Rabbit Advocacy Animal Matters
Rabbit Farming – The Canadian Encyclopedia (2012)
Rabbit farming is not recognized as a "traditional" or "mainstream" livestock production system. For developed countries, rabbit production is considered a "marginal" or alternative form of agriculture. Rabbits were domesticated more recently (late Middle Ages) than other domestic animal species. Most research and academic literature has focused on BEEF, PORK and POULTRY with rabbit farming receiving considerably less attention.
RABBIT is popular in countries such as Italy, Spain, France and China. These countries consume the most rabbit per capita. In Canada, Québec produces approximately 50% of rabbit in the country, followed by Ontario with approximately 37%. In fact, Québec owns fewer rabbitries than Ontario (about 500 compared to 900), but it has more rabbits per farm than any other province (an average of 200 head per farm compared to 85 in Ontario). The rest of the provinces make up the remaining 13% of Canadian rabbit production. Fanciers or hobbyists account for a measurable amount of production and tend to have fewer rabbits on their farms.
For about two decades, from 1980 to the early 2000s, the number of rabbit farms and production decreased in Canada. Therefore exports decreased as well; they were particularly low in 2006. However, recent studies have shown an increase in rabbit production over the last years, indicating definite improvement in the industry. Canada currently exports approximately 150 tonnes of rabbit meat annually, worth 1.5 million dollars.
Global Rabbit Production
Over 99% of all live rabbits imported into the United States come from Canada with the remainder imported from Germany. Imports of rabbit meat by the United States come primarily from China, and small amounts come from Canada.
Consumption of rabbit in Canada is less than 25g per capita annually. This is in stark contrast to rabbit consumption in Europe which is just over 8kg per capita per year.
Commercial Rabbit Breeds
There are over 30 breeds of domestic rabbits in North America but only the heaviest ones are used for commercial meat production. The New Zealand White and Californian are the most popular breeds for commercial production because they grow rapidly and have a square blocky build resulting in more meat yield per rabbit.
The New Zealand White was originally developed in the United States and is the most popular meat rabbit with white fur, bright pink eyes and prominently veined ears. The average litter size is 8-10 kits. A mature buck weighs about 4.5kg (9.9lbs) and does weigh about 5kg (11lbs). The Californian is predominately white with brown or black ears, nose, feet and tail with pink eyes. A mature buck weighs about 4kg (8.8lbs) and mature does weigh 4.3kg (9.5lbs). Their average litter size is 6-8 kits. The gestation period for rabbits is about 28-32 days.
There are two federally inspected plants that process rabbit in Canada: Flintshire Farms Inc. in Flinton, Ontario, and Brome Lake Ducks Ltd in Knowlton, Québec. Both export rabbit meat to other Canadian and global consumers. There exist also several provincially licensed facilities to slaughter and process rabbits across the country; these are generally allowed to market rabbit meat into their home province.
Rabbit meat is low in calories (167Kcal/100g), high in protein (26g/100g), low in fat (7g/100g) and very nutritious. It is easily digested by young and old alike and is particularly adaptable to special diets such as weight reduction, low cholesterol, diabetic, low sodium and diets for the aged. It is considered a white meat and has a mild flavour with a texture similar to chicken. Rabbit meat has one of the best meat-to-bone ratio of any meat product.
Challenges and Developments
Ontario Rabbit, founded in 1964 to represent the interests of the province's rabbit growers, has invested an exceptional amount of time and money to advance this industry and to develop a current cost of production standard for rabbit production in Ontario. Ontario Rabbit has also recently completed Phase I of a three-phase project on biosecurity and will begin on-farm research into artificial insemination for rabbits.
In Québec, the Syndicat des producteurs de lapins du Québec (SPLQ) was created in 1979 with similar objectives as Ontario Rabbit. In 2003, rabbit producers in Québec established a sales agency to regulate production standards, obtain a better price and develop the long-term market. Since then, the number of rabbit producers in Québec decreased early in the decade but the number of rabbits produced per farm has increased. The Syndicat revised its regulations on production and is now issuing shares of production (quota) for rabbits that are specific and differentiated in their method of production. The Syndicat also produced, with the Centre de référence en agriculture et agroalimentaire du Québec, a technical guide on commercial farming and a few data sheets about rabbit feeding, transportation, water quality, etc. Finally, the Syndicat revised its website so that producers can now be informed of the latest changes concerning the organization, and consumers can find recipes, cooking tips and a list of places where it is possible to buy rabbit in Québec.
Agriculture and Agri-Food