Heifer Project International has initiated various small-scale, village rabbit projects in Cameroon since 1974. Currently, approximately 1,700 farmers maintain nearly 3,500 rabbits through HPI projects. Other farmers, not formally connected with the project, are independently raising rabbits.
Herd production and economic data were collected from rabbitries in six village project sites in the northwest province in 1985. Three private farmers, a young farmers club, an agricultural training center, a Catholic mission and a government fish station provided data for this study. Breeding stock was originally derived from European and American rabbits and acquired from a corporate farm located in Babadjou, Cameroon.
In Cameroon, farmers use two types of cages: local wood and imported wire. Raffia palm is most commonly used and makes for an inexpensive cage that lasts about two years. Wire cages provoke abrasion of the rabbits' foot pads which may lead to wounds and lesions resulting in decreased productivity. An overall cage dimension of 150 x 60 x 45 cm is adequate for a breeding doe with litter. Wooden slats or sticks spaced at 2 cm for flooring allows manure to pass while preventing accidental escape of newborns. Cages should be about 1 meter above ground level for increased ventilation and to reduce certain diseases.
Other equipment such as hay racks, nest boxes and watering devices can be fabricated from local or scrap materials. Hayracks constructed of raffia are useful in preventing waste and contamination of cut forage. Nest boxes constructed of plywood or raffia and filled with dry grass help protect the young from the cold until they have developed a full fur coat. Split bamboo sections or empty tins or bottles may be used as watering devices.
In the northwest province of Cameroon, a wide variety of nutritious forages are used. These include: elephant grass (Pennisteum purpureum), Guatemala grass (Tripsacum laxum), brachiaria (Brachiaria ruziensis), molasses grass (Melinis minutiflora), desmodium (Desmodium distortum), African iodine (Aspelia africana), and blackjack (Bidens pilosa). Leguminous plants are the key source of protein in a non-concentrate-based ration. Farmers also feed the rabbits foodstuffs from the farm, crop residues and kitchen wastes. Scraps that contain salt, cooked fats and/or oil stimulate the rabbits' appetites.
Obtaining adequate forage often becomes difficult in the dry season in this part of Cameroon. Guatemala grass, which remains lush-green in the dry season, is planted to feed the rabbits during this period. Cutting back elephant grass at the end of the rainy season also provides succulent dry season growth. Some of the individual farmers simply stop litter production through delayed re-breeding to reduce forage needs during the dry season.
Early detection and treatment of diseased animals aids in rapid recovery. Rabbits infected with ear and skin mange may be treated with preparation of ten drops of kerosene to one cup of red palm oil. One application of several drops in the ear is usually sufficient. African iodine (Aspelia latiola), has been used with some success to cure or prevent diarrhea. An ample supply of fiber and water in a rabbit's diet is also important to maintain health. Malnutrition of newborn kits due to insufficient milk is often caused by lack of water provided to the doe. Cannibalism is abnormal (ie. the doe kills or consumes her newborn litter) and suggests one of three causes: dietary protein deficiency, poor sanitation or sudden, intense fright. Fright may be caused by predators such as dogs or rats. Rats can be deterred by guinea pigs, which may also be raised as small livestock.
It has been observed that certain does produce more than 30 weaned rabbits per year. Such success results from the use of improved stock and sound feeding and sanitary practices. In a five doe breeding operation a farmer can expect to produce nearly two, 2.5-kg rabbit fryers (roughly a 4-month-old animal) for consumption or sale a week, which figures to 150 kg of dressed rabbit meat annually. This constitutes a valuable addition to the family diet.
Based on sales of 60 rabbits, one farmer achieved a net return of 141,850 fCFA ($1=450 fCFA). Cash income did not include the value of rabbits consumed by his family nor the increase in the value of his inventory. All farms showed positive income gains to their rabbit operations. The low-input, small-farmer herds showed greater financial gain than the more capital-intensive organizational herds.
Farmers sold surplus animals to neighbors, local markets and commercial networks such as hotels, restaurants and the vegetable cooperative in Bamenda. Farmers coordinated to facilitate the transfer of meat to large-quantity buyers, making room for possible marketing agents and middlemen. Dressed rabbits are currently sold for 1,220 fCFA/kg in small towns and can fetch as much as 1,691 fCFA/kg ($2/lb) in urban centers. The considerable spread between the market price and production cost made marketing the rabbits favorable and profitable.
In a 1993 survey farmers ranked rabbit as their third most preferred meat. In some villages, rabbit meat is now preferred to beef, which has become increasingly expensive. Chicken remains the first choice and is the most widely raised animal in the northwest province. Consumption of rabbit meat was promoted by serving it at farmer training programs, as well as serving it for ceremonial and festive occasions, and by offering cooked samples and free recipes at marketplaces.
S. D. Lukefahr
Dept. of Animal & Wildlife Sciences
College of Agriculture
Texas A&M University
Kingsville, TX 78363 USA
Phone: (512) 595-3712
Fax: (512) 595-3712