|Guidelines and References: Livestock Training Component (Peace Corps, 1985, 302 p.)|
Rabbits, unlike swine, poultry, and goats, cannot be allowed to freerange even at low levels of production. One result of this physical limitation is that a wide variety of local breeds of rabbits have not been developed in third world countries. There are a few local breeds (such as the Baladi which are raised in Sudan) but these are not to be confused with wild rabbits. Wild rabbits harbor diseases and parasites which are transmittable, in many cases, to domestic rabbits. It is a mistake to attempt to domesticate wild rabbits or use them in your rabbit projects. They have difficulty even surviving in captivity, much less being productive. Therefore, unless you have a local breed of rabbit which has been domesticated and produces well in your area, you will need to select an exotic breed of rabbit to use as the breeding stock in your project.
Since no single breed is appropriate in all situations I will offer to you some criteria to consider in choosing a particular breed over another.
1. At what level of production (survival, moderate, or high) will you be working?
2. Do you need rabbits that are good survivors and will receive minimal care or do you need production breeds that produce well under good management?
3. Are there cultural preferences locally as to the size or coloring of rabbits? (White rabbits, for example, are often seen only as pets.)
4. Are you raising them for meat or for fur?
5. What size of rabbit will you be trying to sell?
6. Which different breeds are available locally? Why?
7. Is there any preference, locally, concerning the taste or color of rabbit meat?
8. What quality and quantity of feeds do you have available?
Listed below are some of the more than 30 exotic breeds (which does not include the approximately 100 different varieties) which exist. The breeds listed below are some of the more common breeds used in production worldwide. The breeds listed have been grouped according to their mature weight as either small or dwarf breeds, medium sized breeds, or large/giant breeds.
Small or Dwarf Breeds
These breeds weigh only 3 to 4 pounds at sexual maturity. They are not commonly used because of their reduced size which reduces their acceptance as a marketable meat animal. They do have the benefit of reduced energy requirements for maintenance because of their small body size, however.
These smaller rabbits are pictured below and are grown in Tanzania.
This rabbit is common to Mexico and Central America. It has a small body size and relatively low production characteristics but is hardy and tolerant of local conditions.
These rabbits are exceedingly small and never weigh over 3-1/2 pounds.
Medium Size Breeds
These breeds will weigh 9-12 pounds at maturity. They are the most common size of rabbit used for commercial production worldwide. Nowhere has a particular breed of rabbit been selected and specifically developed for tropical conditions. Generally, developing countries use the medium size breeds developed in Europe which adapt well to backyard tropical conditions.
This is one of the more common breeds available worldwide. It is similar in size and disposition to the New Zealand White. The dominant marking of the Californian is its brown ears.
2. New Zealand Whites
The New Zealand White was developed for intensive systems in Europe but has also adapted very well to the tropics. It is probably the most common exotic breed available worldwide. It can be found in Mexico, Central America, Tanzania, Mozambique, Mauritius, Nepal, and other countries. Since it is such a popular breed, there are plenty of sources of good quality stock available worldwide.
Large or Giant Breeds
1. Flemish Giants
Popular in Ghana and available, generally, in West Africa, these rabbits can weigh more than 13 pounds when mature.
2. Checkered Giants
Also raised in Ghana, it is preferred there even though it has inferior production characteristics to those of smaller breeds available. Its popularity seems to stem from its size and color.
3. Yellow Silvers
This large breed (12-14 pounds) is also a favorite in West Africa.
Read of Raising Rabbits by VITA for an explanation of the mating process. I would only add that rabbits are very territorial and will not mate if they feed stressed or threatened. It is best to mate rabbits during the cool of the day when libido and sperm fertility are at their highest. In the hot tropics, temperatures over 30°C. can depress reproduction.
Refer to the following charts for information on breeding systems and rabbit life cycle.
When different breeds of rabbits are crossed the result is hybrid vigor. You may find it appropriate to cross exotics with local breeds of rabbits in order to produce an animal with some production characteristics and some survival characteristics. This is not a good idea if you are striving for high production but it may be appropriate in low to moderate production environments where disease and parasites are still a problem and the feed available is not expensive, highly nutritious feed. However, in making your decision on this issue consider the following points:
1. As mentioned, your rabbits may gain hybrid vigor and couple good survival characteristics with production.
2. You can improve the bloodline of local breeds of other farmers in the area.
3. One exotic buck can service many local breed does.
1. By mating your buck with the does of local breeds, you are exposing the buck to diseases and parasites that are in the other colony. Before using your buck for breeding purposes outside your colony, be sure to check out the health of the colony that the doe came from.
2. Quarantine all new does or bucks brought into your colony for breeding until you can be sure that they are disease and parasite free.
Inbreeding within the bloodlines in your colony can couple recessive genes that produce characteristics not desirable in a production rabbit. Good management and recordkeeping are your tools to prevent inbreeding.
Commercial rabbit breading system used in Isito, Ghana involving colony housing of certain classes of adult stock.
*/ Signifies that the rabbits are kept in groups.
Source: Odonkor ( 1978).