The following is a list of suitable leafy greens you can purchase from your local green-grocers of try your hand at growing yourself. Leafy greens should make up at least 50% of the fresh food you provide your rabbit.
Greens with High Oxalic Acid Content
The following veggies have a really high oxalic acid content. They should be fed carefully in moderation, only ONE item from this category should be fed a day.
A Note on Cabbages
Cabbages are naturally very gassy foods, they should not be fed exclusively and should not make up more than half of the leafy green part of the diet. Introduce them very slowly and one at a time, most rabbits fed a natural high green diet can tollerate cabbages fine, HOWEVER some rabbits have a very low tollance for cabbages and they can cause bloat. Personally I avoid feeding cabbages to babies under 16 weeks old, but ALL my adult rabbits have no problems with them being included in their diet.
Greens are a vital part in creating a natural rabbit diet, and should be fed daily. There are two kinds of greens available to you as rabbit food, namely wild collected (or grown) forage or cultivated greens (either from your garden or the local shop). While it is undoubtedly more natural to feed your rabbit primarily on wild greens it can however sometimes be a problem for those living in cities, working long hours or in the colder winter months.
It is of benefit to note that on the whole rabbits will tolerate wild greens better than cultivated greens, the latter of which should be introduced into the diet gradually and one addition at a time.
Personally I choose to feed primarily wild greens in the summer when there is an abundance of food and more daylight hours to allow collecting, I do however try to ensure at least one green feed a week is made up cultivated greens to ensure the rabbits remain tolerant of them. In the winter I generally drop to feeding greens only every other day of which most are cultivated with only the weekend feeds been supplemented with wild greens (this is obviously due to it being harder to collect a range of forage in the winter months and the fact that the time I have available before and after work each day is in darkness). I do however continue to supplement with fresh grass or fodder grown in my own garden and do encourage a range of weeds/green to grow to add to my rabbit diet over the winter months.
Greens can be split into two main categories - leafy greens which make up the majority of the diet, these can be free-fed and unrestricted, the 2nd variety 'Others' is usually made up of roots, flowers and fruits these must be fed in smaller quantities but provide a range of vitamins, minerals and health benefits.
Making up a Green Feed
The ideal is to provide constant access to leafy greens, ensuring rabbits always have as much as they wish to eat, enable the to eat slowly over the course of the whole day. This may not always be practical so an alternative is to feed 2-3 large meals of greens each day. Offer at least 5 different varieties in each serving and vary the types of green offered to ensure you are providing a balanced diet for your rabbit.
Above is an example of a feed selection, the feed is mainly made up of a selection of leady greens some with high water content (romain lettuce & celery) and one with a high oxalic acid content (spinach), with a root vegetable for extra energy.
Variety is the spice of life
The easiest way to ensure that your rabbit gets a varied and healthy diet with all the different minerals and vitamins they need is to vary what you feed. Each time you go foraging or shopping try to select different plants from your last feed, constantly be looking for new things to try (obviously after carefully checking they are suitable). But more importantly go with the seasons, feed what is available at that time, either in the wild or from your shop, this will naturally ensure variety through the course of the year. If you find yourself constantly veering towards the same options, shake things up a bit for your bunny.
Use the pages in my nutrition guide to see some of the options available to you for each type of green as well as some of their key benefits.
Once you've discovered the joys and benefits of feeding a natural diet to rabbits, you're feeling ready to jump straight in and offer your precious bunnies a feast of natural healthy food - but wait! Any changes to a rabbit's diet need to be done gradually to prevent stomach upsets. Rabbits have a huge amount of gut flora (good bacteria in the cecum that helps digest food), they need time to adjust to diet changes in order for this gut flora to establish. The steps below need to be followed in order to ensure that your rabbit can make a smooth transition to a more natural diet, there is no set time for each step but they will generally take between 2 and 4 weeks.
Step 1 - building beneficial bacteria
I'm going to start by assuming your rabbit is currently on a hay and pellets diet, but this will work just as well if you currently feed a muesli mix (although make sure you are also offering unlimited hay). If you already feed regular weeds/veggies to your rabbit this step will be quicker, if not, take your time.
To start with you need to be providing your rabbits with fresh greens daily (about a cup full per rabbit), the key here is to offer variety. Make sure each portion is made up of mainly foods they have tried before and introduce 1 or 2 new items each feed. The main purpose of this step is to introduce your rabbit to the different varieties of greens and vegetables that you will be feeding, so make sure to include what is most available to you and what you plan on using for your natural diet.
If your rabbit refuses to eat something offered make sure you offer it again about 4 days later and again 4 days after that. Usually after the 3 offerings most rabbits will accept foods, however they do have their own preferences and tastes. It is natural for rabbits to just take a small nibble the first time they encounter a new food. In the wild this would allow them to wait a few days to ensure that the food has no negative affects on them before returning to consume it in larger quantities.
If you rabbit has soft poo during this process slow back down and only offer the food that has been well tolerated before, then slowly start introducing the different feeds one at a time, you may need to offer a very small amount for a few days then slowly up the amount offered.
Once your rabbit is accepting a wide range of foods well, it's time to move onto step 2.
Step 2 - increasing fresh quantities
Now your rabbits have built up the good bacteria in order to digest all the fresh green foods you are planning on offering, the next step is to get your rabbit used to eating larger quantities of fresh food and to pace their eating habits as they would in the wild rather than gorging on the food as soon as it is provided.
Start by offering 2 cups of greens a day (one in the morning and one at night), do this for a couple of weeks, then introduce a 3rd serving between the two. Again continue for a couple of weeks then add in a 4th serving.
Once you are providing 4 cups of greens a day at different times during the day, the rabbits will be getting used to having multiple meals during the day (in the wild rabbits will eat around 30 small meals over the course of the day, so we want to encourage them to graze a small amount multiple times a day).
Next start increasing the amount of fresh food offered at each serving, slowly increase it bit by bit until when you go to feed the next portion they still have some of the previous feed left over. This indicates that the rabbits are beginning to pace their feeding throughout the course of the day.
Step 3 - removing processed feed from the diet
Continuing offering 4 feeds of fresh food a day for another 2-4 weeks and over this time you will also want to wean your rabbits off their pellets or mix.
If you are choosing to remove prepacked food from the diet completely, simply reduce the amount of food offered gradually over about a 3 week period until you no longer offer any.
You may choose (for convenience reasons) to continue to feed a prepacked (such as grunhopper which we feed), in this case over the course of about 3 weeks, start to offer slightly less of your pellets and introduce a small sprinkle of the new feed, decrease the pellets each day while increasing the new feed until at the end of the period you will just be offering the new feed.
Use this time frame to start gauging how much fresh food your rabbits will eat during the course of the day.
Step 4 - combining feeds
The final step is to get your new feeding schedule to line up with your own daily routine, while rabbits will appreciate 4 feeds a day, this is usually not practical for most keepers. Now your rabbits are used to pacing their feeding throughout the course of the day you can providing simply one or two feedings a day.
At this point it is a good idea to start introducing a seed mix or similar supplements that you intend to use, again start by adding just a tiny sprinkle over the feed and increase gradually over about 2 weeks.
Start by combining your first two feeds and last two feeds together, do this for a couple of weeks and then switch over to your preferred feed schedule. Personally I feed fresh food and grunhopper mid morning and top up hay and dried herbs on an evening, if they have no fresh food left over at this time I will also add a bundle of fresh grass.
Congratulations, you have now successfully converted your rabbits to an all natural diet.
I've really been struggling to toilet train Sherwood our newest addition, which is not that unusual and something that I regularly get asked about. However the whole concept got me thinking about the origins of rabbit toilet behaviour, it is probably best to get a better understanding of this before attempting to modify it to suit our own ideas of cleanliness.
Rabbits are usually very tidy with their wee, they will choose a toilet area (a latrine) near to their warren and preferred grazing areas and this is where they will go when they need to wee. Latrine sites near to warren entrances are usually covered over with dirt to help mask the scent. Rabbits rarely use urine to mark their territory (instead preferring to leave dropping piles and using the scent gland on their chin), this makes it relatively easy to get your rabbit to use a litter tray to wee in, simply place the tray over their chosen toilet area. Urine can vary in colour (especially in rabbits who eat a wide range of different fresh food), it can be pale yellow, thick and creamy, orange or even blood-red.
'Spray' is very thick urine - usually white - that is highly concentrated. Rabbits (mainly bucks, but dominant does can also spray) flick their rear end and shoot this spray. If there are lots of 'rival' rabbits (from other social groups) in the area rabbits will spray more often as a territory marking. Bucks often spray does during courtship in an attempt to make them receptive to their advances (the does rarely seem impressed by this - I can't think why). Some rabbits are natural sprayers while others never are inclined, the only way to curtail spraying behaviour (in either bucks or does) is through neutering.
Rabbits can produce up to 300 poops a day, these are hard round balls. The size colour and texture of these will vary depending on the rabbits diet (very pale to a rabbit that eats mainly hay and dried feed, to darker to rabbits that eat mainly fresh feed). You can tell a lot about your rabbit's health by checking it's poos - I'll revisit this topic in another article. Most of these 300 poos will be deposited in the latrine areas or toilet scraps as discussed above, so these are again very easy to litter train, lower ranking rabbits in a colony will only use latrine areas and will not territory mark. Rabbits naturally like to keep their toilet away from their main living/sleeping area, so if your rabbit has permanent access to an outdoor run you will probably find their chosen toilet area will be outside.
Rabbits will also use these hard poops to create territory markers, often on top of mounds of earth, tree stumps or other prominent places towards the perimeter of their territory (or enclosure), they will place small piles of droppings to show other rabbits where their area is. It is impossible to get a rabbit to place these markers into a litter tray and is simply easier to clean them up as you find them. Neutered rabbits are less likely to mark their territory in this way, but it does still happen from time to time.
A rabbit's digestive tract is in constant motion, this means that while they are eating they are producing droppings. While some rabbits will break frequently to visit a latrine, many others simply poop while they graze. It has been suggested that this help to fertilise the grazing land to ensure continual production of quality feed (rabbit droppings are indeed a first class fertiliser), however this can be problematic in a domestic setting. If your rabbit is a poop grazer, the only way really around this is to place a litter tray where you feed them. Several companies now produce hay racks with built in litter trays for this purpose. If like me you prefer to scatter feed, you may just have to accept that you won't have your rabbits 100% litter trained.
These are the dark, soft poos that rabbits produce - usually over night and in their sleeping areas. In a normal healthy rabbit these should be eaten straight as they pass them. However on occasion they may become tangled in the fur or left in the bedding. If you are finding a lot of these poos you may need to reconsider your diet, or check your bunny - rabbits that are overweight or older rabbits that are having trouble reaching their bottoms will no longer eat their own caecotrophs. Mother rabbits will feed their own caecotrophs to their kits for the first 6-8 weeks of their life, these are full of the bacteria and gut flora a young rabbit needs to help them digest the foods found in the mother's diet.
It is with such a heavy heart and many tears that I have to tell you about the passing of our beautiful matriarch Minerva, our oldest smoke pearl doe, just a week after we lost her son Thor. Minnie was a real sweet girl, a special one off rabbit. She will leave a huge hole in the warren. She leaves her daughter, grandson and 2 granddaughters to outlive her.
On July 15th Thor was diagnosed with advanced pancreatic cancer following rapid weight loss, it was not expected that he would live to the end of the week. We moved Thor and his companion Bluebell into the group colony, so that he could enjoy access to the outdoor run for his last few days and so Bluebell would not be alone when he passed. Thor's mum Minerva, sister Pandora and daughter Tessa, all rushed to greet him and made sure he was never alone. Thor surprised us all by loving life and living another 6 weeks before passing away this week. He was an amazing boy and will always be missed, here are some photos of his life with us.
Based on the slow of activity here lately i'm sure many of you will not be surprised by this announcement. I've been taking a lot of time lately thinking about my rabbits and their involvement.
First let me say NO I am not giving up my rabbits, or giving up breeding. I am however down-scaling massively.
I have decided not to keep any babies back from our current litters and to rehome my adult rex breeding pair. I am not however rehoming any of my adult smoke pearls.
You will probably notice on the 'our bunny family' page that I have provisionally retired several extra rabbits (although they have not yet been speyed/neutered, this will happen over the next few months) these now include Thor, Bluebell and Sassy. Additionally I have no plans to breed from Tessa but I am keeping her in tact for the foreseeable future in case the unthinkable should happen to Duke.
This leaves me with an active breeding Trio of Duke, Catkin & Snowdrop. I plan to only have around one litter a year and to keep back a single young doe to show and then join the colony and contribute to the next generation This should mean that over the next few years the number of rabbits I keep naturally drops slightly. I still hope to try to get a litter from Catkin and Duke later this year.
At present tho I am very disillusioned with the show world, I've not been enjoying exhibiting lately, and although i'm passionate about the breed I keep, just honestly can't care enough about where I place at the end of the day (I never have in the past either so nothing new there.). The difference now is that my time is more precious, i'm working longer and investing more of myself into my business and obviously my daughter, which means that free time is more precious and we'd often rather spend it at home with the rabbits themselves rather than at a show. Many of the things that kept me showing (such as the Smoke Pearl club and fancies) are not the friendly, happy places they once were, everything seems filled by gossip, backstabbing and needless drama - Oh how I don't miss facebook.
I am not planning on giving up showing altogether, however do not expect to see us out often. I'm planning to attend perhaps 3 or 4 shows a year rather than 3 or 4 a month, i'm not putting any pressure on myself or my rabbits to get to shows, win awards or anything else. I have already achieved everything I wanted to with my smoke pearls from a show point of view (cc, best fur, stock show winner, london and bradford bob winner, best in show winner, club champion, brc champion). I feel that for the next few years we will be better served as a family by taking a step back and some time to enjoy the present, we will continue to work with our rabbits and develop the next generation focusing on preserve the genetic variability of this beautiful breed, however it means that I won't worry about whether my rabbits are dirtying their feet by enjoying time to be rabbits.
So i'm going to try to get back into blogging, so thought this was an ideal opportunity to start.
Yesterday I judged a members young stock show at one of our local clubs. Meaning a show held alongside a normal BRC show, open only to members of the club and for rabbits under 5 months of age. I was very excited to be asked to do this show as I was judging all 4 sections (fancy, fur, lop and rex) - normally for BRC shows I only get the opportunity to judge fur & rex breeds. I really hope to eventually become a all-round judge, but as my speciality is with fur rabbits I'll have to work harder with the fancy breeds.
The show was overwhelmingly filled with dutch, there was a dutch stock show being held at the same venue, so lots of rabbits out. I had 26 dutch in total - which was rather daunting. I managed to go over them all and pick out my winners in each colour class. My overall BOB dutch was a beautiful little brown-grey (who I would happily have taken home), followed by a black then a blue. The brown-grey dutch also was my best fancy exhibit beating out the silvers, a belgian hare, english. Only 2 lops entered but there was a really gorgeous baby mini lop, a little stunner who easily won best lop, best junior and was my eventual reserve best in show.
Only 3 rex but they were headed up by a super ermine, with a gorgeous coat, which went on to take best in show. In the fur section I got to enjoy some very nice showy sables, some baby continental giants, an alaska, vienna and some satins.
All in all a really enjoyable day with some super rabbits on show. I was very proud of my dutch judging when I compared my placings with the stock show placings - all of my top 3 were cc winners under the specialist judge, and I picked out the same BOB (who was also out for the best in show challenge in the open show.).
As I forgot to do one of these last year I thought it was about time to get some goals set for 2017
UPDATE RABBIT HOUSING
Yes i'm always wanting to do something, this year i'd like to:
- get the shed all re-painted
- set up the paved aviary for Lizzie's pets
- get a woodland aviary attached to the does colony
- Produce the next generation of smoke pearls
- Breed a litter of standard rex
- Breed a litter completely pellet free
- Finish Duke & Catkin's Championship
- Finish a home-bred rex Championship
- Achieve a Best Fur
- Build new tortoise habitat
- Plant betta tank
- Get goldfish again
- blog regulary
- keep up regular instagram posts
- reach 1k subs on instagram
- restart youtube channel
- finish natural feeding ebook
Skye's babies are growing well and are now nearly 4 weeks old, we have 1 marten smoke pearl buck (Duke), 2 marten smoke pearl does (Holly & Willow) and 2 marten slate bucks (Prince and Earl). At the moment I'm planning on running on Duke, Holly and Willow to see how they develop. Bonus points to anyone who can identify the litter theme.
But the really big news is that all the babies and Skye are now back into the main colony enclosure, Skye just popped out at feeding time one night and went to eat with the other girls. I spent the next day closely observing them together and all seems well. Which is great news because those bouncy babies certainly need the extra space.