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Rabbit Farming

Rabbit Farming

Rabbit Farming

Rabbits are basically reared for meat, fur and wool. They have great potential to convert the absolute feed into quality products for human beings

Rabbit Farming is easy and profitable business. Limited finance and scientific knowledge with clean, calm and hygienic atmosphere is enough to set up a small commercial rabbitary. For the economic growth of our country, Rabbit growing is considered as one of the best aspects. In the ancient days rabbits were living in forests, hill areas, uncultivated lands etc. but at present it is famous that rabbit are grown as pet animals in township areas and villages. The growing of rabbits is not only for meat purpose but also it should be noted that importance is being offered for their skin and hairs.

Advantages of rabbit for farming are:

  • Rabbits can be fed with high forage, low grain diet that is largely non-competitive with human food.
  • Rabbits have high feed conversion efficiency with feed/grain rations (2.5-3.0 on high grain diet and 3.5-4.0 on high forage, grain free diet).
  • They have a high growth rate attaining market weight of about 2 kg at 12 weeks of age.
  • Rabbits have the potential of being in a constant state of reproduction. They can be crossed within 24 hours of kindling, during post-partum heat.
  • Rabbit meat is a highly nutritious, tasty and excellent in quality. Meat is rich in protein, low in fat, cholesterol and sodium. Thus, can be recommended for cardiac patients.
  • Rabbits are suited to both small scale (backyard) and large-scale commercial production.
  • Rabbit is also utilized for show and exhibition purposes

Breeds
Breed and description of rabbits available in India

Breeds Description
Soviet Chinchilla This breed was evolved in erstwhile USSR. Adults weigh 4.5 to 5 kg. Though this breed is reared for meat its fur is a fancy in fur crafts.
Grey Giant This breed is also a native of erstwhile USSR.   Adults weigh 4.5 to 5 kg. Due to the resemblance of its fur with that of hare, it is often mistaken as hare. It is also reared for meat and fur skin.
Newzealand White This breed was evolved in England. Fur is white and skin is albino. The eye colour is red due to the absence of melanin pigment.  Adult weight is 4.5 to 5 kg. Meat and furskin are the main products.
White Giant White Giant also originated in the erstwhile Soviet Union. It is almost similar in appearance to Newzealand White. Colour of the fur is white while that of the eyes and skin is red. The length of hind limbs as well as body size is larger than that of New Zealand White.
Angora Angora is a very ancient breed of small rabbit weighing around 3 kilograms. It is a wool type rabbit with white fur. Annual wool yield recorded is between 300-1000g in 3 to 4 clippings.
Cross-breds The crosses between the above mentioned breeds and local types have been produced. They are found to be highly adaptive to Kerala conditions. The adult weighs 4 to 4.5 kg and breeds all through the year. Colour of fur is not uniform.

Economic traits in rabbits used for selection

The traits of rabbit, which are instrumental in giving financial benefits to the farmer, are called as economic traits of rabbits. The performance of rabbits in these traits is the basis for selection of breeding animals. These traits are:

Litter size at birth

All the young ones of a kindling constitute a litter. Litter size at birth for the doe is one of the characters which contributes for the economic returns from rabbit rearing. The optimum value should be eight. Some of the kits will be born dead and that should be considered. Average birth weight of kits. Usually birth weight of kits will be less, if number of kits in the litter is more and vice-versa. For survivability of the kits, it should have atleast 40 g body weight at the time of birth. Average birth weight of kits of a litter in broiler rabbits should be 40-50 g or more.

Litter weight at 21-day age (three weeks)

The young kits depend fully on their mother for first 10-12 days of their life. At this time their eyes are not open and the sole feed is mother’s milk. If the doe is good in it’s mothering ability the survivability and growth of bunnies will be more. The litter weight at three weeks age is taken as criteria for measurement of mothering ability of the doe. The optimum value for litter weight at 21 days age is 1.2 - 1.5 kg.

Litter size at 21 days

This trait is also equally important in measuring the mothering ability of doe. The does selected for breeding must have atleast six bunnies in the litter at 21st day.

Weaning weight of litter

The young bunnies are weaned between 30 days and 45 days. The weaning weight of the litter is an important selection criteria. At the time of weaning the body weight of bunnies should be more than 450 gm. Litter weight at weaning must be more than 3 kg.

Litter size at weaning

Atleast 5-6 bunnies should be available from each litter at the time of weaning. More number of weaned bunnies are always advantageous for the farmer.

Number of kindling’s per year per doe

The gestation period of does is thirty days. Number of kindling’s from a doe per year depends on many factors like weaning age, time of maturing, etc. Under our conditions it is advisable to breed the does within a week of weaning. So if weaning is practiced at thirty days, there should be five litters for weaning from each breeding doe. Number of weaned bunnies per year per doe. This is another economically important trait. If five to six bunnies are available for weaning from each litter and if five litters are produced by the doe per year, the number of weaned bunnies from the doe per year should be 25.

Feed conversion efficiency

The basic principle of broiler rabbit industry is to exploit the feed efficiency of broiler rabbits. It is practically impossible to record daily the feed given to each and every rabbit. Hence the number of days taken to attain 2 kg body weight is taken as a yardstick for feed conversion efficiency. Animals who attain 2 kg body weight at lower age are assumed to be better converters of feed and are selected as breeding animal.

Handling

The rabbits should always be handled firmly but gently. A rabbit should be picked up by a firm grip on the loose skin over the scruff of the neck with one hand and the other hand supporting the hindquarters. Young rabbits can be lifted by grasping them firmly over the loins, the fingers on one side and thumb on the other

Ideal Environment for Rabbit Rearing 

(a) Lighting
Light has got paramount importance concerning reproductive efficiency. Natural or artificial light is required to be provided. If a buck is not provided with light exposure at least for 8 to 12 hours, its spermatogenesis will be hampered. On the other hand, a breeding doe will require at least 6 hours light exposure for its sexual performance and fertility. It is better to provide artificial light in the rabbit as per situation of natural light. It may be suggested to use 100 watt bulb or 40 watt fluorescent tube 2 metre above the ground at a difference of 3 metre for a period of 16 hours. When the day light falls, in that case light may be kept on at 6 a.m. and off at 8 p.m. Light should not be switched on or off very suddenly since this may make the rabbit to leap here and there due to agony leading to fracture and other injuries. Much lighting is not required for young rabbit only 1 to 2 hrs will do.

(b) Temperature 
Rabbits can tolerate a wide variation of temperature ranging from 5°C to 33°C. But, the ideal comfortable temperature required by the rabbits ranges from 10°C to 26°C. The winter temperatures in Indian climate in most of the places excepting hilly regions are conducive to rabbit’s health. Rabbits in general, can tolerate the cold wave rather than the hot wave. Temperature in summer time may cause heat stress in rabbits. Therefore, adequate measures should be taken to reduce heat stress through cooling and good ventilation. Care should be taken to avoid draught. Adult rabbit can minimize hot through stretching of their bodies. Similarly to conserve heat they curl in lowered environmental temperature. But, young rabbit may not adjust with the surrounding fluctuation of temperature and may die. This aspect should be well taken care of by the rabbit keeper.

(c) Humidity 
 From systemic point of view rabbits can not tolerate too much moist condition. Humidity in rabbit house should remain within 50% level. All devices should be applied during rainy season to minimize humidity level. High temperature along with high humidity may adversely affect the health of rabbits. All the watering equipments should be kept in such a way so that there is no leakage of water. Water bottles can be kept outside to avoid breakage and thus accelaration of humidity level.

(d) Ventilation
A clean dirt and smoke free environment are the essential attributes for free breathing of rabbits. There should be proper arrangement for free movements of air. The location for air free zones in the house should be taken care of. The requirement of comfortable fresh air is most needed during the hot days in the summer. Strong draught should be avoided as far as possible. Some shady trees may be planted near and around the rabbitry to allow cool air during summer.

(e) Noise
Though there is no specific information available regarding the impact of sound pollution of rabbits but as a general practice noise should be avoided as far as possible. Noise may pose detrimental effect on the health of the rabbits since it may interfere with the copulatory instinct and maternal characters.

FEED REQUIREMENTS OF RABBIT

The nutritional requirement of rabbits, as is in the case of other mammals, varies according to age and productive performance.To obtain effective feeding efficiency, diets should be formulated to meet the needs of animals of a particular age or stage of production.Most rabbit farms are not large enough to justify the use of several different feeds, so it is a common practice to use just one diet for the entire herd. Since rabbit farming is becoming more intensive, it is suggested that rabbit producers should use at least two diets, a grower diet for fryers and a lactation diet for does.

(a) Nutrient Requirements for Growth

Creep diets.Creep diets are those diet which are fed to baby since requirements for growth are highest in them. This is decreased with increase of age. The baby rabbit is capable of a much greater growth rate than in commonly observed with this diet. In view of the higher cost of creep diet, creep feeding does not appear to be an economically sound practice in rabbit production now a days.

(b) Nutrition Requirement at Weaning
It is the period when as animals diet changes from milk to solid feeds. It is suggested that at weaning, a high-fibre, low-starch diet might be beneficial, followed by a switch to two weeks later to a high-starch diet; at which time the capacity of the animal to digest starch might be higher.For maximum production efficiency, a feeding system using a highly palatable, high-fibre diet at weaning with a switch to a high carbohydrate fattening ratio may be beneficial.

(c) Requirement of Diets at Gestation/Lactation
Lactating does have higher requirements for protein, energy, calcium and phosphorus than do fryers. For maximum production at least 18% CP is required. Since, does in commercial leads are simultaneously pregnant and lactating, the same diet can be used for both gestation and lactation. During periods when does are not with litters, restricted feeding should be practiced to avoid obesity.Peak lactation in rabbits occur 21 days post kindling. In does bred 24-48 hr. postpartum, milk production declines rapidly after 21 days of lactation, and the mammary glands prepare for the initiation of a new lactation period.

(e) Complementary Diets
In certain conditions, particularly with the small scale rabbit production, it may be desirable to feed hay or greens free of choice and supplement this diet with a restricted quantity of high energy, high protein concentrate.

The selection of breeding buck and doe is very much important aspect of breeding since good progeny is expected from good buck and doe. One has to consider the breeding stock in terms of fertility, maternal instinct, milk yield, growth rate, fecundity and viability.

(a) Buck

The male rabbit is known as buck. A buck develops its breeding capabilities at the age of 8 months. An ideal buck should continue to maintain its reproductive ability at least for 2 to 3 years. A young buck may be allowed to mate one doe at an interval of 3 to 4 days. But, from 12 months of age onwards it may mate 4-6 does in 7 days. A buck beyond 6 years of age should be culled since semen quality declines. In order to keep the buck healthy additional protein, vitamin and minerals are to be supplemented in diet. Two breeding bucks should not be kept in same place as they will fight each other and cause injury.

(b) Doe

The female rabbit is known as doe. A doe should have the perfectability to reproduce. A doe becomes capable to reproduce based on breed,nutritional status and seasons. The smaller breeds attain sexual maturity earlier than larger breeds. A small breed may accept mating at 3-4 monthsof age whereas the larger breed may accept mating at 8-9 months of age.A doe can be used for breeding up to the age of 3 years and culling shouldbe made afterwards.

 Reproduction

(a) Ovulation


The rabbit belongs to a group of mammals which do not ovulate spontaneously. There is no oestrus cycle. Ovulation requires stimulus of mating and thus induced in nature. Sexual stimulation with copulation or in response to exogenous, gonadotropins, ovulation takes place. Sometime females may stimulate each other to the point of stimulation. This type of ovulation is expected in does becoming pseudo pregnant or sterile for few days. Ovulation is apt to occur within the range of 9-13 hours. But, generally it takes place at 10 hours following mating.It is thought that does may remain in constant heat throughout the year or in breeding season. But, it is known that follicles develop and regress in cycles of 15-16 days. There is a lack period when the doe may loose interest for the buck. Ovulation can also be induced through mechanical stimulation of vagina.

(b) Mating

A doe whether is in heat condition or not is difficult to recognize outwardly. But, does may show some manifestations like restlessness, nervousness, rubbing of head and chin on the side of the cage or other objects. The vulva becomes swollen and purple in colour. But, acceptability of the does to the bucks or does reaction to bucks should be taken as a criteria for heat. Therefore, detection of heat through buck should be made before allowing for copulation.

The approximate age of first mating is around 5-6 months of age. As a rule doe should be taken to the cage of buck but never be done vice versa to avoid fighting. Early morning and early evening are the most conducive time for mating. A receptive doe will lift her tail and allow mating. Males vary greatly in their sexual drive. A buck may be slow in performing the service to a strange cage. If a buck is virile and doe in perfect heat, mating will occur almost immediately. After successful mating the buck usually produces a typical cry and falls down to one side of the doe. One mating is usually sufficient. If a female does not allow in that case keeper should wait for 3 to 4 days or assist in mating holding the female. After mating the doe should be returned to her cage.

In a commercial rabbit farmers would like to have five or six litters per doe per year. This is possible only by weaning the litter at five weeks of age and mating the doe immediately following weaning. Each breeding cycle will take 65 to 75 days. This can also be achieved by mating the doe 21 days after kindling.

(c) Pregnancy

The gestation (pregnancy) period in rabbit ranges from 28-32 days (approximately 30 days). The nest box is to be kept within the cage to facilitate the doe for preparing bedding for the new born. The nest is to be provided at least 5-6 days before parturition. The nest box should contain nesting materials like straw, grass, wood savings etc. Saw dust should not be used as bedding material. A doe may pullout some of her own hairs to make nest for litters. Adequate measures should be taken concerning feeding and management during pregnancy period. Quantity of feed should be increased for 10 to 15 days of pregnancy. Plenty of fresh water should be provided.Environmental stresses should be avoided as far as possible.

Pregnancy can be detected by various methods:

(a)Through palpation of abdomen by which embryos can be felt by hand. This is best done at about two weeks after mating. This technique can be perfectly done through experience.

(b)Placing the buck near the doe for mating. A buck may not mate the pregnant one.

(c)Uterine swelling-uterus may swell up to 12 mm at 9 days after mating. It may reach 20 mm at 13 days. Only experienced keeper may be able to predict the changes accurately.

(d) Changes in body weight-There are significant change in body weight from mating up to 30 days. Average gain of around 300-400 gm has been suggested from mating to 30 days in large sized rabbit.

(d) Kindling (Parturition)

Process of giving birth of new baby of rabbit is known as kindling. It is a natural physiological phenomenon. The parturition very often takes place at late night or early morning. It may not require any interference by the keeper. The process usually completes within 7-30 minutes. Sometime all the litters may not be born on succession. Some may born after several hours or a day. The pregnancy may required to be terminated through injection of oxytocin. Following parturition the does used to lick the young and may eat the placenta. The baby rabbits will try to suckle the mother. If the number of litter is eight, all may be able to suckle since doe has eight teats. The baby rabbits those will be unable to suckle may turn weak and susceptible to diseases. Many of them may even die prematurely. The does should not be disturbed during this time and be fed ad lilbitum. Adequate food and water should be provided so that optimum amount of milk is available to the baby rabbits. Rabbit used to nurse her young usually at night or early morning only for once. 6-12 baby kids may be barn from a single kindling.

(e) Weaning

Immediately following birth baby rabbits are solely dependent on their mother. They are born naked. But at about 7 days, there is growth of hair and vitality of them. The eyes   used to open after 10 days. The baby rabbits can lead their lives without mothers' milk at about 21 days of age. The young should be removed from their mother not before 4th week. The doe should be removed from the cage. Foods like concentrates and grasses should be provided. The baby rabbits can chew and eat after 3 weeks of age. The does can be rebred provided the physical conditions of them are satisfactory in nature after one week of kindling.