Good Gardening: Growing Food for Rabbits
Move over, tomatoes! If you’re raising rabbits, consider leaving a little extra space in your vegetable garden for cultivating homegrown feed for your herd.
The arrival of gardening season is a treat for anyone who enjoys the flavor of vegetables harvested at the peak of freshness. Growing season is also a great time to think about growing food for rabbits (and I don’t mean the wild ones who like to visit your lettuce patch). While rabbit pellets remain the staple feed for your pet or herd, you can supplement them with nutrient-rich, homegrown sustenance if you can spare some space in your vegetable garden.
Sugar beets or mangels are high in nutritional value and are especially valuable to use in the winter when water is apt to freeze before you can resupply it. These roots grow as long as two feet and can weigh as much as 15 pounds. The bright red skin surrounds white flesh with a pale rose hue. They take about 100 days to mature from the time you plant the seed. They store very well in the cool days of autumn. You can cut them up and feed pieces that are enthusiastically received.
All rabbits love oats but they are especially good for pre-weaned youngsters as a transitional feed from mother’s milk to pellets.You could sow two to three pounds of oats in 1,000 square feet. Oats grow three to four feet high and you can feed them like hay to your rabbits, or thresh them when mature by banging bunches inside a barrel or clean garbage can, saving the straw for nest boxes. It’s a good idea to feed the threshed whole oats in a separate feeder from the pellets because otherwise the rabbits may scratch for them and waste the pellets through the floor of the hutch. You can buy whole oats at your feed store.
Another good crop to consider is alfalfa — either the perennial or annual varieties. Half a pound will sow about 1,000 square feet. When mature, you cut it and dry it for a tasty and nutritious hay. If you check your rabbit pellet feed tag, you may find that alfalfa makes up about half of the content. Alfalfa roots reach deeply into garden soil and the crop also makes a wonderful green manure.
Because you are reading this online, you know you can find sources for the seeds you need on company websites. Two of my favorites are R.H. Shumway’s and Pinetree Garden Seeds.