We all want to be the owners of fast growing, healthy rabbits! However, things are not always perfect!
Extreme weather conditions and busy schedules can make getting your fryers up to weight a challenge. What do we need to do with or for our rabbits to keep them growing quickly?
To help your rabbits grow faster you need to have plentiful, clean water, 18% protein feed, temperature control, clean cages and good meat type genetics.
Sometimes raising rabbits can be a challenge, especially in the heat of the summer!
Here are the five things that you need to be sure you have provided for your rabbits in order for them to grow to their potential.
Get Started Raising Rabbits goes over the costs of getting started, including buying your breeding trio and equipment.
Wondering how long it will take to get your Rabbits Up To Market Weight? Here’s my article with the details.
Rabbits need plentiful, clean water
Water is listed first since it is the most overlooked yet cheapest “feed” you can provide for your rabbits! Do not underestimate the importance of water.
All digestion requires water, especially when the food being digested was dry to begin with.
The best way to water your growing rabbits is to use a crock or a bowl.
I know that a rabbit water bottles are popular, everyone has one hanging on the outside of their rabbit’s hutch.
Here’s the concern: while the water bottle does keep the water clean, it also limits the rabbit’s intake of water. Yikes!
Limited water=limited digestion=limited growth!
If you feel you must use water bottles, know that your rabbits will be growing a bit more slowly than they would be if you were giving them easy access to their water in a crock.
Growing rabbits need an 18% feed
To keep your rabbits growing quickly, you need to make sure they are getting an 18% complete feed, something like a feed pellet.
Pelleted rabbit feed is a complete feed
The beauty of the feed pellet is that all of your rabbit’s daily needs will be taken care of by eating a complete feed pellet.
You don’t have to worry about balancing their feed for the day, the pellet does that for you.
Any non pelleted rabbit feed should be separate
If you are giving your rabbits any feed that is not in pellets, know that they can “dig” around in the feeder and sort through the pieces.
To keep waste and spills to a minimum, put all non pellets in a separate bowl.
Keep in mind, that feeding anything other than the pelleted feed will change your rabbit ration. Generally, lowering the protein levels, which will slow growth.
Limit rabbit snacks and additional feeds
Be wary of feeding too much hay or other snacks to your rabbits that you are expecting to be gaining.
Giving them something more “interesting” to eat also adjusts the protein, fat and fiber levels of the entire ration. Not a good idea!
Eating a lot of hay means that the average protein of the feed eaten for the day will be lower than the needed 18%.
While the rabbits will still grow on a 16% or 14% feed, they will not grow as efficiently. The occasional handful of hay is fine, loads of all they can eat hay, not fine!
Read the label on the rabbit feed bag
Check your labels, the bag will list the protein value of the pellets inside.
This is doubly important if you are feeding hay pellets, like timothy or orchard grass pellets. (These are sold as horse feed in my area.)
While these grass or hay only pellets may look the same as a complete feed, they are not!
Hay pellets will be much lower in protein than the complete feed and do not have the necessary minerals and vitamins.
Growing rabbits need to eat a higher level of protein than adult rabbits. Adding anything to their ration for interest or variety, will lower your ration protein levels to below 18%, which will reduce growth rate.
Grazing rabbits as a feeding option
A note on grazing rabbits: having rabbits out on grass in a portable pen will make them grow slower than rabbits that are kept in a pen on pelleted feed only.
If you like your rabbits on grass, go for it! Just be aware of a few things:
- You are slowing down their growth in exchange for them being on the grass.
- They will need to be introduced to grass slowly, so their digestive system can adapt.
Rabbits In Your Backyard gives you some ideas of how you can easily fit rabbits into nearly any sized backyard.
Rabbits need to be comfortable
This is the big challenge for raising rabbits, especially in the summer! For us, this is the hardest item on the list to handle!
Hot rabbits don’t eat, so they don’t gain!
Winter rabbits are easy, just keep them out of the wind and rain/snow. Rabbits like the colder temperatures. It’s the heat that is tricky.
The best answer is to keep your rabbits in a climate controlled barn/shed, so that they are never out of their comfortable temperature zone.
I don’t have an great set up like this, but I sure wish we did!
Use shade and fans to keep rabbits cool
If you are like me and a climate controlled rabbit barn is not going to happen anytime soon, we need to think a little differently!
We have cages in a shed, so the rabbits are always in the shade and out of the wind and rain. Even with the shade, it can still get stuffy and hot in the heat of the summer.
The easiest answer for our set up is to use fans. Have the fans set up so they blow across the cages, not down on the rabbit.
I like to place the fan so that the rabbit can be in the breeze if it wants to be or it can be back further in the cage out of the breeze.
Other cooling options for rabbits
If you have just a few rabbits, consider using a frozen plastic drink/water bottle that you set in their cage. They will lay against it and cool off.
You’ll probably need to replace the bottle midway through the day, so have two sets of bottles.
This method seems to work, but gets tedious if you have more than one or two rabbits.
I have tried putting wet towels in the cages for them to lay on, but that seems to just make a mess.
The towel gets pooped on and seems to cut off more of the potential air flow through through the cage. For us, fans are the way to go.
The old answer to climate controlled rabbits
An extreme example is to build more of an underground rabbit area that will keep them cool in the day.
They have a resting area under a pile of dirt, like a hobbit house, then the cage part where they eat is just like normal.
Here is an article on Raising-Rabbits.com, Keeping Your Rabbits Cool, that has a diagram of a dirt covered rabbit area.
They have tons of great rabbit information from people with experience, this is a great site!
I love this idea, especially for anyone with limited electricity. While this would take some work to set up, it would be low maintenance for as long as you used it and work great in the summer or winter!
While this may sound like a crazy idea, it is actually a very sensible, old idea from people who raise rabbits in areas that are super hot, like Egypt and Italy.
How to tell if your rabbits are comfortable
How can you tell if your rabbits are comfortable? Easy, stick on your winter coat and go stand by their cage.
How do you feel? If you are good, they are good. If you are hot and uncomfortable, so are your rabbits!
Another way to look at it is if you are comfortable in a T shirt, they are hot. Get out the fans or the frozen water bottles and start using them.
If you are hot in your T shirt, your rabbits are really hot and you need to put some cooling measures in place now.
Seriously, overheating kills rabbits.
Another component of rabbit comfort is space in the cage. A pen built to house a singe rabbit will not work for a weaned litter, especially in the heat!
They need to have more space to exercise and to lay down to cool off.
Rabbits need 3 sq. ft. each. A 30 inch x 36 inch cage is 7.5 sq. ft. which is enough space for two rabbits.
A litter of rabbits that had plenty of space in this cage a month ago will be too big for the cage when they get to market size!
Rabbit cages need to be clean
While keeping the cage clean will not directly make the rabbit grow faster, it will make your rabbits unable to grow to their genetic potential!
Having a cage chock full of poo and smelling to high heaven will slow down the rabbit’s growth. This is common sense, poor living conditions will result in poor health!
Poopy cages also promote dirty hair and sore hocks (sore hocks are genetic also), not to mention dirty cages increase the chance of poo pellets in the water. Not good!
A clean cage will make the rabbit more comfortable. Comfortable rabbits perform at their best.
Fast growing rabbits=meat genetics
Finally, the fastest growing rabbits are going to be rabbits that are bred and selected for meat traits.
Fast growth and a meaty build are not the characteristics of all rabbits, they are the characteristics of well bred meat type rabbits.
No other genetics will perform as well for you when you consider your time and feed invested.
I know high quality meat type rabbits are going to cost you more to buy. Save yourself some headaches and disappointments, get great genetics to start with!
They will be worth the extra money when you consider that you are getting the improved feed usage and growth in all of the babies you raise.
Some rabbit genetics will never finish (get to market weight) well! Non meat type rabbits will eat and eat and eat to ever so slowly get to the size you want.
Some will never make it! This is genetics working against you!
Let me be clear, any rabbit can be used for meat and you can raise any type or breed of rabbit that pleases you.
However, choosing a non meat type rabbit for meat is also choosing inefficiency, mainly in more cost and time for the same result.
Your rabbit raising experience will be heavily influenced by the genetics of the rabbits that you started with. Why not start with something great? Quality repeatedly pays!
Choose your rabbit breeder carefully! Fast growing, meaty rabbits come from high quality genetics that have been carefully selected for generations.
These are the type of rabbits that you will thank yourself for buying!