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Commercial Rabbit Production
Introduction

Rabbits are ideal small livestock project for peri-urban or rural areas, especially in developing countries such as Botswana with a significant proportion of citizenry living below poverty datum line. Rabbits are quite clean and relatively odourless. The raising of rabbits can be anything from a profitable hobby to a fulltime living. Rabbits fit well into a balanced farming system. They complement well with vegetable growing. Excess and waste from vegetable gardens and kitchen goes to feed the rabbits, whereas their manure is used to fertilize gardens, thus forming a profitable cycle and aiding the balance of nature.

Rabbits are an important source of food, particularly in Europe and Asia. They produce white meat that is finegrained; high in protein, low in fat, highly palatable, low in cholesterol, and that can be substituted for poultry in most recipes.

Advantages of keeping rabbits

The advantages of keeping rabbits over other livestock species include:

·         Small body size.

·         Rabbits do not compete for grains with humans as strongly as chickens.

·         Limited cost of the animals and of the housing structures.

·         Efficient reproductive ability. Rabbits are prolific in terms of offspring  (kg/year/doe) and will breed all year round if well-managed.

·         Does (female rabbits) can kindle (give birth to) up to 13 bunnies (young rabbits) at a time, the average being 8. A doe can easily give 25 or more offspring per year. To estimate the potential of meat production this number (25) is multiplied by 1 or 2 kg.

·         Rabbits usually produce 4 to 5 litters in a year. With proper management, rabbits can be kindled intensively.

·         Early age of sexual maturity (4-5 months).

·         Short fattening period (less than 2 months from weaning). With proper care and feeding they will be 8 weeks old or less at this stage. Young rabbits are ready for market at 1.8 to 2.2 kg.

·         Rabbits have an efficient feed conversion ratio (FCR).

·         Rapid generation turnover rate. A doe can produce up to 10 times its own weight, or more, in offspring per year.

·         Rabbit meat is one of the most nutritious meats available (Table 1).

·         Rabbit meat can be prepared in over 300 different ways.

·         Unlike wild rabbit, domestic rabbit meat is pearly white, tender, juicy and mild in flavour.

·         Rabbits require little space than large livestock. This is important, especially in areas where there is shortage of agricultural land.

·         Rabbits are easy to transport and market and the recurrent costs for maintaining animals beyond the optimum are low.

 

 
Popular Breeds

Rabbits are generally classified according to size, weight and type of pelt. Small rabbits weigh about 1.4- 1.8 kg at maturity, medium breeds 4.1-5.4 kg, and large breeds 6.4-7.3 kg. The two most popular breeds for meat production are the New Zealand and the Californian. These breeds are most popular because they combine white fur (preferred by processors) and good growth characteristics. New Zealand rabbits are slightly larger than the Californian,  4.1-5.9 versus 3.6- 4.5 kg. The New Zealand rabbit has a completely white, red or black body, whereas the Californian is white with colored nose, ears and feet.

The two most popular rabbits for fur production are the Rex and the American Chinchilla. The Rex is slightly smaller (3.2 kg) than the American Chinchilla (4.5 kg). There is a tendency for fur markets to be unstable, so one needs to ensure that market is available before starts production.

Marketing

Rabbits will reach market age at about 8 weeks of age or less. Rabbits may be sold live or dressed. In most cases producers must develop their own markets. Meat rabbits must have good loins, shoulders, hips and pelts. Rabbits raised for meat are generally marketed as broilers, weighing 2.0 to 2.3 kg live-weight.

 The fur market requires that rabbits have meaty carcasses and clean, top quality pelts. To obtain a satisfactory price, a large number of pelts are usually required. The price of pelts depends on quality. For research work, rigid guidelines may be specified such as a specific age, sex, size or breed. The market for rabbits raised for research is generally handled on a contract basis.

Download Files

The MOA has prepared a comprehensive guide on Rabbit Farming for farmers and potential investors. Please download the guide from the link below

Printable version
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