Rearing of rabbits and guinea
Rabbits and guinea pigs belong to the group of farm animals referred to as small stock. If raised under suitable conditions, their products can be very high. Many people keep rabbits and guinea pigs as a hobby while some keep them to make money.
Qualities of a good rabbit or guinea pig for rearing
1. Their flesh is good for meat.
2. The fur of the rabbit is good for making hats.
3. Rabbit skin is good for leather work.
4. Their females can produce young ones about four times in one year, i.e. their gestation period is short.
5. They are useful for research purposes.
Characteristic features of rabbits
1. They have a small or medium-size body.
2. They are easy to house.
3. They are prolific, i.e. they produce many litters.
4. They grow fast and reach maturity weight in about 5-6 months.
5. They are efficient converter of a wide range of vegetable matter into meat.
6. They have a high rate of disease resistance.
Breeds of rabbits
There are different breeds of rabbits. These are Angora, California, Chinchilla, Dutch, Flemish giant, Norfolk and New Zealand. These breeds are identified by their sizes and colours of fur (see Table Below)
Breeding of rabbits
The mature male rabbit is known as a buck. The mature female is called a doe. The young rabbit is also called a doe. A mature pregnant doe requires sufficient space so that there will be no overcrowding when the young ones are born. The doe, therefore, requires one pen while the litter, i.e. its young ones require one pen each at birth.
The buck is used to mate the doe every alternate day until pregnancy occurs. The doe is usually taken to the buck for mating.
The pregnancy period (gestation) in rabbit is about 31 days.
Hence, a doe can bear young ones four times a year. The young ones are weaned after about four weeks.
Management of rabbits and guinea pigs
Rabbits and guinea pigs need very good care. They need good housing, feeding and protection from insects and diseases.
Good management helps to increase the farmers’ profit.
The type of housing for rabbits and guinea pigs will depend on the following factors:
1. Availability of local housing materials.
2. The condition of the environment.
3. The size of the enterprise.
4. The amount of money the farmer has for the enterprise.
Rabbits and guinea pigs are kept in cages for safety from harsh weather and predators. Mature rabbits are kept singly
in hutches, usually made of wooden or metal material. Guinea pigs are reared in cages or deep litter.
The floor of hutches is usually made of concrete for easy clearing. The floor should be made to slope backwards to allow for drainage.
The roof is made of corrugated iron sheets. A wooden nesting box must be kept inside the cage for pregnant does together with feeding and drinking equipment.
The hutches must be cleaned regularly, and all dead young ones removed immediately to prevent the doe from eating them. Sick animals should be isolated from healthy ones. Stale food should be removed and replaced with fresh food. The surroundings of the hutches must be regularly swept and
fresh water supplied daily.
Rabbits and guinea pigs feed on a variety of food items, such as hay, green vegetables, roots, grains, concentrates, pellets, dry bread, kitchen waste and minerals. All available food and water are kept in the nesting box.
Diseases and pests
Rabbits and guinea pigs suffer from the following diseases: sore back, mange, coccidiosis and bloat. Bloat is the swelling of the stomach of the animals as a result of overeating of green succulent vegetables. Care should be taken to prevent disease attacks on the animals.
Handling of rabbits
Rabbits require very careful handling. A rabbit should be handled from the folds on its back. The young ones should not be touched with the hand. If this happens, the doe may eat them up.
They should not be lifted by the ears or legs as this may hurt them.
Simple records should be kept in the pen to show the following: the breed of rabbit or guinea pig kept, the mating or breeding date, birth dates, number of litters, weight of does at birth or kindling, weight of does at weaning, number of rabbits/guinea pigs sold and cash realised from sales.