Rabbit meat has gradually turned into a delicacy, if one is to go by the number of rabbit meat eateries that are coming up across the city. As a result, the National Animal Genetic Resources Centre and Data Bank (NAGRC&DB) has taken it up as one of the low-cost but potentially money-making enterprises whose research they are now promoting.
According to Dr Arthur Tumwine, who is in charge of rabbit breeding at the centre, the rabbitry unit has been introduced as an important cost-effective enterprise in areas where there is a shortage of land, minimal resources, for the unemployed and youth as a means for wealth creation.
Rabbit keeping was thus one of the several technologies that were exhibited during the 28th Source of the Nile farming fair in Jinja, early August, 2022. The rabbit is known for its prolificacy and efficient conversion rate of fodder to food. They require little space; have minimal effect on climate change because of their negligible production of methane and minimal effects on overgrazing.
Additionally, rabbits are easy to handle and restrain. Their meat is white-fine-grained, high in protein, low in fat, highly palatable, low in cholesterol and sodium levels. All these and many more factors make rabbitry, not only attractive to the youths, landless, poor but also those who are looking for viable agri-businesses to invest in.
“Rabbits have a proved to be highly beneficial, productive and make suitable meat producing micro livestock in Uganda,” Tumwine says. On display was the rabbit house/other structures related to rabbits, type of feeds or nutrition bet for this enterprise and the best breeds to rear.
“Rabbit keeping has been largely managed by private breeders with a lot of try and error, however NAGRC is now taking it up because it has the potential to fight poverty and improve nutrition,” Tumwine says.
He says while breed selection is a challenge, nutrition for rabbits is another issue that has kept farmers away from the enterprise.
According to Beatrice Luzobe, another rabbit farmer and trainer at the annual Harvest Money Expo, rabbit nutrition was affected because there was no feeds formulation for rabbits.
“We now have feeds on the market so farmers should no longer be worried,” she says.
She explained that a mature rabbit consumes 100 to 150g while a lactating doe consumes 150 to 200g of pellets per day. A buck consumes 80 to 100g per day. However, weaners that feed between 30-80g per day as well as grasses.
The grass acts as roughage in the rabbit’s stomach, that prevents constipation which usually occurs when left to feed on pellets alone.
In addition to rabbits, they showcased products ranging from the national bull stud which keeps high quality bulls for semen, poultry unit, apiary, pig breeding, fish, small-ruminants (goats) and best cattle beef breeds ranging from the indigenous, cross-breeds and pure breeds.
“Since our mission is to establish a comprehensive and sustainable national animal breeding programme that meets the commercial and developmental interests of the actors along the livestock sub-sector value chains, they are always coming up with innovations that suits farmers’ needs,” says Suzanne Nabukeera Bukenya, the public relations officer at NAGRC.
Another of the big attractions was the embryo transfer mobile unit. This mobile laboratory is to aid in embryo transfer, field semen collection and evaluation of semen dispatched to Artificial Inseminators (AI) Technicians at the Parish level. The van facilitates the use of superior female animal breeds as donors for embryos that are carried by low producing animals to ensure a quick shift in productivity through massive improved breed production.
According to Dr Jackson Mubiru, to increase production and productivity of livestock, the focus is on increasing access to improved animal genetic resources or semen and this has resulted in enhanced community-based breeding initiatives, with better conception rates, increased availability of liquid nitrogen which has boosted the use of artificial insemination countrywide; the liquid nitrogen is used to preserve the semen at a temperature of -196c degrees.
“Dairy farmers can now receive semen not only faster but also when it is still good,” Mubiru said.
They emphasised that all technologies at the centre are accessible to communities through the community-based breeding program by offering good quality genetics through artificial insemination. Farmers are advised on which breeds to rear, how to manage them and access breeding services. The centre has got branches across all regions of the country.
Take note of effects of climate change
The Minister of State for Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries/Animal Industry, Bright Rwamirama Kanyontore, called upon all sectors, local governments, non-governmental organizations, private sector, researchers and institutions of learning to renew commitment to support crop farmers, livestock farmers and other land users to climate proof their land and avert the looming negative impacts of climate change.
He said the Government recognised the effects of climate change that has resulted into prolonged droughts, flooding, high temperatures, landslides and strong winds as some of the greatest emerging challenges to agriculture transformation.
Rwamirama noted that it also underscores the importance of building resilience of agricultural livelihoods and landscapes to ensure sustainable food security and wealth creation.
He added that the Government continues to prioritise investment in technology development including research in; breeding, seeds and inputs, post-harvest management, extension, seed, fertilizer, water for crops and animals, mechanisation, pest and disease control, animal husbandry and fisheries.
Rabbit farming tips
-Find a suitable location and construct a structure with good aeration. The structure should not allow direct aeration into the rabbits because they can’t handle that air. Good aeration neutralizes ammonium in the house because with much ammonia the young rabbits will die.
-Rabbits are territorial animals; if you enclose two bucks in the same cage, they will castrate themselves as they fight to own the territory. Therefore, each buck should be in its own cage.
-While constructing our cages, we are guided by animal rights measuring 2ftX2ftX2ftX2ft X2.5ft. this spacing is enough because the longest rabbit is 2.5ft. A cage for 10 costs about sh1m.
-After eating Rabbits normally stretch, therefore, they need enough space for exercising. This enables the rabbit to live in comfort as an animal as per the animal rights guidelines.
-It is not advisable to construct metallic cages because they attract a lot of heat coldness depending on the weather conditions. However, if you are to use have metallic cages, use galvanized metals because they control temperatures. Therefore, wooden cages are the best because they are readily available and maintenance costs are cheaper compared to metals.
-Good breeding rabbits cost between sh70,000 and sh120,000 each.