How to Raise Rabbits for Profit in Zimbabwe

Thursday, July 21, 2016

How_to_Raise_Rabbits_in_Zimbabwe

You wouldn't know it but rabbits make a great complementary enterprise for your farm. Rabbits can be raised commercially for meat, fur and compost. They can also be raised year round providing you with a continuous cash flow. They are fairly easy to manage and are space efficient. This makes rabbit farming a good addition to your existing production especially on a small farm. 

The downside of raising rabbits though is that not a lot of people eat rabbit meat on a regular basis, so the market is still relatively small.

What you'll learn:

  • Choosing rabbit breeds
  • Housing your rabbits
  • Feeding your rabbits
  • Rabbit health
  • Marketing and processing your rabbits


Why rabbits?

Rabbits don't require a lot of space, making them ideal for small farms.


They are fast producing. Rabbits reach maturity in a little as 70 days.  They also produce a large number of kittens multiple times a year.


They are efficient converters of feed to protein. Making them a good alternative to some larger livestock.


Rabbits are have a number of uses including:

Meat: Rabbit meat is high-quality meat high in protein with very low fat and cholesterol.


Fibre: Some rabbits (e.g Angora and chinchilla) are raised for fibre (fur). Their skin and fur is used to make handbags and shoes.  These rabbits must be kept well groomed to prevent tangles. 


Manure: Rabbits can nurture your crops.  Rabbit manure is a great organic fertiliser and the best manure. It's a cold manure that does not burn crops when applied directly. Rabbit manure contains nitrogen (N). It can be also be used for vermicomposting (worm composting) or worm bait production.

Urine: rabbit urine can be used a pesticide in organic farming. Mix with water at a ratio of 1:30 for insecticide and liquid fertiliser.

Selecting Rabbit Breeds

There are over 30+ varieties of rabbits. Choose your breed  based on your goals and uses. Rabbits vary by size, colour and uses. Rabbit breeds can be small, medium (New Zealand White) or very large (Flemish Giant).

Talk with other farmers to determine which are the best rabbits in your area, and understand the potential diseases.


Carefully pick good quality, healthy rabbits from a reliable breeder. Don't buy rabbits with dry scabs, ear mites, sores on feet or wet noses. You will be tossing good money after bad. If you are raising rabbits for meat it will take about 12 weeks to get to the optimal market weight.


The  varieties that are common  are: New Zealand White, California White, Angora, Chincilla and Rex.  The most popular varieties for commercial meat production are the New Zealand White and the California White. 
  • New Zealand White: one of the most popular commercial rabbit breeds.  It comes in white and red. It is a hardy rabbit with good growth and high production. Good mothering abilities.
  • California White: also a popular commercial meat breed. It has a blocky body and is white in colour except its ears. Good meat to bone ratio.
  • Angora: medium size breed. It is raised primarily for fur.
  • Chincilla: it is greyish-silver in colour. It is a good breed for fur.
  • Rex: rex means kind. It has short fur. It is raised mainly for fur.
  • Flemish Giant: this is a heavy breed, that takes a long time to reach maturity. 

Rabbit Housing & Equipment

Before you bring home your rabbits you need to have their housing ready. Rabbit housing vary by size, materials and budget. Rabbits can also be kept in hutches indoors or outdoors.

Site selection for your hutches is important for outdoor rabbit production. When selecting the site for your rabbits make sure it is in a shaded area with east-west orientation. Rabbits will not tolerate heat. They are comfortable at a temperature range between 18-24 degrees C.

High temperatures can prove fatal, so make sure that your hutches are well ventilated and placed in a cool area. If your hutches are outdoors, paint them white to avoid overheating. If they are indoors avoid ammonia build up. 

Your rabbit housing needs to be safe, sanitary and efficient  to protect your rabbits from the elements and from predators. 

Modern hutches are made from metal wire mesh  for easy sanitation and good ventilation. You can purchase a pre-built hutch or have one made. Your hutch should be large enough to fit a doe and her litter without restricting movement. The hutch door should be large enough for easy animal management. 

There should be a porous pit below the cages with a layer of sand or gravel and drainage tile. 

Equipment:

You don't need a lot of equipment for your rabbitry. Equipment for your hutch includes feeders, watering systems, and nest boxes. 


You can use manual or automatic waterers for providing your rabbits with water. 


Use a feed trough to keep your feed clean and limit waste. A metal feeder is the most efficient feeder. If your rabbit cages are outdoors keep the feed trough inside the cage. Yo can be keep feeders outside the cage in an indoor hutch for easy refilling.


Nesting boxes: Pregnant does need nesting boxes for privacy and warmth when kindling (giving birth). Nesting boxes are enclosed except for the top.



You may also need to add lighting during the winter.

Rabbit Feeding

Livestock including rabbits need to be fed regularly. Feed is a major component (75% ) of the cost of raising rabbits. 

Commercial Pellets: feed your rabbits commercially formulated pellets. Pellets are nutrient rich and provide all the nutrients your rabbit needs, but they can be expensive. You can purchase rabbit feed from National Foods. Don't overfeed your rabbits or they may become obese and not reproduce easily.


You can supplement commercial pellets with hay, grains and greens.


Vegetables: Rabbits love carrots, lettuce, cabbages, rutabaga, weeds (dandelions). Dandelions and clover. Don't give them too much green though or it can cause runny tummies.


Hay: dry forage is another good source of feed for your rabbits. It is inexpensive to buy or grow hay (alfafa). Hay is a important source of feed because it provides roughage which keeps the rabbit's digestive system moving. 


Fodder: You can feed your rabbits fresh fodder produced using hydroponic farming


Grains: grains such as hay, alfalfa or wheat are good supplemental feeds.


Feeding routine: feed your rabbits once daily in the late afternoon or evening, which is their natural time for rabbits to eat. Follow the manufacturer's directions for pellet feeding.


Lactating (feeding) rabbits should be fed more. They need a high protein diet of about 350- 380g of feed a day.  To put this into context, other non-lactating mature rabbits need about 120g per day.


Water: It is also beneficial to supply your rabbits with plenty of fresh water. Water is key to growth. Add a block of salt to the feeding on occasion, it causes the rabbits to get dehydrated and forces them to drink more water.

Breeding Your Rabbits

If you decide to start raising your own rabbits start on a small-scale start with at least a buck and three or four does. This will help you get used to rabbit farming.

Key terms:  Doe (female rabbit), buck (male rabbit) , kittens (baby rabbits)


A doe can have four litters a year, with each litter producing 6 to 8 kittens.


Keep your male and female rabbits separate except when breeding. Rabbits are usually ready to start breeding between 6-8 months. This stage differs depending on the rabbit breed. Small breeds reach sexual maturity at between 5-6 months, medium breeds between 6 1/2 to 7 months and large breeds at 8 months or more. 

When your rabbits are ready to mate set a servicing date. Move the  female rabbit (doe)  to male rabbit (buck)'s cage.  Does are territorial of their cages so do not bring the buck to the doe. 


Mating will occur at once. Once mating is complete the buck falls off, sideways or backwards. Return the doe to her cage. One buck can service 8 to 10 does. Limit mating to 2-3 times a week.


Check at day 14 that the doe is pregnant. The does abdomen should be palpated.  If the doe is not pregnant you can mate her again with the same or a different buck.


The gestation period of a rabbit is about 28-31 days. Which means you will have a new litter of kittens (baby rabbits) in a month!  Place a nesting box in the hutch at day 28 of the pregnancy. The nesting box gives the doe privacy, and provides protection and warmth for the litter. The box should be large enough for the doe and her litter. Add dry bedding to the nesting box. 


Signs that a doe is ready to give birth include doe pulling out her hair. The doe usually kindles (gives birth) at night. Observe and count the kittens. Remove and discard any dead kittens. 


Kittens are born with their eyes closed and no fur.  Their eyes open at 10-12 days. The doe breastfeed the kittens until they are about 5 weeks, when they are weaned off and started on hay. You need to provide your doe with extra feed when she is lactating.


Keep a breeding record for each rabbit. A breeding record shows when the doe is ready to kindle (give birth).


Does can be bred again after kindling (giving birth) for up to 4 times a year. Check the condition of rabbit before mating again and avoid burn-out or overbreeding. 

Males and females can be housed together in a colony until 3 months. The bunnies be moved at 3 months to avoid fighting and inbreeding.


Caring For Rabbits

Keep good records of buck and doe breeding and weaner records. Tattoo or tag your rabbits for easy identification. Record keeping is important for managing your rabbits. Without good records, you know won't know if you are doing well or not.

Record the mating dates to prepare for placing nesting boxes and kindling. Other things to record include breeding, culling, kindling, mortality and marketing. Attach the records on a hutch card outside the hutch. 


Clean rabbit cages at least once per week.  Provide clean hay bedding. Keep flies out of your hutches by using a fly traps. Remove and manage manure.

Groom and check teeth and nails. Monitor the behaviour of your rabbits for any signs of illness.

Health & Common Diseases Affecting Rabbits

Rabbits are susceptible to a number of diseases. Disease can cause a drastic decrease in your rabbit production.  Prevention through good sanitation, proper ventilation and regular monitoring are the best methods of limiting disease.

It is a good idea to establish a relationship with a good veterinarian who specializes in small animals to periodically check your rabbits for various diseases.


Some Common ailments:

  1. Cold and sniffles: sneezing, runny rose. Remove and isolate the sick rabbits.
  2. Ear canker: scabs in the inside of the ear cause by ear mites. Apply oil every 3-4 days.
  3. Sore hooks: hind feet infected. Use warm soapy water. Provide clean bedding.
  4. Sore eyes: caused by dampness and draft. Sign is weepy eyes.
  5. Mastitis: inflammation of the mammary glands. Can be treated with antibiotics. If you use antibiotics to treat make sure you give withdrawal period before slaughtering. 
  6. Enteritis: sign is diarrhea, caused by an intestinal infection.
  7. Coccidiosis: a parasitic disease. Ask your vet for recommendations.
Monitor  your rabbit behavior to identify signs of illness. Isolate any sick rabbits from the rest of the herd until the animals are better. 

Practice biosecurity measures to keep your rabbits healthy.

Biosecurity measures to practice:

  • Isolate new rabbits
  • Quarantine sick rabbits and properly discard any dead rabbits
  • Provide routine medical care
  • Limit number of visitors, as they can introduce diseases to your rabbit
  • Clean cages regularly; remove waste regularly
  • Keep water clean
  • Control flies with fly traps

Processing Your Rabbits

Rabbits such as the California white rabbit are ready for processing at 10-12 weeks. Your can process your rabbits on your own farm or deliver them to an abattoir for processing.

If you are transporting your rabbits to an abattoir put them in shipping crates with bedding. It is important to provide the rabbits you are transporting with adequate space and good ventilation. 


If you are processing your rabbits on your own farm, stun them first. You also need a clean place to slaughter them.You can read more about butchering rabbits in Polyface's guide to butchering rabbits

Marketing your Rabbits

The average consumer is not in the market looking for rabbit meat. Rabbits are currently a niche market. Most suppliers sell directly to family and friends. 

To increase the number of rabbit buyers you will need to educate consumers. One way to educate consumers is by braaing rabbit meat for sale and sampling. 


You may need to look into processing your rabbit meat into more familiar products like sausages. 


Two examples of companies processing rabbit meat into a number of products are Rabbit Republic in Kenya and Coniglio Meat Farm in South Africa. 


Coniglio sells whole rabbits and also processes rabbit meat into a number of products including burgers, sausages, fillets and frozen whole rabbits. 


The Rabbit Republic processes rabbit meat into sausages, kebabs and samosas for the Kenyan market. 


Look into grocery stores, fine dining restaurants, and hotels to sell your dressed rabbits. You can also advertise that you have rabbit meat available. To export you will need large quantities of rabbits.


Financials


Depending on your market, rabbits can sell for about $8. Your main costs are your initial costs of housing, equipment and breeding stock. Ongoing costs are feed, medical care and labour.

Conclusion

Rabbit meat is still much more expensive than chicken meat. Consumers will usually opt for chicken over rabbit because of price.  It is a good add on to your farming enterprise, but requires identifying a market before you get started. 

Further Reading


The Rabbit-Raising Problem Solver: Your Questions Answered about Housing, Feeding, Behavior, Health Care, Breeding, and Kindling


1 comment:

 
Design by Studio Mommy (© Copyright 2015)