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Problems of Rabbit Production

Problems of Rabbit Production

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 Bajopas Volume 3 Number 2 December, 2010
Bayero Journal of Pure and Applied Sciences, 3(2): 20 - 25 
Received: February, 2010  Accepted: July, 2010 
ISSN 2006 - 6996
*Mailafia, S.
 , Onakpa, M.M.
and Owoleke O.E.
Department of Veterinary Microbiology, Fac. of Vet. Medicine, University of Abuja, PMB 117, Abuja. Nigeria.
Department of Veterinary Physiology and Biochemistry, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, University of Abuja, PMB117, Abuja. Nigeria
Department of Animal Health and Production, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, University of Abuja, PMB 117, Abuja. Nigeria.*Correspondence author
 ABSTRACT Population growth in the developed countries is stabilizing while that of developing countries including Nigeria is still increasing rapidly. This calls for increasing the production of livestock to meet the protein demand of the populace. Rabbits are characterized by small body size, short gestation period, high reproductive potential, rapid growth rate, genetic diversity, and their ability to utilize forages. Their by-products serve as major diet components and are devoid of fat thus making them suitable important source of protein. Rabbit meat is of high quality, being high in  protein and low in fat content. Rabbit production can be integrated into small farming systems, with the rabbits being fed on crop residues, weeds, waste fruits, vegetables and poultry droppings.The manure can be used as fertilizer for crops and gardens. The housing systems and equipment examined were cages, feeders and other equipment for rabbits can be made using readily available materials such as split bamboo and raffia palm. Limitations to rabbit production in developing countries include the susceptibility of the animals to heat stress, and the degree of management skill necessary to raise rabbits successfully. This study further suggests areas of research needed on the nutritional value of tropical forages and by-products for rabbits. It is apparent that in many areas in developing countries, rabbit production could be an effective means of converting forages and by-products into high quality animal protein for human consumption. The study provides a benchmark for the understanding of prospects of rabbit production in Nigeria.Keywords: Rabbit, Production, Problems, Prospects, Animal protein.
 The human population growth in developed countriesis stabilizing while that of developing countriesincluding Nigeria is still increasing rapidly. Thus, thesearch for alternative sources of protein to meet upthe population challenge is imperative. Economicindices indicate that as this population trendcontinues, more people are to be fed. Agriculturaloutputs needs to be increased rather than throughfood importation into such countries (Allen, 1993). Inorder to maximize food production and meet proteinrequirements in Nigeria, viable options need to beexplored and evaluated (Owen
et al 
., 2008). Amongsuch alternatives is the use of livestock species thatare yet to play a major role in animal productionwithin these countries. Fast-growing livestock such asrabbits possess a number of features that might be of advantage in the small holder subsistence – typeintegrated farming in developing countries.Rabbit farming in Nigeria is faced with myriadof problems, which have resulted to a gross shortageof meat to meet up the population challenge in ourcountry (Nworgu, 2007). The growth rate of theNigerian agricultural sector is below the potentials of natural and human resources due to high cost of agricultural inputs, poor funding of agriculture,inadequate functional infrastructural facilities,inconsistencies of government agricultural policies,inadequate private sector participation, poormechanized farming and little or no adoption of somesimple agricultural technologies developed byscientists (Nworgu, 2007). In Nigeria, consumption of animal protein remains low at about 6.0-8.4g/head/day which are far below the 13.5g per dayprescribed by the WHO (Egbunike, 1997).Rabbit production is a veritable way of alleviating animal protein deficiency in Nigeria (Ajalaand Balogun, 2004). The rabbit has immensepotentials and good attributes which include highgrowth rate, high efficiency in converting forage tomeat, short gestation period, and high prolificacy,relatively low cost of production, high nutritionalquality of rabbit meat which includes low fat, sodium,and cholesterol levels. It also has a high protein levelof about 20.8% and its consumption is bereft of cultural and religious biases (Biobaku and Oguntona,1997). The presence of caecal microbes enables therabbit to digest large amounts of fibrous feed as mostnon ruminant species cannot (Taiwo
et al.
, 1999).
 Bajopas Volume 3 Number 2 December, 2010
To our understanding, information on the problemsand prospects of rabbit farming in Nigeria is scanty.Few of the information available are unable toelucidate the major intricacies involved in rabbitfarming. This paper therefore presents firsthandinformation on the review of management proceduresin rabbit production; examines the potentials andproblems that may be envisaged in rabbit productionin Nigeria. Suggestions were made to improve rabbitfarming and useful recommendations were made inorder to meet the ever-rising protein needs in Nigeriain order to meet the WHO prescriptions.
Breeds of Rabbits
The United States Department for Agriculture (USDA)has classified rabbits according to size, weight andtype of pelt. Small rabbits weigh about 1.4 – 2kg atmaturity, medium breeds 4 – 5.4kg, and large breeds6.4 – 7.3kg (USDA, 1972). Based on this classification,two most popular breeds for meat production includethe New Zealand white and the Californian. Thesebreeds are most popular because they combine whitefur and good growth characteristics. The New Zealandrabbits are slightly larger than the Californian, 4 –5.9kg and 3.6 – 4.5kg respectively. The New Zealandrabbit has a completely white, red or black body,whereas the Californian is white with colored nose,ears and feet. The two most popular rabbits for furproduction are the Rex and the American Chinchilla.The Rex is slightly smaller than the AmericanChinchilla, 3.2kg versus 4.5kg (USDA, 1972). At present there are many breeds of rabbitbeing used for both meat and skin production indeveloping countries. For example in Brazil there arethe New Zealand White, Californian, Chinchilla,Palomino, Hollander, Rex, Dalmation, Flemish Giant,New Zealand Red, Barboleta, Champaigne, d'Argent;in Ecuador there are the New Zealand White, Blue Viennese, Silver German and Angora. In Malawi thereare the New Zealand White, Californian, Angora, Rex;in Nepal there are the Californian Hybrids while inGhana there are the Thuringa, Blue Viennese, FlemishGiant, Checkered Giant, Lop, Californian, Alaska, andthe Yellow Silver (USDA, 1972). In Nigeria, thecommonest breeds include the New Zealand white,Californian, Angora, Rex amongst others (Aduku andOlukosi, 1990). All of these breeds of domestic rabbits aredescendants of the European wild rabbit,
Oryctolagus cuniculus 
(Aduku and olukosi, 1990). Although manyof these are breeding successfully in various countries,the most popular breeds are the New Zealand Whiteand the Californians. These two breeds are also themost popular in commercial rabbit industries in thedeveloped countries. The various production traitssuch as fertility, growth and feed conversion rateswhen considered, under commercial conditions, NewZealand Whites and Californians are amongst thebetter breeds available for meat production(Bombeke,
et al.
, 1975).
Housing Rabbits
Housing constitutes an important factor for asuccessful rabbit production. Housing types includethe cages, pens, paddocks, underground and insulatedhousing, housing made from locally sourced rawmaterials such as bamboo, and rabbits kept on freerange make for themselves houses in holes. In manyrural areas of developing countries, the materials forbuilding cages and insulated housing, and electricity topower fans and ventilators which are used incommercial rabbitries in the developed countries areoften not available. When available the cost may betoo high to justify their use in anything but highlydeveloped commercial rabbit industries. It is possible,however, to construct rabbit housing from locallyavailable materials such as old packing cases,intermeshed branches or bamboo strips (Action forFood Production, 1974), or local hard wood orbamboo-like material (Owen,
et al.,
2008).Housing made of wood would have to berenewed more frequently due to gnawing than thatconstructed from wire for example. Rabbit housing intropical countries should be designed and situated tokeep the rabbits as cool and quiet as possible, to keepout predators such as python and cats, and to keepout dogs and children which may disturb the rabbitleading to general unthriftiness. The housing shouldbe made of bamboo or bamboo-like materials andnailed or, especially in the case of bamboo, tied toupright supports with local cords or vines; wire couldperhaps be used for exposed ties to minimize gnawingdamage (Owen,
et al.,
2008). Rabbit housing shouldbe built under trees or such natural shelter as existsand, if possible, sited to take advantage of breezes(Bewg, 1974).Flooring can be made of hard bamboo-likematerial slatted together. Bamboo flooring of this typeis recommended for adult rabbits only, as youngrabbits tend to slip on the smooth slates and candevelop deformed legs. Splitting and weaving bamboostrips into a mat provides much better footing for allrabbits. The outer surface of the bamboo should faceupwards in order to minimize damage from gnawingand to facilitate cleaning (Owen,
et al.,
2008).Nesting boxes can be constructed from thinnermaterial or even from clay. Wire has many advantageswhen used for rabbit housing, especially for floors andthe fronts of cages. It should be noted, however, thatthis material can rust rapidly in warm humid climatesif not galvanized or if the galvanized coating isdamaged. Possibly it’s most important use would be inmaking ties (Ministry of Agriculture Fisheries andFood, 1973).For water supply, sprays and the installationof sprinklers in the rabbitary is very useful. In aridareas where the water supply is restricted, theconstruction of underground compartments withinspection hatches could be important (Templeton,1968). This would assist in keeping rabbits cool in hotclimates though, would be relatively difficult to cleanand may lead to increased parasites or diseasespread. Therefore this type of housing has beendiscouraged in Nigeria.
 Bajopas Volume 3 Number 2 December, 2010
Feeds and Feeding
 Rabbit production in developing countries is based onlow cost feeding, using locally available feedstuffs.Rabbit husbandry in these countries emphasizes onsimple feeding methods. In developed countrieswhere commercial rabbitary is on the lead, feeds arecompounded to increase growth rate and to minimizelabor requirements (Walsingham, 1972). However, indeveloping countries more important considerationswould be to formulate cheap diets based on feedstuffsthat are of little direct value as human food. If therabbits are kept on a small scale, diets such as greensucculent fodders can be fed with little costs. Currentfeeding practices vary widely in the tropics, dependingon the types of feed material that are available locally(Aduku and Olukosi, 1990). In tropical Africa, feedscommonly given to rabbits include grasses such asGuinea grass (
Panicum maximum 
) and stargrass(
Cynodon dactylon 
); legumes such as Kudzu (
Pueraria  phaseoloides 
), groundnut haulms and cowpea haulms;root crops such as sweet potato leaves and cassavachips; and various herbs such as
Tridax procumbens 
(Aduku and Olukosi, 1990).Rabbits may be maintained solely on greenfeeds together with household vegetable waste.However, careful management and balancing of dietsis necessary (Aduku and Olukosi, 1990). The two mostcommon deficiencies encountered in such diets are of energy and protein rather than minerals or vitamins. Although the rabbit is by nature herbivorous, growthrates on forage based diets containing high fiber levelswill be increasingly curtailed with increasing fiberlevel. This is due to the animal's inability to obtainsufficient digestible material to satisfy its energydemands. The nature of the fibrous components isalso important; the greater the degree of lignifications, the greater the reduction in thedigestibility. In general, tropical species of grasses areless digestible than temperate species at the samestage of maturity and are often of low protein content.The feeding of forage legumes, cut at an early stage,could help to increase protein supply. Alternatively, aprotein supplement may be provided, such asvegetable oil seeds or oil seed residues (Blattacharyand Taylor, 1975).
Rabbit Slaughter and Processing
One of the important aspects of any rabbit meatproduction enterprise is the efficient and hygienicslaughter and handling of the animals and also thehygienic handling of the carcasses. This applies toboth the large-scale commercial enterprises and small-scale enterprises alike. Problems concerning theseaspects are common to meat production from all typesof livestock in developing countries, particularly inrural areas. The relatively small size of the rabbitpresents advantages of easy transportation andconsumption is easier by a few people (Aduku andolukosi, 1990). Rabbits should be starved for aboutsix to ten hours before slaughter, to empty the gut asfar as possible. They should be well watered duringthis period to prevent dehydration and weight lossespecially in warm weather. It is better to slaughterrabbits in an area fenced or walled off from otherpeople and domestic animals such as dogs. It is alsopreferable to have a roof of some kind over the areaand a water supply for cleaning purposes (Aduku andOlukosi, 1990).Rabbits are best slaughtered by stunning ordislocating the neck before severing the head at theatlas joint using a sharp knife. The hind legs should beheld firmly in the left hand, with the right handholding the rabbit's head directly behind the ears.Pulling sharply on the head with a downward andbackward twist of the hand will effectively break theneck. This operation should be followed immediatelyby bleeding, which is best carried out by severing thehead with a knife in one smooth cut (Aduku andOlukosi, 1990).Skinning and dressing the carcass is mostconveniently carried out while the rabbit is suspendedfrom a horizontal rail or a bar. The rabbit can beattached to this bar by the hind feet using simpleshackles, which can be made from a thick gauge wire. A simple rail system can be constructed from tubularsteel (Aduku and Olukosi, 1990). Evisceration iscarried out by making a longitudinal cut through thebody wall from the vent through the belly to thebreast bone. The gut, lungs and heart are removedthrough this cavity while the liver and kidneys areusually left in the carcass. Care should be taken,however, to remove the gall bladder without burstingas the contents could taint the carcass (Ministry of  Agriculture Fisheries and Food, 1973).Rabbit carcasses are mostly consumed fresh;where this is not the case, processing andpreservation becomes necessary. Facilities such asrefrigeration are not always available in rural areas of developing countries or where available, power supplymay be inefficient, so in these areas more traditionalmethods of processing have to be considered. Theoldest and most widely used methods of processingand preservation of meat in rural communities includedrying, smoking and sometimes salting (Pellett andMiller, 1963).
Problems of Rabbit Production in NigeriaClimate
Heat is one of the most important climatic factorswhich may affect rabbit production in the tropics. Therabbit is very largely dependent on respiratoryevaporation for the regulation of its body temperatureand this confers only a limited power of adaption tohot climates. Heat is also dissipated by radiation andconvection, but these are somewhat restricted by therabbit's furry covering. Johnson
et al..,
(1957)reported that short hair and larger ears helped thecooling process in New Zealand White rabbits. According to these workers, growth and developmentwere impaired at ambient temperatures of 28.3°C andabove. Generally the higher the ambient temperaturethe greater was the disturbance of the rabbit'sfunctions. 

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