Some of the rabbits dart, others nibble the green leafy plants inside the cages made of wood, iron sheets and wire mesh at Justin Magiri’s farm in Bamburi-Utange, Mombasa.
The farmer keeps about 200 rabbits, having started the venture in 2013 with only six.
“The number has been growing over the years and my target is to have over 2,000 animals. Rabbits are prolific breeders, which makes them one of the most profitable animals,” says Magiri.
The 38-year-old says his total investment in the animals when he was starting was a mere Sh1,500.
“The buck was five-month-old, a New Zealand White, while the does were three months old of the Fransk Vender (two), Flemish Giant (two) and California White breeds.”
At five months, he serviced the females with the male New Zealand White and his stock multiplied rapidly.
“The rabbits offered me 38 kits in total. Their gestation period ranges from 28 to 31 days while lactation period is two months. A female rabbit can deliver three to six times a year with each delivery consisting of between six and 12 litters,” explains Magiri, a 2008 Kabarak University finance graduate, who keeps the animals in his parent’s compound.
Since he started, Magiri has sold over 940 rabbits, 760 of which were slaughtered at the Mombasa County abattoir for meat while the rest were sold to farmers engaging in rabbit keeping as well as newcomers.
“I sell a New Zealand White male or female at Sh4,000, a cross-breed of Flemish Giant and California White at Sh4,000, American Kentucky at Sh3,500 and Fransk Vender at Sh3,500. A kilo of meat goes for Sh550. I sell the rabbits when they are about 4.5kg for females and 6kg for males at eight and 12 months respectively,” says Magiri, who also runs a supplies company trading in computer accessories, cleaning detergents, cereals and stationery.
RABBIT URINE FERTILISER
He sells rabbit meat to supermarkets and restaurants in Mombasa, Kilifi and Kwale counties.
Demand is so high that he takes orders from other rabbit farmers at Sh450 a kilo and sells to his customers.
He feeds his animals with rabbit pellets once a day at 7am to 9am or in the evening from 4pm to 6pm with the mature ones consuming 100g of the feeds each.
“A 50kg bag of the pellets that goes at Sh2,200 is enough for 10 rabbits per month. With my 200 rabbits, I need 20 bags or 1,000kg to feed them a month.”
He supplements the feeds with dry grass, black jack, carrots and a herb locally known as mchunga (Launaea cornuta).
“Carrots are vital for the rabbits as they give them vitamins to help control their stress levels. Apart from the feeds, I also offer them unlimited supply of water to help in digestion.”
He harvests rabbit urine, which is a good organic fertiliser rich in nitrogen and phosphorous while the droppings are good manure.
“I have made my cages in such a way that when the rabbits urinate, the urine flows directly to containers under the cages,” he says, adding he packs the urine in 200-litre containers and sells to farmers at Sh50 per lire.
He cleans the 114 cages that cost him a fortune to construct twice a week and the water and food containers daily.
His plan is to add value to rabbit products for more income.
“I want to establish a cottage industry so that I can make fertiliser from the rabbit urine while I will use the skins for making handbags, belts and shoes.”
RABBIT KEEPING CHALLENGES
On the other hand, the farmer who is one of the biggest rabbit keepers in Mombasa, plans to open a restaurant, the first one of its kind, in the town to sell rabbit nyoma choma and fry as well as samosas, sausages and hamburgers made from the meat.
Some of the challenges he grapples with are diseases such as coccidiosis and salmonellosis, but he has managed to stem them through good rabbit husbandry practices.
Mombasa County veterinary officer Jones Mwita says for a farmer to keep rabbits successfully, he must maintain high hygiene standards.
“The cages must be well-ventilated and clean while water containers must be cleaned daily to protect the rabbits from diseases. We encourage farmers to keep a close eye on their rabbits, give them the correct diet, update vaccinations, regular health checks to keep diseases at bay.”
The animals need vaccines from week five to protect against myxomatosis and haemorrhagic disease, which cause intense suffering. A farmer should also watch out against bloat by giving the rabbits dry plants.
The veterinary officer says farmers must use translucent iron sheets while building cages to enable the rabbits get light, which essential for giving them Vitamin D and that they should protect them from direct wind to prevent them from suffering from pneumonia.
Giant Breeds: They weigh up to 9kg. They attain sexual maturity late (nine months) and have less frequent and small litter sizes. They also have higher bone to meat ratio compared to other breeds. An example is the Flemish Giant.
Medium Breeds: They weigh up to 5kg with good management. Attain sexual maturity early (six months), are prolific breeders and best for meat production. Examples are California White and New Zealand White.
Small Breeds: They weigh up to 3kg with good management. They attain sexual maturity early and are very prolific breeders and hardy. Examples are Kenya White and Dutch breeds.