This blog is a little late in the year as usually I would suggest collecting plants before the autumn starts when wild foliage is most abundant and high in nutrients. However, there are still several plants available, including plantain, that you could gather for drying and feeding during the winter.
The ideal rabbit diet consists of approximately 80% hay & grass, 15% greens (this can be vegetables, wild plants or herbs) and 5 % dry food (i.e. pellets). I have personally found that feeding wild plants to my rabbits instead of cultivated vegetables such as spring greens, cabbage, broccoli etc. suits their digestive system better, but it is far more difficult to forage in the winter due to the lack of vegetation. By drying weeds and herbs you can continue to feed natural, wild plants throughout the winter.
Herbs and wild plants that air dry best are the ones with a low moisture content such as rosemary, thyme, oregano and sage. Wild plants such as ribwort plantain, blackberry (brambles), goose grass and even nettles can be dried quite easily. Below is a photo of some plantain and yarrow hanging from the roof of my rabbit shed.
How to dry plants:
Step 1. Pick your herbs or wild plants (forage) when they are dry. So ideally after a couple of dry days and after any morning dew has evaporated. Wet herbs & plants are more likely to go mouldy.
Step 2. Remove any insects!
Step 3. Sort into bunches of 5-10 stems and tie the ends together with string.
Step 4. Hang upside down in a warm, well ventilated area with plenty of air flow and allow to dry. A warm shed is ideal. You can also spread your forage out along wooden shelves to dry.
Step 5. Check (and turn if using a drying shelf) your forage frequently and remove any parts with signs of mould.
Step 6. It may take several days for your forage to be completely dry. Once dry, seal in air tight bags or containers.
Step 7. When opening your container check visually for any signs of mould or insect infestation. Do not feed if you spot mould or the forage smells musty.
By drying plants you can supply your rabbits or guinea pigs with tasty, healthy food throughout winter.
However, if you’ve not had time to gather and dry anything this year you can buy dried forage for winter feeding from several sources. The Hay Experts sell a variety of dried herbs as does Burns Pet Nutrition and Galens Garden.
B&M stores are also selling dry herbs at the moment for quite a good price, I don’t know how long stocks will last though so it might be worth a visit soon. Have fun drying!