Rabbits’ eating requirements are simple, consisting mostly of fresh food. If a natural, healthy rabbit diet is your goal, your job is not a difficult one. With a little care, you can easily raise your rabbit without looking much beyond your garden. The first portion of this article covers homemade rabbit food, for more options including organic rabbit pellets see the sections further down. You’re sure to find the best rabbit food among these options.
Natural Rabbit Food Article Sections
- My Story
- How I Decided What to Feed Rabbits
- My Homemade Rabbit Food Recipe
- Feeding Rabbits Naturally Without Pellets
- What Can Baby Rabbits Eat?
- What Foods Can Adult Rabbits Eat?
- What Can Rabbits Not Eat?
- Best Rabbit Pellets to Buy
My Rabbit Food Story
Our tiny, backyard homestead grew last summer and with our garden finally experiencing success, we decided it was time to take on homestead livestock. Not being in a place to house a cow, or even a pig for meat, we turned to rabbits. Rabbits are quiet, require little space, easy to feed, and are absolutely adorable. What’s not to love? Sure we had to figure out what to feed rabbits but that seem simple enough. We scoured listings for rabbits, and soon found a couple to help us learn the ropes before we moved on to a larger operation. We did everything by the book, just as the breeder has instructed us. The rabbit food was pellets fed in measured amounts. Water in plastic bottles. Small handfuls of hay doled out every evening.
Then one morning while I was knee deep in tomato seedlings, I watched our daughter walk over to the rabbit hutch, her arms laden with weeds and flowers. She sat down, and began poking the tips of the weeds into the hutch, letting the rabbits nibble away. I was panicked. What if the weeds made the rabbits sick? How long had she been feeding them like this?
How I Decided What to Feed Rabbits
That night, I began to read up about the history of rabbit husbandry. I learned that manufactured rabbit food pellets were introduced sometime around the World War II. Before pellets, Depression-era rabbits were fed an assortment of weeds and kitchen scraps, gleaned fruits, and vegetables. I researched local native plants, identified the weeds and flowers the rabbits had been eating, and discovered, not only were they perfectly safe for rabbit consumption, but that we were sitting on an entire yard filled with weeds, err …a treasure trove of wild edibles! Little did I know we had a field of all natural organic rabbit food ready for consumption.
Inspired, I poked around a number of online forums and read through the forums on feeding rabbits naturally. I was able to find lists of safe foods for rabbits, and consulted a local holistic veterinarian to make sure that the rabbits would get optimum nutrition.
Inspired by my findings and the Rabbit Food Cookbook, I decided to replace our store bought rabbit food with my own recipe. From all my research I knew what to feed rabbits. Our system was implemented over the course of a month, to ensure we didn’t upset the rabbits’ digestive systems. I opted for a mixture of orchard grass and alfalfa hay for our rabbits, fed free choice. Alfalfa hay has high protein content, and because our bunnies are not getting the protein from pellets (which are made from alfalfa and other unmentionables) we can use this hay to keep that nutrient prevalent in their diet. Along with the orchard grass and alfalfa hay I made the recipe below.
My Homemade Natural Grain Based Rabbit Food Recipe:
- 6 cups rolled oats
- 3 cups golden wheat berries
- 3 cups pearled barley
- 3 cups hard red wheat berries
- 3 cups split peas
- 3 cups black oil sunflower seed
I combine this all well, and then fill their feeding crock to the brim. Although this may not be true for all rabbits, our rabbits regulate themselves, eating only what they need. Monitor the rabbits’ weights to ensure they don’t overeat. A simple diluted syrup of black strap molasses and water can be added to this grain mixture to encourage reluctant rabbits to take to the feed. Mine were eager to eat without the molasses, so I excluded it.
During months of fair weather, we pasture our rabbits in mobile tractors and move them as needed. They do a wonderful job of eating all our weeds and keeping our yard healthy. They also fill the gaps between mowing, which is very welcome. The rabbits also get handfuls of leafy green veggies, harvested weeds and plants from our garden, and some fruits and vegetables as they are available.
Feeding Rabbits Naturally Without Pellets
My daughter and I often harvest weeds such as dandelion, plantain, blackberry leaves, and chickweed to dry for feeding during the winter months for supplementation. I have also sprouted wheat berries as fodder. Keeping a small portion of fresh food in the rabbits’ guts during the winter ensures that they will be able to properly digest fresh food in the spring when they are moved into tractors. I begin the transition by increasing their hay as the greens dry up for winter, and by increasing their grain ration amount. I also harvest and dry weeds and lawn clippings throughout the summer months to feed them during the winter.
For rabbit growers who prefer switching to pellets for the winter season, the transition could be done by adding small increments of pellets—approximately in tablespoon-sized increments—to their grain ration, increasing the amount weekly until the ideal pellet ration has been reached.
Our rabbits have supple pelts and well-muscled bodies. They race to meet us at their gate, excited to see what new goodies we are bringing. We can trust this rabbit meat we are growing is organic, and GMO-free. The feed bill dramatically decreased when we began natural feeding, giving us one more reason why rabbits are the perfect livestock choice for our small backyard homestead.
We now have five breeding rabbits, plenty for supporting a small family. We’ve left the days of pellets behind us. We spend our time picking weeds, much like our little daughter that one spring day that lead me to question our methods. Natural feeding has been a wonderful choice for our family, and I encourage all rabbit growers to give natural rabbit food a try.
However, there may be times or situations when you have to rely on pellets or store bought fruits and vegetables to feed your rabbits. In situations like these it’s good to have some knowledge of what to feed your rabbits.
What Do Baby Rabbits Eat?
A baby rabbit’s diet is different from that of an adult. Although you can introduce pellets and alfalfa at three weeks, mother’s milk is the bunnies’ primary food through its seventh week of life. After this point, the milk drops out, and pellets and alfalfa take over as bunny food. Once the young rabbit is about six months old, however, you should begin to switch to an adult rabbit’s diet.
What Foods Can Adult Rabbits Eat?
Rabbits Can Eat Hay
The diet of an adult rabbit is fairly simple, consisting of only four “food groups.” The first and most important is hay. It is vital to make a distinction here between grass hay and alfalfa. Alfalfa, as a member of the legume family, contains more protein and calcium than are good for an adult rabbit. Instead of alfalfa, opt for timothy, orchard grass, brome or oat hay, and mix or alternate varieties. As for quantity, you can give a rabbit as much grass hay as it wants.
Rabbits Can Eat Vegetables
Next on the food pyramid are vegetables. Not all vegetables are safe for rabbits, but a great number are and should find their way into your rabbit’s diet daily. Mix two or three different kinds to ensure a nutritional balance. However, it is important that you not give your rabbit any new vegetable suddenly and in large quantities. Since rabbits are extremely sensitive eaters, it is important that you slowly test your rabbit’s ability to handle one vegetable at a time. Once you have ascertained that a vegetable is safe, you can add it to your rabbit’s diet, giving a maximum of 2 cups to a rabbit weighing 5 pounds or more and 1 cup to those that weigh less.
If you are wondering what to feed rabbits, recommended vegetables include such things as bell peppers, zucchini, cucumber and brussels sprouts. You can also give such greens as carrot tops, dark lettuces, herbs, radish tops and sprouts, okra leaves and clover sprouts. Less frequently, usually once a week, you can give broccoli stems and leaves, carrots, spinach, collard greens, and kale. Flowers also come into this weekly diet; rabbits can enjoy marigolds, roses, chamomile and pansies, among other things, but give them these no more often that once a week.
Pellets form the third part of a rabbit’s diet. These are not as important as the first two kinds of food and so should be offered only in small quantities. A quarter of a cup is sufficient for a rabbit over 5 pounds, and those below this weight need only half that amount.
Finally, and least important, are the rabbit treats. Fruits fall into this group and are appropriate for consumption up to twice a week. Only certain fruits are healthy for rabbits, and those, like vegetables, require careful introduction to test your rabbit’s tolerance. Once you have ascertained that the fruit does not affect your rabbit adversely, give it only 1 or 2 tablespoons.
What fruits can rabbits eat?
Fruits that are safe for rabbits include such common items as oranges, apples, peaches, pears and grapes. Berries, bananas and cherries are good too, as are watermelon, nectarines, pineapples and plums. However, remember that you need to give all these fruits in very small quantities for them not to interfere with a rabbit’s digestive system.
What Can Rabbits Not Eat
In every food group, there are dangerous options that you should seldom give your rabbit. Knowing what not to feed rabbits is just as important as giving your bunny rabbit the right foods and in the right amounts. For example, as mentioned above, alfalfa is not an ideal option for adult rabbits. However, you can make it a treat and give it occasionally.
On the other hand, certain foods should never form a part of your rabbit’s diet. Foremost among these is chocolate, which is poisonous to rabbits. Cereals, seeds, crackers, pasta and nuts can also be harmful to the intestinal track. Human treats are never an option, especially sugar and yogurt. Even some greens are bad for your rabbit, such as those of turnips, mustard, and beets. Cabbage, cauliflower, and iceberg lettuce are also forbidden, as are certain starchy vegetables, such as potatoes and corn. Peas and rhubarb do not make healthy bunny food, nor do beans and other legumes.
5 Best Rabbit Pellets You Can Buy
You can easily find rabbit pellets that measure up to your standards for a natural diet. All of these options will help to keep your rabbit happy and healthy.
These pellets are designed with a rabbit’s natural nutritional needs in mind. Their organic ingredients include the rabbit’s staple, grass hay, as well as other foods and supplements which promote overall health. Canola meal, wheat straw, sunflower meal, barley and flax seed are only a few of the components of these pellets, which one reviewer says have made his pet “vibrant and healthy.” Another user comments that upon switching to these pellets, her rabbit’s “energy is good” and that “his coat is looking healthier.”
Formulated without harmful soy or corn, this food contains the brand’s own Fertrell Nutri-Balancer, a feature designed to maximize absorption of vitamins and minerals. In spite of the fact that the food does not have the “organic” label, representatives of the brand have stated that all the ingredients are organic. Most users declare that their pets “love the feed,” which contains necessary forage, grain, and plant protein products as well as an abundance of vitamins and minerals. After using these, one reviewer mentions that although she has been having trouble with adequate weight gain with other natural and organic food, “this helped.”
Timothy grass is an excellent ingredient in these Kaytee pellets, and together with the other high-fiber ingredients, such as oat hulls, wheat middlings, and ground flax seed, helps to ensure that your rabbit’s digestive system is healthy. The brand has also added prebiotics and probiotics, both of which contribute to this goal. However, for those who wish to avoid soy in their rabbit’s diet, it is important to note that these pellets do contain dehulled soybean meal. These pellets are, nevertheless, an excellent choice. One reviewer mentions that after extensive research, she found that these pellets “had the best protein/fiber content of any other rabbit food available on Amazon,” while another user, referring to this food, says, “Alfalfa free pellets made of Timothy hay is the best for bunnies.”
Although these pellets contain alfalfa, they are, in part, based on Timothy grass, which is an excellent source of nutrition for rabbits. They are also free of grain and soy, both of which can harm a rabbit’s digestive system. The added vitamins and minerals round out the nutritional content and make these a fairly healthy choice for adult rabbits. One reviewer speaks of the improvement this made in her formerly unhealthy rabbit: “Since changing to this brand of pellet food, his waste odor is not as powerful and his coat is much silkier–for the first time since we’ve had him, he hasn’t been shedding!” Another rabbit owner writes a glowing account of the food, saying it is of “amazing quality, dark green, fresh, with a delicious odor and amazing taste.”
This brand is unique in that it makes its food in small batches and sells only through Amazon in order to maintain maximum freshness. The pellets are based on Timothy hay from the current year’s hay crop and contain a rich array of vitamins and minerals to round out the nutritional content. However, these pellets do contain soy. Nevertheless, in spite of this fact, they are a popular choice. One reviewer describes them as being of “amazing quality,” and another owner mentions that after adding these to her sick rabbit’s diet, “within a few weeks, he’d gained weight” and his excretory and “drooling problems went away.”
Mimi Mason is a homemaker, homeschooler, and micro homesteader. She chronicles her family’s experiences with sustainable living on her blog, The Simple Survivalist. When she’s not elbow deep in garden soil and bread dough, she can be found hidden behind the pages of a good book.