Feeding Rabbits: Making Hay for the Hutch

Feeding rabbits can get expensive, so start growing hay at home. It’s a cheap way to make tons of feed, and make raising rabbits a little easier.

| 2012 Guide to Backyard Rabbits

Feeding rabbits is a hot topic among enthusiasts, but the one thing most rabbit-rearing folks agree on is that the loppers should have ad-lib access to hay. Some say Timothy hay is best, others say plain old mixed-grass hay is the only way to go, and still others say to mix in a little alfalfa or other leguminous hay to boot. Either way, between the eating and the pulling of hay from the feeders for bedding, at the end of the year, you could be looking at up to 100 pounds of hay per rabbit (enthusiasts heatedly disagree on just how much hay an individual rabbit will need).

While many folks rush off to the pet store to source miniature hay bales for big bucks, others source it more reasonably in 70-pound bales right from the farm. Most seem not to realize that making hay the old-fashioned way can reduce their hay bill to nil — and maybe even their waistline by several inches. You don’t need more than a bit of backyard to make it happen.

For folks with only one or two rabbits to feed, all the hay you need could be produced by planting a mixture of oats, clover and Timothy grass in your garden. When the growth is rank and lush, you simply cut it with a machete, nonpowered weed whacker, sickle, or even a scythe if you happen to have one. Let the vegetation dry in the sun for a couple of days (until grass stems will break when you fold them in half, and no dampness or lush leaves remain), rake it up, and pack it in paper bags, or compress it in a cardboard box and tie with string to make small bales. A single cutting from a 500-square-foot patch (25 feet by 20 feet) could realistically supply up to 150 pounds of high-quality hay. If your growing season supports it, you might get two or three cuttings from that patch and net something more like 250 pounds. All it will cost you is a bit of seed and a few hours of exercise.

Let’s just say you have sufficient hankering for hay that something in the realm of a ton is needed to see your rabbits through the year. Is there an easy way to scale up production with minimal investment in machinery? The answer is yes, although I was motivated to prove it to myself, feed some sheep — not rabbits — and get into shape.

Making hay the old-fashioned way

Even though I love the sounds and smells associated with making hay using diesel-powered equipment and modern, self-tying large-round balers, I’ve always wondered whether I could pass muster with my ancestors and make sufficient hay to feed a small flock of sheep through the winter months using a scythe, primitive hand hay rake, pitchfork and wagon. Plus, I am no fan of running on a treadmill for fun or exercise, so I figured I could get healthful quantities of workout and recreation if I put this hand-haymaking scheme to the test.

Since I already owned an Austrian-style scythe, complete with a snath custom-fit to my 6-foot-4-inch frame (about $250), and since we had a few old pitchforks (free to me) and wagons cluttering up the barn, I decided to hit the hay meadow hard within a day of hatching the plan. The growth was a lush mix of cool-season grasses, warm-season grasses, sweet clover and black medic. My former manual-mowing experiences were limited to periodically whacking weeds in places where I couldn’t maneuver the tractor and shredder, so I checked out some online videos to get a feel for the proper scythe swing. It took about an hour to find my rhythm and to learn when to give the blade a lick with the whetstone. The scythe easily sliced through the vegetation right at ground level and left it in loose windrows about 5-feet wide, where it cured undisturbed for two days in the hot Kansas sun.

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