Rabbit farming in India is an age old practice. This micro livestock species contributes meat, wool, fur and pelt for human welfare.
It has immense potential for sustainable food production for the ever increasing human population. There is a tremendous scope for poverty alleviation and improving the living standards of small and marginal farmers through this profitable enterprise. Rabbit farming has some unique features and edge over other livestock activities especially for employment generation and socio economic upliftment of rural masses.
Distinctive advantages of Rabbit farming
1. Less initial investment, thus affordable for poorest section of the society.
2. Less pressure on land for rearing, thus eco-friendly.
3. Docile nature and small size enable family members to handle and rear.
4. Simple feeding habits, can be maintained even on kitchen waste .
5. Efficient users of green vegetation, have high feed conversion efficiency.
6. Rabbit farming can grow very fast in comparison to other livestock developmental activities due to its rapid growth rate, early maturity and high prolificy.
7. Quick returns can be earned within short time of six months.
High Biological potential of Rabbit
Rabbit is known for its fast multiplication, short gestation period of about 32 days and a litter size of about 6-12 .So out of a small unit one can have 4-5 crops annually, so from a small unit one can get hundreds of kindling's per year. Also its constant state of reproduction, rapid growth and early maturity adds to its high biological potential.
Rabbits can be produced for different purposes like meat, wool, pelt, pharmaceutical and tourism industry. They can also be raised for entertainment (pet lovers and fancy) purposes. Rabbit meat is recommended over other meats by nutritionists because it is lean, rich in proteins of high biological value, low in cholesterol, calories and sodium content. Rabbit meat is considered to be highly digestible and appetizing.
Rabbit meat is used for making special diets, such as those for heart disease patients, diets for the aged, low sodium diets, weight reduction diets etc. Eating rabbit meat is permissible in Islam, and it is proved in Sahihain that "The Prophet (Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam) and his companions ate its meat".
The relative wool production potential of angora rabbits is much higher than that of sheep. An adult rabbit gives wool five times a year and per shearing wool production varies from 175-225 gram. Rabbit wool is blended with sheep wool, pashmina and used in shawls and knit wearing. Rabbit skin is processed and converted into valuable garments.
France is the world's largest producer and consumer of rabbit meat. France is producing approximately 2.50 lakhs ton of rabbit meat annually with per capita availability of 5 Kg rabbit meat. France UK and Germany are the biggest importers of rabbit meat. Among the Asian countries China is the biggest producer and exporter of rabbit meat.
Scope of Rabbit farming in J&K
There is immense scope for rabbit farming in Kashmir, as the climatic conditions of J&K and Himachal Pradesh are almost similar. The government of H.P has promoted rabbit farming along with sheep farming and obtained positive results in hilly areas. The population of rabbit in India has increased from 0.424 million in 2007 to 0.592 million in 2012 with an increase of 39.55% as per 19th livestock census 2012. In Kashmir unfortunately we have just one govt rabbit farm and few private farms, thus we lag by miles in this potential lucrative enterprise. We presently import rabbit skin from other countries like France for making various products locally that is proving very costlier. With the sharp decline in backyard poultry farming in rural areas, a huge vacuum has been created in domestic production of meat. During the time of festivals the demand for meat is at zenith and there is tremendous shortage of poultry birds in our markets. Rabbit meat can fill this vacuum to a greater extent. The income from a unit of 10 rabbits (8 female,2 male) in an year while taking into consideration local market conditions will be about 7000/year which is far ahead than any other micro livestock species.
Rabbit farming is enjoying the status of industry in most parts of the world but our state does not have any policy framework to even promote it as a micro industry.
If properly planned and promoted, rabbit farming can turn into a multi crore industry in near future. There is a need of proper policy framework, planning as well as collaboration between Dept. of animal and sheep husbandry, agricultural universities and related institutions for framing a composite policy to promote rabbit farming.
Giving incentives to farmers, providing loans and training will increase their interest in this lucrative enterprise. Govt should also take steps to attract young entrepreneurs for setting up farms and processing units especially at this time when lot of young entrepreneurs are showing keen interest in setting up their own livestock units in valley. All these steps could serve as impetus for promoting rabbit farming in Kashmir and thus creating job opportunities for thousands of unemployed youth in our state.
(Dr. Ishfaq Jamal is a Research scholar in livestock production and management at National Dairy Research Institute Karnal, Haryana.