By Art and Vangie Veneracion
(Read Part 2)
We hope that after you’ve read our first two articles on rabbit farming, we’ve equipped you with an adequate background on rabbits. Today, we will tackle the most important aspect of rabbit farming: the actual management and care of the rabbitry.
Housing and Equipment
Rabbit housing depends on the scale and purpose of the operation. It should be able to provide the following basic requirements:
1. Can provide comfort to the rabbits by being well-lit and properly ventilated;
2. Can protect the rabbits from predators;
3. Can prevent the rabbits from escaping;
4. Can protect the rabbits from extreme weather;
5. Allows for easy access to the rabbits;
6. Is easy to clean or better yet, is “self-cleaning”; and
7. Is easy to maintain and affordable.
New Zealand White breeds and other similarly-sized rabbit breeds do well in all-wire cages. It is ideal that the cages be at a height convenient to the caretaker, usually at waist level.
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At Aven Nature’s Farm, these wire cages are placed over vermi-bins constructed around mango and other fruit trees. Rabbit urine, manure, and other wastes fall through the wire bottom to the vermiculture instead of remaining in the cage. This helps keep the cages clean and helps prevent diseases and parasitic infections that may be caused by contact with the manure.
The rabbits “take care” of the worms (with their wastes), while the worms help decompose the rabbit wastes, thus eliminating foul odor and fly infestation. This greatly improves the sanitation of the rabbitry and gives the rabbit raiser valuable byproducts, such as worms (We use African night crawlers or ANC at our farm), vermicompost, and vermicast.
In the Philippines, since we have a plentiful supply of bamboo, it may be economical to use bamboo to construct hutches. Be sure to place the rounded portion of the bamboo slats facing the inside of the cage to prevent gnawing by the rabbit. To prevent foot injuries, use straight bamboo slats for the flooring. Wooden hutches may also be used but they require more cleaning and sanitizing to keep them from becoming a breeding ground for diseases and pests.
Cages, preferably all wire, should approximately be 18 inches wide, 34” deep, and 16” high to help provide optimum conditions in which to keep the rabbits happy, healthy, and productive. This measurement also provides space for the nestbox when it has to be placed inside the cage for the kindling. The sidings and roof should be made of galvanized welded wire 1 x 1 gauge 16, while the flooring should be 1/2 x 1/2 gauge 16.
A grass manger is constructed between two cages. This provides a convenient space to feed the rabbits with grass. This prevents the rabbits from scratching out and wasting their food. It also prevents them from contaminating their food, thus improving the rabbitry’s sanitation and eliminating health risks.
In addition to cages, nestboxes are essential to a rabbitry. A nestbox should give the doe seclusion and a sense of security; provide adequate ventilation; keep kits safe and warm; and protect the litter from drafts. We recommend an all-metal nestbox with a wire bottom. This type of nest box provides optimum sanitary conditions.
Its measurements should approximately be 11” x 15” x 11”, with one side cut down to 5 inches. A framed all wire 1/4 x 1/4 gauge 16 removable flooring should be provided to prevent the loss of the doe’s fur and bedding material come kindling time while still allowing for urine and rabbit manure to drain through the bottom.
Cages should regularly undergo general deep cleaning and periodic sanitation, most especially between kindling. Deep cleaning requires that the rabbits be removed from the cages, while periodic sanitation can be done with the rabbits inside the cages.
Rabbits need water at all times. Water containers must always be clean and filled with clean, fresh water 24 hours a day. Earthenware crocks are used extensively since they are inexpensive yet are sanitary and easy to clean. Enamel cups, bottles, and cans may also be used, but they must be attached to the cage with wire to prevent spillage. These containers may also be prone to contamination with rabbits manure and must be regularly checked and cleaned to prevent disease.
Automatic watering system though more expensive to install is better. It ensures fresh drinking water is available 24 hours a day and reduces daily chores in the rabbitry by eliminating the tedious and time consuming chore of washing, disinfecting, rinsing and filling. It also plays a significant role in reducing disease.
It is ideal is to feed rabbits both commercial feed and forage that are of good quality and a generous quantity. In case a rabbit raiser opts for 100% green feeding, 50% legumes and 50% of other grasses should suffice in providing the minimum dietary requirement of 16% crude protein needed by does and bucks. Pellets especially made for rabbits are available at some agricultural supply stores.
Rabbits only need to be fed twice in a day. Being creatures of habit, rabbits must be fed at the same time every day, preferably pellets once in the morning and grass once in the afternoon.
At five months old and above, give rabbits 60 grams (g) of pellets in the morning and approximately 150g of grass in the afternoon. Give 80g of pellets to your lactating doe, then reduce its feed to 60g after litter is weaned. After weaning, feed the kits all they can consume until they are about two and a half months old. Feed them according to your requirements afterwards. Note that the feed conversion per fryer is about 1 pound (lb). of meat per 4 lb. of feed.
Overfeeding rabbits, especially your breeders, results in bad health and limited reproduction. Overweight rabbits quite often stop producing altogether.
Forage is essential for their roughage and vitamin value; they also help reduce feed costs. Here are some guidelines to follow when feeding your rabbits forage:
1. It is better to plant your own forage, especially if you have the space for it. Choose forage with high crude protein content such as super napier or madre de agua.
2. Green feeds should not be stacked in piles; this may cause them to become heated due to fermentation, and this may lead to digestive disorders.
3. Kangkong leaves gathered from swamps may not be good for rabbits since these may carry parasites.
4. Do not feed your rabbits with forage collected from areas where dogs, cats, or other animals defecate as these may carry parasite infestations.
5. Be wary of forage that has been sprayed with insecticides since rabbits, especially young kits, cannot tolerate such
6. Malunggay leaves are good feed supplements for lactating does.
It is important to note that the best feeding practice is mixed feeding, to allow the animals to get used to different kinds of feeds. Any changes in the rabbit’s diet and feeding should be made gradually to avoid any minor or serious digestive disorders or even death. Salt should be provided in the feed at a level of 0.5%; this is usually present in rabbit pellets. If feeding 100% forage, salt must be provided in a block or small container when needed.
The following should be taken in consideration before breeding rabbits:
1. Age – Breeding rabbits can be done once they are sexually mature and properly developed. The proper age for the first mating is 5 . to 6 months old. Does that are properly cared for should produce healthy litters until they are 2 to 3 years old. There are exceptional rabbits that reproduce satisfactorily untilthey are 4 to 6 years old, or even longer.
2. Physical condition – The weight of the doe should at least be 2 kilos. (Weighing the doe before mating is an important
factor in achieving a successful pregnancy). The doe and buck should not be abnormally fat or thin as this may impair their reproductive capacities.
3. Disease – Sickly animals produce inferior offspring, so never mate rabbits when they show any symptom of disease.
4. Temperature – It is recommended to breed rabbits in the early morning or late afternoon as rabbits have the tendency to become temporarily sterile in hot weather conditions. Always take the doe to the buck’s cage; otherwise, the buck may waste time marking new territory in the doe’s cage and they may end up fighting instead of breeding.
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Once the doe is brought to the buck’s cage, the buck usually stomps around, makes a circle or two then mounts the doe. You’ll know the mating is complete when the buck gives a faint grunt and falls backwards or sideways. Leave the doe in the buck’s cage until they have successfully completed 2 to 3 mounts. This should help increase the chances of pregnancy and may increase the number of offspring. Return the doe to its cage afterwards.
If the buck fails to mate with the doe within a few minutes, the doe should be removed and returned later. If the doe still refuses to be mounted, it may have to be restrained to initiate forced breeding. This happens when first breeding is not done when doe reaches sexual maturity or breeding interval/rebreeding takes too long. Keeping a doe breeding record and adhering to a fixed breeding cycle should eliminate the occurrence of this problem.
One buck can service up to 10 to 15 does a month, servicing one doe every other day and resting one day between matings. Keep the bucks breeding on a consistent basis to keep them producing fresh sperm and reducing the possibility of them becoming sterile.
Within two weeks after mating, the doe’s pregnancy may already be verified. This can be done by:
1. Palpating – when you can feel marble sized embryos in front of the pelvic area or the belly of the doe; or
2. Weighing – the doe should gain around 300 grams if pregnant.
A word of caution: Palpation takes a lot of practice and may harm the pregnancy if not done right. Weighing, on the other hand, is much safer but it is important that the doe’s feeding amount be constant and controlled.
The nestbox must be placed inside the cage on the 26th day after breeding. It should be placed securely inside the cage to prevent the doe from moving and rearranging it The doe will make a cozy bed lining for her young inside the nestbox out of fur pulled out of her dewlap (the area under its jaw and neck).
You may place additional materials like rice straw or dried grass inside the cage to give the doe the option to use these as additional lining. The doe should give birth within 28 to 32 days after breeding.
Re-breed the doe if it did not give birth within this period. False pregnancy may be exhibited following an unsuccessful mating.
Make sure to inspect the litter after birth. Remove any dead kits from the nestbox. Continue to inspect the litter every day to check for any deaths among the young kits. A first or even second time kindling may not be entirely successful, but a successful third kindling is to be expected. If this is not the case, this particular doe may not be the best choice for breeding.
Kindling very often takes place at late night or early morning and does not require any intervention from the caretaker. The young kits are born without fur, with their eyes closed, and they are entirely dependent on their mother. After birth, the doe licks and cleans its young. They will usually nurse their young at night or in the early morning, and it is very
important that the doe not be disturbed during this time.
Kits without fur should not be held with bare hands to eliminate the danger of them being rejected or abandoned by the mother due to contamination with a foreign scent. Use gloves or a thong when the need to hold them arises. In 5 to 6 days, their fur will grow, and in 10 to 12 days, they will open their eyes. Remove the nestbox when the kits start to leave it.
The industry average mortality rate in the preweaning stage can be up to 40%. Proper diet, proper nestbox use, and proper care can lower this number. To expect no kit losses at all is not realistic. Monitor patterns with your herd and eliminate does who do not display good maternal instincts and consistently have high mortality rates in kits.
You can wean the kits 30 days after kindling. The doe may be bred again after 10 to 15 days. Rabbits do not have a breeding cycle. Ovulation requires the stimulus of mating and is thus induced in nature. Because of this characteristic, rabbit breeders have the option to schedule re-breeding according to their requirements.
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The following shows the number of litters per year you will get based on how quickly the doe is re-bred after kindling:
1. 42 days after kindle = 5 litters per year
2. 35 days after kindle = 5.5 litters per year
3. 28 days after kindle = 6 litters per year
4. 21 days after kindle = 7 litters per year
5. 14 days after kindle = 8 litters per year
Keeping accurate records is vital to your rabbitry. The only way to know how well you are doing is to keep good records. Tracking the results will help you know which does are the best producers, which kindles the largest kits, etc. This will allow you to eliminate the poor producers. Choose the offspring of the best producers for replacement stock and additional breeders Be sure to mark does and bucks accordingly for proper identification at all times.
At Aven Nature’s Farm, we tag cages and are careful not to interchange them. Rabbit records should include birthdays and lineage. The following records should always be updated by rabbit breeders for efficient management of the rabbitry:
1. Daily breeding record
2. Doe breeding record
3. Buck breeding record
Aven Nature’s Farm
68 J.P. Rizal St., Sta. Barbara,
Baliuag, Bulacan 3006
0918 903 0633
Read Part 4:
This appeared in Agriculture Monthly’s October 2015 issue.