How to Feed Meat Rabbits When You Can’t Buy Feed


Meat Rabbit Doe

Meat rabbits are popular homestead livestock because they are easy to raise and quiet. They don’t require a lot of room or time, and they don’t make a lot of odor, either. They’ll also give you fantastic fertilizer for your garden, which doesn’t even need to be composted. And of course, you can use them for their meat and pelts. But how do you feed your rabbits, especially if you can’t buy commercial rabbit feed? 

If you can’t buy feed for your meat rabbits, you can feed them timothy hay, oat grass, a mix of other types of hay, weeds and lawn trimmings, and fruit and vegetable scraps. You can raise rabbits on pasture, give them supervised grazing time, or grow them a rabbit garden. No matter what you feed your meat rabbits, quality timothy hay is an excellent primary food source to keep them healthy and thriving. 

In this article, we’ll talk about ways that you can feed your meat rabbits even when you can’t purchase rabbit feed. We’ll talk about ways you can grow and forage food for your rabbits and what not to feed your rabbits. But first, let’s take a quick look at what and how much meat rabbits actually eat. 

What Do Meat Rabbits Eat? 

Rabbits are often fed pelleted feed. It’s easy, convenient, and not expensive if you only feed a few rabbits. According to Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners, rabbit pellets should have 18% fiber, 14% protein, no more than 3% fat, and between .5 and .8% of calcium. Adult rabbits need ¼ to ½ cup of pellets for every 6 pounds of body weight per day. But, of course, breeding does will probably need more. 

The main ingredient in rabbit pellets is usually timothy hay.

How to Feed Meat Rabbits When You Can’t Buy Feed 

So if rabbit feed is hard to get or too expensive to buy, how do you feed your rabbits? There are many different ways you can feed your rabbits without pellets or commercial feed. Ideally, you’ll want to supplement your rabbit’s diet with pellets to make sure your rabbits have a balanced diet. But if you can’t, just incorporate a variety of feeding methods to give your rabbits plenty of nutrients. 

Timothy Hay Is a Staple Rabbit Food

Timothy Hay

Since the main ingredient in rabbit pellets is often timothy hay, you could conceivably raise your rabbits on mostly timothy hay. Timothy hay is coarse, cool-weather grass with lots of fiber. This hay is excellent for a rabbit’s delicate digestive system. Also, munching on the coarse hay will help keep their teeth worn down. 

Where I live, there is no price difference between timothy hay and straw. So I order timothy hay for everything – goat feed, chicken bedding, and rabbit feed and bedding. You can purchase small bags of timothy hay at pet stores and big-box stores, but it is a lot less expensive if you buy it in a square bale than in a tiny bag. 

You can grow your own timothy hay in your garden and cut it down with a scythe if you have the space and time. Then, let it dry, and pack it away for the winter season. Grit.com explains how to do that here.

A rabbit can eat about 5% of its body weight in hay daily if it is also provided with some additional snacks. 

Oat Grass Can Feed Your Rabbits

Oat Grass

If timothy hay is scarce, oat grass is an excellent feed for rabbits. Oat grass is not technically a grass. It’s a grain. This grain is high in fiber and protein and has a coarse texture, making it a great source of feed for rabbits. The coarse stalk also helps them grind their teeth down. However, oat grass has more fat than timothy hay, so your bunny might get chubby if he gets too much! 

Just like timothy, you can grow your own oat grass in your garden for your rabbit. 

Some Rabbits Enjoy Mixed Hay for Rabbit Feed

You can also feed your rabbit a mix of timothy, oat, and alfalfa hay. Orchard grass is ok as well, but a picky rabbit might not like it. Remember not to feed only alfalfa hay, as this is higher in protein. In addition, it can cause the rabbits’ urine to become too thick, and they may develop kidney stones. 

If you are going to feed alfalfa hay, just make sure it is mixed with other types of hay. 

Pasture Raising Your Rabbits to Save on Feed 

Rabbit Tractor

Bunny tractors (such as this one from Teal Stone Homestead) are another way to feed your rabbits without purchasing rabbit feed. A bunny tractor is a type of sheltered wire coop that sits on the ground. Your rabbits live in the coop. Every morning, the bunny tractor gets moved to a fresh plot of grass. The rabbits eat the grass and leave behind their manure, fertilizing the soil. 

A rabbit tractor should be made with hardware cloth to protect your rabbits from predators. The more often you move the tractors, the less likely they will dig out from under the tractor. However, you may want to put hardware cloth on the bottom, so the grass can pop up through the hardware cloth for them to eat but so that they can’t dig out. Their access to grass isn’t as good with hardware cloth, though. 

Good Simple Living shows you how to pasture, raise your rabbits and how to make a bunny tractor here.

Pasture grazing gives rabbits a constant supply of fresh grass and weeds to enjoy. However, don’t pasture rabbits on grass that has been chemically treated. 

Supervised Grazing Can Supplement Hay or Pellet Feed

If you can’t pasture-raise your rabbits, you may want to consider supervised grazing time. You can let your rabbits out for a short period of time. You’ll need to keep a close eye on them, so they don’t run away or get taken by a predator. 

Short grazing periods won’t fill up all of their nutritional needs, but it will help to cut down on the feed bill. 

Bring Your Rabbits Some Weeds to Supplement Their Feeds

Dandelions

You can stretch your feed or supplement your hay by giving your rabbits some freshly picked weeds. Save the weeds from your garden for your bunnies, or have your kids gather them up while they’re playing in your yard. 

My rabbit just loves eating the fluffs off dandelion plants, but there are many weeds your rabbit will enjoy. For example: 

  • Dandelions
  • Plantain
  • Clover
  • Thistle
  • Chickweed
  • Nettle
  • Shepherd’s Purse

Kitchen Scraps and Vegetables Can Feed Your Rabbits

Kitchen Scraps

We always think rabbits like carrots, but what they really love are the carrot tops! There are lots of kitchen scraps that you can feed to your rabbits to supplement their food and save you money on rabbit feed. 

Our rabbits love eating leftover blueberries and raspberries that are a little past their prime but still edible. When adding in kitchen scraps, remember never to give a rabbit meat or fats – always stick to uncooked fruits and vegetables. Don’t overdo it. Just give them tiny amounts of a variety. They’ll pick and choose what they like, but too much of any one thing can upset their digestive systems. 

Vegetables and Fruits that Rabbits Can Eat

  • Carrot tops 
  • Celery tops 
  • Arugula
  • Carrot tops
  • Cucumber leaves
  • Endive
  • Kale (all types)
  • Red or green lettuce
  • Romaine lettuce
  • Spring greens
  • Turnip greens
  • Watercress
  • Wheatgrass
  • Cilantro
  • Radicchio
  • Borage leaves
  • Apple
  • Cherries 
  • Pear
  • Peach
  • Plum 
  • Berries
  • Melons
  • Carrot tops 
  • Celery tops 
  • Arugula
  • Carrot tops
  • Cucumber leaves
  • Endive
  • Kale (all types)
  • Red or green lettuce
  • Romaine lettuce
  • Spring greens
  • Turnip greens
  • Watercress
  • Wheatgrass
  • Cilantro
  • Radicchio
  • Borage leaves
  • Apple
  • Cherries 
  • Pear
  • Peach
  • Plum 
  • Berries
  • Melons

Herbs that Rabbits Can Eat

You can also supplement a rabbit’s diet with some fresh herbs. They might enjoy: 

  • Mint
  • Dill
  • Fennel
  • Basil
  • Parsely
  • Rosemary
  • Sage
  • Thyme

Feed Your Rabbits with Their Own Garden

If you are very ambitious, you could grow your own little rabbit garden. Just toss in your extra vegetable and herb seeds (just make sure they are all things that are safe for the rabbit to eat). Once the vegetables are growing, you can allow your rabbit some supervised grazing time in their own garden or bring the veggies to them! 

Feed Your Rabbits with Fodder 

You can supplement your rabbit’s food with fodder. Fodder is simply sprouted grains. It is highly nutritious and easy to grow. Of course, you’ll need some sprouting trays and a little bit of space, but it will definitely help to cut down on your rabbit feed bill. You can find directions for growing your own fodder for rabbits here.

Supplement Your Rabbit Feed with Lawn Trimmings

If you cut your lawn, you can let the grass clippings dry out and then feed them to your rabbit over time, as long as the grass has not been chemically treated. 

Also, rabbits love to chew, and certain tree branch trimmings make great snacks for your rabbits.

Safe branches include apple, cotton, pear, and sycamore. You should always avoid giving your rabbit cedar, oak, fig, and citrus fruit tree branches. Visit rabbitcaretips.com for a more complete list. 

Rabbits can eat blackberries from your yard as well as the blackberry leaves and bushes! 

What Not to Feed Meat Rabbits 

Although there are many options to feed your rabbits for free, some foods should be avoided. Hopefully, your rabbit will instinctively know what isn’t good for her, but you should always avoid the following foods: 

  • Rhubarb
  • Avocado
  • Apple seeds and fruit pits 
  • Chocolate
  • Onions, chives, and other alliums
  • Nuts
  • Cat and dog food 
  • Cereals and other high-carbohydrate, sugary foods 
  • Raisins

Related Questions

How do I change my rabbit’s diet? 

While meat rabbits tend to be hardy rabbits, they still have delicate digestive systems. If you want to change your rabbits’ diet from pellets to fresh foods, you can, but you need to do it slowly. Start by slowly introducing dried and fresh foods to your rabbit. Over time, you can increase the amount of fresh food and reduce the number of pellets. 

What should I do if I suddenly can’t get the pellets my rabbit is used to? 

If you need to make a sudden change because food isn’t available, the safest way is to find which type of hay is the main ingredient in the pellets you were feeding. Then serve this hay until you can slowly introduce other foods into your rabbits’ diets: the slower the change, the better for your rabbit. 

Can I let my rabbit free-range? 

Rabbits aren’t like chickens, who return to their roost in the chicken coop every night at dusk. Free-ranging your rabbits means they will likely get lost or eaten. You might be able to give your rabbits supervised yard time, but the safest thing to do is keep them in a rabbit tractor or pen while they are grazing in the yard. 

David

Hi! I’m David. For most of my life I have been interested in emergency preparedness. Over the many years things have changed a great deal. From freeze dried food, to LED lanterns, preparing for an emergency has never been easier. The continual research I have done over the years have become the basis for this website. Now it is one of the most trusted sources to learn about emergency preparedness. Read More

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