Rabbits used to be reared as pets, especially by young boys who were still learning their way around the farm. Others shot at rabbits with bows and arrows to test their macho skills. But not anymore.
The beautiful and timid rabbit is now more than just a pet. Thanks to the high nutritional value of rabbit meat as discovered in recent years, the furry animal is quickly becoming a delicacy in many Kenyan households and big hotels. Not only that, farmers who rear rabbits for meat also benefit from fur and urine, both of which have a distinctive market value.
Consolata Atuti, a rabbit farmer in Kiserian, is one of the many who are reaping gold from the benefits of rearing rabbits. Atuti told CityBiz she never imagined that she would make any income from rabbit-keeping.
“I started rabbit keeping around August 2020 with one male and two females. Within that period of around six months, I now have almost 40 rabbits, not counting the ones that have died and the ones I have eaten,” she said.
Atuti notes that besides food, she keeps rabbits for their urine, which is used as a pesticide and fertilizer. She says that pure rabbit urine is rich in nitrogen, which is required by plants for growth and which can also act as a pesticide. She was inspired to start rabbit husbandry out of curiosity, which she pursued with a startup capital of Sh4,500.
“At first, I was buying each rabbit for between Sh1,000 and Sh1,500. I can confidently say that with around Sh5,000 one can comfortably start the business,” she says, adding that a doe and buck costs on average Sh2,000, and rabbit feed in form of pellets costs Sh2,500 a bag.
“I decided to do rabbit farming because it is a good source of meat protein, and not many people have discovered them so the market is still very lucrative,” she says.
Initially, Atuti sold rabbit meat onlybefore learning that the urine and droppings were also marketable as organic manure.
“I harvest 150 litres of rabbit urine per week for production of organic fertilizer, which translates to an average of Sh30,000 per week,” she says, noting that one litre of the urine retails at Sh250.
In oder to harvest as much urine as possible, the rabbit cage is made using a wire mesh floor which the animals rest on. Underneath, a slightly slanted iron sheet is placed which directs urine to a gutter and, thereafter, to a container for collection. One litre of fresh rabbit urine mixed with 20 litres of water is adequate for use as pesticide and foliar.
To add value to the final product, Atuti says she supplements the rabbits’ feed with amino acids and minerals.
“I feed them on Far Pellets which are rich in amino acid and minerals. These soft pellet feaces are re-ingested by the rabbit to supplement their nutritional needs,” she says.
Used as pesticide, rabbit urine repels insect pests like aphids, mites, bugs, and leaf miners through its pungent smell. Atuti says some of the main benefits attributed to rabbit urine are that it is cheap, and has a high level of nutrients through which plants derive nitrogen. Moreover, it is organic, hence environmentally friendly. Her major clients for rabbit urine include organic vegetable and strawberry farmers whose products are considered sensitive.
Besides rabbits, Atuti also rears chicken and runs a farm growing vegetables and French beans for export. Her symbiotic-style farm is self sufficient, since she uses vegetable remains to feed her animals, while the animal products are used to sustain the plants. This provides multiple streams of income by selling the animal products as well as vegetables.
So far, her main challenge has been finding a market for her products. She says: “A ready market is not easy to find unless you go for it. Market is there if you take time to look for it. People take time to accept new ideas, hence market is slow. Also, rabbits need tender care in terms of sanitation and health for optimal production.”