Thursday, September 4, 2014

A New Way to Feed! Getting Started with Barley Fodder: The Concept

I've been tossing around another  idea for some time now.

I'd love to be able to feed the rabbits a more natural, pellet-free diet.

Pellets are convenient. They are formulated to provide every nutrient rabbits need to thrive, based on years of nutritional research. They contain exact protein percentages, as well as the right amounts of vitamins, minerals and fiber.

Rabbits can live and breed quite happily on pellets. So why bother feeding anything else?

Well, for one thing, pellets get expensive. Fast. It's one thing if you have a couple of pet rabbits. A 50 pound bag will last you several months.

But once you start breeding rabbits, depending on how many you keep, you can easily go through several hundred pounds of feed per month.

That is the cost of convenience.

But there are other problems with pellets as well......

Sometimes you can get a bad batch. If, somewhere along the manufacturing process, the pellets were exposed to moisture, mold can develop. Moldy feed is a big killer for domestic rabbits. The consequences can be devastating  to your rabbitry.

Pellets also contain genetically modified ingredients in the form of soybeans and alfalfa. The problem there lies, not necessarily in the gene modification itself (although research does indicate possible negative health effects), but mainly in the heavy amount of pesticides applied to the crops. (That is why the crops are modified or made "Roundup Ready;" so they can withstand heavy loads of herbicides. Not to "End World Hunger," as Monsanto proudly claims.)

These ingredients have been linked to cancer and fertility problems in rabbits.

And of course if you're going to be eating your rabbits, then those pesticides make their way into your body as well.

One alternative is buying organic, GMO free pellets. But they are at least double the price of regular pellets. As well as difficult to find.

The bottom line for me, though, is to look at the rabbit from a biological standpoint:

.... they were made to eat living, green foods.

Even though pellets are made from living, green alfalfa, this alfalfa is highly processed.

If I'm going to go to all that trouble to raise rabbits for food, I'd like to have better control over their diet. Heated, extruded DEAD FOOD really doesn't cut the mustard, for me. I want the best possible diet for my meat rabbits.

I've been feeding them Manna Pro pellets and free choice grass hay. They get daily supplements of whatever I pick and harvest in the yard: usually a mix of clover, grasses, tree leaves, dandelions and other wild greens. In addition to this they get garden thinnings and trimmings from the herb garden.

While I enjoy this daily chore, it takes a lot of time out of my morning. As a new mom I need to devote most of my time to my 10 month old son, so spending that half hour in the mornings isn't always a viable option.

Scooping pellets into a feeder is much easier.

Another option I considered was putting together a custom whole grain mix. Many rabbit raisers use this successfully. But first you have to source the grains, and then have somewhere to mix and store them. I have yet to find a good local source of organic whole grains. While there is a great family run, organic farm and feed mill in Orlinda, TN, that is a good two hour drive for us.

Besides the fact that you have to order a minimum of 500 pounds for a custom mix. That's....... a lot.

That may be an option for livestock in the future, but I just can't justify the long drive  for a handful of rabbits. (Incidentally, I've also been looking into this option for my chickens, but still don't think it's worth the drive - yet.)

Maybe one day.

But I've been researching another feeding method which is not as time consuming as my daily forage run, and shouldn't involve long drives to the middle of nowhere:


Fodder feeding is basically taking grains, usually barley, wheat or oats, and sprouting them  until the maximum amount of nutrients have been released, then harvesting them and feeding them to your livestock.

This system not only works great for rabbits, but can also be great for chickens, pigs, horses, goats, sheep, cattle, or anything else that eats a primarily plant-based diet.

Different species require different percentages of fodder in their diets, but it can be a great way to give them a natural, living protein source.

Rabbits can really thrive on 90% fodder diet, with 10% whole oats or black oil sunflower seeds, hay and access to a mineral block.

I've gotten a lot of my inspiration from Fruhlingskabine Micro-Farm.

This girl is my hero. She has some of the best all around ideas, and her organization skills put me to shame.

It was her fodder system that really caught my eye, however. 


She was the one that really convinced me it was something I could do. So once we get back from our vacation in a couple of weeks, I'm planning to get set up to do it. The only source of organic barley I've been able to find is Windy Acres in Orlinda, that I mentioned earlier (or ordering it online - at quite an expense). Unless I find another reason to visit that area, 90 miles just doesn't seem worth it for one 50 pound bag of feed.

So for now I'll just have to get it from one of the local feed stores (even though they're going to have to order it.)

Cost for set up will be minimal. I've got this mini indoor greenhouse I use for starting seeds and trying to keep orchids alive in the winter months (not successfully, I might add. I'm better at killing orchids than growing them.)

At the moment it's just taking up space, but it would work great for sprouting barley (minus the plastic cover). All I need are some cheap plastic trays and some barely. I'll need to add some PVC or dowels to prop the trays up on the shelves, to aid in draining the water. And then I'll also need a big plastic tub for the rack to sit in, to catch the rinsing water. Because of its vicinity to the window I can just siphon off the rinse water straight into the herb garden, or into a bucket for some other use.

In addition to the fodder, they'll get whole oats during warm weather, and black oil sunflower seeds in cold weather. (Oats are a "cooling" feed, while sunflower seeds are "warming.") And I'm sure they'll still get treats from the yard and garden. I know wild greens still have the benefits of minerals and varied nutrients.

I realize I'm creating more work for myself, but with fall approaching and my second breeding attempt near at hand, I really want to start feeding them more naturally.

One day I plan to get them set up in "rabbit tractors," so they can have direct access to grazing. But that will take a substantial amount of work, space and building costs.

This step seems more manageable at present. I am very excited about this new project. Thank you Sarah, at Fruhlingskabine Micro-Farm! You are truly an inspiration!


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