Nutrition for outdoor colonies of domestic rabbits.

Feeding Colonies of Domestic Community Rabbits

By Debby Widolf

Feeding colonies of community rabbits can present the volunteers and caregivers with challenges. Some of these being: how many rabbits are there, what is the current environment, weather, availability of natural food sources, are there very young rabbits, lactating and pregnant mothers? Will the colony be moved to a different location? A look at where the food sources are located, vulnerability to predators, (humans included), will you have the cooperation of the property holders, and the practical questions of what the financial resources are, numbers of volunteers and commitment to care. How the feeding and watering is managed is dependent on investigating these variables.
In a temperate climate where dense food sources are plentiful and a large foraging area is present, most of the rabbits basic food needs may be met for a limited time. As the colony grows however, natural food resources become scarce even in the best of conditions. Where there are seasonal changes, finding nutritious food as harsh weather arrives leads to stress, disease and death of many unmanaged colonies of domestic rabbits. Most often these rabbits are in need of nutritional food and a clean water source.
As a beginning, large groups of rabbits can be fed bales of alfalfa hay or alfalfa blend hay and survive on this food. The hay must be protected from getting wet, moldy and used as a nesting place by other animals. Two X bases made out of wood and two inch wire can be constructed with a hinged metal lid on top to keep the hay dry and a few inches off the ground. A quick container can be made out of a large Rubbermaid tub with lid. Anchor the inside of the tub to the ground. Make a 4-5 inch hole in both ends a couple inches off the ground and keep the tub stuffed with fresh hay.

Nutrition for Outdoor Colonies of Community Rabbits

By Lucile C. Moore, PhD 

When feeding colonies of domestic rabbits that live outdoors in a wild state it is first necessary to forget all one has learned about feeding companion rabbits, for the nutritional needs are quite different. Firstly, colonies of rabbits usually consist of rabbits of varying ages, breeds/mixes, and health; and some pregnant or lactating females. Since it is not possible to feed each community rabbit individually, the food provided to the colony needs to meet the nutritional requirements of all these rabbits. Secondly, the rabbits in outdoor colonies expend a great deal more energy than companion rabbits. Dominance encounters, fleeing from predators, and surviving harsh weather all utilize a great deal of energy. If food provides inadequate nutrition, rabbits become weak and more likely to succumb to disease and predators.

Generally, providing colony rabbits with adequate nutrition means providing high-protein high-energy foods, although this may vary a little depending upon the location of the colony and what plants are growing in the environment of a particular community of rabbits. In most cases, a good alfalfa hay with lots of leaves (the more leaves the more protein, fat, and carbohydrates) is the best choice. If it is possible to provide pellets to a community, alfalfa-based pellets will provide better nutrition. If the colony is located where lots of greenery is available for rabbits to forage on, the alfalfa hay can be supplemented with grass hay (again the more leaves the higher nutrient values), but in arid areas where native vegetation is sparse the hay provided should be primarily alfalfa. Keeping both hay and pellets protected (see Debby Widolf’s article above) is extremely important since toxins from moldy hay or pellets can be deadly to the rabbits.

In addition to a high-energy staple such as alfalfa hay or pellets, it is critical to provide adequate clean water. Rabbits that depend upon hay and/or pellets as a primary food source need more water than rabbits whose diets consist primarily of succulent green plants. An adequate water supply also helps keep the urinary tract healthy, especially when the rabbit is consuming a lot of alfalfa hay and pellets.