Rabbits do not take up much space, they have lots of babies, and they are cheap and easy to feed. So raising rabbits is an ideal choice for people who live in cities. Rabbit meat tastes good, too. Many people say that, when cooked, it is much like poultry.
Besides providing you with meat, rabbits produce dung, which makes good fertilizer. Rabbit skin and fur have many uses. You may be able to sell rabbit meat, dung, skin, and fur in the local market. A rabbit can be a source of instant cash in an emergency.
Raising rabbits for your family to eat can save you money. It can also earn money for you. One rabbit for dinner and one for the market will improve family nutrition and increase family income at the same time.
Healthy and productive rabbits need clean, dry homes. You can keep them in cages raised above the ground on posts or on a fence. The bottom of the cage should be a metre or a metre and a half above the ground–a convenient height for you to work with your rabbits. Some people save space by building shelves on a wall for the cages. They might keep rabbits on one shelf, chickens on another, and guinea pigs on a third.
Keep each adult rabbit in its own cage. Each cage should be half a metre to one metre square, and about half a metre high, large enough for a rabbit and its young to move around a little bit. Put the cage in a place that is protected from rain, wind, and hot sun.
Keep the cages clean. Dirt and droppings and urine from rabbits may contain germs that will make them sick. And a dirty cage will attract flies.
You will find it easier to keep a rabbit cage clean if the floor of the cage has holes just large enough for dirt, droppings, and urine to fall through. If the spaces are too large, it is uncomfortable for a rabbit’s feet, and baby rabbits’ feet may be injured by slipping through the holes.
You can make a floor from wire mesh. Thick wire, with holes one or one and a half centimetres square, is best. Do not use old, rusty, or broken wire mesh. And do not use chicken mesh, because it is too thin and will hurt a rabbit’s feet.
A cheaper way to make a floor is to put down strips of split bamboo, with the hard, round side facing up. Or, you could use strong, smooth strips of wood. Just nail them down side by side with one or one and a half centimetres of space between them for the dirt to fall through.
You can also make a good floor from bamboo mesh. Loosely weave together narrow pieces of split bamboo with the smooth side up. Leave square spaces between the strips.
Bamboo, strips of hard wood, wire mesh, or bamboo mesh also make good walls. They should let in plenty of fresh air to keep the rabbits from getting too hot or damp. The walls can have larger spaces in them than the floor. But make sure the spaces right near the bottom of the walls are not too large. If they are too large, the baby rabbits might fall out.
The door on your cage should be big enough so that you can reach in easily to feed the rabbits and clean every part of the cage. You might want to build a cage with a roof that comes off instead of a regular door.
Feeding rabbits in the city is easy because they can eat a variety of foods. You can feed them grass and leaves, or greens thrown out by stores, markets, and restaurants. Rabbits can also eat food scraps from your kitchen. Or, you can give them alfalfa and other forage crops which are sold at some stores for city farmers. They can also eat chicken, pig, or rabbit feed from feed stores.
Some rabbit farmers in the city learn to think a bit like rabbits themselves. They look for rabbit food wherever they go, and ask their neighbours to save rabbit food for them.
When you give your rabbit forage, like grass and leaves, keep the forage off the cage floor by tying it together in a bunch and hanging it from the ceiling or wall of the cage. Or put it in a rack attached to the cage wall. Just be sure not to put your rabbit feed directly on the floor of the cage where it will be dirtied by urine and droppings. Dirty food can make a rabbit sick.
Try to keep your rabbit’s forage dry, especially in hot weather. If your rabbit eats wet forage it may get sick with diarrhoea and even die. If forage is wet when you cut it, let it dry for a few hours before you give it to your rabbit.
When you give your rabbit kitchen scraps or commercial feed, put them in a clean container. You can attach the container to the cage wall so the rabbit will not knock it over. Just remember to clean it regularly. Also, remove uneaten feed from the cage before it goes bad.
Your rabbit needs clean water at least twice a day. You should also clean your rabbit’s water container or bowl often.
You can feed your rabbit forage and scraps from a garden. Then you can use the rabbit droppings you clean out of the cage for fertilizer. You might trade rabbit dung with other city farmers in return for rabbit food.
When it is time to breed the female rabbit, put her into the cage with the male in the early morning or evening. After they have mated, put her back in her own cage. Her litter will be born about a month later.
About a week before your rabbit’s babies are born, give her a nest box where she can give birth. The nest is also a warm, dry place for the young rabbits.
There are 6 to 10 babies in a litter. Their eyes will not open until about two weeks after they are born. Do not touch any of the baby rabbits until they are 7 days old. If you do, you will change the way they smell, and the mother will not feed them. If you need to check the baby rabbits, rub your hands over the mother first. Then the babies will smell like their mother instead of smelling like your hands.
When they are two months old, baby rabbits should be weaned from their mothers. You can breed the female again once her litter has been weaned. Feed them for another two months. Then, when they weigh about two kilos, they are big enough to eat or sell.
Rabbits can give you and your family meat and earn you extra income. And since they are small and easy to feed, they adapt well to city conditions. Raising rabbits might be your path to a better life in the city.
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- Jac Smit, RCD Consultants, 1711 Lamont Street N.W., Washington D.C., U.S.A.
- “Rabbits,” in Footsteps, No. 10, March 1992, published by Tear Fund, 100 Church Road, Teddington TW11 8QE, U.K.
- “Raising rabbits in the backyard.” Extension Fact Sheet CAEX-FS/21/85, published by Caribbean Agricultural Extension Project, Faculty of Agriculture, The University of the West Indies, St. Augustine, Trinidad and Tobago.
- “Management of rabbits.” Extension Fact Sheet CAEX-FS/22/85, published by Caribbean Agricultural Extension Project, Faculty of Agriculture, The University of the West Indies, St. Augustine, Trinidad and Tobago.
- “Slaughtering a rabbit.” Extension Fact Sheet CAEX-FS/23/85, published by Caribbean Agricultural Extension Project, Faculty of Agriculture, The University of the West Indies, St. Augustine, Trinidad and Tobago.
- “A good home for your rabbit,” “A nest box for your baby rabbits,” “Clean feed for healthy rabbits,” “If you eat meat, rabbit meat may save you money,” Developing Countries Farm Radio Network scripts 12.6, 12.7, 14.12, 15.5.