Many a times, farmers who want to buy rabbits from us only tell me they want ‘a big rabbit’.
Apparently, most Kenyan farmers are not cognizant of the breed of rabbits they keep on their farm. The main reason why a farmer rears a certain breed is crucial as rabbits are reared for their meat, skin or pelt, research (by obtaining the plasma and testing drugs), pets etc.
We have 47 distinct breeds of rabbits world over according to the American Rabbit Breeders Association ARBA. Only about a dozen of these are reared, the most common being New Zealand White, Californian white, Chinchilla, French lop, Dutch, Checkered Giant, Giant Flemish, Angora and Rex.
Kenya has a unique indigenous breed commonly referred to as “Kenya One” which is as a result of crossbreeding many other exotic breeds with various results over time. This breed is treated as a multipurpose breed for meat and as pets. Here are common rabbit breeds in Kenya.
This is a commercial breed developed in the US. It has broad shoulders and meaty back and hips. It is shorter and stockier and is white except for its ears, nose, feet and tail which are either dark grey or black. It is an ideal sire breed for interbreeding with other rabbit breeds for purposes of meat production.
Can weigh 7 kg live weight, though preferred by many farmers in Kenya, it’s not an ideal meat breed because of its high bone to meat ratio and its slow growth. Interbreeding it with other breeds may help improve its characteristics. Outstanding characteristic is the large ears that droop around the head. They have short and stocky legs but are heavy – they weigh over 5kg. This breed is more suitable as a pet.
New Zealand white
Has a good growth characteristic, capable of attaining slaughter weight of 3kg live weight within 12-14 weeks depending on feeding regime. It is one of the best commercial breeds that grows to a weight of about 5Kg and has all-white colour making its fur marketable. It is considered a dam breed because of its excellent mothering instinct.
Originally bred for meat, they are short and stocky with a nice rounded back. There are 3 chinchilla breeds: Standard, American and Giant Chinchilla.
Chinchilla is largely white rabbit breed that has characteristics similar to the California White but is white all over the body. It has a bone/meat ratio just like the California white.
The Dutch rabbit
The Dutch rabbit breed is a fairly small but compact rabbit with shorter forelegs.
Outstanding characteristic is the large ears. They have short and stocky legs but are heavy – they weigh over 5kg. Though some Kenyan rabbit keepers have shown interest in this breed because of its size, this breed is more suitable as a pet.
This breed is largely pitch black with a white stripe running from the back to the stock all-round the rabbit. It does not have a high bone/meat ratio suiting the description of pet rabbit.
The Canada giant
This breed has the largest bone/meat ratio at 20 /80 and can fast achieve relatively good weight of 3 kg and above at four to six months. It was introduced in Kenya by Alcare Kenya Ltd ten years ago after scientific cross breeding with Californian White and other local breeds to produce perhaps the highest bone to meat ratio rabbit suitable for meat.
[George Kibanya is a rabbit breeder with Alcare Kenya Limited