Table of Contents

 

See the "Speciality fibre production" chapter for farming rabbits for their wool.

 

1. Overview

  • The area required for an economic unit is fairly small. A plot or even a comparatively large town property (regulations permitting) is suitable.
  • Rabbits compare favourably with other animals as converters of vegetable feed to meat. To produce 1 kg live mass meat, the rabbit only requires 3,5 kg vegetable feed.
  • The reproduction potential of the doe is remarkable if one considers, in a commercial herd, a progeny of 40 can be marketed out of a single doe, with one 3 kg animal producing up to 40 kg of meat in a year.
  • Certain breeds are bred for both their meat and pelts, such as the Chinchilla Giganta and Rex Rabbits, whilst the New Zealand White and The Californian are used for meat production. Angora Rabbits (see “Specialty fibre production” chapter) are farmed for their wool.
  • A new breed has been developed in South Africa to suit our hot and dry conditions. This breed is called the SA Phendula (which translated means “the answer"). The Phendula is bred for meat and it carries a good agouti coloured pelt.
  • Another product from rabbits is their manure, which has the highest levels of NPK (Nitrogen, Phosphoric Acid, and Potassium) of all farm animal manures. It can be placed directly onto seed beds and does not damage the roots of young plants.

Locally, rabbit health Research and Development has had little commercial incentive to advance, and what knowledge has existed was seldom accessible when and where needed. Overseas expertise applicable to mass production could be accessed, but issues of licensing and cost worked against this.

Is there a change in the air? There has been increased interest in rabbit farming since the previous edition of the Agri Handbook (2013/14). Yes there are changes in that we now have a commercial interest that is growing and market research and development have had an extensive impact on both the local and export market (see under Role Players).

 

The National Society for the Protection of Cruelty to Animals (NSPCA) is busy putting together a Code of Practice suitable for the commercial rabbit production industry. Working with leading industry role players and experts, and with the South African Bureau of Standards (SABS), it is hoped that this document will be available soon to all breeders and potential breeders of commercial rabbits. For more information please contact Grace De Lange on 011 907 3590.

 

2. Local business environment

“I still have people phone to say they have 30 – 50 -100 rabbits ready for slaughter – where do I sell them. If they didn’t have a market they should NOT have been bred in the first place.” Karoline Steenekamp, rabbit expert, speaking after years of retirement. It is essential in any business operation to establish a market before going ahead with production. To fail to do so will result in costly failure.

Pelts:

  • The market for pelts fluctuates, and breeders may have to find their own markets.
  • Breeding for pelts also means extra expense as animals must be kept until after the primary hair coat has been shed.
  • Pelt processing by the producer himself could also involve great expense.
  • The market for high quality pelts has increased in the UK and Europe. The fashion industry in on the look out to match batches of top pelts.

Meat Production:

  • A carefully worked out breeding programme can achieve top production and the economic productive life of a doe is from about 24 to 36 months.
  • At 11-12 weeks rabbits are usually ready for the market with a mass of 2,3 to 2,5 kg.
  • The law requires slaughtering at an approved abattoir, either the producer’s own or an existing one.
  • An eleven week-old rabbit should dress at about 54% of the original size and weight (after the bones, head, fur etc have been removed)
  • In South Africa, commercial rabbit farming has always somewhat neglected, but due to concerted effort by some clubs and a commercial consortium, rabbit meat production is now a viable agricultural product.