Rabbits provide meat and other products, and can be quickly sold for cash or turned into a nutritious meal when needed. With careful attention, they are not difficult to raise. With a society that is now more health conscious, many more people are now consuming white meat. Rabbit meat is tasty and has low fat content. This has resulted in a high demand for rabbit meat from individuals and the hotel industry, an opportunity the youth can take advantage of to make income. In Nigeria one kilogram sells for about between N1500 and N2000. The best breeds available in East Africa are California White, Chinchilla, New Zealand White, Flemish Giant, Angola, Earlop, Paramino, Dutch, Agut, Rex, Checquered and Franskvendor
How to start rabbit keeping
The first thing needed is a decision on the sort of pen (hutch) to be built. A good one should be three feet long by two feet wide. This is enough room for a single rabbit. One only requires a little space on which to put elevated sheds. The initial capital for constructing a hutch is minimal. One can also use scrap wood and buy a roll of wire to enclose it. One can also have the cage under a house roof that saves costs and well utilizes space. To start, one needs a doe (female) and a buck (male). Once the kindling begins, the colony increases rapidly. One doe is capable of yielding about 30 to 40 rabbits a year. If one starts the business having borrowed the initial rabbits, within half a year one can return live rabbits of the same age. Rabbits produce litters of six to ten offspring after a gestation period of only 30 days.
A rabbit requires very little feed and water. It is easy to feed them as they can eat a variety of foods. Rabbits are monogastric (single stomach), herbivorous (eat plant material) animals. They feed on forage such as grass and leaves, or leftover food. Forage should be kept off the cage floor by tying it together in a bunch and hanging it from the ceiling or wall of the cage. This prevents the food from contamination by urine and droppings. Wet forage could lead to diarrhoea and even death. If forage is wet when harvested, it should be allowed to dry for a few hours first before it is fed to the rabbits. Rabbit feeds can also be prepared from many readily available ingredients. Containers for water and food should be clean. Rabbits need clean water at least twice a day.
Health of rabbits
To know if your rabbits are healthy check out for signs such as a smooth coat, standing ears, clear eyes, quiet breathing, no mange (scabies) forming crusts around the nose, eyes, at the edges of the ears or inside the ears as a dirty mass. Put the animals on the ground or a table with a rough surface and lift the front part of the animal to watch for irregular legs, inspect the anus to see whether it is dirty from diarrhoea, which is often the case in young rabbits. Check the stomach (abdomen) of the animal. It should feel soft but smooth; a spongy feeling may indicate some intestinal troubles. Watch for sneezing. Dirty front legs and/or a dirty nose may indicate a coughing disease (pasteurellosis), because the animal ‘rubs’ its nose with its front legs. Pneumonia and diarrhoea are the two common ailments that may attack rabbits but they are easily countered by sheltering rabbits in a warm and clean environment. Cures are also readily available at agro vets
For one to be a successful farmer, it is good for one to join networks or associations that enhance farming capacities and on value addition. In Nigeria there is the AFAN Grasscutter &Rabbit Breeders Association of Nigeria. They have plans to create viable rabbit enterprises for members in the country. Joining any of the available networks or association would help to foster sales when the rabbits are due for sales.