Rabbit keeping is one of the simplest farming activities. But in Kenya, rabbits are regarded as being less important compared to other livestock such as cattle, sheep and goats. Many people keep rabbits as a hobby or as pets. If kept clean and fed well, rabbits take a short time to mature. Their gestation period is about 28 days.
There are many rabbit breeds that farmers can keep:
California White: This is white in colour with black ears, nose and tail. It weighs 4kg-5.5kg at 4 months. With good spacing, it is able to produce young ones 4 times in a year, giving around 8 young ones each time.
New Zealand White: This is purely white in colour. It weighs approximately 4kg-6kg. It also kindles (produce young ones) 4 times in a year with good spacing. It can produce between 7 to 15 bunnies each time.
Flemish Giant: Its colour is light grey or black blue. It weighs 6kg when fully grown. When crossbred with other breeds, the offspring exceed their parents in terms of reproduction capacity and body size.
Chinchilla: Has grey fur and weighs 6-7kg in 5 months.
Earlop: Can be grey or brown in colour and weighs between 5kg- 7kg.
Angola: This is a grey, purple or black with long fur.
Meat not the only benefit
The most important benefit of rabbits is their meat. Up to now, rabbit meat is not very popular locally although consumption is rising. Rabbit keeping in the country is becoming popular as in any other parts of the world.
Currently the Rabbit Breeders Association of Kenya (RABAK) is the main body promoting the production of rabbits in the country.
According to the RABAK chairman Mr. Peter Waiganjo, the demand for rabbits is increasing.
Just to give an example of the potential in the market, Waiganjo says that recently, the association delivered a few kilogrammes of rabbit meat to a hotel in Thika town. The hotel has now placed an order for 30kg of the meat every 2 days.
A similar trend has been reported in many other towns.
Rabbit urine: The urine contains a lot of ammonia and uric acid which can be used as foliar feed (fertilizer).
Rabbit droppings: The droppings are rich in Nitrogen and Phosphorus. Added to the soil, it gives plants resistance against attacks by pests and bacteria.
Proper feed is important
Organically grown rabbits have a higher nutritional value compared to conventionally kept rabbits (rabbits fed with conventionally produced feeds). To rear rabbits organically, one has to select their feed carefully.
Rabbits can feed on weeds that goats feed on. On these feeds it is advisable to add Mexican Marigold; this plant contains a lot of antibiotics that control parasites. To protect them against intestinal worms, farmers should feed them with Nasturtium (Indian cress). Rabbits rarely get ill if taken care of well and kept in proper housing with sufficient space for rest and movement.
Good and clean housing
Rabbits are very sensitive to diseases if not kept well and clean. The hutch (Rabbit house) should be properly built to provide a comfortable and safe place to stay in. The hutch should be 1 metre above ground to keep off predators. Naturally, rabbits like dark places. The hutch should be a bit dark but with some little light. The leeward side (the side sheltered from wind) should be completely shielded. The material used to build should not leave any gaps that will allow wind into the hutch. The floor should be well constructed such that the panels, wood or sticks leave a space of about 1cm to allow the free flow of urine and droppings. Farmers who want to collect the urine or droppings should place a trap (basin) under the hutch.
Rabbit farmers do not have to necessarily smile all the way to the bank, as the adage goes. The farmers can make money right at the farm gate through value addition.
Already, two farmers from Kiambu, Isaac Muigai and Lilian Kanyingo were recently featured in the local media for their success in their rabbit value addition enterprise. Their company, Pillar Group Limited in Kikuyu, Kiambu County buys rabbits from farmers at Ksh500 each.
The firm makes sausages from rabbit meat and sells each at Ksh50, a kebab at Ksh40 and samosa at Ksh 30. Rabbit meat is highly nutritious and low in fat and cholesterol.
Rabbits are easy to keep and require little space to rear. They are easy to feed because they consume little food (mostly plant material) and can be fed by family members. A female rabbit (doe) reproduces very fast (up to 4 times in a year; 7-12 kits or baby rabbits each time) and farmers can sell and earn more
Farmers may, however, find it hard to sell live rabbits or meat. This is because some customers find rabbit meat expensive while others are just hesitant to eat it because it is an unusual protein source. Farmers can add value to their rabbit meat by making rabbit sausages.
Sausages make an enjoyable and tasty meal. They also fetch a better price than live or rabbit meat.
- To slaughter a rabbit, first ensure your knife is sharp. Shock the rabbit by hitting it on the back of the head so that it becomes unconscious. Cut all the blood vessels across the throat so that the animal dies in the shortest time possible. This helps you to get better quality meat. Leave the rabbit to hang up so the blood drains out.
- Wash the skinned rabbit and separate the meat from the bones. Then press chunks of the rabbit meat into a mincer while turning it. When making sausages for sale, you want each sausage to have the same consistency and taste. Therefore you must carefully measure each ingredient according to instructions in your recipe.
- In a bowl, mix spices and salt to flavour following the recipe. Experiment with spices to develop your own recipe to satisfy the taste of your customers.
- Maize flour has a fine texture and helps to bind the mixture. Use five heaped tea spoonful for each kilogram of minced meat. If you do not have maize flour you can use double the amount of any other regular flour.
- To make good sausages, the minced meat must be mixed with filler. The best filler to use is rusk (a kind of breadcrumbs). You can buy this in a shop or make your own. For each kilogram of minced meat, you need a quarter kilogramme of filler. Instead of rusk you can also use bread crumbs or cooked rice but rusk absorbs more liquid and so will give juicier and tenderer sausages. Mix these dry ingredients thoroughly.
- Since rabbit meat is very lean, it is advisable to add some little natural fat to the minced meat. Mix the minced meat andfat thoroughly. Fat binds the mixture to the casing so that the casing will not separate from the mixture when the sausage is cooked.
- Add the dry ingredients to the basin with the minced meat and fat. Mix thoroughly for an even distribution of all the ingredients. Now add some crushed ice. Crushed ice rather than water is used to keep the mixture cold and as a result the fat binds better to the other ingredients.
- Put the mixture into the sausage casing. Natural casings come from the intestines of sheep, goats or pigs. These are often kept in salt and must be rinsed with cold water before using them.
- Pull the casings over the funnel and press the mixture into the mincer. Start turning the handle so that the mixture is put into the casing. You then need to form the sausages by twisting it a couple of times to close it.
- Store the sausages in the fridge or freezer for about three hours so that the casing binds to the mixture.
The sausages are now ready for sale. There is always a good market for good sausages in restaurants, hotels and supermarkets.
Pillar Group Limited recommends hybrid rabbits such as New Zealand White, California White, Chinchilla and the Checkered Giant because they give better yields.
RABAK conducts monthly training to interested farmers across the country. Individual farmers pay Ksh 1500 for one-day training session where they learn every aspect of rabbit rearing including value addition.
The association is also promoting the consumption of rabbit meat to change people’s attitude towards rabbits.
Many farmers had abandoned rabbit farming for lack of market, but increased awareness has raised the demand for rabbit meat. According to RABAK chairman Mr. Peter Waiganjo, many people now
want rabbits but there are very few farmers with good breeds for meat. He says the association is trying to promote rabbit production to meet increasing demand. Currently, RABAK supplies 500kg of rabbit to Uchumi Supermarkets and also hotels in Thika town. Other supermarkets have also expressed interest in stocking rabbit meat but supply from farmers is not nadequate.
Farmers interested in training can contact RABAK using the following
Rabbit Breeder Association of
Kenya P. O. Box 630-01000,
Thika, Tel. 0721 219 092, 0721
643200, 0722 661088.