In our rural areas of Sindh, Pakistan, the whole family lives and works jointly, so rabbit raising is not a separate issue of women's work only. In the rural areas of Sindh, most people do animal husbandry - they keep buffalo, cows, sheep, goats and poultry. These animals supply meat and eggs for protein, and also produce milk and meat which can be sold. The poor rural communities are always malnourished, due to overwork and eating only vegetables.
The Sindh Rural Women's Up-Lift Group introduced a few breeding pairs of rabbits to each rural family, and provided them guidance about their growth, nutrition and living habits. This brings great play and joy for children, they raise rabbit as a game and entertain themselves. In the rural area we do not have electricity, or other facilities, so children enjoy rabbit raising. The breeding process of rabbit is so fast, that in few years, each family now has many pairs of rabbits, which they not only use for sale to earn money, but also as food, which is very inexpensive, and good source of protein. In this way rabbit raising improves the economic condition as well as their nutrition and health and provides better environment for children to play.
Rabbits are used for meat purposes especially during times of real food shortages, as was the case in World War II in Europe. Rabbit meat is lean, with little fat, little waste, with high meat to bone ratio, and low cholesterol level. The rabbit is an economical producer of protein for human consumption. Rabbit meat is versatile, there are many ways of serving it. Rabbit meat uses - Roasting, rabbit pate, rabbit pudding, rabbit pie, boiled rabbit, curried rabbit, fried rabbit. Rabbit is a good source of protein and is fast growing and can be raised with virtually no spending on food and medicine, and it is a beautiful addition in the backyard for children's play, its fur is also used for making fur coats, hats, gloves and hand bags and its manure as fertilizer.
Rabbits are small, easy to handle, usually docile, mature very quickly and require little garden space. They can be raised without the use of drugs or growth-stimulants, which are given to other farm animals for rapid growth. Rabbit crop becomes ready in 9-10 weeks. They can be given feed pellets or fed on household scraps and green food. People also produce worms for fishermen from rabbit manure. All breeds of rabbit produce fur. The hair of Rex rabbit is only half an inch long; it is dense, soft and silky. Silver-haired rabbit is used for fur production. Grey rabbit is used for hats.
There are various breeds of rabbits such as: New Zealand white; new Zealand Red; Dutch; Californian; Rex; Flemish Giant; Bevexen; and Havana. Hybrids between various breed of rabbits are developed based on size of carcass, speed of growth, size of litter produced. Rabbits are not true rodents. They have very powerful teeth. Rabbit have large eyes and able to see at night. The ears are mobile and independent, like radar scanners. The blood vessels in the outer ear also help to regulate the body heat.
They communicate by scent. There is a gland under the chin which produces droplets of scent which they rub on objects to mark their territory. In adult rabbit the respiration is 45 per minutes when resting, but its rate is higher in young as well as when the rabbit is under stress. The rabbit has a 6-7 day receptivity cycle. The completion of ovulation is can only be achieved as a result of stimulation, usually the actions of the buck in mating.
A month after mating the doe makes a nest with soft hay and she plucks fur from her under side to line the nest. This helps to expose her teats, which are normally lost in the fur. Tame does make a nest in the hutch since they like a quiet dark place. The young are usually fed only once a day, baby teeth develop after a week, which are replaced by permanent teeth. Does need good food to produce milk for the babies, which is higher in protein (12-14%) compared to cow milk. The false pregnancy chances are reduced when doe is re-mated while still suckling her previous litter. Before breeding lot of fighting can take place to see who will become the boss.
The best time to purchase rabbits is at eight to ten weeks of age, and put them in backyard. At the age of four to five months, they are ready for breeding. Some people use hutches with wire floors and underneath a tray to catch the droppings. New born rabbits chill and die if they are not protected in the nest. It is very important to keep rabbits dry and snug, with no draughts in the sleeping quarters. Outdoor hutches need to be protected from the weather so the roof should have projecting eaves at front and back to keep off the rain, and should be weather proof. The hutches should have a front, which is partly netting, partly solid wood so that the rabbit can shelter behind the solid part if they wish. Rabbits live healthier outside because indoor rabbit keeping has a problem with ammonia in the urine therefore needing proper ventilation, lighting and airing. Backyard needs to be secure, or rabbit can escape from the enclosures and became wild. A doe and litter will need 8 square feet (4x2 feet), or more for the large breeds. The "toilet" consists of a wired-covered hole in the floor, under which a plastic box is used to catch the effluent. Rabbits needs a lot of water a especially milking does and in hot weather.
Rabbits are herbivorous eating mostly green food, grains and roots. Adult rabbit will eat about four ounces dry matter a day, and about eight ounces for doe with young.
In winter months most of the wild plants are in resting period. We can grow vegetables, shrubs and flowers for the whole season supply, such as Curly Kale, Cabbage, Fodder, beet root, Sunflower, Seed, Marigold, Dandelion, Chicory, Artichoke, leaves, peapod, Kohl Rabi, Kale, Lucerne, Sugar beet, Swedes and herbs.
In rabbits you take doe to the buck's pen for mating. The gestation period is 31 days but it can be 4 days on either side of this. During this period the doe needs good feeding. Commercial doe will only last 1.5 to 2 years, but biologically rabbit life is 9 years. Artificial insemination sometimes is used but it is not common here.
Cross breeding:- In which parents of different breeds they cross b reed and produce 'hybrid-vigour'. This method mostly used to improve meat.
Pure breeding:- Is used two unrelated animals of the same breed. This is mostly used for further breeding.
Line breeding:- In this method they use good buck and good doe, this should be tried because all the bad points intensified.
In-breeding:- In which breed line together of related animals to concentrated the genes that are predictable and all alike.
Rabbit needs warm dry bed, and varieties of fresh natural foods. The common diseases of rabbits are:
Killing and dressing rabbits for the table is an easily acquired skill. Harvesting wild rabbits - Dogs are used to catch the rabbits alive, while other methods used are snares; trapping, netting, ferretting and shooting. Meat protein is 20-21%. Rabbit meat varies according to breed like - Havana, Sable and Ermine Rex. Skin dressing by the use of solution 5 litres of water add 60 g salts, 30 g potash alum, 1 g soda ash per litre. Skin is soaked for 1-2 days than drained. Then put in the spin dryer for short time. This way skin of the rabbit can be cured as used as hat, gloves and bag making.
Corresponding author: Farzana Panhwar (Mrs)
(I am a biochemist and working in the field of organic agriculture and effects of pollution and environment of human and animal and plant health.) Mrs. Farzana Panhwar, President. The Sindh Rural Women's Up-lift Group. 157-C, Unit. No.2, Latifabad, Hyderabad Sindh, Pakistan. E-mail: <firstname.lastname@example.org> Fax: 92-21-5830826 and 92-221-860410 Photos by Mrs. Farzana Panhwar