Rabbits are in our home. They are a gift from Santa and from what I know, they will be a gift to the garden as well. I am not talking about letting rabbits loose in the garden but will “loose” the stuff coming out of the eastern end of a west-facing bunny for sure! But, then again…what about the bedding? The bunny “stuff” will be a wonderful addition to the compost pile but what bedding type will be as beneficial? Care for your bunnies as you build you compost pile. The right rabbit bedding can improve both the health & happiness of your rabbits as well as the compost.
We have considered many different rabbit bedding options for inside bunnies. Outside bunnies are not on the docket (for the time being). With inside bunnies, we need bedding that is easy to manage, controls the moisture and keeps the hair lair smelling fresh. We also need the bedding to be compost-able and not be contaminated with unsafe synthetics that will harm our bunnies and our soil structure. Some litter is clay-based, sand-based and are full of non-organic substances.
Let’s take a quick moment and review the very basics of composting. Considering correct proportions of carbon for compost energy and nitrogen for compost protein, we will attempt to reach a 25:1. That means for every little rabbit poop pellet, you need about 25 parts of carbon. The carbon is the sponge that soaks up the rabbit’s manure and urine (the ammonia in the urine is also a beneficial element and will briefly talk about that in a bit). Common bedding options are:
- Shredded newspaper or shredded newspaper end rolls are a good idea. Watch the bunnies though; they may get bored and munch on the paper. You’d want to follow the guidelines as if you are using the newspaper in your worm bin. Don’t use the colored ink, shinny advertising or the other parts that will harm the bunnies and ultimately your soil. If the bunnies can’t eat what you are putting in their cages you want to avoid the bedding all together. If it hurts the bunnies, it will likely end up hurting your soil and later…down the line…you.
- Sawdust was a thought that I had. It is very small, absorbent, and a high-carbon element to your compost. After a bit of research, we decided that we would avoid the sawdust option because there is a risk of the rabbits developing respiratory issues from the small particles that will “dust up” when they move about.
- Paper Pellets is a great idea. But, I do have some concerns. Looking at pet store website, a brand of paper pellets claims that their product:
- Safe for use in all small animal habitats
- Small animal bedding contains baking soda for effective odor control
- Natural paper pellets lock in moisture
- Brand pet bedding is biodegradable and environmentally friendly
- Made from 100% recycled paper that will not break apart when wet
- Low-dust and super-absorbent pet litter
Many items that advertise “biodegradable and environmentally friendly” are not meant to end up in your garden. I am very much PRO “biodegradable and environmentally friendly” but everything will rot (even a plastic milk carton will breakdown…eventually). I do like the baking soda for odor control. And, I hear baking soda helps tomatoes taste sweeter. Here’s where I question the paper pellets: “100% recycled paper.” Where did the paper come from? How much ink and other synthetic residue is on the paper pellets that survived the recycling process? It’s not that I would not use paper pellets; I just don’t think this is my first choice.
- Hay is a great idea. It’s what the rabbits eat anyway. The hay will keep the indoor hutch warm and provide a soft surface to move around on. Hay in the bags at the pet store can be spendy. Six pounds could run about $20. And though I am okay with hay as the nutritional staple, using it as bedding may end up costing more than what benefit we’d receive. Not to mention the lack of absorbency. You could buy the hay from a farmer. A bale would cost much less than a bag from the pet store. But the dust, mold and other possible contaminants for indoor bunnies may be an issue.
- Wood Pellets come to mind. I did some research on the wood pellets we picked up as an encouragement from the person we got the rabbits from. We had not done the research yet but needed something to use for the time being. They are kind of like the wood stove pellets in appearance and also look like the paper pellets as well. The two questions I had about this product are:
- What substance keeps them in the “pellet” shape? Glue or other additives?
- What substances keep the odor down?
How do the pellets keep their shape? There is this cool, natural substance in wood called lignin. Lignin is found in most plants and is found between the cells of the plants (though some lignin can be found within the cell). This is the stuff that makes vegetables firm and crunchy. They make organic polymers from this lignin. Cool, hu? This naturally-occurring substance in wood helps the pellets stick together in the short spans that are found in any of the commercially available bags of wood pellets (bedding or for burning).
Most wood has a natural anti-odor property. The high carbon mass of the wood absorbs much of the odor…but rabbits are not too stinky in the first place (for the most part). We found a brand that has zeolite. Zeolite will hold on to the stinky ammonium that is naturally found in urine…rabbit urine too. Ammonium is the final, usable form of nitrogen! Zeolite also is absorbent and will retain moisture in your compost pile. But we’re more interested in the moisture retention in our bedding, right? We want that ammonia urine to be absorbed in the bedding but we don’t want it leaching away in the compost pile. Here’s the cool thing: Ammonia (NH3) will quickly pick up a proton and becomes Ammonium (NH4+). This is the stuff you want! The stinky ammonia will turn into the no-smell ammonium. They are completely different components. Ammonia is to ammonium like hydrogen peroxide is to water…if that helps for understanding.
I hear that wood pellets for burning are an A-OK substitute for wood pellet bedding. However, the cost for the actually bedding is only about 0.61 cents more that the wood stove pellets (40 pound bag). The brand we use is: Blue Mountain Horse Bedding Pellets. A bag costs us $5.99 (as of 01/02/2017). Luckily a local retailer has this brand.
All-in-all, I would use the natural wood pellets for bedding for the rabbits. I would even consider the bedding option for chickens too. They are absorbent and will hold the moisture from the rabbits making for easier clean up. The absorbency will be a nice addition to the compost pile because without moisture nothing happens. The rabbit poop pellets are about the size of a wood pellet. After a few days the 25:1 carbon to nitrogen ratio will easily be met and indicate a need to change the bedding. But please, please, please don’t count the poop out. Eyeballing the ratio should be sufficient homestead work.
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