Rab­bits don’t chew the cud, so they eat their poo!

Wicklow People (West Edition) - - LIFESTYLE -

RAB­BITS eat their own poo. While some peo­ple might find that prac­tice dis­taste­ful and say “Yuck”, bi­o­log­i­cally it rep­re­sents a highly ef­fi­cient and suc­cess­ful so­lu­tion to a di­ges­tive dilemma.

Grass is a hugely im­por­tant source of food for many an­i­mals world­wide, but it has a down­side in that it is dif­fi­cult to di­gest. Grass is high in fi­bre and plant fi­bre is in­di­gestible to mam­mals. Mam­mals never achieved di­ges­tive en­zymes to cope with fi­bre, so a num­ber of dif­fer­ent strate­gies have evolved to try to get the best out of grass as a food.

Cows and other ru­mi­nants like sheep, goats, deer, camels, gi­raffes, yaks, an­te­lope and lla­mas ‘chew the cud’. They eat grass, chew it and swal­low it. The stom­ach of ru­mi­nant an­i­mals has four com­part­ments. Cud is a por­tion of food that re­turns from the first stom­ach com­part­ment to the mouth to be chewed for the sec­ond or sub­se­quent time be­fore pass­ing on down the sys­tem.

Rab­bits don’t chew the cud. They graze and process the grass and other herbage in much the same way as we di­gest our food. The grass passes quickly through their sys­tems.

Since mam­mals don’t have di­ges­tive en­zymes to break down fi­bre, they, our­selves in­cluded, em­ploy bac­te­ria to do the job for them. Large colonies of bac­te­ria live in the gut earn­ing their keep by pro­vid­ing a valu­able ser­vice to their host. Our gut bac­te­ria are hugely im­por­tant to both our phys­i­cal and men­tal health.

In ru­mi­nants, the large colonies of gut bac­te­ria are con­cen­trated at the front end of the di­ges­tive sys­tem and the an­i­mal fa­cil­i­tates their work by chew­ing the cud. In rab­bits the large colonies of gut bac­te­ria are con­cen­trated at the rear end of the di­ges­tive sys­tem and the an­i­mal gains ben­e­fit from their work by eat­ing its own drop­pings.

Rab­bits pro­duce two kinds of drop­pings. The first pel­lets are larger, softer, moister, mu­cous-coated and greener. We hardly ever see these as they are nor­mally ex­creted dur­ing the day when rab­bits are ly­ing up and are eaten im­me­di­ately to run the ma­te­rial through the di­ges­tive sys­tem a sec­ond time.

The sec­ond pro­cess­ing of the grass al­lows for nu­tri­ents to be ab­sorbed and the an­i­mal to gain ben­e­fit from its graz­ing. The pel­lets pro­duced sec­ond time around are smaller, harder, drier and browner and are the rab­bit drop­ping that we are all fa­mil­iar with see­ing in ar­eas where rab­bits abound or in a hutch where pet rab­bits are kept.

Rab­bits eat their own drop­pings to gain more nour­ish­ment.

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