Basic rabbit farming guide
Rabbit farming has grown over the years as not just a major source of meat and food but also income and employment. It has not only rivalled conventional poultry, beef and pork, but also presented a cheaper means of sustainable livelihood.
Setting up a Rabbit farming business is easy and of course, it takes just a little capital (in investment) to run a rabbit farm successfully.
A rabbit farming business is also less stressful, less cash consuming, a very low task demanding, yet profitable and easy to start and manage.
To set up a rabbit farm, one needs small space and few wooden or metal materials for either cage or litter system of rabbit house construction.
In this work, we will walk you through all you need to start, manage and run a successful rabbit farming.
Even though rabbit farming is practically easy to embark on, make no mistake of starting a rabbit farm without, first, getting equipped with the necessary knowledge to run, successfully, a rabbit farm.
Here are facts and information about the rabbit you should know.
Classification of rabbits.
Rabbits belong to the order Lagomorpha, (which is divided into two; the Ochotonidae and Leporidae families), in the Lagomorpha, rabbits belong to the Leporidae family, the Leporidae family is divided into 11 genera (Sylvilagus, Lepus, Oryctolagus etc.).
Scientific classification of rabbit
Members of the Lagomorpha order are indigenous to every corner of the globe with Antarctica, Madagascar, a few Indonesian regions, and the southern part of South America as an exception.
They are known to have been brought to New Zealand and Australia by humans just recently.
Rabbit meat is produced all over the world with China as the major meat producer.
In Italy, rabbit farming is the fourth leading zootechnical sector resulting in about 9% of the country’s GDP.
Before the rabbit farming wave of the 1970s, rabbit farming was assigned little importance with other livestock chosen over rabbit.
The evolution of rabbit farming occurred in the 1997s leading to the development of more intensive and profitable systems, today, rabbit is one of the major livestock reared all over the world.
Advantages of rabbit farming
There are numerous benefits of rabbit farming, here are some.
Rabbits are cool and easy to go by
Rabbits are very cool, beautiful and lovable animals, they can be raised in small and large-scale production systems anywhere all over the world.
Not capital intensive
Rabbit farming is more convenient and profitable than most of the other animals because it takes a little cash to start and run a rabbit farm, it is in this category with snail.
Young people can easily afford to start keeping rabbits with virtually no financial risk. Rabbit farming could begin as a backyard or garden enterprise, requiring very little space. You can construct a moderately sized rabbit farm within the house for a start.
Rabbits are prolific.
Rabbits are prolific breeders, producing large quantities of tasty meat for consumption. Their rate of production is faster than that of pigs, goats or sheep. A female rabbit delivers a litter every 31 days and can produce more than 12 times her own weight in offspring in a year.
Starting a rabbit farm with just 2 does and 1 buck, within one year could give you 50 rabbits or more.
Starting with 10 does and 5 bucks, within a year, your stock would be 250 rabbits or more, by which time, you already have a steady income.
Meaning; you will have a substantial number of rabbits to sell to off-takers monthly.
Easy to rear and manage.
Aside from the lucrative nature of rabbit farming, it’s not management-tasking, yet it’s highly sorted after.
Feeds on a variety of food
For farmers, the feeds are readily available and you can even produce them yourself as rabbits feed on a large variety of food. One can start small from your backyard and grow from there.
Rabbit meat contains a high ratio of protein, energy, calcium and vitamin than any other types of animal meat with less cholesterol, fat and sodium content than other meat.
Rabbit meat is very useful and ideal for pregnant women, the meat is rich in minerals, the fibres are easy to digest with a good taste, its an important food for children as well.
Increasing demand for rabbit meat
There is an increasing demand for rabbit meat all around the world, though the huge demand is still led by poultry, pork and beef, rabbit isn’t lost in the table, this you could utilize by starting your rabbit farm.
Rabbits are wonderful as pets, they are lovable, smart and calm to be with.
Rabbits are very fast-growing animal when managed well, rabbits mature and get ready for slaughter within 2 months of age.
For this to be achieved though, they must be taken care of and managed well, proper feeding and maintenance is essential.
Their rapid growth is due to their ability to efficiently convert food into meat. A baby rabbit weighs about 57g when born. In six days, it doubles its weight, sometimes more than double, and after 30 days its weight would have increased to ten times the weight at birth.
There are other numerous benefits of the rabbit, but let’s limit our strength to the above mentioned.
Generally, the Livestock Farming industry has indeed become a large and pretty much active market.
In countries such as the United States of America, Israel, Brazil, China, Germany, Argentina and Nigeria et al, they are growing at a fast rate and it is of a great idea to leverage on this industry.
One of the biggest advantages of Rabbit production is that almost all parts of the rabbit are market profiting, this is what most farmers don’t know, even rabbit urine is useful.
There are, therefore, numerous sources through which farmers can make money in rabbit rearing, so it is right to say that rabbit farming business has a great opportunity one can harness.
Common Terms in Rabbit farming
A male rabbit is called Bucks, Female rabbits are called Does.
Another term for a young rabbit is bunny, though this term is often applied informally (particularly by children) to rabbits generally, especially domestic ones. More recently, the term kit or kitten has been used to refer to a young rabbit.
A group of baby rabbits produced from a single mating is referred to as a litter.
Before starting your rabbit farm, here are factors to consider
Factors to consider before starting your rabbit farm
- Environment: you must consider your environment before setting up your rabbit farm, examine people’s views about rabbit farm, are there communal rules against the rabbit rearing in your location? All these and many more are to be considered.
- Weather and climate: Rabbit doesn’t perform well in an extremely cold environment, same as when exposed to harsh sunlight. This should be taken into consideration before setting your rabbit farm.
- Market: consider the demand in the market in your location. If the demand is low, examine the possibility of transporting your products to where they are in high demand. It is not enough to produce rabbits; it is of most importance to have where to sell your products.
Here is a complete guide on how to start a profitable rabbit farming, this guide will not only teach you how to start your own rabbit farming business, it will teach you every necessary step you need to take, percussions, risk management, how to market your products and where to sell.
How to start a rabbit farming business
With the small size of rabbits, starting a commercial rabbit farming business is easy and moderately task demanding.
The very first step to take in starting a rabbit farming business is to draw a proper rabbit farming business plan
Draw your business plan
Drawing a business plan is your starting point for a commercial rabbit farming business, especially here in Nigeria.
It is very advisable for you to draw your plan before starting rabbit farming in Nigeria, farmers mostly underrate the importance of a business plan.
This is, however, because they deem it unnecessary in the livestock industry but that’s not true. An accurate business plan is a guide and a director.
Lack of a business plan can easily be pardoned in a subsistence farming system, but for commercial purposes, you need to write down your rabbit farming plan.
Here are important points to note in your business plan.
- Expected Cost: Your business plan should contain the estimated total amount you want to spend in setting up your rabbit farm including feed purchasing.
- Time and expected result: An accurate commercial rabbit farming business plan should contain expected time of result; this is the time projected that your rabbit farm will start generating income.
- Desired size of farm: the desired size of your farm should be in your business plan. This will direct your activities and choice making.
After securing a proper business plan, your next line of action is to choose a suitable location.
Choose a suitable location
A good and suitable rabbit rearing location should have the following characteristics.
- The location should be close to human; rabbits don’t smell like other animals when kept close to homes, if kept clean, they are lovely to be around with, they should be kept close to the house or better still, not far away from human habitat.
- The location should be secured.
- Access to clean water.
- Access to light; this is not always necessary but for commercial purposes, the light may be needed at a certain stage.
Choose rabbit breeds
There are different breeds of rabbit all over the world, among which are
- Zealand Red
- New Zealand White
- Giant Flemish
- Rex and
All are prolific breeds which you can choose from, depending on the one available in your area and your purpose of raising them.
Some breeds produce more meat than others, you can read more about each of the breeds by clicking below
Make sure you purchase your rabbits from a trusted seller, this is to avoid stocking your farm with rabbits with a faulty health history.
It is of most important you ensure that the rabbits are healthy before buying and introducing them into your farm.
Choose a farming method
There are two most used methods of raising rabbits; the deep liter system and the cage system.
Deep litter method of rabbit farming
This method is better for farmers raising few rabbits, a maximum of 25 to 30 rabbits in a room, the floor is better done with concrete, with 5-6 inches depth litter straw or wooden shavings.
Disadvantages of the Deep litter method of rabbit production
- Due to the number of rabbits which could be in a room (20 to 30), there is a high risk of disease.
- There is a risk of overcrowding, rabbits love space to run around, with the deep litter method, they stand a chance to be overcrowded if kept in the same room.
- The rabbits are difficult to manage in this system.
In this method, farmers are encouraged to be watchful of the number of rabbits they introduce to a particular room, rabbits don’t perform well when overcrowded, this should be taken note of.
The male should be kept in a separate room from the female.
The cage method
This is the best method of keeping rabbits for commercial purposes.
Here, the rabbits are kept in a cage mostly made of wire or iron plate.
This method ensures maximum production, sufficient space and free movement of rabbits.
The male and female should be kept separate except during breeding. They should be kept in the same cage for mating to take place.
Rabbits mature within 4 to 6 months of age, always use healthy rabbits with proper body weight having higher meat to bone ratio. Never bred the females.
Clean the cage or litter regularly, take proper care of sick rabbits and isolate them from the others, ensure proper care to breeding males and pregnant female rabbits.
Feed the rabbits properly (their food must be neat all the time), dispose of remnant food materials before adding a new one. Feeding is done twice daily or once depending on the choice of the farmer and the nutrient capacity of the food.
Does when managed well should produce not less than four kids, normally, a doe can give birth to 2-8kids. The gestation period of a rabbit is 28 to 32 days.
Feeding in Rabbit
If you want your rabbits to stay healthy; You need to feed them with good hay which is essential to a rabbit’s good health, providing roughage that reduces the danger of snuffing and other blockages.
Rabbits feed on herbs, herbs are not just considered as rabbit food, they are also medicinal to rabbits.
Rabbit also eat fruits such as apple, mango, grapes, tomatoes, melon, pineapple etc.
You can choose from a large variety of grasses, like elephant grass, tridax, milkweeds etc.
You can also feed them with cucumber, watermelon, cabbages, and lettuce. You should feed them in the morning and evening.
If you want to introduce a new type of food, please do it slowly. They can`t adapt swiftly to a new type of food.
Access to Clean Water is important, don’t trade clean water for anything else.
Get adequate water containers where your rabbits can drink clean and sufficient water.
Generally, a growing rabbit requires the following nutrient composition
Crude Protein: 15%
Crude fat: 3%
Crude Fibre: 14 – 15%
Click here for more on rabbit food and how to feed your rabbits.
Aside from purchasing food in the market, one can also formulate his rabbit food, this, helps to reduce the cost of purchasing feeds and also to monitor in totality the amount of nutrient per ingredient used in the feed.
This is because, in most cases, the percentage of nutrient written in most feeds are not the same as used during the process of the feed formulation.
Rabbit feed formulation
Feed formulation according to Poultryhub is the process of quantifying the amounts of feed ingredients that need to be combined to form a single uniform mixture (diet) for livestock that supplies all of their nutrient requirements.
In rabbit case, there are specific ingredient needed to formulate a nutrient balanced feed
How to formulate rabbit feed
In formulating rabbit feeds, you need to understand the purpose of the feed, this is basically what you want to achieve at the end of your feed formulation.
Let us assume that we want to formulate a Rabbit Breeders Feed, there is the need for us to factor in the requirements for pregnancy, lactating and kits requirements before weaning.
The next thing is to write out the nutrient levels that we want to achieve. Followed by stating the formula to achieve the nutritional requirements, then testing of the ingredients should follow.
If it is not achieved, we need to readjust the inclusion level or at an extreme case, introduce another ingredient to the formula that can provide us with what we want to achieve but bear it in mind that as you pursue one nutrient, other nutrient levels are distorted.
The formulation of a very good feed requires deep knowledge about rabbit nutrition.
The next step is to select ingredients that are very high in the nutrient that you want.
For example, if I am looking for major protein sources to formulate a feed of 18% protein and high Lysine and Methionine,
I may select Soymeal, Sesame Seeds and GNC. If I want a major source of Energy, I may consider Millet, Cassava Flour, Corn, Cocoyam Peel, Wheat Flour etc.
If I want Fat, I may consider Palm Oil, Vegetable Oil, Rice Bran.
If I want to get Fiber, I may decide to use Rice Husk, Rice Straw, Sesame Offal, Wheat Bran, PKC, Maize bran, Groundnut Hay, Dried Elephant Grass, Dried Guinea Grass, Wheat straw, Banana Sucker, Palm Leaves etc.
In the selection of raw materials for your feed formulation, you must know the nutrients in them and consider the level of nutrients you want to achieve.
It is a very good practice in feed formulation to use 2-3 major sources of ingredients to getting your required nutrient.
The reason is not far-fetched. It is not all nutrients in an ingredient that are utilized because of some elements inhibit their utilization in rabbit digestive system.
You may formulate a feed of 18.5% but the digestibility of protein maybe 13%. This factor requires attention.
Your choice should be based on what you want to achieve and what is at your disposal. When stocked, you should seek the help of an experienced rabbit farmer to avoid mistakes.
Here are common ingredients that can be used to formulate rabbit feeds
Common ingredients needed for rabbit Feed formulation
There are numerous ingredients used to formulate rabbit feeds, these ingredients are in the tubers, leaves, grasses, grains, roughages, kitchen wastes, industrial wastes and so on.
Sugarcane leaf, bitter leaf, tridax grass, wheat flour, guava leaf, dried cocoyam peels, dried yam peels, dried sweet potatoes peels.
Dried cassava peels, banana leaves, banana suckers, dried cassava leaves, dried elephant grass, dried guinea grass, groundnut hay, maize husk, maize stover.
Palm leaves, pawpaw leaves, pineapple top, plantain peels, rice straw, rice husk, rice bran, wheat straw, sesame seeds, sesame offal, palm oil, groundnut oil.
Vegetable oil, PKC oil, palm kernel cake (PKC), groundnut cake (GNC), soymeal, dried carrot, Bambara nut, maize, brewers yeast, millet, cassava flour.
Wheat flour, guinea corn, bonemeal, snail shell, eggshells, dried ginger and garlic, salt, cashew nuts meal, dried sweet potatoes leaves, dried cassava leaves, dried beans leaves, full-fat soya, maize bran etc.
What you must do when formulating feed
To know the accurate level of nutrients in an ingredient, you need to take it to Laboratory where the true nutrient level can be determined. Otherwise, it is guesswork and more or less like gambling.
For example, if I browse the internet for the level of protein in Soybean meal, the theoretical proximate analysis maybe 43% but if I take it to Lab., the protein level may not be more than 38% or 40%.
Many farmers-based feed formulations on a theoretical calculation of nutrients. A good feed manufacturer is meant to be testing every batch of new supply of ingredients to confirm the true nutrient in it.
Many factors bring about variation in nutrient composition of an ingredient. One of the factors is unscrupulous activities of suppliers of ingredients, for example, if you request for Rice Bran, they may add Rice Husk to Rice Bran because rice Husk is sold at around N23 per kilo while Rice Bran is sold at around N70 per Kilo.
To maximize profit, they add more rice husk to rice bran. This may lead to high mortality of rabbits on the farm because the inclusion of rice husk at certain level automatically kills rabbits.
Farmers need to be very careful in feed formulation. Attention needs to be paid to details.
Reproduction in Rabbit
Reproduction is an important part of rabbit farming, it is unlike snail, here you need to aid the process when a female rabbit reaches six months old, she can breed other rabbits. Therefore, you can place her in a buck`s cage.
Note, that buck`s shouldn`t be left in a female`s cage for so long. To avoid fight after sex.
Put them together and give them time for at least fifteen minutes to copulate (copulate means successful sexing).
Always take the female to the male, don’t ever take the male to the female, females can get very territorial of their cages and it’s possible that if you take the male to the female that she could castrate him or kill him.
Do not forget to note the date of copulating and the buck and doe that were used for copulating.
In a well-managed rabbit farm, Bucks can be used for reproduction at least once in four days. Female rabbits can produce up to four litters in a year with up to 10 kits or more in a litter.
Other important practices in rabbit farming include
Tagging your rabbits
Not much of a compulsory practice in rabbit farming, but tags are used for identification, in commercial rabbit farms, they help ease identification crisis, you can use any material provided they
- don’t hurt the rabbit.
- they don’t prevent free movement of the rabbit.
- They are easy to differentiate.
The ease of marketing your products depend on your location, whereas it is easy to market your products in some areas, it is not easy in others, you should determine your marketing plan before starting.
Selling your rabbits or rabbit products comes in different categories.
While some prefer to sell to off-takers; people who come to buy from your farm for consumption and other purposes, some prefer selling to new rabbit farmers who are just establishing their farms (They are many out there because more and more people are going into the business on daily basis), while other may prefer to sell to the processor.
Most farmers who produce in large quantity prefer to sell off in urban markets, local markets, nearby towns and villages or in urban areas where the demand for rabbit products is higher, export to other countries, or sell to medical personals, they are important for laboratory use.
Aside from selling the rabbits, there are other ways one can make money from rabbit farming, one of which is;
Selling of rabbit urine
Rabbit urine is another important way one can make money from rabbit farming, despite selling the bunnies you normally sell the rabbit urine which is used organically by farmers who don’t want to use inorganic pesticides.
The urine act as an insect repellant, it repels those insects that come to harm your crops, this is not the case with inorganic insecticides which normally kill the insect but as you may know, some insects are important to the crops.
So, killing them is a great disadvantage to the farmer, repelling helps to preserve the important insects and that’s where rabbit urine plays its role.
With rabbit urine, insects that carry out pollination and other important natural process are kept alive, and when the smell of the rabbit urine is no longer too harsh, the insects will come and do its pollination.
Rabbit urine can be sold to not only farmers butt laboratory scientist, herbalist and can be exported for organic processing.
Selling rabbit droppings
Aside urine, meat, another way to make money from rabbit farming is by selling the rabbit droppings (the fur and poo), you can sell the droppings which are also very rich in nitrogen, they are used in the industries for organic fertilizer manufacturing.
It is safe to say that all by-product generated from the rabbit is of great importance.
Farmers are encouraged to use rabbit urine and droppings. you’ll never go to any shop buying fertilizer or insecticide.
Rabbit Diseases are much and somewhat inexhaustible, but if your management practices are top-notch, then you have fewer things to worry about
Observing your rabbits daily for signs of diseases is a very critical task you can’t afford to overlook; this is because rabbits don’t show signs of diseases. They are prey animals and as such try to hide any sign of weakness.
You, therefore, have to be very observant of your rabbits.
Once a rabbit is no longer as active as normal, or is no longer eating, as usual, something is wrong.
You have to observe the rabbit for any of the following diseases.
This is an infection of the upper respiratory tract of rabbits. It can be caused by exposure to cold, dusty feed, poor quality feed, and introduction of infected animals into your herd.
Symptoms include sneezing, mucoid discharge from the nose and mucous near the eyes.
Snuffles can be cured by giving antibiotics (L.A)
A brownish crust inside the ear of the rabbits. Caused by mites also.
Rabbits will keep shaking their heads and continuously scratch the ear.
Ear canker can lead to other ear infections that can cause loss of hearing in your rabbits.
It is contagious, just like mange.
Treatment: Ivermectin injection.
You can also use engine oil. A few drops inside the ear. A few drops…don’t baptize them with engine oil.
Can be caused by a shock to your animal.
Avoid loud noise around your rabbit farm and prevent rodents and reptiles from entering your rabbit hutch.
It is a 50-50 case. Once your rabbit is paralyzed, it might not make it again.
You should just pot it.
This can be caused by injuries to the animal’s feet by the floor of the cage.
The animal will refuse to move around or may try to sit on its feeder to relieve its feet of its weight.
Usually, the feet bleed or have sores.
Treatment: Give antibiotics (L.A) and place a flat smooth material (like carton or newspaper) in the rabbit’s cage until the feet heal.
You might have to clean the cage more often to prevent the buildup of germs on the new flooring material
This is a very serious one. It is caused by a protozoan parasite (Eimeria sp).
Symptoms are a rough coat, dullness/depression, decreased appetite, dehydration, loss of weight and (profuse) diarrhoea.
There are two types: hepatic and intestinal coccidiosis.
Don’t worry about the details.
What you should know is that they are both very bad for your rabbits.
It is very difficult to cure. Here, you should take that prevention is better than cure adage very seriously.
Give coccidiostats and anticoccidiosis to your rabbits frequently. They are not expensive and are sold in vet shops and most animal feed stores around you.
This is caused by mites. Symptoms include a patch of dandruff on rabbit’s coat, usually at back of the neck, around tail area, fingers, and toes. The mange can settle anywhere. The fur will pull away wherever dandruff settles.
This will bring discomfort to the animal and can lead to death.
Treatment: Ivermectin injection.
Note: Be extra careful when injecting Ivermectin. Weigh your animal properly and administer the adequate dose, never too much.
Normally, the dosage is 1ml to 50kg of the animal. Do your maths properly
Mange is a common disease known to rabbits, but as I said earlier
Prevention is always better than cure
Other diseases include:
- Rabbit Fever
Generally, be very observant. If you’re careless, your rabbits will show signs of sickness when it is almost too late to do anything.
Things you must do to keep a healthy rabbit farming business
- You must always keep your cage clean to prevent disease and infection because most of the rabbit diseases are brought by the condition of the cages
- Wash off remnant food materials before adding another to prevent feeding them decayed food substances.
- Do not feed the rabbits decaying food materials.
- Ensure that they are treated often
- Be very observant.
- Do not expose them to too much cold or sun.
- Avoid overcrowding.
- Always isolate anyone observed to be exhibiting abnormal behavior.
Risks of Starting a Rabbit Farm
Rabbits can be eaten or killed by almost any other animal(predator). Therefore, insects, soldier ants, and snakes can easily destroy rabbit breeds.
Infections can easily destroy your rabbit farming business if not well managed.
Therefore, watch carefully after any occurrence of diseases and always be at alert to any form of infection and take necessary action against them as soon as you can.
Rabbit farm is not only easy to set up, but it is also profitable, it requires minimal capital investment, rabbits are prolific breeders producing tasty meat, generally accepted with increasing demand in the market.
They grow rapidly boasting a faster production rate than pigs, goats or sheep. A doe can deliver every 31 days under natural circumstances, not only do rabbit produce often, they mature within 2 to 4 months and are slaughter ready.
If you are thinking of investing in livestock, then rabbit should be in your consideration book.
Let us know what you feel about rabbits in the comment box below, do you think it’s a good bet?
We would love to hear from you,
Useful rabbit farming resources
Mr Olamide Opemipo