Rabbit farming has for a long time been seen as a pass time for teenage boys. But slowly, the tide is changing and many people are warming up to it as an agribusiness venture. To run a successful rabbit farming venture, this is what you need:
The most popular breeds used in the meat industry are New Zealand White, California White, Flemish Giant, French Ear lop, Chinchilla and Dutch. The Angora breed is kept for fur and as a pet. The dressed weight of a mature rabbit is one and a half to two kilogrammes. For does (females), consider traits like growth rate, mothering ability, meat to bone ratio and body size. Does and bucks mature within six months and the gestation period is on average 30 to 32 days. They give birth to between four and 12 kits, which are well hidden in a nest for the first eight to 10 days. One doe can have four to five nests per year with a total of 40 kits in a lifetime. A mature rabbit goes for about Sh2,500.
The rabbit unit should offer protection from extreme weather, noise and predators, including birds, snakes, insects and rats. Erect gutters for ease of urine and manure collection. It is best to house them 90 cm off the ground. You can use several levels to save on space. There should be separate cages for the does and bucks to avoid inbreeding. Hygiene should be maintained at all times through cleaning and disinfection.
Nutrient requirements depend on age, sex, body weight and stage of production. Those nursing newborns or pregnant have higher requirements than non-producing ones.
Feed your rabbits with feeds containing carbohydrates, proteins, mineral salts and vitamins. The quantities should be sufficient and be of good quality. Rabbit pellets and hay is sufficient. However, they can thrive on wilted maize stalks, sweet potato vines, cabbage or sukuma wiki leaves and carrot tops.
Rabbits consume a large amount of water and it should be readily available.
Diseases and parasites
The most common rabbit diseases include Coccidiosis, Pasteurellosis (snuffles), Pneumonia, heat prostration and sore hock. The most notorious parasites include tapeworms, roundworms, ear mange or canker, skin mange, mites, fleas and ticks.
Diseases spread within the cages very quickly so action must be taken immediately if you spot anything strange. Complete isolation of sick rabbits is essential while they are undergoing treatment. Seek veterinary advice in the event of a disease outbreak. Use of footbaths and employment of biosecurity measures is key to keep disease at bay.
Record the number of does, date of birth and service, the buck used, the date of kindling (giving birth), number of kits reared, any deaths and deworming dates.
Rabbit meat, which is categorised as white, is nutritious, easily digested and healthier compared to red meat. Rabbit meat has high meat to bone ratio, compared to chicken meat. A kilo of meat retails at around Sh1,000 while a litre of urine which is a natural pesticide goes for Sh100. There is also an opportunity for value addition of the leather into belts, bags and coats, among other items.
[Dr Paul Kang’ethe is a veterinary Surgeon and the Resident Vet at FarmKenya]