Rabbit Farming in Kenya
For a long time, rabbit farming in Kenya has not been taken seriously. In many African societies, rabbits are considered as pets for young boys. This is however not the case as farmers can now make good money rearing rabbits. We set out to find out more about rabbit farming in Kenya.
Rabbit Farming in Kenya – Introduction
Rabbit production is one of the livestock enterprises with the greatest potential and room for expansion in Kenya. This is because of their minimal investment requirements and ability to reproduce fast. Their feed requirement is low, especially with regard to demand for grain. Their housing and disease control management requirements are also low yet their meat is highly nutritious and healthier source of protein when compared with other sources of meat.
Rabbit production has experienced a steady growth in the past few years, with gender biases associated with its production fading away. This is a significant change considering that for many years rabbit production in Kenya was confined to the youth, mainly 4-K club members and young farmers. Though rabbit meat marketing is yet to gain ground, there is hope that with the growing awareness of the benefits of rabbit meat, it will be possible for rabbit meat to be introduced into the regular meat market.
The realization that rabbits are well suited to rapid production of protein has increased the number of industrialized production units just like in poultry. The most popular breeds used in the meat industry are the New Zealand White, Californian, Flemish Giant, French Ear lop, Chinchilla and Dutch. Other breeds include the Angora primarily kept for fur and as pets; most of the locally available breeds are cross breeds.
Important Facts About Rabbit Farming in Kenya and Rabbit Meat
- Rabbits grow fast especially if fed well reaching maturity at 5 months and slaughter weight at 3 months.
- They require less land (space) with diminishing land size; therefore can be kept at the backyard.
- They can derive their feed requirement entirely on greens only.
- They are prolific each doe capable of reproducing 4 times a year an average of 8 kits per kindling.
- They have one of the highest feed conversion ratios at 4:1.
- Rabbit meat is white meat of high quality, easily digestible with low fat, low cholesterol and high protein compared to most other meats
- The unsaturated fats (good fats) in rabbit meat make 63% of the total fatty acids
- Rabbit meat is lower in percentage fat than chicken, turkey, beef and pork
- Rabbit meat provides the lowest calories per kilogram of meat consumed compared to other sources of meat.
- Rabbit meat is one of the cleanest meat as it is raised off the ground
- Other important products from rabbits include manure, skins and fur. They can also be produced as lab animals
Rabbit Farming in Kenya – Maturing Period
Rabbits have a maturing period of 4 – 5 months after which they can start reproducing. A female rabbit gives birth every 2 months (60 days) to a litter of 6 on average after a gestation period of between 28 and 31 days. The litter number may be more in some cases. The weaning period(suckling) is 28-31 days after which a farmer should start feeding them on hay and pellets.
Benefits of Rabbit Farming in Kenya
Rabbit keeping is cheaper, more efficient, and more productive than other agricultural businesses including poultry farming. This is partly because rabbit feed is much more easily available and constructing a rabbit hutch is very simple.
Rabbits are cheap to keep
Apart from meat, Rabbit skin and fur can be sold separately providing extra income. The skin and fur is used to make expensive coats in the western world where hunting of foxes has been banned. Additionally, rabbits produce dung, which is excellent manure.
They are also used as testing specimens by laboratories. The breed usually determine how they are used.
Rabbit Farming in Kenya – Start up Costs
A Rabbits cost around Ksh.350 at the age of 1-2 months. The price of mature rabbits depends on weight and size. Mature rabbits can have a live weight of 5 – 6 kg.
You can buy breeding stock to start with from local breeders. Rabbits start to breed at the age of 6 to 7 months and give birth after a month of gestation. Female rabbits can produce up to 50 live rabbits per year. They produce an average of 9 kits per birth.
How to Start Rabbit Farming in Kenya
To start your rabbit farm, prepare a rabbit hutch that is well lit and well ventilated with heating and cooling systems. You can build the hutch from scrap materials. Metal cages are usually recommended for its ease of cleaning.
Equip the hutch with feed and water basin and a nest box. To keep your start up cost low, you can construct rabbit housing yourself from available construction materials you have. Cleanliness is important to ensure that the rabbits do not get sick.
Rabbit Market in Kenya
There a high demand for rabbit meat in Kenya. Mostly the meat is sold to restaurants and hotels who serve it as an exotic dish and charge up to Ksh.1000 per plate.Rabbit farmers are therefore keen to sell to big hotels and restaurants.
Local butcheries sell rabbit meat at Ksh.250 per kilo while Supermarkets can sell it for up to Ksh 500 per kilo.
Benefits of Rabbits Farming in Kenya
You can also breed rabbits to be used for controlled experiments in laboratories. Breeding rabbits for laboratories has different demands because you will have to meet specifications such as weight and age.
It is important to identify your market segment before you embark on the venture. However you will not lack a market for your products once it is ready.
Rabbit farming can be a sustainable way to provide protein-rich high quality meat to a family. There is little space needed as opposed to a cattle farm, and from a small invest a rabbit farm can create a decent income, even part-time. Rabbits can be bred for their meat and also their hide and fur to make clothes or other items.
Rabbit farming can be for anyone with the desire to raise livestock for a living. A farmer with no land will enjoy this trade as little space is required. Young adults not sure which path to take educationally can benefit from a farming life. A stay at home mother can tend to the rabbits and keep her children entertained at the same time.
Rabbit farming is affordable. It does not take many rabbits to start a farm. They are excellent breeders and the farm will grow steadily with about 8-12 rabbits per litter. Rabbits are easily fed with available greens from around the yard and waste vegetables and grains from around the house. If compared to other meats, rabbit meat contains more protein and less fat than most. It can be fed to small toddlers and aging adults because it is easy to digest.
There are two ways to rear the rabbits. Both systems need a shed or shelter to protect the rabbits from predators and the elements. A Deep Litter System is used when rearing a small amount of rabbits. This option is more likely in an urban setting. Using a concrete floor will prevent the rabbits from digging holes and escaping the structure. Wood shavings, paddy straw or husk can be laid down about 4-6 inches thick and should be big enough to house about 30 rabbits at a time. Males should always be housed separately to keep population under control. It would be optimal for the urban farmer to have an area where the rabbits can eat free range outside of their shelter while under supervision and then locked up safely while indoors and overnight.
Cage systems can be elaborate and used for bigger farms. However not many rabbits enjoy them so they will not be advocated here. Sustainable farming should always include the best possible environment for the animals even when rearing for slaughter.
As a self sufficient hobby, rabbit farms are regaining popularity for city dwellers wishing to provide healthy food to their families. With the added incentive of extra income, small scale rabbit farming is a good investment to a sustainable future for a single family.
Rabbit Farming in Kenya – Housing and Routine practices
Rabbit Housing Requirements:
- The house must protect the rabbits and keep them from escaping
- The house must protect the rabbits from predators
- The house must protect the rabbits from adverse weather
- The house should allow easy, comfortable access for the manager
- The house must be self cleaning or easy to clean
- The house should be of reasonable cost, easy to maintain and be durable.
- Ideally, rabbits should be kept in cages either outdoor with extended roofs or indoor where the cages are kept inside buildings on platforms.
- A rabbit unit should be well ventilated, rain-proof and allows some sunlight
Rabbit Housing Dimensions
- Standard cages for rabbits should measure: L=80cm, W=60cm, H=45cm.
- For pregnant does or does with young kits, a provision for a nesting box of 30cm by 30cm.
- Usually weld mesh wire is preferred because of ease in maintaining cleanliness. The quality of available weld mesh wire in Kenya is however poor and does not last long
- Many farmers have thus resorted to using all-wooden cages or wooden plus weld mesh wire cages.
- Multi-tier cages are becoming popular because they safe on space. More than two-tier cages are however not recommended because of difficulties in management.
An outdoor hutch plan for 6 doe and 1 buck breeding unit (economic unit):
Rabbit Farming in Kenya – Handling Rabbits
The ears alone should never be used as the sole means of holding the rabbit. The best method is to grasp the ears and the skin close to the head with one hand while the other hand takes the full weight of the rabbit at the hips. For young rabbits up to about 3-4 months old, a suitable method is to grasp the animal across the loins.
Rabbit Farming in Kenya – Sexing
A part from the sex organs, physically the buck is usually smaller than the doe and often has a broader head. In the buck, a protruding sex organ appears as a rounded tip, while in the doe the organ is slit-like or v-shaped, and will slope slightly downwards towards the anus. When the bucks are mature the penis and testicles are easily observed.
Rabbit Farming in Kenya – Identification
It is important to properly identify your rabbits in order to help you keep records about them. The most common ways of identification for rabbits include tattooing and ear notching. Tattooing is the most relevant in rabbits due to their high turnover. For exhibition purposes rings with official marks are used.
Rabbit Farming in Kenya – Records
Keep proper records of all your rabbit unit activities:
Sales and expenses
All these are important to help you understand your rabbit enterprise and for planning. Rabbits with breeding records help avoid inbreeding and can also fetch premium prices when sold to other farmers.
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