Rabbit farming is a branch of animal husbandry and management that deals with the system of rearing and raising of domesticated rabbits for the fur, meat and wool they provide. Another name for rabbit farming is cuniculture. Rabbits are medium sized domestic animals characterized by their fluffy short tails, whiskers, long ears, fur coat, strong hind legs and a pair of long, sharp incisors. They are called pseudo-ruminants because though they eat green plants, leaves and roughages, they don’t undergo the regurgitation process ruminant animals undergo. They can be reared for their meat, kept as pets and used in laboratories for experiment. In some other parts of the world, rabbits are also called bunnies.
Terminologies commonly used in rabbit farming.
Buck- A mature male rabbit.
Doe- A mature female rabbit.
Kit- A young, immature baby rabbit.
Why rabbit farming?
It is a profitable business investment. Rabbit farming is one of the easiest businesses one can set up. This is because it requires little capital and space to set up. All one needs to do is to buy and rear a mature buck and doe and allow them to mate. Rabbits being good breeders may produce up to ten kits which can be sold or used to start the rabbit farm.
Their droppings serve as good fertilizers. Rabbits expel their wastes in form of droppings (similar to goats). These droppings can be used as fertilizers as they are high in nutrients.
They are excellent breeders. Rabbits reach the peak of their sexual maturity as young as six months. They have no specific heat period as a mature doe can mate with a buck at any time of the year. Their pregnancy is particularly short as it lasts for only 31-33 days. Each time they give birth, they produce as many as 10 kits, and they can repeat this feat for as long as 4 years.
Rabbits produce meat for human consumption. The meat rabbits produce is good for human consumption as it is rich with essential nutrients like proteins and vitamins. The meat is also relatively low in fats.
Their fur serve as raw materials for textile industries. Some breeds of rabbits produce high quality fur which can serve as close substitute for wool from sheep. The fur can be collected and spun to produce wool for clothing.
They have long lifespan. As small domestic animals, rabbits have a rather long lifespan. An average rabbit can live for around 7-10 years with high meat, kit and fur productivity if adequately cared for.
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Breeds of rabbits.
Different breeds of rabbits can be categorized based on their sizes. These are the small rabbits, medium sized rabbits and large sized rabbits.
The various breeds of rabbits are;
The Belgian hare rabbit: This breed is medium sized with an average weight of 6-9 pounds. It is characterized by its bright brown fur coat with a lighter undercoat clearly visible on their bellies and around their eyes. They have an average lifespan of 8-12 years. They are excellent meat producers.
English spot rabbit: This is another medium sized breed of rabbits. It is characterized by its distinct spotted fur coat. They have a short, dense fur and they come in a variety of colours. They are reared mainly for their meat.
Hollander: This rabbitis of a Dutch origin. It is a small sized breed with an average weight of 4-6 pounds. They usually have a short and soft fur which comes in a variety of colours ranging from black, white, grey and brown. They can be kept as pets due to their friendly and curious nature. They are also used in laboratories for experiments. They are also good meat producers.
Californian rabbits: This breed of rabbits is characterized by its thick coat of dense fur coat which is usually of a white colour with black or brown markings. This particular breed are kept as pets. They are excellent fur producers, so special care should be provided to its fur coat by brushing at least twice a week. They are also good meat producers.
French Angora rabbits: These are large sized rabbit breeds with an average weight of 8-12 pounds. They possess long and thick fur coat which comes in a variety of colours. They have a long lifespan of up to 12 years. As they have long fur, this makes this breed more susceptible to a disease known as ‘wool block’. This disease can be prevented by adequately caring for the rabbit.
Other breeds are: dwarf hotot, mini rex, Harlequin, Havana, English Angora, Giant Angora, silver fox, English lop, American chinchilla, beveren etc.
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Feeding the rabbits.
Rabbits are herbivores, meaning that they eat a lot of green leaves, roughages, legumes and grasses. They can also be fed rabbit feeds, grains, vegetables, wheat bran, rice bran, sugar beets, potatoes, carrots, turnips. Rabbits expel soft droppings, these can be eaten by the rabbits as they provide essential nutrients when ingested. After its digestion, they finally expel the hard droppings which the rabbits don’t consume. A supply of good drinking water is essential to good rabbit growth.
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Housing the rabbits.
There are two systems of rearing rabbits. These are:
Extensive system- This system involves rearing and raising rabbits in enclosed, fenced pastures. The rabbits are allowed to graze and forage for food. The farmer can however still feed the rabbit. If they are to be kept in fenced pastures, the fence must be buried deep into the soil so as to prevent them from burrowing under the fence. The fence should also be constructed in a way it is high from the ground level to prevent the rabbits from jumping over. Also, the grassland or fenced pasture should be cleaned on a regular basis to prevent the spread of diseases.
Intensive system- This system involves rearing rabbits in cages or hutches. Each hutch can be made to accommodate more than one rabbit but one must bear in mind the effects of overcrowding. Care must be taken to ensure that each hutch is clean, dry, and well ventilated. One should take note of the material the hutch is to be made of due to the gnawing nature of the rabbit. The hutch should be equipped with a feeder and a watering system. The hutches should be cleaned regularly to prevent the growth and spread of diseases.
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