EXPERT ON RABBITS: Be cautious when dealing with rabbit contract farming

Rabbit meat is tender and has a sweet flavour in addition to being rich in proteins and contains low levels of cholesterol. Combine these qualities with the global rise in prevalence of lifestyle diseases and you have a product whose market demand you cannot satiate. Indeed, there is a global surge in demand for rabbit meat.

Rabbits are relatively easy to keep as they can be fed on cheap and readily available feed with little pellet supplements. You don’t need a lot of space and the initial capital to obtain your breeding stock is minimal. Rabbits are prolific animals and can give birth to up to 40 baby rabbits a year. If you start off with three does (female rabbit) and one buck (male rabbit) by end of one year you will have more than 100 rabbits. Rabbits mature fast at six months they attain maturity and are ready for market or breeding.

 Compared to other animals, rabbits are efficient feed to meat converters; transforming 20 per cent of plant proteins into edible protein compared to beef cattle that convert only 8 per cent of what they consume into edible protein. This means it is more economical to keep rabbits than beef cattle. Herbivores essentially convert inedible plant protein into edible animal protein to supply man and other animals higher in the food cycle.

Rabbit droppings and urine is organic manure rich in nitrogen. These qualities place the rabbit in the same league with quails which I now believe most Kenyans are familiar with either for good or bad reasons. The quail came in with a storm; in the process unscrupulous middlemen got into the business and left many farmers frustrated with massive losses. One avenue used by these middlemen was through contract farming.

Contract farming is an agricultural production agreement between a buyer and a farmer that establishes mutually agreed upon and binding conditions for production and marketing of a given farm produce. The producer or the farmer will agree to produce a certain product meeting the specified standards, within a given time limits and at a certain price.

Typically, the farmer will benefit from free farming advice, farm inputs or even some soft loans. Contract farming despite having good intentions has in the past been abused by both parties. Since contract farming is like a Memorandum of Understanding – a gentleman’s agreement. The quail boom that did not last long has shade light on some challenges in contract farming. Most farmers were drawn into quail raring as contract farmers and were promised a readily available market and good price for quail eggs and meat. But most farmers complained that at the time of need the buyers were either not available or relented on the agreed upon price or standards.

 Judging from a few complaints I have received from a few rabbit farmers, I am tempted to play the role of a prophet of doom in an otherwise dazzling enterprise! Some rabbit buying organisations are charging as much as Sh 20,000 for training of farmers with a promise of being contracted to supply meat.

Already some rabbit farmers are bitter because the said buyers have not kept their side of the bargain. You should be cautious especially when such huge amounts are charged for advice on how to keep your rabbits. Farmers’ Choice has been using farmers contracting and not a single coin is charged for training farmers on pig rearing.

The other thing to check out are the academic credentials of the people offering such trainings if they are veterinarians you can quickly check on the Kenya Veterinary Board website if they are legally allowed to practice as veterinarians. Otherwise take walk into any Ministry of Agriculture division of Veterinary Services or Animal Production and you will get all this information free of charge.

According to the Kenya Veterinary Board Chairman Dr Mbaka Mwendwa; to avoid being conned by unscrupulous middlemen farmers being approached to be contract farmers can do a background check; if they are saying they have been contracted by local supermarkets to supply rabbit meat a confirmation can be got from the mentioned supermarkets or a copy of the supply contract availed.

 If the middlemen are saying they will export the rabbit meat; they should be able to show documents allowing them to export from the local relevant authorities and destination countries. If this are not made available then the farmer should be worried.

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Rabbit droppingsKenya Veterinary BoardDr Mbaka Mwendwa