In Kenya, the market for rabbit continues to increase with farmers earning millions of shillings in profits from their enterprises. According to the Ministry of Agriculture, rabbit keeping dates back to the 19th century when missionaries first arrived in Kenya. Most communities viewed rabbits as pets and not as potential sources of food, but this is rapidly changing as rabbit meat is quickly becoming an attractive source of healthy protein.
With this increased demand, rabbit rearing is a lucrative agricultural business to invest in. And when venturing into rabbit rearing, it is important to note that rabbits are very intelligent and caring animals. Therefore, care must be taken to ensure their comfortable albeit short stay on earth since the deliciousness of their meat is at stake, noting that they are ready for slaughter within 4 months of birth.
The average rabbit's life span is between 4 and 12 years, and the popular local breeds such as New Zealand White and Chinchilla can weigh between 2 and 6kgs.
With decreased uric acid levels and the highest percentage of easily digestible protein per pound (Kenya Ministry of Agriculture), rabbit meat is an increasingly healthy alternative for beef, pork, lamb, mutton and goat meat. In addition to being a lean source of protein, it also contains great quantities of vitamins B2 and B12, and is therefore the perfect source of nutrition for individuals suffering from a number of ailments such as heart disease, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
From an economic perspective, rabbits are highly prolific with one doe being able to produce between four and six litters each year, with each litter averaging between 5 to 15 kits each. And noting that rabbits require a relatively low investment, the value of being a rabbit rearer is quite attractive. With each kilogram valued at approximately 500-750/=, and each rabbit growing to an average of 3-5kg, a rabbit farmer can earn upwards of KES 1.2M each year with only 30 rabbits.
Rabbit rearing does have its pitfalls however, and a growing number of local organizations are offering potential farmers full training sessions on how to successfully begin and manage a rabbit rearing facility. One such organization is located thirty minutes from Nairobi's city center in Kikuyu, and it offers farmers a one-day introductory training to rabbit rearing. And part of the training includes the slaughter of a few furry rabbits.
The class begins with an introduction to rabbit rearing, and follows with a visit to the school's rabbit farm, the entrance to which is guarded by a pool of disinfecting fluid.
Once through, you are welcomed into the area where all the rabbit cages are located. Each cage contains between one and three rabbits, all of the same sex. Since female rabbits are on heat 24/7, separation is mandatory to avoid incessant overcrowding and violent displays of bravado by the bucks.
Each doe's reproductive cycle is closely monitored, with mating occurring every two months to allow for lactation and gestation, both of which should take one month each.
The rabbits feed on pellets designed for their digestive systems, along with roughage such as hay and lots of water. It is important to note that the food rabbits eat should be free from moisture, to decrease their chances of attracting diseases.
It's interesting to note that rabbits also appreciate the relaxing and calming effects of mint which is frequently added to their food in addition to different vegetables and herbs such as carrots, apples, lettuce, cabbage and many others.
Preparation for slaughter begins with setting aside a sharp knife and clean water, along with a selection of healthy rabbits.
Next, the rabbit is held up by it's hind legs and struck behind the head with a club to render it unconscious. This is the humane way of slaughtering the animal as it literally stuns the brain, and the rabbit feels little to no pain as it's throat is slit.
The rabbit is then strung upside down, tied to a bar by pieces of rope attached to each rear leg. This structure aids in the quick bleeding and skinning of the animal.
Skinning a rabbit is effortless. After the flesh around the legs is sliced off, the entire pelt is pulled down swiftly in the same manner as one would remove a tee-shirt. And after the fore legs are snapped into two, the pelt is sliced off the head, leaving a freshly skinned rabbit. The insides are then discarded, and the rabbit is ready to be fried along with tomatoes, cilantro, onions, garlic, ginger, green pepper and hot chillies.