Come the height of summer, we're into triple digit heat. Being conservative with our water usage we don't water anything that doesn't absolutely need it to produce food for us or for the perennial plants we use for livestock food, which leaves me without the normal grassy weeds that make up 35% - 40% of the meat rabbits diet in the late fall - early summer months when its raining enough for those wild edible greens to grow. The grassy areas of the farm are bone dry and brown.
Happily, what I have in abundance during the height of summer, that thrives without any water and is prolific in the bone dry grassy areas around the farm are Queen Anne's Lace and Chicory, both are stellar rabbit food.
As always, when I'm first giving the rabbits any new food, I give them small amounts slowly over a 3 day period. Rabbit need to acclimate to any new food in order to be able to digest it well enough not to bloat. A bloated rabbit is a sick rabbit and bloat can be fatal in a rabbit if you're not careful. I don't like to see any of the livestock not feeling well, it's hard on my heart. No matter how much I know about rabbits, it's always a bit of a guessing game trying to figure out what's wrong and how to help. A sick rabbit means I'm going to be at its side half a dozen times a day, checking on its well being, petting it and telling it how much I love it, knowing every be-ing does better when feeling loved. Happily, I know the signs of bloat well enough that I can keep a bloated rabbit alive and bring it back to health, but avoiding bloat is easy if I'm cautious about how much of any new food I give them over a 72 hour period, and it's big in my book to avoid it, I don't want to ever see the rabbits anything other than happy and healthy.
Chicory has gorgeous blue flowers that attract bees like crazy, a thick sturdy stem with sparse leaves along the length of the stem and a mass of deep green leaves at the base of the plant. It also has a good size tap root that is used to make a coffee substitute that can be found in Natural Food Stores. The bigger the plant the bigger the root, but often the larger plants won't pull up by the root in the bone dry soil, the root is too big and deep to come up with any effort that doesn't involve hand tools. I leave those roots in the ground, only taking plants by the root that readily pull up using just my arm strength. Rabbits love Chicory and will devour the entire plant, from flower to root. This time of year I can pull up plants by the root and feed a whole plant to all 22 of my rabbits every day for weeks.
Queen Anne's Lace has a snow white, lacy flower with frilly, fern-type leaves. It's more common name is Wild Carrot, which is enough of a hint about the root to make you think the rabbits might like it. It also grows well in the bone dry areas of the farm, coming up in large numbers in the heat of summer allowing me to pull it up by the root and feed it to the rabbits. Queen Anne's Lace is the same as Chicory in that the larger the plant, the larger the root, but again those large roots in the dry soil don't readily pull out with the use of hand tools, so they stay in the ground. It's the smaller plants that I can pull up and get the root for the rabbits to enjoy. Once the rabbits have acclimated to Chicory, I start introducing Queen Anne's Lace into their diet over a 3 day period, then I can give them as much of it as they'll eat.
That's the trick of it, giving them ONLY as much as they'll eat. With the areas of the farm that produce lots of rabbit food when we're in the rainy part of the year being bone dry, I don't have foraged food to waste. I need to dial in how much of any one food they are prone to eating in a 24 hr period and not give them more than that, these plants need to last as rabbit fodder for 4 - 6 weeks. During the rainy season I freely give them more food then they can eat without a care, what I don't feed to them from the grassy-weedy areas is going to have to be mowed eventually and I don't like to mow, I'd rather feed that deep green, diverse plant matter to the rabbits any day of the week.
The other stellar food to feed rabbits in the summer months is blackberry. Thorny blackberry canes can be given freely without needing to acclimate the rabbits digestive system to them. It's the only plant I'm aware of where that's true, it's even safe to give to 14 day old kits without seeing them bloat. Goats and rabbits that eat whole plants, including the thorns on the stems without a care. What's up with that anyway... is the inside of their mouths actually some kind of flesh colored titanium? ~lol
Before having goats and meat rabbits, the wild blackberries that pushed against the fences and came up in the field were the bane of my existence in the summer. Hacking away at them in long pants, long sleeves and gloves in triple digit heat is a boat load of no fun. Now, during the months of May and June I watch the wild blackberries really take off, pushing against the fence, sending out long, thick canes through the top of the olive trees, sprawling out from the base of the the raspberries and I smile... summer forage for the rabbits! Usually by the middle of August I've exhausted the wild blackberry canes available to me on the homestead, so I head across our dirt road and start cutting away at the wild blackberries that are still in abundance at the edge of road on the other side. If someone told me 15 years ago that I'd be searching for thorny wild blackberry canes to cut on during the height of summer I would have said they were crazy!