Alfalfa Pellets Are Not Equal
by Sylvia Hess
Many years ago I tried to economize by purchasing a less expensive brand of rabbit feed. Within two weeks my rabbits had lost all condition and it took two months of good feed to regain the previous condition. This, and other subsequent feed problems have caused me to become a label reader and to begin questioning feed manufacturers.
All of these feed companies have "quality control inspectors". Some feed mills work around the clock and under different supervision which can result in less quality control on some shifts. Human programmed computers have added too much of one or more ingredients resulting in toxic feed. Most of us have bought feed pellets that turned out to be mostly feed dust. Some companies add "binders" to glue the pellets together! The protein level of the alfalfa is higher when it is cut at the right stage of growth. Even the dirt that the alfalfa is grown in is important as some dirt is lacking in essential minerals and this is why most companies add minerals to the feed. All rabbit alfalfa pellets should be consumed within 60 days of manufacture to maintain a high consistency of feed quality. Alfalfa should be the first ingredient listed, as in most states the law requires listing of ingredients in descending order of predominance.
The first challenge is to find the feed your stock does the best on. In my case it turned out to be feed that is 15% to 16% protein, 20% to 25% fiber, oats used as the grain product, no corn, and no growth hormones. Holland Lop rabbit's intestines are very sensitive and seem to do better on lower protein and higher fiber. Corn can put on a layer of fat and is suspected of being an enteritis causing agent by some people. You might be surprised by how many rabbit feed pellets contain growth hormones which you do not want to feed to dwarf breeds of rabbits! Feed pellets usually contain barley or oats and my Hollands like the oat formula better. I use this feed all year, sometimes supplementing with a smidgen of calf manna for a slightly higher level of protein for the busy herd buck and the good producing doe. The calf manna label does show "corn" included but this small amount has not had any adverse effects.
Assuming that you have found a feed you and your rabbits are happy with, you must not take it for granted that this feed will always be top quality. If you buy a bag and the feed looks or smells different - take it back to the feed store and demand a refund. Telephone the feed company that manufactures your brand and let them know why you are dissatisfied. Be sure to keep the code number off the bag of substandard feed. Be sure to let management know that you are raising expensive show stock - that does have an impact and gets wheels moving faster. If your feed manufacturer does not seem interested in your areas of concern, it is time to find a feed company that cares about their customer's satisfaction.
What if your feed looks and smells normal to you but for some reason your entire herd (or the majority of it) wants nothing to do with it? Immediately pull every last pellet away from all your stock. This is a loud and clear message that there is something wrong with the feed. Take a sample of the feed in for an independent analysis. If you do not want to change feed abruptly, you can feed grass hay and flat oats while waiting for the analysis report. This is one time to trust your rabbits opinion of the feed!
A good feed pellet does not need supplementation, it contains everything the rabbits need. Fur and condition are inherited and these qualities need to be bred into our Hollands. However, most of us do supplement feed - but this should only be a small part of the daily rations.
HLRSC Official Guidebook - 5th Edition 2002