Monday, February 27, 2012

The Nature Trail

Just wanted to post a thank you to my friend Ellyn at Rabbit Smarties Publishers for including my hay post on this month's newsletter at The Nature Trail! If you haven't already visited both sites, I'd highly recommend them. Rabbit Smarties offers books, a great blog, and graphic design among other neat things. The Nature Trail is packed with information about all different aspects of rabbit care, breeding, showing, and more. Even the banner is awesome- I love it!

Sunday, February 26, 2012


One of my favorite bucks in the litter clearly has a white foot!

It's a shame I can't keep him, but he should make someone a lovely pet. The kits in this litter have wonderful temperaments, though Harlequins as a breed are generally known to be friendly and tolerant.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Cage Considerations

I am always being asked about housing for rabbits and I wanted to post about what I like and dislike. I hope this is helpful for someone that is looking into purchasing cages.

As far as the cage material, I prefer galvanized wire. I have found it stands up the longest to rabbit waste, is the safest, and the easiest to clean. I tend to do a heavy-duty cleaning on the stackers seasonally, but I spot clean with a BBQ scraper, hand torch, or sometimes a wire brush. One thing I've learned with cages is that some companies like to cut corners by offering thinner wire on the bottom panel. I do not like this because the thin wire can be hard on some of the larger breeds. The wire itself is also more flimsy and can't stand up to as much abuse- it can be prone to bowing in particular. I'd recommend nothing smaller than 14g if possible, especially for larger breeds.

Aside from galvanized wire, I recommend a MINIMUM cage size of 24" X 24" for something Mini Lop sized, though I prefer to give them more room in something like a 30" X 24". I won't go in anything smaller than 36" X 24" or 30" X 30" for larger breeds like Harlequins or New Zealands. I know a lot of people say that bucks don't need as much room, but when I moved Apollo and Spock into the biggest cages, I found they used the extra space like crazy for binkies and playing with their toys. Here is a page from one of my favorite suppliers (KW Cages) with stacker examples:

Urine guards can be helpful for sprayers, though some rabbits make it their life's mission to remove the guards from the walls. I have a doe like that now and finally gave up and pulled them out. Even for does I will still use them though to help prevent the loss of a baby if they should get out of the nestbox too young. There are babysaver wire options available for cages, but I have never opted to purchase them so I can't comment on their use.

As far as trays, if you need them for your set-up, I can't stress this enough: Dura Trays. Dura. Trays. Dura Trays! Are you starting to see a trend here? I have some metal trays from stackers I purchased used and let me just emphasize what a huge pain they are. They kill my back because they are so large and heavy (these are 36" trays) and they eventually corrode through. One of my metal trays broke this past week (which is one reason I am so adamant about this, lol) and it was a HUGE mess. It was the cage with the Harlie babies and I didn't realize there was a crack in the metal right away because it was under the wood pellets. So the floor under the rack was just flooded with their waste mixed in with the substrate and fines that had fallen through from their feeder.

I prefer water bottles for cages because I can easily tell if someone is drinking more than usual or less. I use the 32oz water bottles from Tractor Supply. They are cheap if I need to replace one for whatever reason and have always been reliable for me without a lot of leaking or anything. I have a mix of feeders and crocks, but I prefer the J-feeders. So much easier.. less digging, automatically sifts fines out, etc. Here is a picture of the exact water bottles I like. I have some of the other brands like Lixit, but I hate them. Truly, I do. Much prefer these personally:

I hope this is helpful. I have tried a variety of cages and I will never use the pet store kind again. For anyone with more than a couple rabbits, it just isn't practical. Right now I use stackers, but in the future I hope to move the rabbits into a protected outdoor setup where the waste can fall through to the ground and I can use the manure easily for the garden's needs. I think I'll make a post soon about why rabbit waste is gold for your crops. Thanks for reading!

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Hay Post

I have some time this morning so let's talk about hay. I am not going to go into all the sordid details about every possible combination of hay available, but there are a few things that are important for rabbit owners to know.

#1. I have found that if someone is raising rabbits that hay will be an issue that everyone will have to deal with at some point. I know of breeders that don't include hay with their daily diet, but even then expecting does need nesting material and hay is ideal for this purpose. It is also a great choice for roughage and gives them something to do that is natural and that they seem to enjoy.

#2. There are lots of different kinds of hay available. Not all hays are equal in type or quality.

#3. Greener does not always equal better. We will talk more about this a bit later.

First for number one, I haven't talked about it much, but I have tried several long-term feeding "experiments" over this past year regarding hay. I have kept the pellets the same throughout, have avoided offering garden leftovers during this time, as well as treats. What I have found is this:

#1. Hay cubes are no substitute for hay. I tried several different kinds and only certain rabbits enjoyed them. Others turned up their nose no matter what. The bags also tend to contain a lot of dust and small particles of broken hay from the process. Youngsters may have trouble working the hay loose of the cube.

#2. Rabbits without hay get bored more quickly. All of mine, without exception across the breeds, get excited at hay time. They show outward behavior that they like hay time. This makes sense given they love hay and that grazing is a natural behavior for them.

#3. I had more problems with rabbits going off feed periodically this year when I didn't feed hay and it stopped altogether when I offered hay all the time again. I believe this is due to slowed gut movement if they don't drink enough that day, if they are ingesting hair during a molt, etc. I would add hay and the rabbits would fix themselves.

#4. I tried a number of other bedding materials during my hay projects this year from synthetic nesting material, to recycled litter materials mixed with the doe's fur, etc. Nothing compared to a lovely hay nest that the doe lined with her fur. 

Of course hay is not a cure-all for all rabbit behaviors or ailments, but I think it sure helps for a happy and healthy rabbit.

Now let's talk about the kinds of hay available. The most common I've found are alfalfa, timothy, orchard, coastal/Bermuda, oat, and combinations therein.

Here is some information about these kinds.

Alfalfa- this is actually a legume. It is dark green, has more protein, energy, and calcium than grass hays typically and also has a high mineral content. There is a lot of controversy over feeding alfalfa to rabbits regularly, but because our pellets are made up primarily of alfalfa I don't see the point in giving them more than they already get. In my humble opinion, giving a healthy variety to rabbits (within reason) is one of the keys to a healthy diet just like it is with us. 

Timothy- this is my favorite kind of hay to offer. It is very balanced in protein and energy, has a nice feel/thickness depending on the cut without ever really being coarse. It is usually lighter shades of green as you saw from my previous post. 

Orchard-  this hay is higher in fiber and lower in protein than some other kinds of hay, but tends to have a bit more protein than Timothy most of the time. This can start greenish but can also yellow a bit with curing.

Bermuda/Coastal- this hay is typically less expensive than Timothy or Orchard. It is still a lower protein grass hay and is a good fiber source. This is usually shades of green and tanish.

Oat- another higher fiber/lower protein hay. This one is a lot more coarse than some of the others, but the rabbits still seem to enjoy it. This hay is almost straw-yellow colored. It looks almost like straw, but works fine in my experience and is a good winter choice if nothing else is available.

Now lets talk about the cut of hay. This is pretty straight forward. The first cut of hay can be less desirable if it is left too long to mature as this can lend to tough/coarse "stemmy" hay. Most farmers cut before this time though and I have found it to work fine for the most part. I believe the Kaytee Timothy I posted earlier in the week was from a first-cut.

The second cut is typically softer and finer than the first cut. It can have more leaves then stems and feels/smells very nice in my hand. The bunnies don't seem to show a preference for first or second cut, but I like the second cuts for the nesting boxes because it is easier to manipulate into the proper shape for the doe than a coarser first cut. I have also found babies tend towards the softer second cut when they first try hay if given the option of both cuttings.

The third cut is not typically available in my area, but when it has been I wasn't thrilled with it. For one thing it was dustier. I can only assume this is because it didn't have the growth/length as the other cuttings and the equipment gathered some extra bits in with the harvest. It is also pretty soft and fine, tends to be leafy. There is a question of whether this cutting offers a lot nutritionally, but my best advice is just to purchase the second cutting when it is available and store your excess high and dry.

There is way more to talk about concerning hay including nutritional charts, types of bales, when and where to buy, etc., but I just want this to be a basic information post. I am including some links below with more information, but in the meantime these are my preferences for hay:

Clean, dry, smells fresh, low-dust, second-cut Timothy hay, but I rotate kinds of grass hay based on the best quality available in my area seasonally. I have fed all of the hays listed above along with a few others and mixes. I prefer square bales and it is a lot more economical to purchase horse quality hay at the local feed store than to purchase little bags of hay at the pet store, which coincidentally supports local farmers. Best of luck in your hay search and thanks for reading!

Helpful Links:

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Timothy Hay

I've been short on time lately, but I would like to make a post soon discussing the types hay, feeding options, and the results of some hay "experiments" I've played around with over the past couple of years with rabbits.

In the meantime, I just wanted to show comparison of two cuts of the same kind of hay from different sources so you can see how much it can vary.

The first set of pictures is the standard Kaytee brand of timothy hay from PetSmart. It was on "sale" for $12 per little bag:

And here it is out of the bag today. Sorry about the lighting, but it has been alternating with rain and fog most of the day so I was doing the best I could:

 As you can see, it is fairly green with thick stems. Looks pretty much like what it is supposed to be- pure timothy:

And below we have more timothy hay, but this is a locally-harvested bale from the horse/feed shop. I believe I paid $11 for a bale yesterday:

Still green, but obviously it has thinner stems and it feels softer in my hand:

It is also called timothy, but there is some other stuff in there, too:

 I see sweet clover among others. Still good eatin', but quite different from what can be purchased from the chain pet store. Part of the difference may be which cut was packaged and shipped from the first bag, but part of it may be other factors from mass production. More to come when I can sit down and type for a while. Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

New Zealand Kits

I realized this morning I never actually posted the rest of the pictures of the kits I took last week. This is from a NZR X NZW pairing. Here they are:

The lighting was nice finally after all the storms we had, so I could get some decent up-close shots:

I believe I mentioned it before, but the black kit is a gold-tipped steel:

This buckling has the best rufous in the litter:

They are very curious and friendly. I guess this shouldn't be too surprising considering they were half bottle-raised:

If I am not already overrun with boys, I will probably keep this little fellow:

Thanks for looking!

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Hoppin' Circle January Wrap Up

Fisher Farms shows us her wonderful
show results and ribbons. Congrats Clint on your first leg!

The Kelfla Project shares some scientific tidbits centered around rabbits.

Bella's Rabbitry tells us about
new stock she has coming in, and announces that she isn't selling out completely, after all.

At Home Pets tells us of a nice experience she had with a buyer.

4 Kings Rabbitry gives us a peak inside her extremely organized rabbitry by showing us her binder.

The Rabbit Shepherd shows that even rabbits can be supermodels.

Breeding goals are always important to have in a rabbitry. Hendricks Hearth shares some of theirs.

Rabbit Smarties is back to blogging with her post on the Rocky Syndrome.

The Fuzzy Patch shares some great changes they have planned for their herd.

The Nature Trail shows off an adorable picture of a Smoke Pearl Netherland Dwarf.