Joseph Wachira has over 100 mature rabbits and 50 kits at his Nyeri farm. While other farmers rear rabbits to harvest their urine, Joseph rears them for meat and for to sell the kits. He cross-breeds some of the rabbits and sells their meat.
“When I started rabbit farming, I wanted to harvest their urine for sale, but I realised there was a larger market in selling kits and rabbit meat,” he says. Joseph went into rabbit farming in July 2012, when rabbit urine was all the rage. The urine is used as organic fertiliser. Before this, he had been a long time coffee farmer.
With Sh5,000, part of his savings from coffee proceeds, he bought three young female rabbits, each costing Sh800. He then mated them with a neighbour’s buck, and by the end of the year, he had 28 rabbits.
Joseph tried harvesting urine by feeding them each day with green hay and vegetables without much success. In May 2013, he decided to use the urine on his coffee farm and instead started selling rabbit meat. He invested Sh10,000 in five breeds of rabbits — California White, Flemish Giant, New Zealand, Chinchilla, Angora and the Earlobe.
Through training offered to rabbit farmers in Nyeri by the Ministry of Agriculture, Joseph learned that breeding rabbits requires a strict mastery of the best breeds and their habits. It is here that he learned that rabbit breeding and husbandry requires maintenance of high hygiene standards to prevent the spread of diseases like diarrhoea.
“Before, I would take the does to my neighbour’s buck for mating and they would get infected with diseases and would infect rabbits on my farm. But after I started breeding at my farm, I encountered fewer diseases,” he says.
Female rabbits mature in six to eight months. The bucks are ready for mating a month later than the does. For mating to take place, the doe is taken to the buck’s cage. Sometimes, mating might not occur as female rabbits tend to be aggressive.
Rabbits have an average gestation period of 31 days, although sometimes it lasts between 29 and 35 days. According to Prof Margaret Wanyoike of the Department of Animal Production at the University of Nairobi, a female rabbit can give birth up to a maximum of eight to 10 young ones.
She says farmers who choose to cross breed their rabbits should only do so when rearing rabbits for meat because cross breeding tends to alter genetic structures. Continued cross breeding leads to poor performance of the offspring.
Farmers practising rabbit breeding and husbandry should maintain high hygiene standards to prevent the spread of diseases. “It’s advisable for farmers to use their own bucks because using neighbours’ bucks or lending to neighbours can result in transmission of breeding diseases,” she says.
Farmers should also develop a feeding program to enable the rabbits to mature at the right age. With good feeding and for medium size breeds like New Zealand and California white, maturity is attained at four to five months, but for larger breeds such as Flemish Giant and French Lop, this will be at six to seven months.
The common medium size breeds like New Zealand, and California attain an average weight of 4.5kg at maturity while small size breeds like Angora attain an average weight of 2.5kg at maturity.
Joseph sells two and-a-half months to three-months rabbits at Sh1,500 each, four to seven months at Sh3,250 each while those above eight months cost less, Sh3,000, because of their age. In a month, he can sell 10 to 15 rabbits, although the numbers keep on varying. He also offers training to new starters at his farm.