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Ask the Breeder April/May/June 2008 Issue

I just bought some Dutch rabbits that I want to show, but I am confused about feeding. Some people tell me to buy high protein for the feed and some say regular protein. Some say to feed hay, others say they don't need it. I have heard that show animals should have sunflower seeds, linseed oil, wheat germ oil, oats, calf manna, etc. Others say I should not feed vegetables like carrots and lettuce. I would like to know what people who successfully breed and show rabbits feed.
From Kevin Hooper:
I am a believer in simple is better.  Find a good quality pellet which is high in fiber – 25%, but not that high in protein – 15-16%, and let them eat it.  I do not use any conditioners or treats. I feed about 2/3 of a cup (measuring cup) of pellets per day.  If the feed is of a good quality, then you are giving them a balanced meal, and anything else you may add will throw that out of balance. 
I know the rabbits like the conditioners/treats/veggies/fruits, but I like ice cream, and if I eat too much, too often,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,
I do have a few Dutch which are more active.  For those I will feed a higher energy feed than what I normally give the others.  This may mean a higher protein feed for you.  For me, it means a feed which has some grain, unlike my regular feed which is all forage based.
Give them a balanced meal, then if you have the genetics, they will do the rest!
From Jill E. Pfaff:
I recommend a good quality feed with 15 to 16 % protein for Dutch, I personally use Heinhold 15-20 show along with Heinhold Starter pellets for does with litters. I feed lots of hay-almost daily and I use high quality grass hay with large leaves so it doesn't fall through the cage floor as easily, sometimes I put the hay in toilet paper rolls ( a trick I learned from my friend Pete Nelsen).  For show rabbits I do supplement with a seed mix I make and call Jill's treat mix which includes: black sunflower, safflower, flax seeds along with rolled oats, barley, and a little calf manna.  I recommend 1/2 tsp daily on top of feed or in a separate bowl and the rabbits really seem to like it and it helps give the coat a healthy glow.
I also feed treats from the house with moderation like leftovers from salad makings: carrots, broccoli, celery, squash but not lettuce, sometimes apples and bread. 
From Fran Schettler:
You should feed a high quality, fresh rabbit pellet with about 16% protein (regular protein) to your show rabbits.  Breeding does or unweaned kits may benefit from  a higher protein 17% pellet but that is an individual choice.  That plus water is all that is absolutely necessary.  As a side choice, you may also choose to feed your show rabbits one the supplemental feeds such as Doc’s Rabbit Enhancer or another grain or vitamin mixture that might be available in your local area. This will frequently have many of the items you listed in it and may add to the competitiveness of your animals by maintaining the best possible condition for longer.   Make sure it is a mixture that is commonly used by rabbit breeders and not someone’s whim or some pet market brand.   Some people swear by feeding a good quality hay weekly but it is not necessary for Dutch.   
For my show Dutch and herd bucks, I feed rabbit pellets plus a local grain mixture made by Barbi Brown here in California plus water.  That’s it!   I do not recommend feeding veggies or fruit unless it is a bit of carrot, a bit of apple or a bit banana.  Notice I said a “bit”.  That means a small quantity every once in awhile and only as a treat or as a food source in a carrying cage! 
From Olivia Wismer:
Excellent question and one that I'm sure will provide many different answers, I have had rabbits for 10yrs and currently show in youth ( for one more year) In those 10 yrs ( 4 as a breeder and exhibitor) I have found a breeding program that works for my rabbits.
         First, let’s think about pellet and protein. For my rabbits I use Purina, I have tried many other brands but keep going back to Purina. I use the green bag with 16% protein. I feel that is the highest percentage of protein that you want, I have tried 18% but just didn't get the flesh condition or the fur condition I got with 16. I also do not feed pellets free choice; I limit my rabbits intake to 1/4 cup in the morning and night. .Pellets were originally designed to feed lab rabbits that would typically not live to their full life span and therefore are low in fiber and high in carbs. Which brings me to the next very important part of my rabbit’s diet and it is Hay. My rabbits all have hay racks that are filled every night with mixed grass hay or timothy hay. Rabbits are herbivores and are well adapted to a high fiber diet, so the more fiber it eats the healthier it is. GI track will be. Hay is the only thing that my rabbits are fed free choice.
           I also have a 3rd part to my rabbit’s daily diet, and is for some reason controversial. I feed my rabbits greens everyday at night. They are given about 1 cup of dark leafy greens such as Kale, collards, red leaf etc. Many breeders believe that greens are bad for rabbits and should not be fed at all, but actually they are very good for them. If the rabbit is eating hay it's body is already used to the high fiber content, that greens will also provide. A few reasons that breeders believe that greens are bad for rabbits was because people would give a large helping of greens to a rabbit that was eating only pellet, this resulted in diarrhea since the digestive system was given too much fiber too fast. But if the rabbit is eating hay there is typically no reason the rabbit cannot have greens. I have been feeding greens for 4 yrs now and have had no problems at all, The one compliment I get at almost every show is what a nice coat and condition my rabbit/s have. I do not feed any extras such as sunflower seeds, except for during molt or sometimes in the winter, but my rabbits keep their condition, without it. I hope this helps. I recently wrote a paper for my pre vet class on rabbit nutrition So, alot of this information in from my own research and my own experience and of course some trial and error!  You can find more information on my feeding program at www.freewebs.com/creekside_rabbitry .
From Bob Bergene:
To the prospective Dutch showmen that just bought some rabbits and wants to show them I would first stress CONSISTENCY in feeding.  Feed them the same amount of feed each day at the same time.  Do not full feed them, but limit feed them by feeding them about 1/2 cup of feed per day.  Now, as far as what to feed, I would suggest that you look for a feed that is about 15% protein, 20% fiber and about 3-4% fat.  You can find this information printed on the ingredient tag on the feed bag.  Manufacturers will put the major ingredient first and then in declining amounts the other items they put in the feed.  I would not select a high protein feed as this has a tendency to produce a molt condition.  A high protein feed would produce more heat energy in the rabbit and that is something that you do not necessarily need when you are conditioning rabbits for show in the summer and early fall.  The rabbit pellet that you are feeding will have about 40% dehydrated alfalfa pellets, so you do not need to actually add hay as they are getting adequate hay in the diet.  It does not hurt to give them a small handful of hay occasionally, so they get a different texture feed from the pellet, but keep in mind that the pellet that we recommended that you use is a BALANCED FORMULA.  When you start to add a lot of things to the rabbit's diet in addition to the pelleted feed, you no longer have a balanced formula.  The BALANCED FORMULA has the correct amount of protein, fat, fiber, vitamins and minerals that your Dutch needs for growth and reproduction.  You also asked whether to feed linseed oil, wheat germ oil and sunflower seeds, these ingredients will have a tendency to put on a desirable finish on show rabbits, but may not be necessary to use.  Many of the "show formula" feeds will have a higher fat content like 4% instead of the 2% in regular feeds.  If you are using a show formula feed you will note that it will have higher fat content and this is from adding some type of oils to the feed ration.  Most people that show rabbits will have their own ideas of what to feed, how much to feed and whether you should supplement with show treats.  So you will get a wide range of ideas from people and the main thing is to decide on a feed and stick with it.  Remember what we said about consistency.  That means do not change feed, if your rabbits do not win at this show or that show.
Good luck feeding and showing your Dutch and I hope that the feed you decide to select produces many champions for you.
From Allan Gerhart:
We try and keep it simple when it comes to feeding our rabbits, and feed mainly pellets.  We use Nutritional (Bunnets) 17% for does with litters and Jrs up to 3 months of age, and 15% for show rabbits, bucks, and idle does.  We do give a little calf manna to does with litters, and sometimes hay or straw if we have a rabbit go off feed to get them eating again.  But mostly we just feed pellets once a day usually in the evening.
From Sue Hill:
I feed two protein levels in my rabbitry but my Dutch are always on 18%.  My Netherland Dwarfs are on 16% and I've had some Dutch on it as well, but I seem to get the best growth on my youngsters well into adulthood by being on the greater protein feed.  Rarely do I have a rabbit that is overweight because I measure out their feed daily to the amount of 1/2 cup for a single rabbit.  Does with litters are fed more according to the age of the litter.  When I go to feed each evening, I want my rabbits at the front of their pens, looking for those pellets.   
I also feed a good quality grassy hay quite often and really push it with animals that are molting or with a mom and a litter.  A bale is stored in tall plastic garbage cans with wheels that I pull one down the aisle when I'm giving it to the bunnies.  The nursing does and those with litters really like the hay addition to their diet and they get it just about every morning.  I always pick out bales with grassy hay instead of alot of rich alfalfa based hay.  Depending on where you live, a little investigating with people you know who raise horses or have a farm will point you towards someone with a good hay (such as Timothy).  Hay cubes work best for some breeders that don't have the room to store hay.  The cubes are nice to be able to bring to shows for a treat.  Unfortunately, my rabbits like to throw them around their pens, and I end up having to clean up a soggy mess in the pens with crocks. 
One of the interesting things about raising rabbits is finding out what others feed their herd.  Some have a "secret" mix of conditioner, sunflower seeds, oats, and other goodies that they personally mix up.  Others purchase one of the premixed conditioners available through most rabbit supply companies.  The key is to think of it as a treat or conditioner and it shouldn't make up the base of the rabbit's diet.  Warren Wiltman feeds a conditioner only at certain times during the season, but when he does, he feeds his pinch to each rabbit first thing while doing chores, and then goes back and starts feeding pellets.  By that time, the conditioner is eaten and he's not dealing with bunnies digging out expensive feed to get to the goodies.  
When I separate out babies, I make sure they have a sprinkling of the conditioner I use (which really seems to keep them eating well), and a handful of hay.  They seem to adjust a bit better and stay eating.  I haven't found the conditioner to be too hot for any age of rabbit so I am comfortable in using it liberally with my herd.  I also bring some with me to each Nationals to try and keep them on their feed during that stressful time. 
One of my favorite things to give rabbits is dandelions!  They absolutely love them and I enjoy knowing they are getting a good fresh treat.  Of course, if you are treating your lawn with a weed killer or fertilizer with a weed preventative in it, you don't want to be giving those dandelions to the rabbits.  I have enough of them that grow in my yard and in my flower beds that I can harvest without that concern.  I'll give a doe and her litter an entire plant, and enjoy just watching the yellow flower disappear as they crunch away.  I've also dried them for winter and they go over well with the critters.  Lettuce and spinach from our garden is a big hit in the summer.  I personally stay away from iceberg lettuce and anything that produces gas with humans (broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts).  On occasion they get carrots but, more often, they get carrot tops.  Again, the key is moderation.  
You might find a need to change feeds to something that is bringing out the condition and coats you want in your rabbits.  Feel free to talk with breeders that continually place well for their thoughts on their feeding routine.  Become familiar with the code on the bag of feed located on the strip of paper that is sewn on the seam of each end.  It should have a location and date marking so you can see how fresh your feed is.  Usually the date is marked by the number day of the year it was milled.  If you need help interpreting it, ask you feed dealer to show you.  The major feed companies all have representatives (akin to your own directors) so feel free to call them for more information.  Ask questions and in the end, you'll feel more comfortable knowing that what you chose to feed your rabbits will give you the results you are looking for. 
From Kristy Hume:
The breeder I bought most of my initial stock from, Tom Dietrich, was a Purina Ambassador and recommended their feed and gave us some coupons. So I have been feeding Purina Rabbit Chow Complete Blend (the green bag) my entire time raising rabbits. The Complete Chow is 16% protein, and my rabbits seem to eat it well and I have been pleased with their condition. The one thing I would caution is to check the manufacturing date on the feed bags. Sometimes it sits at the store too long and loses quality. Before we began checking the dates, some old feed got into our barn and some of the rabbits lost condition. As far as feed goes, if something is working for you, don't change it! Consistency is the key. Other than that, our rabbits get a small handful of hay daily, and we like to give the young rabbits, mothers, and any rabbits under stress, a bit of oatmeal.

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