Rabbit production: Caring for rabbits – the basics


By Digital team | 14 November 2017
Rabbits
A New Zealand female with her offspring. Rabbits need safe, dry and warm nesting boxes to provide protection for the newborn rabbits. Photo: Kirsti (Wikicommons)

Question: How do I raise rabbits, starting with the best way to house them and what their nutritional needs are?

Rabbit farming is gaining popularity for a number of reasons. They can be kept in a relatively small space, it is not expensive to keep them, they eat almost anything, produce high-quality protein and can be sold to make money. But it is important to ensure the animals are housed properly and eat correctly for their nutritional requirements.

HOUSING

  • Rabbits should be housed in cages made of wire mesh or scrap wood.
  • A good rule of thumb is to build individual cages about 80 x 60 x 60 cm in size.
  • Cages shouldn’t rest on the ground, but should be lifted.They can be supported by poles or simply placed on old tyres or bricks.
  • It’s important that cages have a wire mesh floor with holes large enough for droppings to fall through, but not too big otherwise their feet will get stuck.
  • A bonus is that farmers can use the droppings as fertiliser for vegetable production or flower gardens.
  • Rabbits dig, so an earth floor is no good – the rabbits will simply dig their way out.
  • If you prefer to build cages using a wooden frame, ensure that the wire mesh is placed on the inside of the frame to prevent the rabbits gnawing through the wood.
  • You will also have to provide nesting boxes for the mother to keep baby rabbits warm. They should be roughly 38 x 25 x 25 cm in size.

FEEDING

  • According to animal feeds manufacturer Epol, it is crucial to give rabbits the correct diet. Epol’s calculations show that feed can make up as much as 80% of production costs, so it would be wise to ensure the feed programme is well designed.
  • Rabbits have complex digestive systems that are designed to process food efficiently, and produce nutrients necessary for life.
  • It is important not to disrupt the delicate balance of their intestinal flora by introducing new foods too quickly, or giving food that’s unsuitable. This could make a rabbit very ill.
  • Rabbits should have a nutritious daily diet of hay, fresh vegetables and pellets. They should not be given too much carbohydrates or sweets (including fruit).
  • A rabbit’s diet can include lucerne, grass, green maize, leaves, carrots, turnips and cabbage (not too much).
  • A few precautions are necessary, however: potato and tomato leaves and rhubarb are poisonous to rabbits.
  • Also ensure that cabbage is not fed to a lactating female as it can lower milk production.
  • Fresh, clean water must be available at all times. This can be provided in bowls or drop feeders.
  • Rabbits are intolerant of any kind of micro-organism in their drinking water, so it would be a good idea to have the water tested before setting up a rabbit facility.
  • Even city water should be tested, as the chlorine levels may be harmful to the rabbit’s intestinal flora.

FEED FOR MEAT RABBITS

  • Feed and water intake depends on the kind of feed, type of rabbit, its age and stage of production.
  • One of the most common mistakes rabbit producers make is overfeeding their charges.
  • Fat animals will not reproduce efficiently, so a controlled diet for breeding rabbits is essential.

KEEPING CAGES CLEAN

  • Clean cages mean healthy rabbits.
  • Clean the cage often and keep it dry to prevent disease.
  • Before setting up the cages, ensure that the rabbits will be protected from sun, wind and rain. It is not necessary to put the cages inside buildings, such as sheds, to protect the rabbits against cold as they tolerate cold better than heat.
  • Rabbits need fresh air, so the cages should be well ventilated. Epol advises that the air in a rabbit facility must be monitored closely – there should be adequate air, but no draughts.
  • Rabbits produce enough ammonia to cause the air to become toxic in a very short time. High levels will affect rabbit production as ammonia causes respiratory irritation that leads to snuffles.
  • If the air quality is poor, rabbits will become stressed and this can cause health problems.

Also read:
Farm rabbits – focus on breeding for successful outcomes
Farm rabbits – get into the microstock market

  • This article was written by Wilma den Hartigh and first appeared in Farming SA.