My last post about rabbits was about basic care. I'd like to elaborate a little bit further on feeding.
What to buy?
I buy my rabbit food from either Shurgain or CoOp. Some places will carry specialty foods like Purina, but I can't get that here. Shurgain offers 2 types. One is 15% protein and the other is 17%. I used to feed only the 17%, as more protein is good for pregnant and nursing does (mother rabbits). But recently started using CoOp feed, which is 16%. A 50lb bag only costs about $15-$18 and lasts my rabbits a month. You can also buy it by the pound. I dump it in a Rubbermaid garbage can with a lid to keep it fresh and keep out rodents. Clean, fresh food is very important. If you have a feed store nearby, please shop there. Most pet stores and grocery stores sell rabbit food with added fillers like corn, that are basically junk and fillers with no added benefit and you'll pay more for it.
I raise Netherland Dwarfs. They get a quarter cup of food a day. The larger Dwarfs and my Mini Rex get closer to a cup. My Flemish Giant gets a more than a cup. Ask your breeder what the proper amount to feed your rabbit is. A reputable breeder will know best. Over feeding a rabbit is just as bad as under feeding them. Overweight rabbits can't clean themselves well. Can't reach their bums. It also puts a lot of extra strain on a small frame. More strain on the organs, the spine, the legs. Imagine yourself being 30lbs overweight. It makes things a little tougher, right? Same as a dog that is 10lbs overweight. For a rabbit, it's only 1lb. Also, if you plan on breeding, it's harder to do when they are overweight. Overweight does will carry more fat around their ovaries, making it harder to conceive.
What about pregnant or nursing does?
Pregnant does get the same amount as they always did, right up until 3 days before their due date. They may not eat it, but I give them the option of having more food. Once they give birth, you can free feed them (keep the dish filled at all times). I normally give them a good cup, anyway. At this point she is produxing milk to feed all her babies and then the babies will start eating it, too. You can free feed the babies right up until they are about 6 months old. At which point you should cut them back to the recommended amount.
What about treats?
My rabbits hardly ever get treats. You probably grew up thinking that all rabbits should have carrots and lettuce. Well, you're wrong. Sorry. Carrots are fine on occasion, but they are very high in sugar, which leads us back to the obesity thing. Lettuce on the other hand, can cause gas. Rabbits can't pass gas and will cause bloat, leading to a potentially painful death. My rabbits may get carrots at Christmas. And maybe an apple cut up, without the seeds. Maybe some atarberries in the summer (which are cooling for them on hot days) or raspberries. These treats are few and far between. Things they do get, when available, are apple tree branches and dandelions. If you're going to feed them grass or weeds, please make sure they aren't sprayed with anything like herbicides.
What about herbs?
I'd like to do things "naturally", you can keep some herbs on hand. There's a great list on Three Little Ladies Rabbitry's blog. I myself grow lavender chamomile, and borage. And of course dandelions grow themselves. Chamomile is a great all around herb that can be used for calming. You can also make a tea out of it to make a weepy eye wash.
Yes! Hay! Hay is great to have on hand. They're feed pellets will keep their teeth filed down like they should be, but hay is always great. They can have as much or as little hay as you want to give them. Hay is also good for their gut. I had one doe that was slightly overweight and always had very soft poo (it was genetic) I cut her way back on pellets and just started giving her lots of hay and she lost a little weight and almost completely got rid of the soft poo. If you're finding that a rabbit has soft poo, give more hay. (Apple cider vinegar in the water also helps). You should always have hay on hand anyway if you are breeding, as you will need it for nests. Hay should also be given to babies as they start eating on their own.
On a last note...
If you for any reason need to switch feeds, do so gradually. Switching from one feed to another quickly will upset their digestive tract and will produce very soft poop. Mix the old feed with the new feed until the old feed is gone. I give hay at this point as well to help with the transition.
I hope this helps with feeding your rabbits. Keep it simple!