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Rabbits can be of great social and economic value to both the family and the community at large. They provide meat, a source of fertility, and other products, and can be quickly sold for cash or turned into a nutritious meal when needed. With careful attention, they are not difficult to raise, and can be an important source of income and nourishment, especially because they can be raised by any member of the family.

In this second and concluding part of a two-part interview, a famous rabbit farmer and retired agricultural extension worker tells us what are the most important things we must do to raise, feed and house rabbits well.

Script

Traditional swange music from Mbanor village, Nigeria.

Host:
Welcome to the second and concluding part of the interview series on raising rabbits. My guest is the famous Chief Asema Yuwa, a retired agricultural extension worker and experienced rabbit keeper from Mbanor Village. Once again, Chief Asema Yuwa, you are welcome.

Chief:
Thank you. It’s good to be here again.

Host:
We have listened well to your explanation of all the numerous benefits of raising rabbits. And now we want to know: how can someone who wishes to raise rabbits start from the very beginning?

Chief:
First of all, you must think of housing for your rabbits – where you can keep them.

Host:
Could it be anywhere, for example, in the room of a house?

Chief:
If you decide to raise rabbits, you must give them a place to live that is closed enough to protect rabbits from the sun, wind and rain. But it should also be open enough to allow for plenty of fresh air.

Host:
What special material is used for a rabbit house?

Chief:
Rabbit houses – or rabbit hutches as they are known – can be made from very affordable materials. You don’t need to buy special materials or equipment to build a backyard hutch. Wood, bamboo and some wire mesh can be used to construct a cage large enough to house a rabbit.

Host:
Is the cage similar to a poultry run, or does it have a different design?

Chief:
Individual cages for the rabbits should be about 80 centimetres long, 60 centimetres wide and 60 centimetres high, which is about as high as an adult’s waist. The house stands on wooden poles. The poles and the bamboo for the floor and sides of the hutch should be painted with a wood preservative to prevent rot and to stop termites from eating the wood. It’s important also to add some wire mesh to the inside linings of the hutch to prevent the rabbits from eating through the wood.

Host:
Can more than one rabbit be put together in a cage?

Chief:
Each adult rabbit should have its own cage.

Host:
Why must the floor of the cage be raised high off the ground on poles?

Chief:
First, because it will then allow feces to pass through easily and freely to the ground. That is why the cage is made of mesh with big enough openings to let feces through, but small enough so that the rabbits will not get their feet stuck. Also, if you make the floor of the hutch at ground level, the rabbits will dig their way out. And let me add that the mother rabbit needs another smaller box to keep her babies warm when she is nesting. This box should be about 38 centimetres long by 25 centimetres wide by 25 centimetres high.

Host:
Chief Yuwa, what other care is important for rabbits?

Chief:
From housing to feeding to cleanliness, good care must be taken.

Host:
Tell me which one is the most critical.

Chief:
All of these are important, but let me start with feeding. Rabbits eat mostly green plant material such as leaves, stems and other parts of green plants, including many kinds of weeds.

Host:
Must one feed rabbits with only green plants?

Chief:
If you have nothing else, you can feed your rabbits only with green plants and weeds. You can also buy good rich food called pellets, which are especially made for rabbits. Some farmers feed only pellets and their rabbits grow very well but if you are a poor farmer like me (laughter) who cannot afford the cost of pellets, you can grow barley, beans, maize, millet or soybeans. These are as rich as pellets. I have personally planted small plots of fodder grasses beside the rabbit hutch to reduce the labour involved in seeking green fodder, especially in the dry season. But, for best growth and reproduction, pellets should be added to the feed.

Host:
I understand your rabbits eat salad foods?

Chief:
On my farm, rabbits eat cabbage, lettuce, carrots and turnips, which are superb for their growth. But do not feed cabbage to females who are nursing, as it can lower milk production.

Host:
Okay, Chief, I have potatoes and tomatoes in my garden. They are also leafy and good for rabbits, aren’t they?

Chief:
Tomato and potato leaves are not good for rabbits. In fact they are poisonous. Do not give them to your rabbits.

Host:
(in a surprised tone) I am further told that your rabbits were seen eating bread?

Chief:
Rabbits can eat bread. They can also eat maize meal porridge and leaves of fruit trees such as mangoes. But let me warn you again that potato and tomato leaves are poisonous to rabbits.

Host:
Apart from those two plants, are all other types of grass good for rabbits?

Chief:
Let me list some of the don’ts for rabbit food…

Host:
(interrupting)… or could you just tell us the names of those green plants that are best for rabbits?

Chief:
Certainly. Some of the best are spinach leaves and tridax, known locally as “ambi kyomun”. Rural schoolteachers and pupils use Tridax leaves to darken writing boards that use white chalk. But you must avoid feeding rabbits wet grass, especially during the hot season. Sudden changes in rabbits’ diet can also hurt them. Remember always to leave your rabbits with clean water and fresh food every morning and every evening. In fact where you are in doubt, consult the agricultural extension worker posted to your area or a good agricultural science tutor at the community high school nearest to you. They should be very willing to assist.

Host:
Do rabbits chew the cud the way goats do?

Chief:
No, but rabbits eat during the night just as much as during the day. That is why it is necessary to leave them with food and water for the night.

Host:
I have heard that rabbits sometimes become paralyzed from the waist down. How does this happen?

Chief:
If a rabbit is handled roughly or dropped, its fragile backbone can be injured and its hindquarters paralysed. So never pick up a rabbit by its legs or ears. It might get injured easily. When you pick up a rabbit, hold it firmly but gently.

Host:
Are rabbits easily frightened?

Chief:
Very very easily! Rabbits are quiet animals and easily frightened. If they become badly frightened, they may become sick or even die.

Host:
I suppose that this means playful children must be particularly careful around the rabbit hutch!

Chief:
All keepers of rabbits need to know that noisy sudden movements near the pens can frighten rabbits badly and must be avoided. It is usually safer for the same person to take care of the rabbits all the time.

Host:
How about cleanliness in the pens – is that important too?

Chief:
Very important. Hutches must always be kept clean and cleared of droppings. This prevents build up of disease pathogens – those disease-causing organisms that can harm or even kill your rabbits. Water containers and feeders must be cleaned regularly. But, if you are gentle, if you feed your rabbits well and keep them clean, any rabbit farmer is on the way to successful rabbit keeping.

Host:
Chief Asema Yuwa, thank you very much for sharing your farm knowledge and your experience of raising rabbits with us.

Chief:
You are welcome.

Host:
Listeners, this is the end of our interview with Chief Asema Yuwa, the famous rabbit raiser from Mbanor. If you have further queries for Yuwa, write to Chief Asema Yuwa, care of The Producer, Farming for Life, P. O. Box 1969, Makurdi, Benue State, postal code 970001, Nigeria, and the Chief will be here to answer them. For now, it’s bye from me.

Swange music

Acknowledgements

Contributed by: Sachia Ngutsav, Radio Benue, Makurdi, Benue State, Nigeria.
Reviewed by: Terry Wollen, Director of Animal Well-Being, Staff Veterinarian, Heifer International.

The botanical or scientific name for tridax is Tridax procumbens. Common names for this plant include:

àlépèlè bìndì in Dagbani, spoken in northern Ghana
dagada in Jopadhola, spoken in southeastern Uganda
agatabi in Kinyarwanda, spoken in Rwanda, Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo and southern Uganda