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Rabbit project development strategies in subsistence farming systems Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page Rabbit project development strategies in subsistence farming systems International rabbit programmes Bibliography S.D. Lukefahr and P R. Cheeke1. Practical considerations* * This is the first of two articles on rabbit project development strategies, the second of which will appear in World Anim. Rev., 69.Increased awareness of the high potential of meat rabbit production in making a positive impact on the lives of the majority of subsistence, limited-resource rural and periurban populations has contributed to the recent development of numerous national rabbit programmes. While this trend is encouraging, it is imperative that the rabbit project complement the traditional and/or sociological values of the local population and that it be properly introduced with careful planning and design. In many instances a rabbit meat market research and/or feasibility assessment may be warranted. At present, production and survey data are urgently needed from developing countries as well as extension methodologies relevant to rabbit project development. Additionally, applied research must be conducted in developing countries on all aspects of rabbit production breeding and genetics, disease control, economics, housing systems, management, nutrition and reproduction - before sound, general or specific recommendations are made.In recent years there has been increased awareness of the advantages of rabbit meat production in developing countries as a means to alleviate world food shortages. This is largely attributable to the rabbit's high rate of reproduction; early maturity; rapid growth rate; high genetic selection potential; efficient feed and land space utilization; limited competition with humans for similar foods; and high-quality nutritious meat (Cheeke, 1980). According to FAO (1982), by the year 2000 the meat requirements of one-third of the human population will be satisfied by the supply of pork, poultry and rabbit meat. The world's domestic rabbit population, estimated to be 709 million (Lukefahr, 1985), is comparable to 764 million swine (FAO, 1982). Some 82 percent of the world's production of rabbit meat takes place in the developed nations (Lebas et al., 1984), meaning that approximately only 18 percent of total rabbit meat production occurs in developing countries. Owen (1981) emphasized that, in developing countries where critical national meat shortages exist, the potential for rabbit production is greatest. A discrepancy is therefore apparent between world distribution of rabbits and those countries needing inexpensively produced rabbit meat (see Table 1). International rabbit programmes The 3rd World Rabbit Congress, held in 1984, recommended that governments give high priority to the development of logistic rabbit projects in their national development and budget plans. Governments of certain developing countries have formally established national rabbit programmes to support self-help, small-scale rabbit production. Rabbit projects supported through such national policies in developing countries include those in: Brazil, Cameroon, the Caribbean area, China, Egypt, Ghana, Guatemala, India, Indonesia, Kenya, the Republic of Korea, Mexico, Mozambique, the Philippines and Zambia. Perhaps the most internationally recognized programme is the National Rabbit Project of Ghana. Following an effective promotional campaign, there is a strong awareness among Ghanaians of the self-reliant benefits of raising rabbits. Traditional acceptance of rabbit meatAccording to Mamattah (1978), rabbit raising in Ghana has been socially accepted on the basis of its low space requirements; the animal's high reproductive rate and lack of competition with humans for the same foods; and the minimal zoonotic health hazards and minor capital investment involved. In addition, there are no social taboos regarding the consumption of rabbit meat. Further, the diminishing supply of bushmeat has been a strong impetus to small-scale rabbit farming. These factors are generally true for many developing countries. However, three widely identified and major constraints are: the association of rabbits as pets rather than food-producing animals; fear of escaped stock becoming a widespread agricultural and ecological pest, as is the case in Australia; and limited marketing opportunities. Through proper training, whereby the nutritional value of rabbit meat is recognized, farmers can be taught to regard rabbits as a beneficially prolific meat animal species. This attitude can be supported by preparing rabbit meat dishes using local recipes and by serving rabbit meat on festive community occasions - even "disguising" it for other more popular meats - to gain local acceptance. Providing rabbit meat in school cafeterias and rabbits as breeding stock for youth club projects are two long-term measures that have been successfully implemented in Africa and Latin America. Since major agricultural farming activities are predominantly performed by women in many cultures, the small and manageable size of the rabbit is ideal. Lukefahr and Goldman (1985) reported on a rabbit programme in Cameroon where, in certain rural family-based projects, women and children assumed most of the rabbit feeding and management responsibilities. 1. Annual per caput production of rabbit meat in selected countriesProduction de viande de lapin par personne et par an dans certains paysProducción anual de carne de conejo por persona en algunos países


Rabbit carcass production (kg) 1

1 Total world production of rabbit meat is estimated to be one million tonnes per annum (Lukefahr, 1985).Source: adapted from Lebas et alOne conclusion made by the International Foundation for Science (IFS) Africa Rabbit Husbandry Workshop (IFS, 1978) rejected the view that feral rabbits would represent an agricultural hazard to the environment on the grounds of the intensity and prevalence of predators, including humans. Paradoxically, the threat of predation and thievery on farms where rabbits are raised in confinement is of greater real concern. The existence of viable and well-established markets is an important economic incentive for farmers embarking on any alternative agricultural enterprise. Many sound rabbi/projects have failed because of inadequate marketing opportunities, a fate that can largely be prevented by conducting market research and evaluation in the feasibility and/or design stage of the project. Invariably, limited market success results from low consumer demand, insufficient promotion, erratic product supply, unreasonable prices, competition from other meats, lack of product diversification and poorly developed marketing channels (Owen, 1981; Gaspari, 1984; Lukefahr and Goldman, 1985; Bondoc, Penalba and Arboleda, 1986). In areas where rabbit meat is not widely consumed or marketed, small-scale rabbit projects should be initiated on a backyard family basis, since the ultimate goal of rabbit raising is to provide more meat at the family level. Subsequently, rabbit sales to neighbours and businesses in the rural community may develop. If successful, production could be expanded for marketing in urban areas. This would involve market research and development, and would depend on sufficient and increasing rabbit meat supplies. Once rural community production for urban markets becomes firmly established, the development of large-scale commercial rabbit operations may be encouraged. Ultimately, a more sophisticated market infrastructure may involve product diversification such as breeding stock, tanned skins and processed meat forms, as well as entrepreneurial training, mass media promotion, competitive pricing and/or overcoming market fragmentation. By adopting such a logistic approach to market development, greater assurance of successful marketing may often be realized. Appropriate scale production and economicsOwen (1976) reported annual commercial-scale meat production goals of 60 offspring reared per doe (involving eight litters) with 2 kg market weights per rabbit fryer by eight to ten weeks of age. These figures calculate to 120 kg in market fryers per doe per annum. Such high levels of production, achieved under intensive production systems, are primarily found in Europe end North America. Pertinent rabbit production data are especially needed from developing countries. Tables 2a and 2b include data of meat rabbit production compiled with limited reports from various developing countries. Performances in the table involve data gathered from both rabbit field trials and controlled research experiments. Countries reporting low performances tended to reflect field-based data, while high performances usually involved data collected under more ideal conditions. The use of divergent genetic resources (breeds/strains) and the provision of varying levels of disease control, feeding and management may certainly be represented in reported studies. However, for the purposes of general illustration and reference, the tabulated information may be useful. The first parameter consistently indicates that a basic breeding programme, involving about four or five litters per doe unit per year, may be most appropriate under tropical and subtropical environmental conditions. This is a realistic strategy that considers the general existence suboptimal levels of breeding, health, housing, nutrition and management. In some instances, farmers prefer to practice more intensive rabbit breeding during favourable seasons, particularly when forage supply is abundant, while breeding less intensively during adverse seasons. The mean number of live-born offspring of 5.96 per litter (see Table 2a) reflects lower production than would be expected under more ideal genetic and environmental conditions. The combination of a slow breeding cycle with a small average litter size resulted in low values of 25.2 total offspring weaned per doe and 48.6 kg of total fryer rabbit production per annum (see Table 2b). However, given these same annual net production parameters, increased production was reported where high-quality genetic stocks and ideal environmental conditions existed. In terms of age and weight at marketing, the data imply that 3.71 months are required to produce a 1.82 kg rabbit fryer (approximately 2 kg by four months of age), essentially twice the amount of time required under modern intensive production systems. In some cases the economic production cost factor may well justify the lower productivity resulting from substantially low capital inputs, as demonstrated in household subsistence rabbit operations. The production of heavy fryers with a liveweight of 3 kg is likewise common thanks to relatively low feed costs. Moreover, under the subsistence production system, favourable market pricing of rabbit meat in competition with fresh chicken meat and pork has been reported in Kenya, Trinidad and Cameroon (Wanjaiya and Pope, 198;5; Rastogi, 1986; Lukefahr and Goldman, 1987). Based on the above figure of 48.6 kg for annual production of fryers per doe, this amounts to about 0.5 kg of dressed rabbit meat per week (conservatively assuming a 55 percent dressing percentage, which may include the head and dehaired skin weights). In a manageable three-to five-doe unit operation, 1.5 to 2.5 kg of dressed meat per week would represent a significant supplement to the family's dietary needs. 2a. Rabbit performance and market data reported from developing countriesPerformances et données commerciales émanant de pays en développementRendimiento de los conejos y datos sobre el mercado correspondientes a países en desarrollo



No. of litters/doe/year

No. of live born/litter

Total no. of weaned/doe/year

Market age (months)



Latin America






2b. Rabbit performance and market data reported from developing countriesPerformances et données commerciales émanant de pays en développementRendimiento de los conejos y datos sobre el mercado correspondientes a países en desarrollo



Live market weight (kg)

Annual fryer yield (kg)



Afifi et al.

1.7 1

1.2 1


2.0 1

Latin America

1.2 1

1.5 1




* These references also cover items marked with an asterisk in Table 2a.1 Malawi. A rabbitry built economically with local materials. Note the rat guards on the stilts - Malawi. Lapinière construite économiquement avec des matériaux locaux. Observer les « garde-rats» sur les pilots - Malawi. Granja de conejos construida con materiales de bajo costo. Obsérvese la protección contra las ratas en las portillas Cameroon. A rabbitry managed simply, using family labour - Cameroun. Elevage de lapins familial - Camerún. Granja de conejos fácil de mantener con mano de obra familiar Rabbit production under subsistence conditions is usually regarded as a labour-intensive activity. According to Lebas (1983) and Wanjaiya and Pope (1985), annual estimates of 10.7 and 18 hours expended on a per doe unit basis, or 0.6 and 2.6 hours per 1 kg of rabbit meat produced, have been reported. These figures most probably underestimate actual labour requirements. A projected five-year budget plan for a three-doe operation, including family labour inputs, for a typical rabbit farmer in Cameroon is shown in Table 3. The information particularly illustrates the low investment costs (relative to rate of return) involved in embarking on a small-scale subsistence rabbit enterprise. If breeding stock were to be provided to farmers by the project on an in-kind loan basis (return of one to two offspring for each breeding rabbit initially provided), such an economic venture would be made all the more feasible. On small family farms, rabbits should be strongly integrated into traditional farming practices. This entails the recycling of garden and/or kitchen refuse as rabbit feed and the conversion of rabbit manure into compost for enhancing farm soil. This integrative approach is an effective means by which animal feed and fertilizer costs can be minimized. In this integrated cyclic scheme, earthworms are the agents for finely pulverizing rabbit manure, and bees for boosting farm crop productivity through pollination. Alternatively, rabbits can be housed over fish-ponds whereby blue-green algae production can be increased to enhance fish harvests, while rabbits may be fed on inexpensive forage and/or garden wastes grown along the pond banks. Such applied integration may give increased yields while requiring only marginal capital expenditures, and rabbit manure can be converted into methane gas to meet household fuel needs. The development of community rabbit skin industries to produce drumskins, hats, rugs, toys and foot and tail charms should be assessed in order to capitalize on such potential economic ventures (Rougeot, 1986). Training and extension activitiesThe rabbit is a uniquely versatile livestock species in terms of production: patterns of reproduction, behavioural instincts, neonatal development, feeding habits and nutrient requirements. Correct care and management are necessary if rabbit raising is to be successful. In many cultures, livestock have to scavenge for their own food as well as find shelter and water under open range conditions. This system usually supports only limited production and, for many farmers, rabbits are not easy to raise, requiring meticulous care and labour. Confinement rearing has been identified as one common traditional hindrance to rabbit farming in many countries. This constraint, however, can usually be eliminated by screening and training farmers, largely through effective farmer demonstrations. The rabbit project component which perhaps best ensures a successful programme is proper farmer training and extension support. Indeed, many rabbit projects in developing countries have experienced technical problems or total failure attributable to inadequate education or lack of extension follow-up in methods of small-scale rabbit raising. This often stems from the absence of a rabbit project expert. The long-term presence, for at least two or three years, of a well-qualified rabbit production specialist is important in the design and implementation of new projects and in training key farmers and extension workers. The initial request to introduce a rabbit project into a rural or pert-urban area should come from the participants themselves. From project inception, the beneficiaries should look at the self-help rabbit project as their own. The careful selection of farmers for rabbit training is an important factor in progressive project development. A selection committee consisting of the project manager and/or trainer, village leader and successful rabbit farmers should be formed. The farmers selected should have a strong interest in rearing rabbits as well as having adequate material and the necessary human resources. Screened farmer trainees should possibly possess previously demonstrated abilities in voluntary community service. The course should cover various applied aspects and benefits of rabbit farming with on-farm demonstration activities such as forage plot establishment, feeding, breeding and record keeping, cage construction, simple disease diagnosis, rabbit slaughter and skin tanning, which complement traditionally sound farming practices. The involvement of area rabbit farmer leaders or demonstration farmers is important in gaining early acceptance of the concepts and practices introduced. Extension field staff can also be trained in this way. The sharing of skills required for successful rabbit production among trainees is an effective approach. These may be local carpentry skills for cage construction or culinary skills in preparing rabbit meat dishes. Written material, posters and photographs are useful for message delivery in the course, which should last for no less than three days. Trainees should evaluate the applicability and effectiveness of the course so as to determine whether changes in course format are necessary. Basic rabbit production manuals that are simple, concise and illustrated are invaluable to farmers after training (Owiro, 1981; Sicwaten and Stahl, 1982; FAO, 1986). If the project is to be introduced at local request into an area where rabbit farming has previously been nonexistent, or where poor rabbit production practices are widely observed, it is recommended that a very limited number (less than five) of progressive farmers be assisted to establish demonstration rabbit farm units. On-farm training should be given over several months, with step-by-step lessons in cage construction, practical feeding, breeding, record keeping and rabbit slaughter. The extent of technology transfer should be limited and gradual, but with continual follow-up supervision to ensure the adoption of recommended practices. As potential rabbit farmer leaders or local experts gain skill and confidence in rabbit production through training and experience, they should be encouraged to train other area farmers. This is essential in terms of project development and expansion. They may also provide breeding stock, improved forage seeds or cuttings and be willing to periodically supervise the new rabbit farm operations. Furthermore, to minimize investment costs the farmer leader may provide breeding stock on an in-kind loan basis, such as one breeding female rabbit for the later exchange of two weaned offspring. The return of weaned offspring or breeding rabbits may, in turn, be provided to other new farmers to enhance the rate of farmer-to-farmer multiplication. 3. Five-year partial budget statement of rabbit production in Cameroon1 - Production de lapins au Cameroun: budget quinquennal partielBalance presupuestario parcial de cinco años de la producción de conejos en el Camerún




Initial investment

Recurrent costs

Feed 2

Total cost (5 years)



Income 3

Consumption 4

Herd inventory

Total income (5 years)



Labour 5

1 Adapted from Lukefahr and Goldman (1987).2 Feed costs include consumption by breeding does buck and replacement stock3 Average production figures assume 20 weaned fryers per doe per annum. Value of rabbit skins, manure and other by-products are not considered.4 Assume one-third of the rabbits marketed and two-thirds consumed out of a total of 300 rabbits5 The labour estimate, as provided by family members, includes all major aspects of rabbit keeping: breeding, feeding, management, record keeping, marketing fryers, establishing forage plots, etc.Note Cameroon. Local rabbit farmers and project staff. Note the local-style hutches and nest boxes - Cameroun. Eleveurs locaux et personnel du projet. Observer les différents types de cabanes - Camerún. Criadores locales de conejos y personal del proyecto. Obsérvense las diversas conejeras de tipo local Egypt. Native "Baladi" rabbits are traditionally reared underground - Egypte. La race locale Baladi est élevée en terrier - Egipto. Los conejos Baladí nativos se crían tradicionalmente bajo tierra Peru. A rabbit development project designed to teach rabbit husbandry skills to handicapped and orphaned children - Pérou. Projet d'élevage de lapins conçu pour des enfants handicapés et orphelins - Perú. Proyecto de fomento para enseñar nociones de cunicultura práctica a muchachos minusválidos y huérfanos Extension support. Well-informed and enthusiastic extension agents can complement this training process by organizing farmer training and supervision activities and providing technical information, programme promotion services and equipment. However, agents have sometimes convinced farmers to modernize their operations with inappropriate imported technology. These farmers then become gradually dependent on expensive, and often unnecessary, cage wire, concentrate feed and medicines. This results in the breakdown of previously sound and sustainable production systems. Extension agents should also be discouraged from always contacting the same few prosperous, progressive and influential farmers. Farmers with less land, less education and influence, but with a genuine interest and the respect of others, may well become the best demonstrators and teachers. All extension agents involved in rabbit production should themselves have at least a couple of breeding does in their own backyard. Eventually, the project might bring together successful, key rabbit farmer leaders from various areas to establish a network that holds regular meetings for the discussion of rabbit project development issues and to reinforce individual leadership abilities through the sharing of project-related experiences. This project-bridging approach may enhance project development through the formation of farmer cooperatives for marketing rabbit meat and by-products and making bulk purchases of necessary supplies. Moreover, the rabbit farmer leaders will be in a position to appreciate that, in terms of self-sufficiency development, the status of the rabbit project depends on them. Long-term training. Strategies for long-term training are particularly justified where rabbit production expertise is lacking in major governmental programmes. In many cases, project managers have been trained abroad, obtaining specialized degrees at universities with active rabbit research programmes. Part of their training should also encourage them to work for the benefit of the small-scale producer. Unfortunately, these specialists sometimes either do not return to the position for which they were trained, or else find themselves in an administrative post with very little contact with the small rabbit producer. Generally though, following such formal training, which is both intensive and practical, the rabbit specialist is capable of fostering technically sound, field-based training as well as extension activities targeted for farmers with limited resources. Bibliography Afifi, E. A., Salah, E., Galal, E., El-Tawil, E. A. & Khishin, S.S. 1976. Litter size at birth and at weaning in three breeds of rabbits and their crosses. Egyptian J. Anim. Prod., 16(2): 109-119. Bondoc, O. L., Penalba, F.F. & Arboleda, C.R. 1986. Small-scale rabbit production in the Philippines. Anim. Prod. Technol. 2(2): 23-26. Cheeke, P.R. 1980. The potential role of the rabbit in meeting world food needs. J. Appl. Rabbit Res., 3(3): 3-5. Damodar, N. & Jatkar, V.D. 1985. Adaptability of broiler rabbits under subtropical climates. Indian J. Anim. Sci., 55(7): 610-611. El Amin, F.M. 1978. Rabbit husbandry in the Sudan. Workshop on Rabbit Husbandry in Africa, Morogoro, Tanzania, 16-21 Dec., p. 29-42. Stockholm, IFS. 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A note on an estimate of the world's domestic rabbit population. J. Appl. Rabbit Res., 8(4): 157. Lukefahr, S.D. & Goldman, M. 1985. A technical assessment of production and economic aspects of small-scale rabbit farming in Cameroon. J. Appl. Rabbit Res., 8:126-135. Lukefahr, S.D. & Goldman, M. 1987. Cameroon, West Africa: economic feasibility of rabbit farming under intensive and subsistence management systems of production. J. Appl. Rabbit Res., 10: 20-25. Mamattah, N. 1978. Sociological aspects of introducing rabbits into farm practices. Workshop on Rabbit Husbandry in Africa, Morogoro, Tanzania, 16-21 Dec., p.93-98. Stockholm, IFS. McNitt, J.I. 1980. The rabbit as a domestic meat source in Malawi. J. Appl. Rabbit Res., 3(3): 5-11. Moreno, A.E. 1987. Producción de conejos (in Spanish). Universidad Nacional Agraria La Molina. M.V. Publicaciones. Peru. Mostageer, A., Ghany, M.A. & Darwish, H.I. 1970. 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A note on feed efficiency and cost of rabbit meat production in Trinidad. J. Appl. Rabbit Res., 9: 67-68. Rougeot, J. 1986. Production and marketing of rabbit skins. World Anim. Rev., 60: 7-17. Shqueir, A.A. 1986. Preliminary performance data and economic results from a rabbitry in the West Bank. J. Appl. Rabbit Res., 9: 125-128. Sicwaten, J.B. & Stahl, D. 1982. A complete handbook on backyard and commercial rabbit production. Philippines, CARE. Viana, L. 1986. Rabbit raising: alternative profitability source (in Portuguese). A Lavoura, March-April, 1986. Wanjaiya, J.K. & Pope, C.A. 1985. Alternative income and protein sources for rural communities: prospects for the rabbit in East Africa. J. Appl. Rabbit Res., 8: 19-22. Previous Page Next Page
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