Well, we started domesticating rabbits before there were commercial rabbit pellets, so what would be a good natural feed for the rabbits? I was told that sprouted grains were a great option, but since you disagree, any alternative options?
It is true. Rabbits were first domesticated over 2,000 years ago, starting with the Greeks. No one had commercial rabbit pellets then. However, there is NO ONE good 'natural food ' that you can raise for your rabbits either. And you will not instantly be able to find one either.
Let me tell you a little story...
My friend who is an ARBA register & judge went to the Netherlands and found a man who raised beautiful Dutch rabbits (the ARBA recognized breed Dutch, not just any rabbit that was in the Netherlands). He bought 6 or 10 of them and brought them back to the USA. These rabbits were awesome awesome awesome... and had been awesome for generations... until he brought them to the USA. In 6-10 weeks they looked like the worst culls ever. What happened?
Well, these Dutch rabbits from the Netherlands were pretty much landraced onto their diet of beet pulp there. All they ate was ground up beet pulp soaked in water. That is all these rabbits had for food or water. JUST THAT. When my friend brought them back to the USA, he put them onto commercial pellets that the other 500 of his rabbits were on. AND THEY LOOKED LIKE HADES!! What is 'landraced'? A landrace is a local variety of a domesticated animal or plant species which has developed largely by natural processes, by adaptation to the natural and cultural environment in which it lives.
In this case, it was bred to eat what was available, which is the beet pulp soaked in water. If animals thrived on it, they were not culled out and they were bred to produce more which did excellent on the beet pulp soaked in water. Those who did not do well on the beet pulp soaked in water went into the stewpot and were not bred.
You see this in many breeds of livestock actually, such as the Scottish Highland cattle can eat very poor scrub lands and thrive and produce flesh, calves, milk, meat and are also used as draft animals. The same with 'hill sheep', Kerry and Dexter milk cows, etc. The land's climate and the feedstuffs are what helps create the breed.
So what does this have to do with your rabbits? Pick a feedstuff for them that you want to feed them and start breeding them to thrive and produce on it. You WILL NOT be able to do this in one or two generations, and I figure it will be closer to 3-6. You will have to keep careful records and cull heavily to get this to happen sooner than later.... if at all.
If you want to feed them orchard grass, feed them orchard grass. If you want to feed them whatever you cut out of your yard and surrounding fields, feed them that.. BUT you are breeding towards a goal of getting them to eat whatever you are supplying them, so you will have to stick with that... or when you switch feedstuffs, you are not going to like what your rabbits are looking like nor their weights. Just like the other rabbits from Holland looking poorly from having been beautiful animals.
It happens even when you switch commercial feeds from one brand to another, from one area to another. The ration formula is different between feeds and mills.... and if your animals have been on it for generations.. they are no longer being fed what they have been bred (intentionally or not) to thrive on.