The benefits of rabbit farming, however, go beyond the sumptuous taste of its meat. This farming venture is also convenient and manageable since it does not require a large piece of land or intense labour. Rabbits are highly prolific animals. They can reproduce up to 10 times per year, with an average litter size of nine young ones per birth.
This makes it possible for shoe-string budget farmers to start on a small scale and quickly expand their ventures. Many farmers already in this business attest to the fact that it is possible to make all returns on investment within the first three month, that is, if the enterprise is properly managed. But before any farmer jumps into rabbit farming, it is important that they make a few considerations. As it is in any other business venture, it is the small details that make all the difference.
Housing is perhaps the single most important factor that a novice in the “hare-raising” business needs to consider. Rabbit hutches are however relatively cheap and easy to make. They can be constructed using locally available (low cost) materials either. They can be built either in an open area or inside an already existing building. There are, however, various considerations that the farmer needs to make before putting up rabbit hutches for commercial farming purposes. The first is ventilation. Rabbit hutches need to be well ventilated to allow for free circulation of fresh air. This is crucial in preventing diseases that are predisposed by dampness, as well as in controlling the stench emanating from rabbit urine.
Rabbits are very clean animals and thrive well in a clean and dry environments. It is therefore important for a farmer to ensure that the hutch’s floor is either self-cleaning or easy to clean. One can use porous pits below the cages; with layers of gravel and sand. Alternatively, a farmer can use chicken wire (0.5 by 1.0 inch) and align it with a plastic sheet. It is also possible to use solid concrete floors, but theses require frequent cleaning which may be labour intensive depending on the scale of the venture.
Whichever floor the farmer chooses, it must be fitted with a very effective drainage system to collect urine, which can either be used as foliar fertiliser or sold for industrial purposes.
It is also important for the farmer to note that rabbits are highly sensitive to extreme temperatures.
They are highly prone to sicknesses like pneumonia if exposed to frigid temperatures or draft. Farmers in very hot areas need to take special care of their male rabbits, also known as bucks, as high temperatures expose them to the risk of becoming sterile. It is therefore important that rabbit farmers in such regions use hatches that allow free flow of air. This can be easily achieved by using wire mesh walls instead of solid concrete.
If concrete walls must be used, it is of paramount importance that other measures, such as the use of a cooling system or housing the bucks at the lower, often cooler cages, be put in place. It is also advisable that the farmer puts into consideration the prolific nature of the rabbit by ensuring the hutches are easily extendable. Often, novices at rabbit farming get overwhelmed by the frequent new births in the farm for lack of planning.
One should therefore consider a multi-storied building with 2-3 tiers. Cage sizes must be appropriate to ensure effective space management and proper housing for the rabbits. A 30” by 30” by 20” dimension is appropriate for adult rabbits. Lighting is also key for the proper growth and reproduction of rabbits. It is therefore very important for the farmer to ensure the hutches are designed to allow moderate lighting into the rabbit cages. Where open area housing is preferred, the hutches must also be designed with a roof to protect them from the rain.
Rabbits are light feeders with an amazing rate of feed to meat conversion. It is therefore important for the farmer to ensure the rabbit gets all the nutrients supplied in the little food it consumes in a day. Daily requirements for the rabbits include energy feeds, protein, minerals as well as fats and vitamins. Rabbits are mainly foragers and get the bulk of their nutritional requirements from both green and dry matter they forage on. It is, however, important for the farmer to provide the rabbits with grains such as wheat, sorghum or maize for they are good sources of digestible fiber which enhances digestion.
Root crops such as carrots are also important as a source of Vitamin A which is essential in the growth and reproduction processes of a rabbit. It is very important for the farmer to supplement the nutritional requirements of the rabbits with commercial supplements which are often packed with energy.
One must also provide the rabbits with hay to chew, a salt cake to lick as well as a sufficient amount of fresh clean water all day long. There are various types of breeds to choose from depending on personal interests and the availability of the breeding stock in their region. The most important thing to note about rabbit breeding is that one must never practice inbreeding, allowing close relative such as mother and son or brother and sister to mate. It results in a weak offspring, often with deformed bodies.
It is therefore important to separate the two sexes when they get to the breeding age, which ranges from 4-8 months depending on the breed and the individual weight. Mating is also best timed at the cooler hours of the day. It is always the female (doe) that is taken to the buck, not the other way round. Usually, the process of mating takes about five minutes or less, and must therefore not be left unsupervised.
There is a lot more that goes into rabbit farming, especially on the care of the young ones and pregnant does. It is therefore important to carry our thorough research on the management procedures as well as other practices such as slaughtering and pest and disease management procedures. Each aspiring rabbit farmer must also carry out a thorough research on the marketing opportunities in their region. Currently, there are various organisations, private companies and individuals that offer farmers a market for their live rabbits. It is however important for each farmer to carefully evaluate the terms of trade and choose the most profitable and stable offer available.
Rabbit farming is a highly potential venture, with the power to feed the future and bless the farmers with financial prowess. But it must be well planned and carefully thought out. The role of training on rabbit management and marketing can also never be over emphasized, nor can the power of passion be underestimated.