I spoke too soon …

Went back out to the rabbit barn and found a dead baby Chin and came back in and saw one of the little babies was dying.  Great.  I located a woman who feeds her rabbits unconventionally and set a time to talk to her via telephone.  Before I spoke to her, I wrote down the dates that I first noticed sick rabbits and when each of them died.  I also pulled the receipt for when I last bought rabbit grain: December 28.  The first rabbit died December 30.  I think I found the culprit: the rabbit food.  Initially, I did mix it with what I was feeding, but what I was feeding was from the same local feed mill (Mid State Mills in Newton, NC), just packaged differently.

When I talked to the woman, I found out that she lost 40 rabbits after feeding food from the same mill.  She said that in researching the nutritional quality of the food, she discovered that it did not have sufficient amounts of fiber in it.  Rabbits need need a lot of fiber in their diets and if the food is too high in easy (cheap!) carbohydrates (grain and grain by-products) or indigestible protein that doesn’t get absorbed before it reaches the caecum at the end of the small intestine introduces an environment for growth of bad bacteria.  The bad bacteria can grow unrestrained and cause digestive troubles that lead to bloating and diarrhea or a suppressed immune system.

The baby deaths are likely due to what is termed weaning enteritis: they were weaned too young.  Rabbits produce two types of droppings, regular round, dry pellets and those called cecotropes which are produced in the rabbit’s cecum.  The cecum contains a healthy mix of bacteria and fungi that provide nutrients and protect the rabbit from harmful pathogens.   Baby rabbits eat their mother’s cecotropes which provide them with essential nutrients and later, inoculate the hindgut with the essential flora that is needed to metabolize a diet that is changing from milk to solid foods.  The orphaned babies were not able to ingest cecotropes and could not digest solid food.  They bloated and died.

So, we now have three mother rabbits with a ton of babies in their cages.  If it was indeed the food, then I really feel horrible that it was my fault that they got sick and died.  It tells me that I really, really, really need to get away from commercially prepared grain mixtures and stick to simple ingredients that I can easily source and be more assured of their purity.  I thought that buying from a local mill was a good thing, but I guess the quality simply wasn’t there.

I have since thrown out all the food from Mid State Mills and replaced that food with straight alfalfa pellets.  I also went down to the garden and picked a bucket full of purple and henbit dead nettle (both safe to feed to rabbits) and everyone is looking much perkier.

I sure hope that I’ve finally figured out what the rabbit deaths were due to as it’s been driving me crazy.

“You take the blue pill – the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill – you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes.”

~~~~~~~~~~Morpheus – The Matrix

Who knows how deep this rabbit hole will go, but I refuse to live in blissful ignorance.

Until later …