Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Fodder Feeding for Rabbits

I have rabbits.

I have chickens, and in truth I should have stopped there. It isn't as if I didn't know what I was getting into when I got the buns. I had them in high school, a matted mess of an Angora and a foul tempered New Zealand with a taste for my blood. I still have scars on my hands from that mean bastard.

I live in Texas, which is like saying I live on Hell's front porch and am unable to take advantage of its air conditioning. Keeping rabbits here means keeping them cool 8 months out of the year, which means mister systems, fans, pop bottles filled with ice, and panic. The chickens find a shady patch and spread out, panting in the heat but otherwise fine by their own devices. Not so rabbits. Anything over 80.. which is every day between May 1 and Oct 31st... and it's a scramble to keep them cool. In July-Sept, when the mercury hits 100F by 10 am....

But it isn't summer, it's February, and I have nine inches of snow on the ground. Yes, it snows in my part of Hell. The gauge on the chicken coop reads a balmy 22F and the rabbits are warm and happy in their fur coats while I turn blue trying to refill their water bottles.

I had to have rabbits.

One of the dubious joys of rabbit breedership is the sourcing of quality food. After all, if they're going in my mouth I wanna be dang sure only good stuff goes into their own. Finding rabbit pellets where I am is hit or miss, with options being limited to Walmart (overpriced and underquality) and a feed store that has rather dusty, crumbly pellets. The other feed store doesn't carry rabbit pellets, saying I should just put them on alfalfa pellets and call it a day.

wheat grass fodder at seven daysInstead, I've taken to growing their food in my laundry room, because nothing says organization like a bunch of greenhouse trays scattered over the washing machine, dryer, countertop, and dog kennel. I first saw the system in the Farmtek catalog. FodderPro, a hydroponic system for sprouting barley or wheat or whatever. They call it fodder. I call it friggin genius.

The first system I made consisted of the bottoms of a bunch of plastic gallon jugs, and despite so many warnings of mold, rot, and total failure, it worked like a charm. Best of all, the rabbits go crazy for their new chow.

Everyone seems to use barley seed. I would too, but I can't find it here and I'm not spending a fortune shipping it in. Red winter wheat seed runs $12 per 50# here, and it doesn't waste time growing either.

I put three small handfuls of wheat into a mason jar full of water to soak 24 hours, then into the plastic container. A good, cold water rinse a few times a day and before I knew it, I had wheat grass.

Once I got the hang of it, I upgraded to greenhouse flats, four in all. As I only need a half a flat to feed all the rabbits, the fodder is ready in 7 or 8 days, depending on which half I'm pulling that day. I grow a mix of mostly wheat, with some BOSS (black oil sunflower seeds) and corn tossed in for variety. This summer I may try some sorghum just to see how it does, but since it's a warm weather sprouter it'll be more of a pill to get going.  This has almost completely replaced the pellets, though I still feed them hay, grass clippings, and various shrub trimmings.

Next month I'll be converting part of the chicken run to a fully enclosed, insulated rabbit house with air conditioning (because nothing says off the grid self sufficiency like a rabbit house with lights and air conditioning), and I'll be setting up an automated fodder system in there that will use the "used" water from the grow beds to flush the rabbit crap trays, all of it going out to a settling tank that can be siphoned over to the garden. In the meantime, here's the beginner system, which costs nothing but the cost of a bag of seed and is a good way for you to give it a whirl without any investment.

Left: Day 3                              Right: Day 4


Left: Day 5                                      Right: Day 6

Left: Day 7         Right: Cut through root mass, looking inside

Cut to feed in early days when I was switching over from pellets

Feed fodder @3-5% body weight (I go with the 5%). The gallon jug bottom weighs around a pound so one half will be enough for a 10 pound rabbit each day, plus hay.


  1. You feed this to your chickens to? Or just the rabbits? I love your writing style btw. :)

    1. I have fed it to the chickens but it doesn't seem worth the effort to grow it the full 7 days for them. A 3-4 day sprout seems to work best for the hens, but I'm about to try fermenting feed for them and see how that does. And thanks, btw. :D

  2. Hi,
    Amazing article! I really enjoyed it. How much fodder do you think an adult New Zealand Rabbit would eat? would a 5x5 piece of fodder work? Or do you think each animal would need more than that?

    1. That's about the size I feed my rabbits and they're the same size as the average New Zealand. Some of them eat it all, others don't like the grain part. Just depends on the individual.

    2. Thank you very much! Keep up the amazing work you are doing here!

  3. Wow. My daughter wants to keep rabbits... she might change her mind when I tell her about growing fodder, and keeping bunnies cool in the part of hell I'm in, SW Florida Zone 9/10. Thanks for the info!!