Hay, hay and more hay!
So, Rabbit Awareness Week is over and we all understand that fresh hay and grass are the most important part of a rabbit’s diet but boy, there’s a lot of different types of hay to choose from! Knowing which hay is best for bun and how much they need per day can be mind boggling and now to add to the mix there is talk about the difference in feeding and bedding hay. Making your brain hurt yet? Well hopefully this will help.
It is thankfully becoming common knowledge that hay is the most important part of a rabbit’s daily diet. As a rule they should have constant access to fresh hay and a simple way to measure how much, is to provide your bun with a portion of hay the same size as their body every day. Providing your happy hopper with sufficient amounts of hay per day promotes healthy teeth and digestive function.
When it comes to bedding our buns, hay has been used for many years. Hay is great for keeping hutches warm and cosy. However, if not stored correctly and exposed to the elements it will quickly become damp and mouldy. When looking for suitable hay for your bun’s hutch it is important to make sure it is sweet smelling, as dust free as possible and entirely mould free. This is just as important if you are looking for a hay to feed your bun, after all they will not know the difference and will still eat both. However, you may find other bedding materials more suitable, such as, a paper based product. This also prevents bunnies from eating hay that they have pooped and peed on.
So, how is the hay you feed you bun different to the hay you bed your bun on? Well the answer is nothing – hay is hay and all types are grown in a field. Feeding hay and bedding hay are not grown as two different crops. Different seed mixes are not specifically designed to create either type of hay. In fact, it all comes down to the quality of the hay. The most nutritious meadow hay will come from a nice mix of leafy grass and clover.
When looking for good quality hay you need to evaluate the following:-
It’s all about the leaf. You are after hay with plenty of leaf matter. Hay with an abundance of stalk and mature sees heads will be have been baled past its best.
Good hay is a pale green to pale gold colour. If it looks dull and brown there is a good chance the crop has been rained on whilst drying. When assessing the colour of your hay the best area is the heart of the bale and not the outside. This is because the hay can be bleached by daylight but don’t let this put you off as it just means that it has spent it’s days on the outside of the haystack.
Mould can show as areas of darker discolouration but it is not always visible. However, you have a weapon at your disposal – your nose! If that bale is mouldy you will be able to smell it!
Most people will agree that the sweet smell of good hay is delicious (I am sure our little buns will totally agree). Most packaged hay will allow you to experience that glorious smell through the packaging. If the hay smells sharp, musty and almost metallic it is a sure sign that the has been affected by mould.
Whilst you are checking the appearance and smell take note of whether there is much dust being produced. Dust can upset bunnies delicate respiratory system so there is no place for dusty hay, even if you are just using it as bedding!
One of the main problems in bedding rabbits on hay is how to stop them eating something they have just peed on? The problem is you can’t. If the hay smells good and tastes good then Mr Bunny is going to eat it, they unfortunately do not know the difference between the stuff you’ve left them to sleep on or the pile you’ve left them to munch, and rabbits eating hay that they have urinated on is going to cause health issues. So using a different bedding source than hay is often a safer option. A paper based bedding is ideal, they are usually dust extracted and can be hypoallergenic!
You can also make hay fun! Your bunny’s hay doesn’t have to be left in a pile in the corner of their home, it can be placed in multiple areas to encourage your rabbit to forage whilst getting some exercise. Using hay racks and balls are also good for environmental and behavioural enrichment but also to make hay munching a challenge. A rabbit enjoys mental stimulation so keep their little brains turning by making a tasty task even more exciting.
So, as a rule hay is hay. There should be no let up on quality whether you are feeding the hay or using it as bedding. Having poor quality hay within your bun’s home could cause unwanted ailments. Making a clear divide between our rabbit’s diet and bedding is ideal to ensure our little hopper’s wellbeing and providing ad lib good quality hay as a staple part of our bunny’s diet is a winning combination for overall rabbit health.