RABBIT DIET: part 1
There are several ways to feed rabbits during the Autumn/Winter.
This page informs you how to replace nutrients found in pellets during the Autumn/Winter
Rabbits that are housed outdoors in the colder season have different dietary requirements to those housed indoors. They use up more energy to keep themselves warm, therefore require higher energy feed to get them through the cold season.
In the warmer season, there is an abundance of wild forage available to collect, which can make up the majority (if not all) of their diet when there is a diverse, continuous amount provided for them. However, during the colder season, there is much less variety to choose from. To replace nutrients of the fresh meadow plants in the warm season, the main feed in the cold season should be...
AND LOTS OF THEM
Vegetables are a very important part of their diet. They provide essential vitamins, minerals which are very beneficial to their health. Although the healthiest food for rabbits is a range of meadow plants and grasses, without pellets, vegetables are an important staple throughout the colder months. Ideally, rabbits should have access to this ad libitum (all the time!).
BUT HOW IS THAT POSSIBLE?
2 large, varied servings a day.
Start offering them small portions of vegetables every few hours; they will soon learn that they will always have access to vegetables throughout the day. Then gradually increase the volume, day by day. Give them two large, varied servings of vegetables everyday. The first serving should be given in the morning, and the second in the evening. When offering the vegetables, ensure there is always enough to last until the next feeding. Even if there is just a small amount left, this doesn't matter. It is much healthier for them to consume smaller portions frequently, rather than larger portions less frequently - this is the way their digestive systems are designed. They just have to learn that they will always have access to the vegetables.
WHAT AMOUNT OF VEGETABLES SHOULD BE OFFERED DAILY?
There is no limit!
As a general guideline, at least 10% of their body weight in vegetables daily. For instance, if they weigh 2000g, you should aim to feed at the very least 200g. This is the minimum, and more is always better! No limit should be set. Each rabbit is different, in terms of weight, breed etc. Simply providing enough so that it lasts until the next time they get fed is best. Aim for a minimum of 5 varieties of vegetables daily - again, more is better!
SURELY HAY SHOULD ALWAYS BE THE DIET STAPLE?
Although hay is an important dietary component (when grass and forage plants are not available), vegetables should make up the staple of a pellet free diet during the cold season. Having said that, hay must always be available if there is not a continuous supply of grass and other meadow plants. Rabbits are folivores (leaf eaters) and their digestive systems are very similar to their wild relatives. In nature, their diet consists of fresh food in abundance, including grasses, meadow plants, herbs and they consume very little dry food (with the exception of bark and twigs, which is only a small part of their natural diet). They are not designed to eat primarily dried food, i.e hay. Hay actually has a relatively low nutritional value, as the drying process destroys many of the beneficial nutrients, whereas fresh vegetables contain many vitamins and minerals which are a good replacement for meadow plants and grasses when they are not available. However, hay is good for digestion, keeping their intestines in momentum and for wearing down their teeth. People are often concerned when it is not the diet staple, because they fear that they won't get adequate tooth abrasion. So long as you are feeding plenty of leafy greens, their teeth will stay nice and trim.
WHICH TYPES OF VEGETABLES SHOULD BE OFFERED?
HOW TO: MAKE A BUNNY BOWL
The bulk of the vegetables should be made up of leafy greens. In particular, cabbages are great - they provide many healthy vitamins & minerals. Cabbage also provides energy, which is very important during the cold season. There are some rules for feeding cabbages & other cruciferous veg.
CLICK HERE to watch an informative video about the guidelines.
Please note: this is just an example. The fresh food should vary from day to day.
Leafy greens also includes different types of lettuce, cabbage, other greens such as endives, kitchen herbs and the tops of vegetables e.g. carrot tops
Cabbages are part of the Cruciferous family, but there are other types which do not fit under the ' leafy greens' category. This includes vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower etc. These are all great Winter vegetables. They are very popular amongst most rabbits and are very healthy too. They should all be introduced very slowly to their diet to prevent bloating and other digestive problems. Rabbits who tolerate these vegetables well, may consume them in large quantities. Do not feed these vegetables along with commercial dried food (same goes with all types of cabbage).
A very important part of feeding outdoor rabbits in Autumn & Winter is root vegetables. Low temperatures means that rabbits are having to use up more energy to keep warm, hence why root veggies are highly important during the colder months. Examples of root vegetables I reccomend for Autumn & Winter include:
carrots, parsnips, turnips, celeriac, beetroot and sweet potato
THE 'OTHER' CATEGORY
Often incorporate vegetables from the 'other' category including peppers (all colours), cucumber, celery, tomatoes and much more. These provide additional vitamins and minerals so you should aim a variety of these too. Try to alternate the vegetables in each group daily to ensure their nutritional needs are met.