ASK Jeff: The Rodale Institute’s farm manager, Jeff Moyer, answers your hardcore farming questions

I want to start feeding my rabbits hay. Do you think it's a good idea to grow a small plot and let them pasture?

Posted August 17, 2004

What Jeff brings to the table

Jeff Moyer, who’s been the farm manager here at the 333-acre Rodale Institute research farm for more than a quarter of a century, receives lots of mail from farmers just like you asking for advice. Jeff’s hands-in-the-dirt experience over the past 26 years has run the gamut from refining the farm's cover cropping and crop rotation systems (including managing 270 acres in a rotation of corn, small grains, hay, and edible soy beans for a Japanese market) to overseeing The Rodale Institue Farming Systems Trial®, the world’s longest running side-by-side comparison of organic and conventional agriculture. We thought it would be fun and informative to share some of these farmer-to-farmer exchanges, and Jeff’s practical wisdom, with our NewFarm.org readers … and we’ll be doing it on a regular basis.

Got a question of your own? Send it to Jeff at:
jeff.moyer@rodaleinst.org

Dear Jeff,

I am a rabbit breeder. I want to start feeding my rabbits hay on a regular basis. I also want to use the hay for bedding during the coming winter.

I live on a 40-acre parcel of land with a whole lot of fields. We had somebody put our grass into square hay bales two or three years ago. I have been using that lately. But I don't know what all is in this stuff. I'm sure some mouse has left it's droppings somewhere on it, and it may contain a poisonous plant or one with thorns that can hurt my rabbits, etc. I don't want to mess with all that. Plus, the old hay probably doesn't have much nutritional quality left in it. I would buy hay, but just a small bag costs a lot, and it would be a waste to use for bedding.

So, I was thinking I'd put a small plot of hay near our house (which I could monitor), build a fence around it, let my bunnies hop around in it, and use it for my bunnies' needs. I was thinking I'd use Timothy hay, alfalfa hay, grass hay, and wheat straw.
We live in northwest Arkansas. There are a lot of rocks in our ground, too.

Do you think this is a good idea? How should I start? Where do I get the seed? When would be the best time to start planting? Is there a book I can get?

Thank you,
Aubrey


Dear Aubrey,

Thanks for reading New Farm and for the question. Feeding good quality hay to any forage-eating animal is an important part of its diet, including rabbits. I can’t tell from the information you supplied how many rabbits you are feeding and whether or not they are pets or for meat production.

I’m not an expert on rabbits, but I do know a little. Rabbits should be fed high-quality grass hay. Timothy, oats, and barley hay work very well, as can many other grasses. Try to avoid alfalfa and most legumes, since the protein levels may affect the long-term health of the rabbits. (This is more of a concern for raising pets since their life expectancy will be greater.) You should also avoid the use of wheat straw, since it is a poor source of nutrition.

Putting rabbits on pasture is beneficial from many points of view. If you have several rabbits, they develop more natural social behaviors when on pasture, the feed quality is improved, and the exercise is helpful. There are also management issues to consider: Rabbits dig, can be exposed to diseases, and can be susceptible to predation. Even with pasture, your rabbits will need hay for the winter months or days when the weather prevents them from eating on pasture.

Check with your county extension agent to find a seed source in your area. The type and quantity of seeds you need should be available nearby. If you can’t locate them locally, email me and I can get you a list of mail-order suppliers. I don’t have any specific book titles to suggest, but here, again, your Extension office can supply printed materials from the university on many of these topics.

Good Luck with your venture.
Jeff

 

Editor’s note: You might want to check out Barnyard in your Backyard: A Beginner’s Guide to Raising Chickens, Ducks, Geese, Rabbits, Goats, Sheep, and Cattle by Gail Damerow (Storey Books, 2002) in our online bookstore.

 

Have some questions to Ask Jeff? E-mail him directly at jeff.moyer@rodaleinst.org.