Rabbits are monogastric or non-ruminant animals. They are medium-sized hopping mammals with long legs, long ears and short tails.
Rabbits are mainly reared for their meat. Rabbit meat is normally regarded as a white meat.
Terms Used for Rabbit
- Buck – An adult male rabbit.
- Doe – An adult female rabbit.
- Kitten/warren – A young or baby rabbit.
- Hutch – The house of rabbit.
- Kinding – The act of parturition in rabbit.
- Pelt – The skin of rabbit.
- Litter – All the young ones (rabbits) produced at the same time by one doe.
- Sucking – Feeding of young ones on the mother’s breast milk.
- Dam – The mother of a set of young rabbits.
- Sire – The father of a set of young rabbits.
General Characteristics of Rabbits
The general characteristics of rabbit include:
- They have small medium-sized body.
- They are easy to house.
- Rabbits are very prolific animals or can produce many litters.
- Rabbits have a short gestation period of 30 – 31 days.
- They grow fast and reach maturity weight in about five to six months.
- They are efficient converter of wide range of vegetable matter into meat.
- The fur-covered skins can be processed as pelts for sale.
- Rabbits are easy to handle or manage.
- They have a weaning period of six to eight weeks.
- They make good quality meat, more delicious and nutritious than that of chicken.
- They are susceptible to stress.
- The rate of cannibalism is very high.
- They have high rate of disease resistance.
Breeds of Rabbits
Common breeds of rabbits include:
- California white.
- Flemish giant.
- California red.
- New Zealand white.
- Champagne d’argent.
- The Crosses.
- Blue Beveren.
- New Zealand red.
- English spot.
- Checkered giants.
- The Chinchilla: It is a grey-bodied animal and it can weigh up to 5kg at maturity. It is one of the best fur or pelt producers and also a meat producer.
- The New Zealand White: This is the most popular meat breed in use. It is a fur breed and can attain a mature weight of 4.5kg in eight months. It is a good converter of feed to meat with a high dressing percentage. It is also a fast maturing breed.
- California White: It is a lighter breed and the adults may attain a mature weight of 3.5kg – 4.5kg. It is characterised by black markings on the ears, feet, tail and nose. It has a high growth rate and good flesh to bone ratio.
- The New Zealand Red: This breed is bright-red in colour and weighs over 3kg. It has a high growth and feed conversion characteristics.
- The Giant Flemish: This breed can weigh over 5kg and it is the largest of all the breeds. It is dark steel-grey in colour and produces a dense and hard pelt. It is a good meat producer.
- Angora: This breed requires a lot of care and attention. It is the only rabbit reared for its wool. Its most common colour is white. It has tuft of wool on its ears and feet.
Importance of Rabbit
- Meat: The meat of rabbit is white, fine grained, tender and nutritious. The meat of rabbit is even more nutritious than that of poultry chicken.
- Rabbit skin or pelt: This can be used for making jackets, head-gear, carpets or rugs and other decorative households or ornaments.
- Manure: It has been discovered that rabbit manure is high in nitrogen and phosphorus and therefore can be used to improve the fertility of the soil.
- For research purpose: At the National Veterinary Research Institute (N.V.R.I), Vom, rabbits are kept largely as laboratory animals.
Problems Militating Against Rabbit Production in Nigeria
Major problems which militate against commercial production of rabbits in Nigeria include:
- Unpredictable breeding behaviour of rabbits.
- Incidence of respiratory diseases, e.g ., snuffles and pneumonia.
- Inadequate sanitation and proper sanitation programmes.
- High nest-box mortality of litters.
- Lack of ability to embark on mass production, because most operation in rabbitry cannot be automated.
- It is labour-intensive.
- Lack of capital also impedes large investment in rabbitry.
- Inadequate supply and high cost of concentrate feeds.
Housing of Rabbits
- Rabbits are usually kept in hutches.
- The hutches are arranged in single, double or triple tiers.
- The waist – high, single tier hutches are preferable for they save time and labour in feeding and management.
- Wooden or metal hutches with Wire-netting surroundings are widely used.
- The hutches are placed under a building usually referred to as rabbitry. The rabbitry must be well ventilated.
- The floor of the rabbitry should be made with concrete for easy cleaning.
- The roof should be made with corrugated iron sheets or asbestos sheets.
- The hutches can also be placed in poultry deep litter-house.
- The males are kept separate from the female within the rabbitry.
- Legs of hutches should be placed in disinfectant bowls to keep off termites and other insects attack.
- Rabbits are simple stomach herbivores, i.e ., they feed mainly on plants.
- Rabbits are given concentrates in form of pellets in small quantities.
- The pellets given can be supplemented with Aspilia africana, sweet potato leaves, Amarantus, Water leaf, Centrosema spp, Emilia spp, Tridax spp and Calopogonium spp.
- Rabbits can be given poultry grower’s mash in the absence of rabbit pellets. This should, however, be sprinkled with water to prevent wastage and nasal irritation.
- The protein content of feeds for dry Does and Bucks should be 12-15% while that of pregnant does and nursing does is 16-20%.
- The feed should be served in feeding troughs.
- Water should be supplied all the time.
Common hygiene or sanitary measures to be adopted in rabbitry include:
- Clean the floor of the rabbitry daily.
- Disinfect the rabbitry at regular intervals to keep it germ-free.
- Clean the feed and water troughs to prevent contamination.
- Remove dusts and cob-webs from the rabbitry.
- Isolate any sick animal for treatment.
- Remove and bury dead animal.
- Deworm the rabbits at regular intervals.
- Treat the rabbits with drugs such as antibiotics and coccidiostats (Prophylactic).
- Keep the surrounding of the rabbitry weed-free.
- Provide a disinfectant bath or foot dip at the entrance to prevent introduction of germs into the rabbitry by visitors.
Diseases of Rabbits
Common diseases of rabbits include:
- Ear canker mange.
- Sore hock.
- Mastitis (nipple inflammation).
Causative agent: Coccidiosis is caused by protozoon.
The symptoms include:
- passing of soft faeces which may be blood stained.
- loss of appetite.
- loss of weight.
- death in severe cases.
Control measures include:
- Treatment of sick animals with coccidiostat.
- Raising rabbits on wire/raised cages.
- Prophylactic use of coccidiostats in feeds.
Causative agent: Enteritis is caused by protozoa, feed changes, stress or through poisoning.
- High temperature.
- Diarrhoea which smells unpleasantly.
- Loss of appetite.
- Watery faeces.
- Avoid lumping together the young with different litters.
- Apply appropriate drugs (antibiotic).
- Maintain good sanitation practices.
- Adopt good feeding regime/programme.
3) Ear Canker
Causative agent: Ear canker is caused by mange mite.
- brown scab inside the auditory canal.
- swelling and painful ear.
- ear scratching.
- Treat affected ear with appropriate drug (liquid parafin on cotton wool);
- isolate affected animal;
- invite a veterinary doctor;
- use of miticides.
Causative agent: This disease is caused by feeding disorder (when animals eat too much green feed too fast) and also when feeding on mouldy feed.
Symptoms include: distended stomach/abdomen and respiratory difficulty.
- Feed animals with balanced diet.
- Do not allow the animals to get too hungry before feeding.
Causative agent: It is caused by virus.
- Runny nose.
- High fever.
- Isolate infected ones.
- Destroy (bury or burn) dead ones.
- Treat with antibiotics to reduce cross infection.
Causative agent: Helminthiasis is caused by worms
- Poor growth.
- Death in high infestation.
- Deworm regularly.
- Practise good sanitation.
Causative agent: Ringworm is caused by fungus.
- Circumscribed lesion on skin.
- Loss of hair on affected skin.
- Use of fungicide to cure lesions.
- Isolate affected animals.
Causative agent: Sore-hock is caused by pressing the hock against hard structure which leads to injury and infection.
Symptoms include: raising up the hock when in sitting position.
- Dress wound with disinfectant solution.
- Cover wound with antibiotics dressing.
Finishing of Rabbit to Market Weight
The adult doe does not have any particular heat period. The presence of a buck could stimulate the doe to come on heat. The gestation period of doe is 31 days.
Prior to kindling, nest boxes and bedding materials are provided for the doe in the hutch. The doe can give birth to four to eight litters at a time. The young ones are fed first with colostrum and after two to three days on milk produced by the doe. After about four to eight weeks, the young rabbits (fryers) are weaned and they will start to feed on solid food and green feed as well. Growth is rapid and in the absence of diseases and parasites, coupled with good feeding programmes and management, the rabbit will mature after attaining 4-5kg at four to six months of age.
Rabbit should never be lifted by their ears or legs as that might permanently injure them. Small rabbits or fryers may be lifted and carried comfortably without hurting them by grasping the loin (between the hips and ribs), with the heel of the hand towards the tail of the animal. For heavy rabbits, grasp a fold of skin over the shoulder and lift, holding the rabbit against the body with its head under an arm, the fore-arm being extended along the side of the animal and the head under its rump for support. This prevents struggling and the rabbit may be carried comfortably.