Rabbit farming can be a profitable business.
By Art and Angie Veneracion
Rabbit farming, or raising rabbits for meat, is little known in the Philippines, perhaps because most people see them as gentle, cuddly, and cute pets. In agri-bazaars and agri-meets where live rabbits are becoming staple commodities, these furry animals never fail to elicit smiles and happy reactions from children and adults alike. It doesn’t come as a surprise, therefore, that many cringe at the idea of having rabbit meat for their next meal.
We know we still have a long way to go towards changing the public’s mindset about eating rabbit. We have to work on making the notion of raising rabbits for meat consumption as acceptable as raising chickens on a poultry farm.
In other countries, rabbit meat is fast becoming regular fare (and in others, it already is) and can be found in many restaurants, farmer’s markets, and meat shops. Because of its tremendous nutritional benefits, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has proclaimed it as “the most nutritious meat known to man.” It is a good source of protein and is recommended for a variety of health specific specialty diets. It is low in cholesterol, saturated fats, calories, and sodium, and can provide 100% of the recommended daily allowance (RDA) for vitamin B12.
For those who haven’t tried it, the rabbit’s all white meat is deliciously tender, chewy in texture,
fine grained, and mild-flavored. It can be used as a substitute for recipes requiring chicken meat,
something we have done at Aven Nature’s Farm.
Taking inspiration from popular Filipino favorites, we’ve made our own versions adobo, adobo sa gata, kaldereta, tinola, sinigang, sisig, papaitan, arrozcaldo, and arroz valenciana using rabbit meat. Modesty aside, these dishes are always such a hit with our visitors, some of whom even became converts to the meat.
Aven Nature’s Farm started out as a hobby farm. We purchased a mango orchard at the back of our existing provincial lot as a retirement package, hoping that the fruiting mango trees would provide for us when we no longer have a regular income. We later found out that the mangoes were already old and unproductive, infested by insects and diseases that required costly rehabilitation.
We subsequently replaced some mango trees with native fruit trees, in part because we wanted to help with native tree conservation. The other reason was that we wanted our grandchildren to be familiar with our native trees and be able to experience the joy of picking fruits from our backyard.
The passion for farming has always been in us. In fact, we once maintained a container garden of ornamentals, herbs, vegetables, and small trees at the rooftop of our home in Manila. However, our training (Art took up Chemical Engineering while Angie took up B.S. Chemistry) and business experience as garment export producers and traders, did not provide us with the sufficient background and knowledge for this new undertaking.
In pursuing this passion, we took it upon ourselves to gain as much knowledge as we could about farming. We read books and subscribed to agriculture magazines, listened to agriculture-related radio programs, attended various agriseminars, joined lakbay-aral farm tours, swapped stories with farmers and practitioners, and attended agri-bazaars and exhibitions. While doing all these, we were practicing weekend farming. We went to the farm on Fridays, bringing farm animals and seedlings with us, practicing and enjoying our brand of farming, then went back to the city on Sundays, leaving the farm in the care of our trusted caretaker.
However, this arrangement proved to be unsuccessful and stressful. For one, we were often greeted with bad news whenever we went to our farm on weekends. Fortunately, it didn’t take us long to realize and practice the number one rule we learned from a farming seminar we attended: “Be there!” So we moved to the farm for good and became full-time farmers.
The plan was to set up a sustainable, integrated farm. We interpreted integrated by putting up multiple farm projects. We set up a small piggery of baboy damo and kept a small brood of free-range native chicken (paraoakan), some guinea fowls (bengala), several ducks, and two small fishponds (one for pangasius and one for tilapia).
We planted a small vegetable and herb garden and allocated a small area for seedling propagation. There was a time when we also had some goats, until we realized that goats were not compatible with plants and trees. With so many small projects, we were spread thinly and did not have a main project to provide the farm with sustainability.
One day, we visited a farm in Tiaong, Quezon that bred rabbits. It was then that Art decided that we should also have rabbits at our farm. We purchased six one-month old rabbits (four females and two males) from this farm, then we purchased three one-month old rabbits (two females and one male) from another farm in Laguna.
Because we were new to this endeavor without any proper training, only five breeders from this initial stock survived. But this did not deter us, least of all Art, who spent a lot of time researching rabbit breeding, reading articles and watching related videos. He noted the economic potentials of raising rabbits and was convinced by the following rabbit facts, which provided the turning point for the hobby farm to become a rabbit farm:
• Rabbit farming requires a very low initial investment; it needs only little space and can be done in the farm, backyard, or even in a small space at home.
• Rabbit farming can be extremely profitable if managed properly.
• Rabbits are multi-purpose animals; they can be raised as pets or farm animals.
• Rabbit meat is healthy.
• Rabbit’s fur has many uses, too.
• The reproduction capacity of rabbits is very high and they can begin breeding at 5-6 months old. One doe or female rabbit has the capacity to produce 134 kits in 13 months.
• Rabbits are the cleanest of all vegetarian animals. They’re also easy and affordable to feed.
• Rabbits do not compete for grains with humans.
• Rabbit manure is almost odor-free if kept dry and may be used fresh or decomposed as fertilizer.
• Rabbits are very gentle, quiet animals. They will not crow, bark, or howl at any time of the day.
• Rabbits have no known diseases that are transmittable to humans.
Rabbit farming is a challenging but rewarding venture. Art is careful to record the activities, inputs, and outputs of each day. He was determined to grow the rabbit farm and be successful, convinced that raising rabbits would help the farm attain sustainability. At one point, the farm had a rabbit population of 600 heads.
Art continues to do research and religiously takes note of his experiences. He believes that rabbit farming may well be the answer to the needs of Filipino farmers for nutritious food and additional income. He is now actively involved in putting together seminars designed to help farmers and would-be rabbit raisers attain more success while avoiding costly mistakes. He regularly conducts rabbit farming seminars at the farm and has been invited numerous times to speak at agri-forums and agri-related radio programs.
Read Part 2: http://22.214.171.124/2018/05/16/rabbit-farming-part-2-an-overview-of-the-philippine-rabbit-industry/
This appeared in Agriculture Monthly’s August 2015 issue.