Rabbits are well known for their long ears, fluffy tails, and long hind legs. The domestic rabbit (Oryctologus Cuniculus) is suitable for small/large scale farming. It is easily maintained and require minimal space to manage. The demand on breeding budget is minimal because it thrives on plants and materials that are usually disdained by humans. It utilises coarse vegetation that is high in fibre and other ideal conditions. It can grow so rapidly and its rate is slightly lower than that of a broiler chicken.
The rabbits capacity to breed is legendary. In theory, a single male and five females can produce as many as 150-200 offsprings a year. The meat is pink, delicately flavoured and is usually considered a premium product that provide variety for good diet. It has more protein and less fat and calories per gram than beef, lamb or chicken.
Over the years, the animal protein intake of the average Nigerian is lower than 20 percent of his counterpart in Europe. It will be recalled that the Federal Government incorporated Breeding Multiplication and Demonstration Centres in the Fourth National Development Plan to produce breeders and fryers annually.
Rabbit farming has come a long way. Since the growing need for meat protein, along with the decline in land availability to raise cattle and sheep, it has become a toast among people. One benefit of rabbits farming is that less land is required to raise them and to feed them also require less green feed production. It is also a solid commercial alternative on providing meat protein in the community at a reasonable price. It is equally creating wealth to the teeming unemployed youths and rabbit farmers.
Benefits of Rabbits Farming
Rabbits are multipurpose animals yielding the following products:
MEAT PRODUCTION : Rabbits are raised primarily for meat production, New Zealand White and California white are the most commonly seen Rabbits in Nigeria. It has a short gestation period, only 30-32 days and therefore literally, a litter is expected monthly. Rabbit fryers or broiler rabbits like the broiler chicks, can be raised to market weight within eight weeks. The meat is high in protein and low in fat and calories. Rabbit fryers attain 1.8kg to 2.04kg within eight weeks and yield a dress percentage of 50-60 ; of which 78 to 80 percent is edible meat. Rabbit meat is highly digestible that is why it is always recommended for the sick or the recuperating patient. It is delicious hot or cold, fancy or plain, it can be breaded and fried, boiled, baked or barbecued.
LABORATORY USE : Rabbit can be easily kept in comparatively small space and therefore suits laboratory use as animals for pathogenicity test (disease diagnosis) and pharmacological test (drug testing).It is also good for preparation of vaccines, antisera and other roles in nutritional and endocrinological research work in both animals and humans problems.
SKIN OR PELTS : Rabbits skins or pelt are very valuable bi-products. It is the combined value of the meat and skin that dictates the economy of rabbit keeping in some countries. Pelts are use in fur coats and other luxury garment making. While the poor quality fur are use for manufacturing toys, felt hats and lining of men’s and boys’ clothing.
FERTILIZER VALUE : Rabbit manure has very excellent values as organic manure. It is easy to incorporate in the soil and doesn’t burn the plants as such it is a fertiliser of choice which can be applied fresh or dried.
AS PET OR HOBBIES : A rabbit is a social and intelligent animal. It needs companionship, proper diet and proper housing to be happy and live a longer and healthy life. Housing rabbits make excellent pets, particularly in location where people may not have the choice of keeping either Dogs or Cats. Rabbits that receive human handling are very gentle and can be trained to live inside people’s houses.
HUSBANDRY : Rabbits can be housed in hutches ranging from sophisticated commercial cages to simple packing crate with a few ventilation holes and rough troughs for food and water. In all cases, water tight roofing is essential. A floor space of only 0.25m2 is sufficient for one rabbit but about 1m2 is recommended for a female rabbit. Starting small scale rabbit production is generally inexpensive. An almost infinite variety of backyard feeding and drinking equipment can be made from various scrap items, such as old bottle. The main criteria are that cleaning should be easy and spillage minimised. In practice, diets can be based largely on herb age, grass, leaves, legumes, crop residues, and kitchen scraps. However the diets must be wholesome, and caged rabbit who feed on forage usually need some grain or agricultural bi-products as a dietary supplement. Supplements is particularly important for new born and lactating female rabbits whose diets must contain about 16 percent protein and at least 18 percent fibre. When non commercial feeds are used, salt must be added to prevent salt deficiency because high protein content legumes are better than grass.
Tips to Note on Rabbit Farming
ADVANTAGES : Rabbits as mentions can utilise almost any type of vegetation. Despite their diminutive size, they can collectively produce as much meat per unit of forage as livestock, or even more. There is much genetic diversity, difference in growth rate, fertility, milk production, disease resistance, heat resistance and other features. Rabbits are easy to handle, and can be raised under primitive conditions. They require little financial investment and their husbandry is easily accomplished in the home by women and children. Also rapid reproduction is one big advantage of rabbit rearing.
LIMITATIONS : Tropical conditions can affect rabbits. They must be protected from heat and rain because stress brought on by high temperature, high humidity and wet conditions can lead to respiratory disorder and even sudden death. Most diseases are caused by dirty or wet cage which lead to diarrhea, sores, mites and ringworm all of which can cause serious losses.
BREEDING MANAGEMENT : Selection of the breeding stock is based on the breeds that are noted for excellent performance. There are many breeders for one to chose from depending on the goal that one set out to achieve. Thus the guiding principles should be; selection of rabbits that can acclimatised in the geographic area in which the producer operates. All farm animals selected should be from accredited healthy sources with proven records of fertility and sound health. The buck should be free from any leg deformities or sore hocks. Other points to note for selection purposes are:
Breeding age : The age and physical development should be considered when determining the proper time to breed rabbits since individual animals vary in their rate of development. Some rabbits like the Dutch and English attain sexual maturity at 4 months, while the medium weight breeds like the New Zealand red or white ; the California white or Chinchillas etc, attain sexual maturity at six to seven months. The heavy breeds like the Flemish giant mature sexually at 9 to 12 month of age. Once breeding begins at about 4 to 6 or 9 to 12 months, it may continue up to age 4 or 6.
Gestation takes 30-32 days. Females can conceive within 24 hours after giving birth and can produce a litter merely 4 weeks later. With good feed and early re-breeding, 9 or more litters a year is possible. Litter size depends on breeds and body weight. Small breed average 4 young per litter, while larger breeds can attain 8 to 10. Birth occurs at any time of the year but production slackens when the weather is exceptionally hot. The young remain in the nest until they are 2-3 weeks old, their eyes open at approximately 10 days of age. At six to eight weeks weaning takes place and those weaned are placed in a separate hutch for proper feeding
MARKETING : Business is all about sales, and until you sell your first product you are not in business. The marketing of your rabbit product must be thought through prior to putting up the facility. The marketability of your product will determine the kind and breed of rabbit you have on your farm and the intensity of production you want to adopt. As a delicacy and cheap source of animal protein, rabbit meat possesses very outstanding qualities above the other meat types because it contains low cholesterol and high protein which is good for heart disorder patients and people recuperating from illness. For easy market penetration you may want to start by educating the community on the health benefits of rabbit meat. Equally making presentations to local organisations such as civic groups will give profound millage to the marketing effort.
RECORD KEEPING : The success of any livestock enterprise depends on accurate record keeping. Accordingly, accurate records are a must for the improvement of the breeds and for determining the selection of future breeding stock. Expenses and income records also help to determine profit or loss at the end of the financial year. Above all, record keeping helps to evaluate management practices that might need to be improved upon.
However, it must be emphasised that accurate record keeping will result in accurate observations, hence the need for the breeder to be conversant with his stock.
Without doubt, a choice of investment in rabbit breeding has the potential of impacting on the socio-economic well being of the community. The benefits include: wealth creation, employment generation and provision of much needed protein nourishment to the teeming populace. Moreso, your focus and desire in running a rabbit farm must be well articulated, and effort made to ensure consistency in the adherence to the above stated best practices. Where this is done, success is inevitable. Keep in mind that you cannot do everything in one fell swoop. Whatever your product, the operational principles remain the same and a return on investment is guaranteed.