Tuesday 6 August 2013


The domestic rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) has long been associated with man and has contributed to his well-being for many centuries. It is used as food, as an experimental subject in research, for fur production, and is a source of much pleasure as a pet and fancy animal. The rabbit adapts to a great variety of environmental conditions and is found in the wild and domesticated states on every continent.
Rabbit production as an industry is small when compared to the amount of meat produced, and the monetary income derived from poultry and the other livestock industries. However, the contributions of rabbits to research, the aesthetic value of its fur, and the pleasure provided to owners as pets and fancy animals make rabbit raising far more beneficial and significant than its economic value alone.
Most rabbit production units are small, thus many families and individuals are involved. The capital investment needed to begin raising rabbits is not large when compared to that needed by most other livestock industries. The amount of land, equipment and other items required is relatively small. Since the space requirement is not much, it is often possible to raise rabbits near the home on rather small acreages.
Production purposes
1.      Meat
2.      Research and laboratory
3.      Show and fancy.
4.      Youth projects
5.      Miscellaneous uses – pleasure, pets, etc.
Most domestic rabbits are slaughtered for food. Rabbit meat is of high quality, white, appealing and tasty, and tender. The dressing percentage of good quality rabbit is about 60%. Rabbit meat may be cooked in a number of ways, and traditionally it has been prepared in most of the same ways as poultry. The young 8 – week old rabbits are referred to as fryers while the mature rabbits are called roasters.
Rabbits possess many characteristics similar to other species of mammals. The domestic rabbit has been and continues to be used in a variety of experiments both biological and medical, as well as in a variety of physiological, disease, nutritional, and other types of studies. The  unique characteristic of induced ovulation and the habitual practice of coprophagy (eating of faeces) are of special importance in certain types of research. There is therefore a market demand for rabbits as laboratory animals and many producers raise rabbits only for this purpose. This is of course a specialized activity.
Some people are interested in and produce rabbits entirely for the pleasure of breeding and showing fancy animals; and there are a number of breeds which are considered fancy breeds and are seldom sed for other purposes. Such shows not only provide pleasure and a means of exchanging information but also provide an incentive for genetic improvement and good quality rabbit production.
Associated with the production of rabbits for show and fancy, is the pleasure they provide as pets. Pelt production is not a primary objective of raising rabbits, but rabbit furs are used in the manufacture of clothing. Pelts (skin of fur-bearing animals, used as garments) from some breeds are highly prized for making coats, gloves and other items, and those from the slaughter of fryer rabbits are generally used in the manufacture of Pelt (fabric of wool, often mixed with fur or hair, worked together with pressure, heat, chemical process, etc., without weaving or knitting).
1.      Rabbit production requires relatively low capital to start.
2.      Feed cost is minimal as rabbits depend extensively on forages; feed materials are mostly obtained free of charge, or at minimal costs.
3.      Generation intervals and maturity periods are short and as such, in the face of animal protein shortages in Nigeria, the potential of rabbits to augument the total animal protein supply in Nigeria is indeed quite high.
4.      Rabbits are neat, non-smelly and non-noisy animals, and as such can be kept near human houses, school buildings or even around offices without causing health hazards, particularly through environmental pollution.
5.      Because of the small size of rabbit a family can use a rabbit for “one meal” thereby not requiring storage facilities.
6.      Rabbit has a “popular choice” advantage because there are no known taboos restricting the production and consumption of rabbit.
7.      Rabbit meat is white meat, a source of high quality protein, low in fat, and therefore has low tendency to deposit cholesterol. The meat is recommended for people who have heart problems and those convalescing after sickness.
8.      It is a good research animal, particularly in medicine since it possesses a physiology similar to that of man.
9.      Basic skills of livestock  rearing are easily acquired with rabbit rearing. Rabbit responds to careful handling but can withstand the occasional rough handling of a beginner.
10.  Rabbit is friendly and harmless and therefore can be handled by the handicapped who enjoy caring for and managing them.
To appreciate the need for proper handling and a good knowledge of the appropriate handling techniques are veritable instruments for an effective management of rabbits. Wrong handling method is a source of stress to the rabbit and this can up-set its temperament and make it cruel. This situation becomes more obvious because the skeleton of rabbit is not strong and in case of sudden drop of a ro   its backbone may break causing paralysis.
There is varying temperame between and within breeds of rabbits. While some domestic rabbits are docile and easy to handle, some others are aggressive and resort to biting.
It is wrong to chase a rabbit round its hunch. The correct approach is for the farmer to use a board to trap the rabbit in a corner of the hutch.
Farmers should avoid lifting rabbit by its ears because it is painful, and may cause stretching of the ears at their bases and they may droop when they should be erect.
During handling, rabbits should be talked to in a soothing voice.
i.                    Scruff method
ii.                  Pelvis method
i.                    The Scruff Method
In this method, the handler must trim his finger nails. The rabbit should be lifted by the skin behind the ears and supported by placing the other hand under the hindquarters. The farmer should avoid struggling and kicking.
ii.                   The Pelvis Method
This method is recommended for young rabbits only. in this method, the young rabbit is lifted by the pelvis or skin and quickly transferred either from hutch to basket or vice versa.
If rabbit is to be transferred for short distances, it is easier for the handler and more comfortable for the rabbit to be held close to the handler’s body. In this practice it is common to see rabbit tucking its face into a corner of the handler’s arm. On the other hand, if rabbit is to be transported to long distances, provision should be made for a “transport box” which should be fairly dark inside but ventilated. The box should preferably have a cover (lid) and the box possibly kept inside the hutch to accustom rabbit before transport. There is need to clear and disinfect the transport box each time it is used.
Like every other animal, rabbit interacts with its habitat. The elements of rabbit environment include:
-          The rabbit keeper
-          The rabbit itself
-          The hutch micro-climate: temperature, humidity and air movement.
-          The hutch space
-          Predators such as snakes, gods, etc.
It is good practice for a rabbit keeper to modify the rabbit environment with a view to providing optimum circumstances for production.
The rabbit employs some behavioural factors in the environment, e.g. when the ambient temperature is high, the rabbit stretches out itself to lose heat but when too cold, It curls up. When it breathes faster, it increases blood circulation to the ear. When the rabbit feels too cold, it curls up to keep itself warm, while it quickly runs and hides at the corners if it is frightened or disturbed.
The domestic rabbit is a homeotherm because its body temperature swings within specific limits in order to keep alive. The normal temperature of the rabbit (rectal temperature) is 37 – 39.50C (99 – 1030F). The body temperature is maintained by burning or breaking down food in its body or by working to keep warm e.g. by shivering. The ambient temperature determines the gain or loss of heat by rabbits. It excess heat is promptly dissipated, the animals gains an excess heat load which consequently causes “heat stress”.
Methods of Heat Loss in Rabbits
(a)    Evaporation of moisture from the body surface.
(b)   Conduction: This method involves the loss of heat through solid material e.g. heat of the rabbit feet is conducted by the hutch floor.
(c)    Convection: Heat is lost through convection when the body heats up air and the air moves away heat from the rabbit.
(d)   Radiation: This involves the loss of heat in direct waves from the body.
Heat is a critical constraint to rabbit production because rabbit is not adequately adapted for rapid heat loss.
Heat stress is mostly initiated by sudden rise in ambient temperature to which the rabbit cannot easily acclimatize. Other causes of heat stress include: exposure of rabbit to direct sunshine which causes the rabbit to admit more heat from the sun than the rabbit can tolerate. The rabbit finds it difficult to lose heat thus building up its heat load and subsequently stress results. Also, the construction of rabbit hutches with metals such as tin could make the hutch always too hot especially during the dry season or on sunny days. This affects the temperature of the rabbit, thus subjecting it to stress. Absence of shade exposes the hutch to much heat of the sun. if, however, there is free air movement, the temperature moderating effect is guaranteed. The absence of shade and restricted air movement also contributes substantially to heat stress in rabbits.
The prevailing circumstances is that the rabbit may be unable to lose enough heat thereby causing its rectal temperature to rise above the normal range thus causing heat stress.
Effects of Heat Stress
i.                    Ambient temperature above 200C causes reduction in food intake.
ii.                  There is increase in water intake arising from the need to reduce the rabbit’s body temperature.
iii.                Growth rate or rate of gain reduces.
iv.                When the ambient temperature is above 250C, there is impaired reproduction.
In temperate regions, sexual activity of the wild rabbit is known to be affected by changes in day length. Photoperiod stimulates the commencement and cessation of reproduction. Changes in day length are not significant in the tropics and their effects are not known. However, keeping a rabbit in a dark environment will cause a cessation of reproduction.
Biological characteristics of the rabbit in terms of gross anatomy and physiology are similar to those of other domestic animals. In terms of growth, new born rabbits grow rapidly and more than double the birth weight by one week if the doe is lactating normally. At 2-4 weeks, when growth is still dependent upon the mother’s milk, the weight is approximately 12% of the adult weight. By 8 weeks, the weight approaches 40% of the mature weight.
The females are larger than males in most breeds and weights shown after 8 weeks reflect this.
Milk production of the doe and the number of young per litter have a major effect on early growth. At 6 weeks of age, when most of the weight is dependent upon milk consumed, the weight of individual young in a litter of 8 or 9 will be about 80-85% of the weight of the young in a litter of 4.
The rabbit has been referred to as pseudo-ruminant, but the digestive system doe not function like that of ruminant and is rather characteristic of monogastric animals.
The term ‘pseudo-ruminant’ has been applied to the rabbit because it consumes and recycles a portion of its fecal matter (coprophagy) during which process certain nutrients synthesized in the lower intestinal tract including ceca in colon are made available to the rabbit. Digestion of food nutrients takes place under the influence of enzymes as is characteristic of other monogastric animals. Significant synthesis of some of the B-vitamins and possibly some amino acids takes place in the lower intestinal tract (primarily in the cecum and large intestine, by microbial action).
Since the rabbit is herbivorous, consuming the vegetable portion of plants as well as the seeds, it is assumed that the rabbit can digest and utilize significant amounts of crude fibre. Actually the rabbits digests relatively small amounts of fibre, probably less than 20%. The fibre digestion however, does not take place in the cecum, since when the cecum is removed, there is little or no change in the amount of crude fibre digested by the rabbit although there is a decrease in vitamin synthesis.
Copra refers to the act of eating faeces and is a normal practice in rabbits. Animals that practice coprophagy are able to obtain some nutrients, especially water soluble vitamins, which have been synthesized by micro organisms living in the intestinal tract. Rabbits excrete two types of fecal matter: the dry, hard rounded pellets normally observed, and a moist jelly-like material referred to as the soft or night faeces. It is this soft faeces that the rabbits recycle, collecting it directly from the anus as it is excreted. It is not common to see the rabbit consume this soft faeces, it is necessary to collar the rabbit or restrain it in some way.
Coprophagy in the rabbit has been referred to as pseudo-rumination. It aids in digestion but does not correspond to the rumination process characteristic of other ruminants. It is thought that the soft faeces form in the cecum and rapidly pass out through the large intestine with a little time for a change in consistency; hence they appear as clusters, each pellet is surrounded by a membrane. The soft faeces has a higher vitamin and crude protein level than the hard faeces. Thus the practice of coprophagy by rabbits is perfectly normal and is an advantage in digestion and in supplying additional B-vitamins.
If the cecum is removed, coprophagy is not practiced, but both types of faeces are still excreted.
The efficient production of rabbits is largely dependent upon adequate and proper feeding. Feeds make up a large component of the major costs of animal maintenance and of meat production. The quantity of food provided is important, but the quality or type of feed is equally or more important. Poor nutrition can result in slow growth, inefficient reproduction and predisposition to diseases.
In order to provide adequate feeds, a knowledge of the requirements for each nutrient is necessary. When the requirement for any nutrient is not met, the animal may not grow or reproduce normally and may eventually die. On the other hand, supplying in excess amount of a nutrient is neither necessary nor economical. The need therefore to supply a balanced diet cannot be over emphasized. Nutrient requirements vary with age or stage of growth and the reproductive function of the rabbit; maintenance, pregnancy and lactation. The rabbit is a herbivorous animal, subsisting on feeds of plant origin, grass or vegetable type plants in the growing season, and hay or dry forages and seeds in the dry season.
Although rabbits can live and reproduce on these bulky type roughage feeds, some concentrate feed is required for efficient growth and reproduction. At the present, a commercially prepared pelleted diet is available for rabbits.
The most widely used type of housing is a shed or other structure fitted with cages. The size of the building will depend on the number of rabbits kept. In warm climates, the building may consist primarily of a shed which protects the rabbits from rain and direct sun. various construction materials are used, including wood, aluminum and steel.
The building floor is an important consideration. Most commercial rabbitries have concrete floors, and the area directly under the cages usually consists of a drainage bed from which fecal droppings and effluents are removed periodically. Where litter pans are provided, the floors may be concrete but Sloped For Drainage.
The cages or hutches may be arranged in a number of different ways inside the building. The common arrangement consists of rows of cages, with two rows opening onto a central walk path, which should be wide enough to allow feeding, servicing and watering. Where multiple tiers of cages is in use to make for more efficient use of space within the building, litter pans must be used (placed under each row of cages) to ease manure removal and cage cleaning. A sheet of metal sloping in such a way that water can be used to remove the manure, may be used in place of litter pans. Efforts must be made to prevent entry of rats and other pests into the building, and yet allow for maximum ventilation. Cage sizes vary depending on the breeds being kept, but cages must be large enough for rabbits to make normal posturing adjustments and to provide adequate freedom of movement.
The material most used for rabbit cages is woven wire. Stainless steel cages are used primarily in the laboratories. These are much more expensive but are non corrosive and last for longer periods.
Two measurements are needed to identity wire used for rabbit cages; the grid or mesh, and the guage or the diameter of the strand of the wire. Grid or mesh refers to the size of openings between strands of wire, while guage is the size or diameter of the strands of wire. One half inch (2 x 2 mesh) means that the openings are ½ inch, or 2 openings per linear inch. With guage, the larger the guage, the smaller the wire.
Particular attention should be given to the mesh and guage of wire to be used for the floor of the cage. Grid openings must be large enough to allow faeces to pass through readily, but small enough to provide comfort and prevent the faeces from becoming entangled.
Adequate space
The rabbit hutch should be constructed in such a way that the rabbits should have adequate space for free movement. This measure is intended to avoid stress imminent when the movement of rabbits is restricted in hutches. Space, both vertical and horizontal is a critical factor in ensuring adequate ventilation and temperature control within the hutch as well as keeping the animal comfortable and free from disease outbreaks.
Protection or Safety in the Hutch
A good hutch should be capable of protecting the rabbit from injury, rain, direct rays of sunlight, wind, sudden noise and predators such as snakes, dogs, cats, rats and human thieves. 
Convenience and ease of Management
For effective management of the rabbits, a hutch should be designed to assist the farmer in observation, feeding, breeding the rabbits a hutch should be designed to assist the farmer in observation, feeding, breeding the rabbit, cleaning and disinfection. At the age of 3 months, the males should be separated from the females while arrangements should be perfected to create one rabbit per hutch.
Materials for building a rabbit hutch
The floor must permit easy drainage of both urine and faeces of the rabbits. Wooden materials could be used for building the floor, frame and roof while the sides could be covered with wire mesh for easy ventilation and screening out predators. However, hay could be placed on the floor as bedding material.
Heat (Estrus)
Unlike most farm animals, rabbits do not have a regular estrus cycle. The heat continues for a long period until doe is bred. This situation is caused by the fact that the follicles on the ovary remain active for at least 12 days before regressing. At regressing, others become active to take their place – within 1 to 2 days.
The doe is usually receptive when placed with the buck. This receptivity is signaled by some signs of estrus.
Signs of Estrus
i.                    The vulva appears red and swollen.
ii.                  Restlessness.
iii.                The doe tries to join other rabbits in adjacent hutches
iv.                The doe rubs her chin on the floor
v.                  An estrus doe raises her hindquarters when placed with the male.
When the buck mounts the doe, he grasps the doe with his forelegs. The buck achieves intromission after 8-12 rapid copulatory movements while ejaculation is made following the first intromission. In many cases, after ejaculation, the buck falls off to one side and could make a crying noise while a vigorous buck will make an attempt to mount again. The fluid portion of the ejaculate ranges between 0.5 and 1.5ml and the sperm density ranges between 0.5 x 106 and 3.5 x 106ml. extreme temperatures or those above the tolerance level reduce sperm count and this situation can be remedied by adding thyroxine to rabbit diet. About 10-13 hours after mating, the doe drops her eggs. Thus breeding the doe can take place morning and evening of the same day.  This practice increases the litter size. After breeding, some does will stop to ovulate, particularly those associated with a deficiency in Luteinising hormone (LH). The regulation of the doe’s weight through feeding is vital because fat does are not good breeders.
This is the process of egg release. Ovulation is the process of large overian follicles breaking away to become an egg, usually after about ten hours following mating.
Within this period, the spermatozoa have moved through the female reproductive tract to the oviduct where fertilization takes place.
After fertilization, the fertilized egg (zygote) grows into a foetus. As many as 10 eggs can be shed at the same time in doe of high reproductive efficiency, while as low as 4 eggs may be shed in low productive does. The gestation period of rabbits is within the range of 28 to 35 days.
Breeding methods
Breeding Age
Smaller breeds develop faster and attain sexual maturity earlier. The bucks for breeding should be at least one month older than the doe at first breeding. Does weighing 4-6kg should be bred at 5-6 months of age, while larger breeds of 8 -10kg should be bred at 8-10 months.
The doe should be taken to the buck’s hutch or cage by good handling methods and observed for up to 20 minutes. If mating does not take place, another should be tried, or the same buck tried the next day.
Kindling (giving birth to young)
Parturition in rabbits takes place usually in the early morning hours. Parturition in rabbits is called kindling. As preparation for kindling, the doe makes nest with available hay or straw. She further plucks her hair and lines the nest. At parturition, the doe eats the placenta and foetal membranes. 

i.                    Failure of the doe to build a nest
ii.                  Birth of the young outside the nest
iii.                Cannibalism
iv.                Scattering the young
v.                  False pregnancy
The average litter size of rabbits is 8 kits which should reach the weight of 10-12kg at three months of age at which age they are mostly slaughtered for.

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