AGRITRENDS: Raising rabbits in your backyard

“RABBIT meat is white, fine-fleshed and very nutritious. Its protein content – 20 percent – is higher than pork’s 17 percent and chicken’s 19 percent, but is slightly lower than beef’s 22 percent. Producing plenty of rabbit meat for Filipinos will help alleviate the malnutrition problem, especially in children.”

The speaker is Jethro P. Adang, director of the Mindanao Baptist Rural Life Center (MBRLC) in Davao. The center is promoting farm technologies designed to improve the life and health of Filipino farm families.

Adang says the demand for rabbits at the center has been increasing through the years. People from different parts of the island are visiting the center – located at barangay Kinuskusan in Bansalan, Davao del Sur – just to buy rabbits. This has prompted the center to expand its rabbitry.

Nutritionists I interviewed told me that rabbit meat is comparable to chicken meat in terms of color, odor, texture, taste, juiciness, and general acceptability. It’s also leaner; that’s why it’s highly recommended for people whose intake of fats or lipids should be reduced.

But despite its nutritional value and other good characteristics, Filipinos have been slow in accepting rabbit meat as a major food item. For this reason, the demand for rabbits in the country is still generally limited – unlike that of pork, beef, or chicken.

But Adang is optimistic that this will soon change. “It’s only a matter of time,” he says. “With the soaring cost of pork, beef, and other meats, rabbit will soon gain more consumers, especially in those areas where meat is very scarce.”

Adang adds that rabbit culture is fairly easy and the animals are economical to share. “It is easier than raising chickens because rabbits need little space, capital, and attention,” he points out. “These small animals also multiply quickly. They are ideal for backyard projects for low-income rural families.”

Adang advises beginning raisers to start with one male and two females. “It is best to buy them when they’re two months old, right after they are weaned,” he says. “Be sure to buy your breeding stock only from reliable sources.”

Adang has other tips for beginners: “Select young rabbits that are the offspring of prolific does who know how to suckle or nurse their young. Pick out aggressive, well-developed bucks. But bucks and does selected should be both vigorous, healthy, and free from defects.”

Raisers should provide each animal with its own cage, which should be placed in a quiet area that is not directly exposed to sunlight. Bucks and does must be separated because rabbits are territorial animals.

Rabbits are strict vegetarians and should be fed twice daily, once in the morning, and then late in the afternoon. To maximize productivity, the animals should be fed with concentrates. Supplements like greens, roots or bread scraps may be added to the diet.

Scrap table greens may include pechay, mustard, lettuce, cauliflower, camote leaves, malunggay and cabbage. Rabbits also relish peeling of bananas, melons of various kinds, but not the rinds of green papaya and chayote.

Water should be provided at all times. The containers should always be full of fresh, clean drinking water. Rabbits, especially lactating does, drink plenty of water. The containers should be cleaned daily.

Does (females) in heat become restless and lose appetite; their external genitalia become inflamed. When this occurs, the doe in heat should be brought to the buck pen. Since rabbits are territorial, the female should be placed in the male pen. If it’s done the other way, the female may kill the male.

The buck should serve the doe at least two times. The best times to breed the animals are early in the morning (5:00 to 8:00 a.m.) or late in the afternoon (4:00 to 7:00 p.m.). “Be sure not to leave the doe in the pen overnight with the buck,” Jeff reminds.

A pregnant doe has a short gestation period: 28 days to one month or 32 days if it’s an old animal. Build a wooden nest box and line its bottom with rags and shredded newspaper or dry grass. Near delivery date, the doe will become nervous. It may scratch the bottom of the nest, scatter or rearrange box bedding, and pull off its fur and line the nest box with it. At this time, add a vitamin-mineral supplement to its diet.

The does should not be disturbed during kindling. “At kindling time,” explains Adang, “a doe will become extremely nervous. Keep children, dogs, cats, and other animals away.”

A litter may consist of four, eight, or 10 babies; the average is six. A doe may produce three or four litters per year, sometimes more. Yes, rabbits are very prolific animals.

Within 24 hours after delivery, don’t touch any of the young, because a doe that sniffs an alien smell on its young may reject them or worse eat them. It inherited this trait from its wild ancestors; a trait that is still within rabbits of all breeds.

The young rabbits will come out of the nest box after 10 days. They will start eating greens and concentrate when they are about three weeks old. After two months, they are ready to be weaned. At this time, the mother may be rebred; and the young fattened and butchered when five months old.

“It’s a good idea to keep records to facilitate management and control of the stock,” Adang suggests. “Basic information that you should record include age of does, breeding dates, expected date of delivery, and number of young weaned per litter. The more relevant data you record, the easier your operations will be.”

Raising rabbits is definitely easier than keeping chickens or pigs. “Rabbits consume only a little of your time, reproduce rapidly, and are a source of high-quality protein,” Adang concludes. “There’s a lot of idle manpower in the rural and some urban areas. Why not use it for this purpose?”

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