When African swine fever (ASF) hit the country at the time when the country was also experiencing the havoc brought about by the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), many people suggested raising rabbits in their backyards.
The Department of Agriculture (DA) fully supported the idea. In fact, then Agriculture Secretary William Dar told the Bureau of Animal Industry (BAI) to support the production and distribution of rabbit for meat consumption and livelihood.
“Rabbit meat can be a healthy alternative to pork,” said Dar.
Some people heeded the call. One of them is Mark Anthony L. Lawani, the municipal environment and natural resources officer of Tarragona, Davao Oriental. “Rabbit meat is not comparable to pork,” he pointed out. “It’s better than pork.”
A former agricultural extension worker of the Mindanao Baptist Rural Life Center, a non-government organization based in Bansalan, Davao del Sur, Lawani knows the ways and means of raising rabbits.
He asked his son, Mark Timothy, if he was alright with the idea. When the son agreed, they started raising rabbits in April 2020 with two does and one buck. His son took care of the management and feeding of rabbits. Before and after office work, he also tries to help his son.
When the rabbits proliferated already, he started butchering some of them as pork was unavailable or if it was being sold, the price was too high.
Some of his neighbors noticed it. There were those who thought rabbits are pets and should not be eaten. But others believe rabbits are an excellent source of protein. “I offered them a free taste of rabbit lechon and sisig; those who like it said they will buy a pair for raising,” Lawani said.
When asked if he thinks raising rabbits is a good venture, he replied: “Yes, of course, considering it only requires a little of your time and low capital investment.”
John Harvey M. Sumala, of Malaybalay City, Bukidnon, also thinks so too. But his idea of raising rabbits was not for meat but rather as a stress reliever. “Raising rabbits was my way of dealing with stress,” he said.
But this inkling changed when he learned more about rabbits from reading publications and books on rabbitry. “I found out there are two types of rabbits: the meat type and the pet type. Based on this knowledge, I now raise rabbits for two major reasons: for meat production and for pet purposes.”
Sumala started raising rabbits at the height of the pandemic with only a pair. “It took me several months to multiply my stock as I didn’t know how to raise them properly,” he recalled.
Now, he has 10 breeders which can produce at least 80-100 kittens every month. As he works as a teacher at the Kibalabag Integrated School, he asked his parents and sister to take care of his rabbits when he is not around. “But I personally raise my rabbits when I get back home from work,” he said. “And during weekends and holidays.”
Sumala believed that in order for people to eat rabbit, they need to try it first. “I let them taste for free,” he said. “During birthday celebration, we tried to serve rabbit meat as adobo, lechon and fried. Fortunately, almost all those who tried it had positive feedback. According to them, rabbit meat is almost the same as chicken.”
In the beginning, some neighbors started to raise rabbits. But most of them stopped due to the continuous increase of pellet prices and other necessities in raising rabbits,” he said. “No support from the local government was another possible reason.”
But Sumala doesn’t quit. “As of now, I’m not considering it as purely business but rather just a hobby,” he said. “I raise rabbits for our own consumption.”
He also sells rabbits through social media. “I created a Facebook page so I can advertise my rabbits,” he said. “I also posted in my own account. I likewise joined Facebook groups related to rabbit farming.”
Sumala urged people to eat rabbit meat. “To be honest, both pork and rabbit meat are delicious. But in terms of nutritional status, I would say that rabbit meat is better than pork,” he said. “Rabbit meat has the highest percentage of protein and almost zero cholesterol. It can easily be digested, too.”
More importantly, rabbit meat remains free from being infected with viruses. “Unlike pork, which was highly discouraged because of the threat of ASF. Chickens also have issues with bird flus,” he said.
Raising rabbits is one of the most simple, low-cost food production projects that a farmer can get involved in. Rabbits are easy to care for and can supply meat for the family as well as additional sources of income.
The returns from rabbit raising are quick as the life cycle of the animal is short. In just two months, a farmer will have fryers weighing about two kilograms each; in six months, he will have roasters. These can be used for the table or sold in the market.
“Although raising rabbits is a profitable venture, not too many Filipino farmers are raising them,” says Jethro P. Adang, the MBRLC director.
Most people consider it as an enjoyable hobby not knowing that it can help pay for itself. “Raising rabbits gets in your blood,” Adang says. “Once you’ve had some good rabbits, you want to keep them around. In fact, children would cry if their father would butcher a rabbit.”
In most parts of the country, rabbit raising is concentrated only on those people bent on utilizing abandoned chicken houses and converting them into rabbit hutches. But more than that, farmers should raise rabbits in their farms. It’s also great for urban agriculture.
Unknowingly, rabbit meat was commonly consumed during the mid-20th century as a wartime food. “Rabbit meat is eaten in various other countries as well, including Malta, France, Italy, and China,” wrote Siddhi Camila Lama for livestrong.com.
The website, riseandshinerabbitry.com, enumerates ten reasons why a person should eat rabbit meat: best white meats available on the market; high percentage of easily digestible protein; least amount of fat among all the other available meats; contains less calorie value than other meats; almost cholesterol-free; sodium content is comparatively less than other meats; calcium and phosphorus contents is more than any other meats; there is more edible meat on the carcass than chicken; many health benefits that does not have a strong flavor; and one of the most productive domestic livestock there is.
Lama said that for every 100 grams of domestic rabbit, you get: 20.1 grams of protein, 40% of the daily value (DV); 9% of the DV for iron; 7% of the DV for potassium; 5% of the DV for magnesium; 17% of the DV for phosphorus; 14% of the DV for zinc; 43% of the DV for selenium; 29% of the DV for vitamin B12; 8% of the DV for thiamin; 12% of the DV for riboflavin; 45% of the DV for niacin; 16% of the DV for vitamin B5; and 29% of the DV for vitamin B6.
“The fat content of rabbit meat is fairly low in comparison to other proteins, making lean meat,” Lama wrote.