Many people are shocked when I tell them I don’t feed hay to my rabbits. My decision to do so has mostly come from observations of other breeders and hearing of issues that they have experienced, such as issues with blot and even loss of animals. The common variable in most if not all scenarios is the hay.
Rabbits have a very sensitive digestive system, if something goes wrong it will most often be fatal. In my opinion feeding hay is optional.
There are many benefits to feeding hay, but there are also many issues that can come along with it. It is up to us as rabbit raisers to weigh the pros and cons and decide what’s best for our animals. Whatever we decide, we should not be judgmental of others if they do not come to the same conclusion as us.
First let’s get to know a little bit about rabbit nutrition. What exactly do they need? Most rabbit pellets contain everything a rabbit needs nutritionally on a daily basis. On a feed tag you should see.
- Protein 14%-18%
- Fat 2%-4%
- Fiber 16% or more.
Most rabbit rations contain an adequate amount of vitamins and minerals needed on a daily basis. You will on occasion see rabbit raisers adding water-soluble vitamins and minerals to the water. This is not necessary on a daily basis unless the rabbits have been exposed to stress, such as shows, or travel. Adding vitamins and minerals to the water should be done on an as-needed basis.
Listed below are the most common types of hay fed to animals with the nutritional value of each type.
Four most common types of fiber sources.
Roughage Protein energy Nutrients Fat Fiber
Alfalfa 10.9% 998kcol 50.7 1.9 28.6
Grass Hay 3.6% ——– 51.7 2.5 30.99
Timothy 3.0% 664kcol 49.1 2.3 30.3
Wheat straw 0.3% 1184kcol 54.4 1.5 32.0
My main concerns with feeding hay are connected to the mold that can grow on hay so easily if not stored properly. Mold is not always easily spotted and can develop in hay very quickly in the center of a bale without being seen from the exterior of the bale. Mycotoxins produced from mold are deadly poisons that cause major health issues that are often fatal in rabbits.
Illness Mycotoxins can cause.
Gastrointestinal issues: Such as colic, hemorrhages of the large intestine, shock, reduce intestinal flow, refusal to eat, weight loss, increased water consumption, and a VERY common problem in rabbits is bloating.
Central nervous system issues: Twitching, wobbling, seizures, paralysis, tremors, depression, headaches.
Eye: discharge, corneal ulcers.
Lung: pneumonia, lung lesions, respiratory distress, bleeding.
These are just a few of the many issues that can be caused by giving bad feed to your rabbits. If you choose a feed that has all the basic requirements feeding hey is not necessary for the health of your rabbits.
How To Tell Good Quality Hay
Alfalfa- should be a nice dark green color.
Grass Hay- should be light-to-medium green.
Texture- should be soft and easy to bend. Not stiff and brittle.
A bale should be light and easy to lift. I bale that is heavy would indicate that has excessive moisture, which is the perfect start for mold. It could also indicate that there has been mud or rocks mixed in with the bale.
- Will be turning light to medium brown.
- If the hay is dark brown or black it has been kept in the rain or heavy fog and has lost most of its nutrition.
- Light yellow faded color indicates that the hay has been left in the sun and bleached by the sun. The light color could also mean it is aged.
As a rabbit raiser, you have to do what works for you and your animals. Find what works best and go with it. Don’t be willing to change what works for you just because a person who has been raising rabbits longer then you say they have a better way.
Research and get a second opinion.
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