Rabbit farming and rabbit industry in South Africa is currently picking pace with local consumption of rabbit meat at 20% and 80% for the export market. It has many entrepreneurship incentives to help small scale farmers start out and excel at it. It is also cheap to set up and profitable if done correctly. According to the CEO of Coniglio Rabbit Meat Farm, John Falck, rabbit farming is the cheapest farming sector to set up compared to all other intensive agribusiness production systems like pig and poultry farming. The demand for rabbit meat also appears to be growing. In this guide, you will learn what rabbit farming is, how to source rabbit farming funds and how to run a successful rabbit agribusiness venture.
Before embarking on rabbit farming, you have to familiarize yourself with the laws and regulations governing the industry. Essentially, you have to ensure that your rabbit farming activities meet the minimum requirements set by the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF). In case you want to export your produce, you should get a license from DAFF. You can also get support from:
- Commercial Rabbit Producers Association (Corpa) – contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- National Agricultural Marketing Council – for industry data
- Gauteng Rabbit Breeders Association – for specialist breeders
- MPBizRabbits Model Pty Ltd- for help in setting up rabbitry and breeder development
- Cape Agency for Sustainable Integrated Development in Rural Areas – for information about rabbit farming in Western Cape
- Department of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries – for funding, and legal information about rabbit farming in South Africa
General Requirements for a Rabbit Farming Start-up
- A location that is safe from predators and free of external aggression and noise
- Appropriate wire or wooden cages with feeders and, if possible water piping system
- Source of fresh vegetables and hay or commercial feeds
- Estimated labour of 1 person for every 100 rabbits
- The market for rabbit meat or fur
Rabbit Farming Funding
According to John Falck, it should take 6 to 8 months to generate income, monthly or even weekly. Therefore, you should be financially prepared for the first 8 months of investment. Here are some of the general costs surrounding rabbit farming in South Africa:
- About R35000 for 180 rabbits, according to Pertunia Setumo (Agricultural Economist at FNB Business)
- Outsourcing to MP Biz Rabbitry Model company to build 12 cages, feeders, waste pans, PVC water supply, supply 40 rabbits of both adults and kits(baby rabbits also called kittens) and provide training costs R60000
- Feeds for every rabbit throughout its life cycle is estimated at R55
- Labour costs per hour per worker is about R20
Grants and Loan Opportunities for Rabbit Farming
To kick start your business, it is best to take advantage of the various grants and loans by the government and NGOs that are available to rabbit farmers:
Peulwana Agricultural Financial Services – This facility is available for farmers in rural or peri-urban areas. It provides access to loan services, financial governance and business plan creation for small businesses.
AgriBEE Fund – AgriBEE Fund was established by the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, mainly to encourage black people to open up and be involved in agribusinesses. They have an enterprise development fund that black start-up rabbit Farmers can gain access to.
NYDA Grant Programme – The National Youth Development Agency provides young entrepreneurs with finance facilities to support their small businesses. Click here to learn the application process and download the application forms.
Old Mutual Bank’s Masisizane Fund – Masisizane fund by Old Mutual gives loans to SMEs in agribusiness for business support and to finance development.
The Agro-Processing Support Scheme – The Agro-Processing Support Scheme, by the Department of Trade Industry and Competition, offers 20% to 30% cost sharing grants of up to R20 million for 2 year investment periods.
Cooperative Incentive Scheme – This scheme is for registered cooperatives with 5 historically disadvantaged members. This facility is available to rabbit farmers if they join a cooperative.
How to Care for Rabbits
Taking care of the rabbits is an essential part of the job because healthy rabbits give quality meat and fur. The best ways to take care of your rabbits are by Karoline Steenekamp, a long time Rabbit breeder, Chairperson of the Cape Rabbit Club and participant judge in the South African Rabbit Judges Council.
The growth of your rabbit is directly influenced by what you feed it. Essentially, you can provide it with a mixture of dry foods, pellets, and fresh green feeds, like lucern, carrot tops, broccoli greens, among others. Garden vegetable products like carrots, beetroot, kale, Spinach, Cauliflower and marog are also good for rabbits. However, melon, pumpkin and squash are not suitable for them. Hay from dried grasses such as teff, oats, eragrostis, red orchard grass provides essential nutrients to your rabbit.
Vegetables, such as tomatoes, potatoes and rhubarb, are safe to humans but poisonous to rabbits. So be careful not to feed your rabbit stock with such vegetables.
Supplement your adult rabbit’s food with 80 grams of pellets per day. However, you can increase the quantity depending on the quality of hay they are given. Feed kittens, baby rabbits, that have been weaned off with about 50g a day.
A healthy rabbit should have clear eyes, soft fur and a dry nose. Inactive hunched over rabbits and dull eyes are a red flag. Make sure the cages are clean since dirty cages cause disease and attract predators.
Make sure the rabbits are not hot. Temperatures above 25°C are deadly for rabbits. To cool the rabbits, sprinkle them with cool water using bottled ice.
Pick an adult rabbit up by pinching the skin behind its ears with one hand and cuddling its belly with the other hand. In this way, the rabbit feels safe in your arms and will not bite or scratch you. Kittens, on the other hand, should be carried using both hands around the body from behind.
Breeding of rabbits
If you do not have breeding stock, buy a start-up stock from a reliable breeder and avoid cross-breeding on their own because it confuses the breeding records.
The Breeding age of both male and female rabbits is 5 to 6 months. At this stage, a single potent buck (male rabbit) can service up to 10 does (female rabbit).
Bucks are put in separate hatches to avoid violent fights. If two bucks are placed in side by side hatches, the partition between them should be consistent without spaces or perforations.
For breeding to take place, you first have to ensure the female rabbit is on heat. After that, you need to take the doe to the buck. This is because female rabbits are territorial and will fight the male rabbit if it is brought into their hutch.
Kittens / Kits (baby Rabbits)
Pregnant does have a gestation period of 31 days. After which, they give birth to kits. Kits suckle for at least four weeks, after which they are weaned and placed in growing pens or colonies. It is best to separate the sexes at this point and only bring them together for mating. In commercial rabbitry, the kits are separated from their mothers immediately after they get to four weeks.
First, you’ll need to decide where to locate your rabbitry. According to her, rabbits need to feel happy. Ideally, the best location would be a place free from loud noises which can stress the rabbit. Stressed rabbits get sick easier than happy rabbits. Whenever you approach the cages, talk to the rabbit to signal to them that you’re coming and that it’s not a predator.
The location should have access to fresh water and, if possible, have space for future expansion of the rabbitry. It is also wise to have a vegetable garden that produces the rabbits’ food for sustainable farming.
Rabbit cages are ideal accommodation for rabbits because they protect the rabbit from rain, wind and direct sunlight. Ideally, a cage is made of wood or wire with wire being the preferred material for rabbit cage construction in South Africa. Wire cages are easier to keep cool and clean. Wooden cages, on the other hand, should have proper ventilation. In both cage types, you need to add soft padding—especially wire cages to prevent rabbit injury and discomfort.
Keep your rabbit’s cage clean to prevent the rabbits from falling ill. This also keeps predators at bay. To clean the rabbit’s cage or house, you need to use a hard broom and a shovel. But in cases where the rabbit hutch is made of wood, you should use a scraper.
Rabbit Farm Produce
Rabbits for Meat – Ordinarily, a rabbit is slaughtered for white meat when it attains a live of weight between 2.1 to 2.3kgs. Currently, the market rate for rabbit carcasses is R45 per kilo—however, the rate changes depending on the prevailing market conditions. And just like other small scale agribusinesses, rabbit products can be used for subsistence or commercial purposes. The meat constitutes a low calorie serving with a high protein concentration. On a large scale, rabbit farming can be done for rabbit meat export. But before you do it, it is best to approach certified exporters like Coniglio Meat Farm for meat exports.
About 80% of locally produced rabbit meat is exported. Less than 20% is consumed locally. But the largest exporters and producers of rabbit meat are China, North Korea and Egypt. Internationally, consumers have a bias based on where the rabbit meat is imported from. Meat is locally consumed at gourmet restaurants, informal markets, wildlife butcheries and a select few retailers. There are also businesses like MP Biz Rabbitry that offer sales platforms for rabbit meat, including food trucks.
Fur – The Angora rabbit is the best breed for both fur and meat. To get the rabbit fur, a farmer shears it off of the rabbit every four months after it has moulted.
Rabbit farming is a good opportunity for subsistence farming or small scale farming entrepreneurs. In this guide, there are several tools to help you set up your rabbit farm and details about how you will take care of the farm or what work to oversee on the farm.