wooden hutches are often arranged so that one rack serves two cages, thus cutting the time involved in this chore in half.
The grains used could include oats, corn, wheat, milo or other grain sorghums, and barley. The selection is based on availability and the mix needed to meet nutritional requirements. (See appendix.) All cereal grains can be fed whole, but corn should be cracked to avoid a lot of waste, and oats and barley should be rolled. If ground feed is used (and there are some advantages to this) it should be moistened just before feeding to eliminate dust.
Generally speaking, the greater the variety of feedstuffs included in the ration, the more complete it is likely to be. However, even a good selection of grains and hay, grown on well-fertilized soil, will not supply all the nutrient requirements of high-producing stock.
For example, protein, once again, is a major requirement. The recommended level ranges from 12 percent for maintenance (dry does and bucks) to 17 percent or more for pregnant does and does with litters. If corn contains about 9 percent protein and alfalfa hay about 15 percent and oats about 11 or 12 percent, a mixture of the three is going to require some additional protein to bring it up to the necessary level for good performance.
Soybeans are a good source of protein, and one easily grown on the homestead, but whole soybeans are not palatable to rabbits. They'll eat about one pound of soybeans to 10 pounds of other grains, but this will still require the addition of soybean or cottonseed meal.
Vitamins and minerals are generally not a problem in the formulation of rabbit feeds. Not much research has been done in this area, but we do know that vitamins A and D are especially important for rabbits. Rapidly growing plants, some of the root crops (carrots, for example) and good quality hay are sources of vitamin A. Small amounts of this vitamin are also found in yellow corn. Field-cured alfalfa is a good source of vitamin D. Most grains contain vitamin E in sufficient quantities, especially wheat. Rabbits apparently do not require vitamin C, according to the now defunct U.S. Rabbit Research Station.
The B vitamins are interesting. Ruminants (cows, sheep, and goats, which have more than one stomach) synthesize some of the B vitamins through the process of rumination. The rabbit is a single-stomach animal, but it has a form of pseudorumination, through coprophagy, or the consuming of some of its own feces.
Rabbits produce two kinds of feces: the familiar, large, "day" pellet, and a smaller, soft, mucous-covered "night" pellet. The latter is reingested directly from the anus. They may be found in the anterior portion of the stomach of healthy rabbits, intact. This ingestion is not indicative of a deficiency of any kind nor is it a form of perversion. It is a natural means for the rabbit to obtain the maximum quantity of nutrients from its feed. Apparently, the process permits the animal to form its own B vitamins.
Even the small landholder who must buy hay and grain from a reliable organic farmer can grow some of his own rabbit feed. Greens may be fed in reasonable quantities: no more than the animal will clean up in 15 to 20 minutes. Such succulent feeds should be introduced gradually to avoid dysentery or bloat, which can be fatal, especially in young stock. Cabbage is the biggest danger here. Lettuce, chard, kale, and all the other familiar succulents can be fed in limited quantities. If you remember that the hay and grains have the major essential vitamins and minerals, many of which are lacking in the succulents, and that the rabbit may neglect these important foods in favor of greens just as a child neglects vegetables if given the opportunity to eat candy, you'll be all right. Many home-grown root crops are also good feed. Carrots, obviously, but also potatoes, mangel beets, Jerusalem artichokes, and others.
Apples and even pears can be fed to rabbits, and of course they love to chew on twigs or pieces of branches you prune from fruittrees. Alder, willow, and similar branches also make good chewing. They provide the rabbit with something to do, possibly give them some nutrients, and help them to keep their teeth worn down. Fruit tree leaves can also make a good "treat".
Comfrey is another crop the organic homesteader is likely to be interested in. It probably deserves a section of its own in a book like this because of the ease of cultivating it as much as for its nutritional properties. Sunflower seeds is also a good crop; it's a good source of protein. Both comfrey and sunflowers can be grown even on city lots, and small patches can be decorative, easily harvested, and extremely useful. Comfrey is highly praised by many as a tonic for rabbits (as well as for people and other livestock).
With these basic concepts firmly in mind, let's get down to specifics. The feed requirements of various classes of rabbits have been calculated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as follows:
Dry does, herd bucks, and developing young
Protein 12-15% Fat 2-3.5% Fiber 20-27% Nitrogen-free extract 43-47% Ash or mineral 5-6.5%
Pregnant does and does with litters
Protein 16-20% Fat 3-5.5% Fiber 14-20% Nitrogen-free extract 44-50% Ash or mineral 4.5-6.5%
(See Appendix for further explanation of these terms.)
Protein is the most important part of a ration, but also the most expensive. There is no danger of feeding too much protein: it will just cost more. Feeding too little, on the other hand, will set your stock back, especially youngsters. A rabbit doubles its weight in its first week of life and increases its birth weight 28 times by the day it's weaned. Since protein is the growth part of the ration, this rapid weight gain demands large amounts of it.
The organic farmer knows better than most that the quality of grain and forage depends on the quality of the soil. Therefore, any suggested ration is based on averages. Furthermore, such suggestions may not apply in certain areas, at certain times of the year, or in certain years because of the availability and expense of ingredients. But such suggestions are helpful as a foundation on which to build a ration based on your own needs and situation.
The following rations meet the requirements listed as needed by dry does, herd bucks, and developing young:
Whole oats or wheat 15 pounds
Barley, milo, or other grain sorghum
Alfalfa, clover, lespedeza, or pea hay
69.5 pounds Salt 0.5 pounds
Whole barley or oats 35 pounds Alfalfa or clover hay 64.5 pounds Salt 0.5 pounds
Whole oats 45 pounds
Soybean, peanut, or linseed pellets, or
peasize cake (38-43% protein) 15 pounds
Timothy, prairie or sudan hay 39.5 pounds Salt 0.5 pounds
The higher protein rations for pregnant and nursing does should be based on the following:
Whole oats or wheat 15 pounds
Whole barley, milo or other grain sorghum 15 pounds Soybean or peanut meal pellets (38-43%
protein) 20 pounds Alfalfa, clover or pea hay 49.5 pounds Salt 0.5 pounds
Whole barley or oats 35 pounds
Soybean or peanut meal pellets or pea-size
cake (38-43% protein) 15 pounds Alfalfa or clover hay 49.5 pounds Salt 0.5 pounds
Whole oats 45 pounds
Linseed pellets or pea-size cake (38-43% protein) 25 pounds
Timothy, prairie or sudan hay
29.5 pounds Salt 0.5 pounds
A complete ration, from which pellets are made (but which homesteaders can feed ground and moistened), may contain these ingredients:
44% protein soybean meal 18 pounds 28% protein linseed meal 4 pounds 15% alfalfa meal 40 pounds Wheat bran 15 pounds
Ground milo, barley, or corn
18.5 pounds Ground oats 4 pounds Salt 0.5 pounds
How Much to Feed
The amount to feed is variable, as different animals have different metabolisms. Here is where "the eye of the master" is important. If an animal leaves food from one feeding to another, cut back on the allowance. If it's always hungry, it might need more. However, overfeeding is as dangerous as underfeeding, as fat animals aren't producers. An overfat doe, for example, is likely to be a difficult breeder because fat builds up in the reproductive organs. And if she does, get bred, she's more likely to have a difficult time kindling.
As an average, dry does in breeding conditions consume 3.8 percent of their live weight dally. In other words, a 10-pound doe eats 10 times 0.038 or 0.38 pound (six ounces) a day. This would amount to 2.5 ounces of grain and 3.5 ounces of hay. If green feed or root crops are fed, the amount should be limited to 1.6 ounces. Using this formula, the quantityfed can be adjusted for does of other weights.
Bucks and does under six months of age being developed for breeders will consume about 6.7 percent of their live weight daily. A rabbit that weighs four pounds at weaning will need about 4.2 ounces daily, but the quantity increases with the weight of the rabbit.
Feed enough to keep the animal in good condition, but don't "overcondition" by feeding too much. A bred doe and does with litters should be fed all they will eat without waste.
There's an old saying about the eye of the master fattening his stock - a saying which some people are trying to change to "the calculations of the chemist, the nutritionist, and the feed manufacturer's accountant fatten the stock." Most organic farmers will dispute this (and some honest scientists will back them up) on the grounds that we simply don't know everything there is to know about trace elements, interrelationships of elements, or even the needs of various animals. Not long ago, we thought proteins were the most basic feed elements. Now we have amino acids (which we don't thoroughly understand). Tomorrow?
Every animal lover knows that each animal is an individual, with particular needs and individual tastes. The commercial farmer can seldom afford to cater to the whims or needs of individuals, but the homesteader can, and will be rewarded for the extra attention. The good livestock breeder doesn't merely shove the feed at his wards and call the job done. Carefully observing eating habits, astutely keeping records of performance, and a certain amount of intuition make the difference between success and failure.
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|Title Annotation:||Homesteader's Handbook to Raising Small Livestock, part 2|
|Publication:||Countryside & Small Stock Journal|
|Date:||Sep 1, 1993|
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