Kathy Schwartz points out first of all, that different bunnies have different quality fur. At its best, one Mini Rex’s fur may knock your socks off while another’s is just okay. Genetics plays a large role here. Using a bunny’s natural, genetically influenced fur condition as one of your culling factors will help to improve your herd’s fur condition over the long term.
But we still want to get the best fur from each rabbit that is possible. So how do we proceed? Start with the basics of plenty of fresh, clean water. It seems so simple, but can be easily overlooked. Water bottles that drip, water lines that freeze, bowls that tip over or are too small for the bunny’s water requirements, and inconsistent watering schedules are all problems that should be addressed in the rabbitry.
How Feed Affects Fur Condition
Next on the list is a good feed. That’s a tough one and you will get different recommendations from different breeders, although I think most breeders will agree that consistency in feed, time of feeding, and amount is crucial. I believe that most Holland breeders feed either a 16% or 17% protein feed. With the lower protein, you have less problems with enteritis, but more problem with conditioning and keeping a prime coat. With the higher protein, your bunnies’ conditions may be better, but you do increase the chances of problems such as enteritis.
To find a good feed, it may be best to talk to top breeders in your local area. It doesn’t help to find out that Brand A is great if it isn’t available near you. Of course, some breeders do have their feed shipped in, but that does add considerable expense. Others mix their own, but you may not feel qualified to do that. If good feed is not available in your area, band together with other breeders (rabbit and other animal breeder) to encourage a particular brand to service your area.
I am a big believer in hay. I feed hay daily, but the minimum requirement, I believe, is hay every other day, a regimen that is suggested by Allan Ormond. Hay has so many benefits and is so relatively cheap that there’s no good reason, at least in my mind, not to feed hay. Feeding hay relieves stress, promotes natural wearing of teeth, relieves boredom, helps with digestion, and so forth. Feed hay!
I do have problems finding good hay. Often I find hay that is overly dusty, weedy, full of thorns, or full of straw. When I am able to get a nice green hay with a sweet smell, little dust, few weeds, and no thorns, the bunnies devour the hay in no time. It is a huge treat for them.
Added Grain Mixtures or Supplements such as Showbloom
You could certainly stop here and have healthy rabbits. But to add that extra special something, you may want to try one or more of these:
- 1 tsp. of oats, barley, or hard wheat, without or without sunflower seeds (I no longer feed oats personally and have seen a dramatic decrease in enteritis)
- 3 drops of wheat germ or Linatone oil; Linatone is often used with cats and you may find it is the cat supply section of a discount or pet store; it is more expensive than wheat germ oil, but you may find it is worth it; either oil can extend a prime coat (Allen Ormond recommended Linatone and I use it myself). Linatone contains linoleic acid, an essential fatty acid that the body cannot synthesize. It’s needed in the diet for normal skin and a lustrous coat.
- Shredded wheat, once or twice a week, especially when you travel for shows
- A commercially prepared conditioning supplement such as Doc’s Rabbit Enhancer, Show Bloom or Sunshine.
One last word about feeds and supplements: try to stay away from too much molasses. First, it can cause excessive cecal matter and possibly cause enteritis. Secondly, it promotes excessive fat, which should not be confused with condition.
[Editor’s Note: One time at a rabbit school, I heard a feed rep talking about supplements such as Showbloom, used for conditioning rabbit fur. He said that water is essential to good condition, and mixed supplements make a rabbit drink more. An interesting note, at least.]