Among domestic livestock, rabbits are one of the most productive. On the same quantity of feed and water a cow will produce 500 grammes of meat while rabbits can produce three kilogrammes.
The production of fryers
Producing one kilogramme of marketable fryer (dressed weight) requires a commercial concentrate supply of 5,7 kg (from conception to harvest). From conception to 3 to 4 months of marketing age, a doe and her litter of six to eight require about 82,8 kg concentrated food. Roughage and roots are also provided on a daily basis (about 1 to 1,5 kg total per day).
The rabbit should always be fed ad libitum during the growth phase from weaning to slaughter. If the breeder uses balanced concentrates, medium-sized animals will typically consume 100 to 130 g per day. The rabbits will gain 30 to 40 g per day under ideal circumstances, so consuming 3 to 3,5 kg of feed will result in a gain of 1 kg in live weight. Young rabbits that need to gain weight can also be fed cereals and fodder alone or with a suitable concentrate.
The mortality rate during this time should be very low, only a small portion of the stock that is being fattened, but it is frequently much higher. Even though preventive hygiene (cleaning and disinfecting) is very important in the fattening station, the breeder often pays more attention to the nursery.
If rabbits are kept for longer than three months, the buck must either be castrated or kept in individual cages. It is customary to separate the males and females of a litter at 45 days to two months of age in order to prevent future breeding. Although they may stay in groups, the females will require a larger cage than they did before three months. A doe’s milk supply will dwindle if her offspring are left with her for more than two months.
Learn to castrate the bucks that are not going to be used for breeding to limit fighting in the colony. Castration is the only way to guarantee top-quality meat and fur. It takes time, skill, and patience. In addition, it maximises the amount of space and feed that can be used.
To ensure proper growth from day one to two months old, be sure to provide a sufficient quantity of high-quality feed in both roughage and concentrates. Young rabbit carcasses that weigh less than 1,7 kg and are at least three to four months old are ideal for quality pelt production and tanning.
How to slaughter rabbits
If you can not deliver the rabbits to a certified abattoir and you have to do your own slaughtering, you can use a device called the Hopper Popper. The rabbit’s head is slid into the v-shaped slot and then pulled. Strictly speaking, this procedure breaks the rabbit’s neck by severing the spinal cord (cervical dislocation). If you are unsure about animal culling, the Hopper Popper will make it easier.
Breeders who butcher their own livestock need to maintain proper standards of hygiene and conservation, such as cold storage. The required installations are relatively expensive. There is also a need for workers who can only put in a few hours per week.
Intensive meat-rabbit production techniques are usually incompatible with production standards for quality fur pelts. The raw skin, on the other hand, only accounts for a small fraction of the value of the animal as a whole. Thus, more and more frequently, rabbits are slaughtered at an age or time of year when their coats have not fully developed.
This usually occurs between the ages of 10 and 12 weeks, during which time the infant coat is still present or the subadult moult is beginning. They are not suitable for fur because they are too thin and prone to shifting.
Rabbit meat preparation
Cutting and packaging of meat:
- To package whole rabbit fold the back legs of the rabbit into the chest, exposing the liver and kidneys.
- Refrigerate the carcass. Arrange the carcass on a cooling rack so that moderate air movement and a suitable temperature in the cooler will reduce its internal temperature to 2,2 to 4,4 °C within 24 hours. Hanging a carcass by the hind legs can distort it so that it won’t fit in a carton. Some processors chill carcasses in wire trays to ensure proper packaging shape.
- You can also cut and divide the carcass in portions, almost the same as chicken cuts.
Consequences of not butchering stock
The breeder may draw from a reserve of fattening animals that have passed the typical age for sale for personal consumption or stock replacement. Any delay in the standard slaughtering age for any reason, such as keeping the rabbits alive for gradual home consumption, can result in disaster, with the death of all the animals.
In farm rabbitries, the mortality risk from accidents, epidemics, and other factors gets higher the longer the animals are kept.
Rabbit breeders may struggle with marketing, but global food shortages could increase demand. It also happens that rabbit producers can not always meet demand for rabbit meat.
The animals are either sold as carcasses or alive. For strains like the New Zealand White and Californian, rabbits raised in rational production systems are sold at around 70 to 90 days old at weights of 2,3 to 2,5 kg. In large-scale production systems with less balanced feeding (four to six months at most), the rabbits can be sold much later.
When raising rabbits, develop quick marketing prospects. First, sell it to your family, neighbours, local towns, and cities. Hotels, restaurants, supermarkets, and open markets can buy dressed rabbit meat. Vendors sell rabbit barbecue to commuters. Marketing rabbit meat to all demographics is crucial.
The information provided in this article is credited to:
Nurturing the roots of change in rural Kenya in cooperation with Bonnie Ami Holt at the Mitahato Education and Development Fund. For more information visit www.mitahatoedf.com/ or contact them on +254-728-082887.
Lebas, F., Coudert, P., de Rochambeau, H. & Thébault, R. (1997). The rabbit – Husbandry, health, and production. ISBN 92-5-103441-9. Available at: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/38977233_The_Rabbit_Husbandry_Health_and_Production