Rabbit Meat Production

ncreasing world human population and global recession will inevitably increase the demand for food including meat as well as for employment. A great hope is put to the agriculture sector, which is responsible for food supply and absorbs employment in the rural areas. Slow reproductive rate of the ruminant animals and threat from Avian Influenza in poultry may cause to look for other alternative animal for source of protein. Rabbit may suit the need. The potential benefit from farming rabbit includes (i) strengthening food security, (ii) increasing farmer's income, (iii) providing job opportunity and (iv) producing high quality healthy meat (v) developing rural economy. The biological merits of rabbit, such as being small in size, prolific and fast growing, efficient utilizing of forage, as well as of premixed diet, and adapting well to various environments, is well known.

This indicates that rabbits are potential animal to raise for both micro- (household-) to large-scale operation (industry). In Asia, both types of raising exist; for (i) family meat consumption and small cash income for poor people living in the rural areas as well as for (ii) industry; meat, fur or laboratory supply. China, Malaysia and some parts of India may suits the second category. China is probably the largest rabbit producing country in Asia or even in the world. Nowadays situation shows that the objective of rabbit farming in some Asian countries, although at a micro scale, has shifted towards commercial purpose as occurred in Indonesia and Vietnam. Moving forward to industrialized rabbit production, small, medium and / or large scales, may contribute small, but could be significant to help the above world problems.

SAFE HANDLING TECHNIQUES

APPROACHING A RABBIT:
The safest initial approach with rabbits is to begin by stroking the top of the head. Do not offer your hand for a bunny to sniff the way you would to a dog because rabbits can not see directly in front of their noses. You might scare them, and they may bite.

LIFTING:
Rabbits are prey animals and as such are frightened when lifted off the ground. They assume they are going to be ateen! Therefore, we recommend that you learn to interact with your rabbit on her level: with your nose three inches from the ground! Sit on the floor to read the paper in the morning or to watch the evening news; lie down on the ground to read; buy one of those collapsible chairs without legs that will allow you to sit on the floor in comfort. In this manner, you can interact with your bunny without frightening her or restraining her. This is a great way to get to know her personality and have fun with her.

A rabbit's spider makes up only 6% of her body weight. It is extremely fragile, so great care must be taken when handling your new friend. Can you see the natural "C" curve of her spine? If she straightens out her back and kicks violently, she can break her spine and paralyze herself, so be careful always to keep her spine curved. Bunnies should not be lifted by the ears or scruff. Instead, cup her bottom with one hand, resting that arm along the length of her body. Slide your other hand under her chest and scoop her towards your body, resting her feet against you and tucking her head under your chin. Once her feet are set, you can move the hand from under her chest to over her shoulders, with your index finger on one side of her neck and your thumb on the other. This is a great way to control her because you can keep her from jumping off without hurting her in any way.

GIVING IN:
If rabbit struggles violently you might wish to squat down and release the rabbit rather than trying to contain her. Prevent her from jumping from heights because she might break her back. It's easier to catch a loose rabbit than to care for a crippled one!

GROOMING
• Comb your bunny at least once a week. If she's got long fur or if she's shedding, you should comb her daily.
• Trim her nails ~ every six weeks
• Check and / or clean her anal glands ~ every six weeks
• Bunnies do not need baths! If your rabbit has a dirty butt, spot clean by dripping water on the area and soaking until you can lift off the feces. See your vet to determine the cause.

HEALTH ISSUES
• If your bunny skips a meal, try to give her a bit of banana or other treat to see if she'll eat it. If she does not eat for at least 24 hours, take her to the vet!
• Sneezing, weepy eyes or nose, and lethargic behavior are other signs of ill health. Consult your vet!
• If her poops start decreasing in size or lose their shape, consult your vet. Diarrhea should be considered an emergency.

DISEASES
Rabbits should be inspected daily for any signs of ill health. All sick rabbits and those exposed to diseases should be isolated and held in quarantine. Dead rabbits should be removed immediately and disposed of hygienically. These precautionary measures will reduce spread of infection in the rabbitry in cases of communicable diseases. Prevention of a disease outbreak is better than cure, and more so because most of the diseases do not have a ready and effective treatment. Disease control has been one of the major hurdles for new rabbit breeders. It is vital you seek as much information on rabbit health as you can find.

Pasteurella is a bacterium that is common in animals, usually causing few ill effects in healthy rabbits in a low stress environment. When the bacteria multiplies rapidly, the most common manifestation of pasteurellosis is the condition called snuffles. Pasteurellosis is also evidenced by pneumonia, abscesses, wepy eyes, vaginal discharge, enlarged testicles and wryneck. Snuffles is characterized by nasal discharge and is extremely contagious. Strict sanitation and good ventilation are required for effective control. The condition can be readily suppressed by antibiotic treatment but a cure is difficult. If snuffles is allowed to go untreated, rabbits will begin to die from pneumonia. Abscesses are usually seen in the subcutaneous areas and can be treated with antibiotics.Cocci, a protozoan parasite, causes diarrheal disease and / or liver damage.

Liver coccidiosis is of greatest concern for the rabbitry. Sulfaquinaxilone is one of the drugs available for control and prevention of cocciosis. Veterinary assistance is needed for the supply and use of a coccidiostat. These are usually administrated in the drinking water or the feed. Prevention of coccidiosis can be aided by daily removal of faecal material from cages with a wire brush. Myxoma virus causes the devastating condition called myxomatosis. The virus was introduced into Australia to kill wild rabbits. It can be transmitted from wild to domestic rabbits by mosquitoes and fleas, which act as mechanical vectors. Rabbits of all ages are affected and swelling of eyelids, lips, face and ears is not noticed in the chronic form of the disease. Keeping flying insects out of the rabbitry is vital in preventing this disease. Culling affected animals immediately is the best way of preventing further spread of the disease. There is no treatment or vaccine for myxomatosis available in Australia.

Calicivirus causes the disease commonly known as Rabbit Calicivirus Disease (RCD) or viral haemorrhagic disease. It is used for biological control of wild rabbits in Australia and is transmitted through flies, mosquitoes, direct or indirect animal contact and through the air. Adult animals mostly die quickly, showing few clinical signs, although in some instances fever, blood stained mucus and respiratory difficulty may be seen. Kittens up to the age of 4-5 weeks appear to have some natural resistance against the disease. The protection of breeding stock with RCD vaccine is essential. The first dose of vaccine can be given at the age of 12 weeks and a booster dose is essential after 12 months of age.

MARKETING
The following information has been gathered from rabbit breeders in NSW and Victoria. It is a guide only as to the marketing arrangements that are operating in the industry. Regional groups of rabbit farmers have worked together to set up certified rabbit slaughtering facilities, as purpose built abattoirs or as part of existing livestock abattoirs. Marketing of the meat is usually undertaken by one of the larger producers, the abattoir manager or a meat wholesaler associated with a particular slaughtering facility. The important point for new farmers to appreciate is that there is no established, state-wide marketing system as we see for other livestock industries.

Marketing your rabbits will mean tapping into groups that are already established or establishing your own from scratch! However, there appears to be a good domestic demand for meat rabbit, especially in the cooler months, and there is plenty of room for growth. Prices being paid for rabbits vary from group to group and are in the range of Rs.300 to 450 per kg dressed weight. Rabbits usually wear out at 50% of liveweight at slaughter. There is a small residual value for pelts and by-products. Slaughtering costs are about Rs.50 per rabbit.