STEP BY STEP APPROACH TO A PROFITABLE RABBIT MEAT PRODUCTION IN NIGERIA
As earlier promised that I would find time to discuss a step by step approach to a profitable meat production in Nigeria; for rabbit farming to be more dominant and recognized in Nigeria meat market, farmers need to classify their stocks into meat production and breeding stock production. A farmer that wants to solely focus on breeding stock may have his integrity and quality control to contend with as all rabbits are not fit for breeding purposes. Hence, culling of rabbits will segregate the stock into meat production and breeding stock. Today’s discussion will be more on rabbit meat production as this is the end result to get acceptability of rabbit meat in Nigeria. Before I go into how to profitably produce rabbit meat, I would like us to understand two classes of rabbit meat. They are broadly divided into Fryers and Stewers.
Fryers are growers that are slaughtered when they have attained the desired market weight and condition which is usually at 1.7kg to 2kg. At this weight, there is high return on Capital Employed and Labour Cost. With fast growing medium breed rabbits and proper feeding under a conducive weather condition, this is achieved within 90days (3months).
The Dressing Percentage (Weight after Slaughtering %) is measured by dividing the weight of dressed rabbit (slaughtered rabbit) by the initial live rabbit weight. For example, if 2kg fryer is dressed at 1.4kg, the dressing percentage will be 1.4kg divided by 2kg * 100=70%.
This Carcass Yield percentage (Dressing Weight) varies from breeds to breeds and rabbits to rabbits. This is not theory but practical. Two rabbits of different breeds may have live weight of 2kg each but after slaughtering, they will have different dead weight. This happens based on several factors that I will briefly talk about below.
There are several factors that affect the dressing percent such as breed of rabbits and feeds. Rabbits with well-sprung ribs and deep chest, carrying the width and depth of the body uniformly from the shoulders to the hips, give a higher carcass yield than narrow, rangy animals. “A long, well-developed lion is desirable.” The amount of ingested feed in the digestive tract also has a bearing on dressing percent. If the animal has been without food and water for several hours before being slaughtered, with a consequent smaller quantity of material in the digestive tract, the dressing percent will be higher. Few days or hours to the time of sales, some farmers give unhealthy feeds to Fryers in order to get fraudulent heavy weight. This is not only peculiar to rabbitry but also in other aspects of farming such as fishery, piggery etc.
Stewers are mostly adult rabbits that may even be above 3kg live weight. In most cases, they are culled rabbits (eliminated non-productive rabbits) from breeding system. They normally yield average of 65-70% carcass of their live weight. Whether it is economically sound or not, they are sold to save Labour cost, cage space, and feed cost.
From the above understanding of Fryers and Stewers, we can proceed to discuss steps to achieve a profitable rabbit meat production. The common aim of all farmers in the world is to produce at a profit. Nobody prays to produce at a loss. I would draw my points from practical years of experience in rabbitry and summarize it because of time.
- The breed of rabbit must be a fast growing. A slow growing rabbit is a complete Capital NO. A fast growing rabbit for meat should be able to achieve 2kg in 90days from birth except if you ration the feeds. An example of fast growing rabbit is Hyla, Pure NZW, Palomino, Magpie, American Chinchilla, California White etc. In selecting rabbit for meat, you are less concerned about the colour. The rabbit must have a well-sprung ribs, deep chest, carrying the width and depth of the body uniformly from the shoulders to the hips. You can also improve the small breeds like Dutch for some generations if you don’t have access to a direct fast growing rabbits. Don’t ever use a pure small breed for meat production because you will be highly disappointed by the body mass and weight during the harvest period.
- Feeds and method of feeding are the 2nd most important factor to be considered if you really want to run a profitable meat production. Your feeds must be specially and specifically formulated for meat production. Feeds for breeding stock should not be fed to a meat rabbit otherwise, you will run at a loss. I don’t want to write as Bella, the producer of Bella Feeds but I will rather write as Mr. Samson who is the CEO of Bella Rabbits World. You need to avoid too much of fiber in meat rabbit feeds. Despite the high importance of fiber in rabbit digestive system, too much of fiber lowers the weight gain. I am not an advocate of too much hay for a meat rabbit because it will affect rapid weight gain. Wilted forages and a very well processed dried cassava peels can be used along specially formulated feeds for meat. I normally advise farmers to use Bella Heavyweight Feeds for rabbit meat in order to boost weight gain. Weaners and Breeders Pellets are not meant for meat. On the aspect of feeding, there are two basic feeding systems, namely; Ad Libitum (Free Choice Feeding) and Limit Feeding System. In Limit Feeding system, a controlled quantity or limited amount of feed is given to rabbits on a daily basis. In Free Choice Feeding System, feed is given to rabbit without any limit, that is, they are given feed without measurement and above what they can finish in a day. Each feeding system has its advocates, purpose and when to use. Free Choice Feeding is less labor intensive than Limit Feeding System and it is good when grooming meat rabbit against 90days. Farmers need to be very careful with Limit Feeding in order not to restrict feed intake to the extent that weight gains are severely affected. Once the digestive system of weaners is developed, Free Choice Feeding System is encouraged.
- Avoidance of coccidiosis is one of the surest ways to achieve a rapid weight gain. A rabbit that suffers from liver coccidiosis will experience retarded weight gain. Farmers are advised to treat cocci a week before mating the rabbit in order not to pass the liver cocci to its offspring. One of the ways to treat cocci is to serve them with Bella’s 75% Hay-Based Pellets, Tridax Grass, Bitter Leaves or Scent Leaves once or twice per week. Apart from cocci, ensure that your rabbits are free from any form of diseases in order to achieve rapid weight gain.
- Prevention of Parasitic Effects- Generally when permitted, Parasites normally rubbish farmers’ efforts by sucking blood of rabbits and competing with every nutrient from feed-intake. In order to address this issue from jeopardizing your efforts, inject all your weaners that have attained 1kg body weight with 0.2ml of Ivermectin Injection at the subcutaneous layer. If you don’t know how to do it, you can invite any nearby experienced farmer or a Vet. Doctor to help you. If you have phobia for injection, you can administer Oral Ivermectin in their water for 3days. However, injectable ivermectin is highly recommended because some rabbits may not drink water during this period especially if the weather is too cool or if forages are served. A rabbit with mange parasitic disease will have its weight to contend with.
- Housing is another critical success factor in rabbit meat production. Rabbits under fattening must not be crowded in a room. A free range cage housing system is advisable to save cost. You don’t need to waste money in partitioning their rooms. They will do well in a free range cage. Let the cage look like a Hall. You will need to have different halls for different batch of your weaners. You can calculate the cage size capacity based on 3 weaners on every 2ft by 2ft space.
- Synchronization of mating must be considered if you want to focus on meat production. What I meant by synchronization is that you need to be mating your Does in batches. In those days when I had enough time in Bella Farm, I used to mate average of 50-100 breeding Does from evening till daybreak. Artificial insemination would have been better if the facilities and technical know-how is available because natural mating is very stressful but the money there worth the stress. After 30-33days, the nesting boxes are full of average of 500-700 kits.
- The next step is to ensure safety of the kits and prevention of high mortality. On the day of delivery, farmer needs to move round to ensure that there is no complication during labour. If there is an issue of delay or difficulty in delivery, you can inject it with small quantity of an Oxytocin Injection to deliver within 2minutes. Alternatively, you can buy Jute leaves (Ewedu). It is generally believed that it eases delivery in animal and in human being. Our forefathers believe that if a woman is experiencing delay during labour, Jute Leaves should be bought at the exact price the seller mentions and at the point of purchase, you don’t need to mention the leaves name. Otherwise, it will lose its potency. This is an aged tested Yoruba’s belief or power. Several rabbit farmers have used it over the years and confirmed its efficacy without any side effect. On the other hand, one of the advantages and disadvantages in the use of Oxytocin Injection is high volume of breastmilk secretion after its administration. The use of oxytocin has advantages and disadvantages as per milk secretion. On the positive side, it boosts milk secretion. This gives avenue for its kits to easily get satisfied with milk within a short period of sucking time. This prevents mortality that is caused by poor milk secretion. As good as Oxytocin Injection sounds, if the milk secretion is not properly consumed, it may get infected, caked and becomes serious issue like Mastitis (This is an extremely painful condition affecting the mammary glands. It is usually caused by poor hygiene or surroundings. Bacteria enters and infects the teats which become red, hot, sore, swollen and full of pus. Treatment consists of bathing the affected parts with warm water containing an antiseptic. Antibiotics may need to be used to cure it.)
- Fostering of kits is another way to achieve profitability in meat production. You need to consider the number of nipples to the number of kits born. Under normal condition, a good Breeding Doe should not have nipples below 8. It can be as high as 10 nipples. To avoid unhealthy competition, try to keep average of 6kits per mother. Any extra should be taken to another rabbit with lesser kits. In a situation where you have extra kits, you can keep them in a nesting box without any mother to attend to them. In this situation, you may need to use an oxytocin induced mother to force-breastfeed those kits for 10minutes per day till they grow up. Your rabbit’s kits are not necessarily to be in a room with any mother especially when very young. We need to remember that rabbits that deliver inside ground hole, don’t stay with their kits.
To be continued!!