Domestic rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) is a descendant of the wild rabbit belonging to the family leporidae. Rabbits are herbivores animal with high feed conversion ratio. Under effective production system, rabbits can convert about 20 percent of feed (protein) consumed into edible meat.
In order to efficiently maximize the potential of rabbit for enhance production, they have to be adequately managed. This can only be possible if there is a clear understanding of the animal.
Knowing your breeds
There are over 20 breeds of rabbits and commonly bred in our environment are; Dutch, New Zealand White, American Chinchilla, Hampshire and California.
Constructing a rabbit house depends on a lot of factors which includes the scale of production, production system (Extensive, semi-intensive or intensive), raw materials (Availability and cost), and climatic condition of the area. Rabbits enjoys moving around therefore their house must be specious enough for free movement. Rabbit house should also protect them from predators, sun light, rain. It should be well ventilated to disallow being choked from ammonia in their urine.
Selecting Foundation stock
Foundation stock is the set of animals that start up a farm. Foundation stock is very important because the success or failure of the farm depends so much on it. In rabbit farming, factors that should be considered before selecting foundation stock are as follows:
• Rabbit records (pedigree, hereditary factors, growth potential, size of the offspring and so on)
• Physical appearance of the animal
• Health of the animal
• Growth potentials
• Body conformation
Most importantly foundation stock should be sourced from reliable and well established rabbitry that keeps good records.
Animal production success greatly depends on good diet and wholesome feeds in required and adequate quality and quantity respectively. Although rabbits can survive on forages only, addition of concentrates makes a dramatic difference in the potential productivity of the herd. Rabbit dietary requirement defers at different level of production such as growing and fattening rabbits, pregnant does, lactating does with litters and resting (non-pregnant and non-lactating) does and bucks.
Rabbits can survive on almost any household wastages that is not spoiled, sour or greasy. Also, rabbits can go on green feeding comprising of 50 percent legumes and 50 percent grasses as this can provide especially dry does and bucks with minimum dietary requirement.
Methods of Handling Rabbits
Rabbits are injured and sometimes deformed when they are not properly handled “Never lift Rabbits by ears or legs.” Rabbits are lifted by the scruff on its neck while supporting with the second hand in case of larger animals. When rabbits are handled properly it subdues many and useful for inspecting general health such as the condition of the mammary glands or paws, checking for sexual receptivity in females and sex determination. Small rabbits can be comfortably lifted by gently grasping the loin region and putting the heel of the hand towards the tail of the animal, this method helps prevent bruises or damaging the pelt.
Good management practice involves caring for the welfare of the animal as well as preventing injuries. Although injuries such as paralyzed hindquarters could be as a result of improper handling or slipping in an attempt to escape predators. Faulty cage is another cause of injury, cages with protruding nails, wires, or improper wire size can cause injuries such as damaged nerve tissue, dislocated vertebras, and so on. To prevent injuries, rabbits can be provided with quiet, comfortable surroundings and protected from predators as well as unnecessary disturbances.
Toenails trimming is another preventive measure, as the toenails of confined rabbits do not wear normally. Rabbit toe nails can be long enough to cause foot deformity and may even catch in wire mesh floor to cause injures. Toenails should be periodically cut with side-cutting pliers by cutting below the tip of the nail cone. The cone can be observed by holding the foot up to daylight, improper nail trimming can cause hemorrhaging or injury to sensitive parts.
Sanitation and Disease Control
Routine cleaning of hutches, containers, and surroundings is the easiest way to ensure sanitary conditions and disease control. Strict sanitation practices such as cleaning feed and water trough, disinfecting when necessary, collecting roughages from uncontaminated areas and so on can drastically minimize the danger of disease outbreak in the rabbitry.
The age to mate depends on the breed as larger breeds are mated 6-9 months while smaller breeds are mated about 4-7 months. Mating ratio is 2 bucks to 10 does, each buck can service 2 does daily. Normally, upon introduction of doe to buck, mating occurs in reasonable time. Palpation to check pregnancy can be done between 12-14 days and preparation of nesting box should follow immediately. The gestation period hovers between 28-31 days, kitten is usually born naked and blind. It is advisable not to touch kitten with bare hands.
Disease prevention guidelines
Disease is a natural phenomenon that can never be completely eliminated but can be greatly managed or decreased through an intensive daily sanitation program. Below are some guidelines that may help prevent diseases.
• Selection of breeding stock on the basis of superior performance
• Avoid overcrowding the animals
• Observe good nutrition practices to permit the greatest expression of superior inheritable traits.
• Provide cross ventilation.
• Isolate all stock being brought into the herd for 1-2 weeks, whether it is a new introduction or one of your own animals that may have had contact with other rabbits, directly or through equipment and handlers.
• Isolate animals suspected of having infectious diseases, and care for such animals.
• Protect the animals from disturbing influences and allow the animals complete rest during the day, as routine care will permit.
• Where rabbits are sold on a regular schedule to a dealer, have marketable stock segregated and confined outside of the rabbitary or at its entrance.
Some common disease of rabbit includes ear canker, bloat, mange, coccidiosis and pneumonia.
Importance Of Rabbit Farming
· Rabbit are efficient feed converters to high quality protein; they use local forages and food wastes that are of no direct value to humans.
· Meat from rabbit is an all-white meat product that is high in protein and low in fat, sodium and cholesterol as compared to other common meats, such as beef, lamb, pork and poultry.
· Rabbit also gives useful by-product like the fur which is useful for making cardigans
· There is excellent product acceptance with respect to social and religious traditions in other words it is not restricted by any strong taboos or particular beliefs that prevent the eating of rabbit meat or its promotion as food.
· It matures for table between 5 -6 months, breeding (5 – 7 months).
Processing and marketing
Production is incomplete without a viable marketing strategy and channel. Rabbits can be sold as live animal or dressed. Dressing involves series of preparation ranging from killing, bleeding, cleaning, evisceration and cutting into parts.