By George Munene
Breeding is said to be part art and part science, in an amalgamation of scientific leaps and studied recorded repetition perfected over eons.
But it is worth the study, for getting your starter stock right ensures your rabbits attain their desired weights on schedule, are resistant to most diseases, and birth the right kit litter sizes.
To achieve this set. medium rabbits are preferred for meat rearing purposes.
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The easy to find breeds in Kenya that offer more bang for your buck are:
- New Zealand White
Perhaps the thoroughbred of meat rabbits, this variety has been bred for meat purposes since the 1920’s. 100 years of gene selection offers; good bone to meat ratio, fast grow out (attain about 3 kg in 5 months), good mothering ability, large litter sizes (7-14 kits), high disease resistance and less genetic malformities such as soar hocks within their gene pool . If there was ever a failsafe option in meat rabbit keeping, the New Zealand White would be it.
- Californian White
This are the second most common rabbits. They’ve also been bred for generations for their meat production qualities. They are though smaller in size to the New Zealand White weighing about 4 kg when mature compared to the New Zealand White which can weigh up to 5kg.
Both Californian and New Zealand Whites have commercial body types meaning they are evenly muscled and have ideal meat distribution.
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For giant rabbits:
Giant rabbit varieties can weigh up to 8kgs, which is almost double the weight archived by most medium sized breeds. It’d then follow that they would almost exclusively be the only rabbits sort for meat breeding in Kenya. This though isn’t the case as despite their being more expensive they share a couple of downsides; they have a small bone to meat ratio compared to moderately sized breeds and are comparatively slow growers. For what they offer in added weight they’ll take away by costing more to feed in the long run and their carcass having less meat on them and chunkier bones. Being that they are giants, they need larger housing, which may be impractical, especially in an urban set up.
The most common varieties in Kenya are;
- Flemish Giant
This is the largest rabbit breed. They come in many color varieties with large V shaped ears. The minimum weight for mature bucks should be over 5kg and that of senior does over 6kg.
- French Ear Lop
They are docile with characteristic long droopy ears. Its back is fully arched unlike most large rabbits making it a preferred meat breed as it has more room to pack in meat and muscle. They can attain weights of up to 6 kg
- Giant Chinchilla
Chinchilla’s close to being purebred should have a dark slate blue to grey hue. Unlike the Ear Lop, they have perky ears.
It attains up to 6kg and is highly desired for its quick growth rate, for a giant breed. Under ideal conditions it can exceed 2.4kg in just 3months.
Both the French Ear Lop and Giant Chinchilla have semi-arched body shapes, they’re curved at their back-unideal for muscle and meat distribution.
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Crossbreeding rabbits is often adopted by commercial meat breeders as this takes advantage of heterosis. Sometimes referred to as hybrid vigor, different variety rabbits when crossed get to borrow the best of both worlds while camouflaging each other’s weaknesses. They gain weight at a faster rate, exhibit improved vigor, are healthier, more fertile and are less disposed to diseases that might have affected the parent stock.
The advantages of heterosis are more expressed in purebreds and less so in successively removed generations.
Its preferred to have a bigger breeding sires to the dams. Therefore, if possible, have giant rabbits as bucks within your breeding lot.