What you need to know:
- Rabbits are slaughtered at 9 to 13 weeks of age, depending on the degree of desired maturity and the body weights required by the market.
- Rabbit meat has fewer cholesterol levels than any other common lean meat portion, including beef, veal, pork, and chicken.
Rabbit production is one of the fastest growing livestock enterprises, especially with the entry of peri-urban farmers, who have adequate resources to invest and have access to emerging markets.
Rabbits mature early, grow faster, are prolific breeders, have high feed conversion efficiency and utilise little space. They convert 20 per cent of their protein intake into meat, compared to pigs and cattle, which convert 16 to 18 per cent and 8 to 12 per cent respectively.
The global rabbit meat production is about 1.8 million metric tonnes per year. Asia leads at 48.8 per cent, followed by Europe and America at 28.4 per cent and 18.1 per cent, respectively.
Africa accounts for only 4.7 per cent. Kenya’s current rabbit meat production is estimated to be 200 metric tonnes. This is projected to reach 550 metric tonnes by 2022 under the Big Four Agenda’s 100 tonnes food and nutrition security interventions. Rabbits have a gestation period of 30-32 days. A doe can attain 40-60 kittens per year, from 8-12 kittens per birth.
Mating may occur almost immediately after weaning of the kids at 35 to 40 days after delivery if the doe is receptive to the buck. Whereas artificial insemination is practised in many parts of the world, natural mating remains a common practice in Kenya.
Rabbit meat is sold as whole or half carcasses. This is probably due to the form of sale, estimated as 40 per cent sold by mass distributors and 60 per cent through retail sales (16 per cent butchers and 14 per cent local markets, direct sales and personal consumption).
Rabbits are slaughtered at 9 to 13 weeks of age, depending on the degree of desired maturity and the body weights required by the market, the latter ranging from 2kg to 2.6kg. Slaughter age and weight are both crucial variables due to their effect on the quality of the meat.
Generally, as slaughter age and weight increases, slaughter yield, carcass meatiness, and the nutritional characteristics of the meat improve.
Apart from meat, other rabbit products include skins and bones.
The average lipid content of rabbit carcass is about 3.4g/100g, higher than most types of meat consumed today. Energy levels from the rabbit meat range between 603kj/100g to 899kj/100g.
The loin part of the rabbit carcass is the leanest cut of meat. It contains up to 22.4 per cent protein and average lipid content of 1.8g/100g of meat.
Apart from its high protein content, rabbit meat also contains higher levels of essential amino acids per 100g (those that the body cannot synthesize) compared to other meats (lysin - 2.12g, sulphur-containing amino acids 1.10g, threonine 2.01g, valine 1.19g, Isoleucine 1.15g, Leucine 1.73g and phenylalanine 1.04g). Rabbit meat is an essential source of bioavailable vitamin B, with contents varying between species and different cuts of meat.
Source of minerals
However, preparation may reduce the original content. The consumption of 100g of rabbit meat provides approximately 8 per cent of riboflavin (vitamin B2), 77 per cent of niacin (vitamin B3), 12 per cent of pantothenic acid (vitamin B5), 21 per cent of pyridoxine (vitamin B6) and 300 per cent of the vitamin B12 of the recommended daily intake. Vitamin B12 deficiency, created by the popularity of vegetarianism, is a growing health concern in developed nations.
Rabbit meat is also an essential source of minerals. Red meats are among the richest sources of iron at 1.8g, 2g and 3.3mg/100g in beef, lamb and mutton, respectively. Like other white meats, rabbit meat contains only modest amounts of iron at 1.3 and 1.1mg/100g in the hind leg and loin, respectively. Iron contained in meat is known as heme, which is easily absorbable.
Hence, rabbit meat may contribute to meeting part of our daily iron requirement. A low sodium content characterises rabbit meat, at 37mg/100g in the loin and 49.5 mg/100g in the foreleg making rabbit meat particularly suitable for people suffering from hypertension.
Rabbit meat contains between 234 and 222mg/100g of phosphorus in the foreleg and loin, respectively. The selenium content of rabbit meat varies widely based on the amount added to the feeds, ranging from 9.3µg/100g of meat in non-supplemented diets to around 39.5µg/100g of meat in feeds enriched with 0.50mg of selenium/kg of feed.
Rabbit meat has fewer cholesterol levels than any other common lean meat portion, including beef, veal, pork, and chicken.
The meat is highly recommended for frequent consumption, especially by children and adolescents, pregnant women, athletes and the elderly.
The writer is an assistant director of livestock production email@example.com