RABBIT farming is fast becoming one of the most profitable small stock ventures for local farmers as the demand for rabbit meat is increasing on the local market.
Of late, locals are trying different types of meat which is not chicken, beef or pork.
Locals are also switching to more healthy meat with less fat. As such, rabbit meat has become a perfect replacement for chicken since it is also white meat.
Rabbits are fairly easy to keep and are very profitable as the feed costs are low due to the fact that they eat a variety of foods.
Agribusiness expert Clive Masarakufa said an increasing number of farmers in Zimbabwe are keeping rabbits due to the high profits.
“Demand for rabbits is high and there is a lot of potential for growth of the market,” he said.
“Before you start rabbit farming in Zimbabwe, you have to decide how many rabbits you want to keep, where you are going keep them and your target market.
“The number of rabbits you keep will depend on the size of land and capital you have, and also the size of your target market.”
Masarakufa said land is the key input for a farmer considering rabbit farming.
“A large enough area must be available for erecting the necessary rabbit hutches,” he said.
“It is advisable to locate the rabbit farming project nearer to good roads as that will help minimise costs and enable the farmer have access to and from the project.
“There should also be a reliable source of clean water that can be used for both human and animal consumption, such as boreholes and rivers.
“In case of inadequate water source, a reservoir could be constructed.”
Rabbits, said Masarakufa, are flexible when it comes to housing, as compared to other livestock.
He said it is not necessary to have elaborate and expensive housing.
“Rabbits can be housed in anything from simple wire cages to outside hutches or large scale rabbits buildings,” he said.
“It is essential that the rabbits housing provide the correct amount of space for the rabbits because they need proper space to eat, sleep, hide, jump, dig and play.
“The housing should be easy to clean and maintain, should have adequate ventilation and should be safe for rabbits to breed, live and raise their kits.”
There are two common housing systems used in rabbit farming – the deep litter system and the cage system.
The deep litter system is whereby the rabbits are kept on the floors, for example on concrete floors with bedding spread on the floor.
The cage system on the other hand is whereby the rabbits are kept in cages and these can either be indoor or outdoor cages.
According to Masarakufa, additional equipment needed include feeders, drinkers and nest boxes.
“If you are using the caging system, some type of rabbit cages come inbuilt with the drinking, feeding system and the nest boxes,” he said.
“Nest boxes will be required when the does (female rabbits) give birth.
“There are two types of cages you will require and one of them is breeders cage for the does.
“They will give birth to the kits (young ones of a rabbit) in the cage, and will lactate the kits there.
“Thus the breeders cage should be big enough to accommodate the doe and its kits.”
The weaners cage, where the rabbits stay from weaning till they are slaughtered, is another prerequisite for farmers.
Masarakufa noted that rabbit breeding stock is an important input required to start rabbit farming.
“These are bucks (male rabbits) and does (female rabbits),” he said.
“When choosing breeding stock for rabbit production, you should be very cautious of the rabbit’s history, so always select rabbits that are strong and have an overall appearance of good health.
“Always request to see the records of the parents of the breeding stock you are purchasing.
“The offspring from does producing less than six litters per year should not be considered for breeding stock.
“Bucks pass on good meat qualities.”
There are different breeds of rabbits used in commercial rabbit farming in Zimbabwe.
The popular ones are the Californian White, New Zealand White, New Zealand Red, Chinchilla Grey, Flemish Giant and Zika (the indigenous breed).
The New Zealand breed is the most popular breed for meat production and it matures early. It has a large litter size (number of young ones born per pregnancy).
Rabbits can be fed with pellets and can be supplemented with other foods.
They eat a wide variety of foods, including grains (maize, rapoko, wheat, sunflowers), grasses, weeds (blackjack), hay, fruits (melons, mazhanje, aka uapaca kirkiana), tree leaves (mangos tree leaves, bananas tree leaves), vegetables (cabbage leaves, lettuce, spinach, carrots, beans and rape, among others), ground nut leaves and rapoko stalks.
Plenty of water is a must as it makes it easier for rabbits to digest food.