Hey, What Kind of Hay?
This was an article written a few years ago when we still had rabbits.
Part of our feed program includes hay which we give daily along with regular pellets. We feel hay is important as it is more of a natural roughage than pellets and it helps aid in digestion. It also moves any hair, ingested while grooming, through the digestive tract as well. In the past, we have used cubes (Alfalfa, Timothy/Alfalfa, and Timothy) due to their convenience. They can easily be transported in a car or van, they are easy to store in a large covered tub, and they are cleaner to feed. Other than picking up loose hay from friends or family for nest boxes, I didn’t want to have anything to do with it. We never had a good place to store a bale and I knew the mess a bale could make (I’d grown up with horses and bucked more than my share of bales). I also knew that with bales, one sometimes got more than they bargained for … a little four-legged creature that could scurry way faster than I could move. I absolutely HATE mice and, believe it or not, have actually been able to mouse-proof our bunny barns as well as some of the old farm houses where we’ve lived. No hay bales, no mice 🙂
Over the past few months, I’ve been researching and trying some different things in the “barn”. Through my research, I learned that Alfalfa is higher in calcium than most other forages and the white kind of sludge in rabbit urine is actually an excess amount of calcium. As you can imagine, it’s hard on the kidneys to filter and eliminate. So, I switched to a Timothy/Alfalfa (T/A) cube. There was some decrease in the amount of sludge, but it was still there. The next thing was plain Timothy cubes. Most of the sludge disappeared. I did notice, though, that the rabbits just weren’t eating much of the hay cubes and it didn’t matter if it was Alfalfa, T/A, or Timothy.
I had a doe that was struggling to maintain weight while on a litter even though she was getting all the pellets she could eat and she wasn’t particularly wanting the hay cubes. I work at a feed store and decided to grab a plastic grocery bag of loose Timothy hay from the storage area. As long as this doe had a handful of Timothy every day, she seemed to want more pellets and her weight was stabilizing. I had a couple of old bucks that were the same way. So I decided to fill a storage tub with loose hay and give all the buns a small handful every morning when I checked things before heading to work. Not only did the rabbits eat the loose hay better than cubes, the flesh condition on my hard keepers improved and all the rabbits slightly decreased the amount of pellets they needed to maintain weight. My doe that almost completely went off feed for almost 2 weeks with her last litter, ate right up to her due date and has been eating ever since.
Loose hay also has the added advantage of giving babies something to keep them occupied when they first come out of the nest box so they don’t “pig out” on pellets right away. This allows for a smoother transition from milk to pellets and less incidence of weaning enteritis.
I do have loose hay on the floor now, so I have to sweep a little more often; but the benefits far out-weigh this little inconvenience. I just bring my storage tub to work with me about once a week and fill it with loose hay. My rabbits are thrilled and I don’t have to worry about transporting a whole bale in my car.