The domestic rabbit has descended from the wild rabbit of Europe and has been bred selectively to produce countless breeds throughout the world. Rabbits are prolific, have a fast growth rate, short gestation rate (30 days), and primarily herbivorous, and will consume many types of grains, greens and hay.
Rabbits habitually practice coprophogy, sometimes termed pseudo-rumination, in which soft, nocturnal feces are recycled while fibrous fecal droppings are excreted. Rabbits are poor digesters of fiber. But tolerate high levels of it in their digestive tracks and, hence in their diets. They pass the fiber through their digestive tracts in a short period of time.
Intensive reproduction rates in rabbits makes them an excellent producer of meat for families in developing countries where refrigeration is not readily available. Vegetable waste such as the outer leaves of cabbage and lettuce, lawn clippings, leaves of legume shrubs and trees, hay, and similar products are good supplements for rabbits and will reduce the cost of purchase grain; oilseed meals and hay, usually alfalfa or clover roughage supply more protein.
A breeding herd of five does and one buck with one doe bred each week can provide a litter of four to six rabbits per week.
The high fiber in rabbit feed, such as results from feeding hay in addition to the usual pelleted rabbit feed, may lower feed efficiency to a slight degree, but can provide extra health compensations. Oregon State University, where much of the rabbit research is done, was able to replace all the grain with alfalfa meal in recent experiments and reported only slight reduction in efficiency of feed utilization. The big gain from extra alfalfa was better intestinal health and no rabbit mortality from mucoid enteritis a common cause of death in young rabbits unless medication is used. Enteritis gets worse when the lower gut has an overload of carbohydrates from grains.
Commercial rabbit production is done with pellet rations, usually containing 40% to 60% alfalfa meal. Rabbit producers can improve the performance of their animals by feeding hay in addition to the pelleted feed, but few large herds are fed in this manner.
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