By Cielito M. Reganit
MANILA, Oct. 23 (PNA) — When one says ‘rabbit’ in the Philippines, we immediately conjure up an image of the gentle, cuddly and cute creature that is one of the favorite pets among children and even adults.
But say rabbit meat, “adobong” rabbit or any menu that features rabbit as its main ingredient and one would get a shuddering reaction from the listener or a nasty look, or maybe even both.
It is because of this perception that raising rabbit for meat can be considered as uncharted territory in the Philippines.
In the culture of most developing countries, including ours, consuming rabbit meat is very unlikely as its identification as pets has made it difficult for some consumers to look or even buy a butchered rabbit in the market.
What the public is not aware of, however, is that rabbit meat is the “most nutritious meat known to man.”
According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), rabbit meat is higher in protein but lower in fat, cholesterol, and calories than any other meat.
Aside from its meat, another unexplored potential is the use of its manure for vermiculture production.
Rabbit manure, which is high in potassium and nitrogen, can be fed to the worms to produce the vermicast which can be used for organic farming.
These unexplored potentials of rabbit prompted the Cordillera Integrated Agricultural Research Center (CIARC), Department of Agriculture, in collaboration with the City Veterinary Office of Baguio City, to establish the “Rabbit and Vermiculture Integration” project.
This on-station project is funded and supported by theDA’s Bureau of Agricultural Research and is being led by Dr. Magdalena Wanawan, CIARC manager and project leader.
Started in 2012, the project aims to explore the potentials of rabbit production as a lucrative enterprise in order to raise the incomes of farmers in the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR).
The CAR is chosen as the project site as the region is where the first rabbits in the country were believed to have been brought by the Americans and cultured primarily as an alternative meat source.
Wanawan said the project, which is now on its third year, has three main objectives: determine the compatibility of rabbit and vermiculture in terms of economic analysis; create awareness on the healthful benefits of rabbit meat as a good source of protein; and produce organic fertilizer out of the rabbit manure as additional income for the farmers.
“What we wanted was to showcase rabbit production as a profitable enterprise and also to determine the compatibility of raising rabbits with vermiculture,” she said.
“One advantage is to maximize the space because the vermiculture beds can be placed right under the rabbits’ hutches so in a way, it’s a two-in-one project in one space,” Wanawan said.
Wanawan’s research group started acquiring their initial four-month old stocks in December 2011 with 2 bucks and 5 does, with another 5 does stocked after two months.
Initially, they were housed in a long rabbit hutch consisting of six compartments and were fed with garden by- products including chayote fruits and leaves, kamote tops, and other leafy greens.
Does were bred when they reach 7-8 months.
“After six months the stocks were tripled and additional rabbit hutches were built. From the initial 10 stocks, it increased to more than 100 after a year,” Wanawan said.
But how nutritious really is rabbit meat?
“For one, it is low in cholesterol. Among the common sources of protein like pork, beef, turkey—meat from rabbit is the lowest in cholesterol. In fact, in some literature citing, some physicians have recommended rabbit meat for patients with coronary problems because of its low cholesterol,” the CIARC head explained.
According to USDA and A&M University as cited in Natural Rabbits (2013), rabbit meat has a lower percent of fat than chicken, veal, turkey, beef, lamb or pork.
In terms of cholesterol, it has the lowest amount compared to red meat and pork.
As for calories, rabbit meat has less than half of the calories of pork and lamb.
Research had also shown that compared to pork, which has 45 percent fat, rabbit meat has only 10 percent.
But while low in fat, cholesterol, and calories, it has the highest amount of protein out of other meats.
According to Agribusiness News (2012), rabbit meat contains protein that is slightly a little bit more than turkey and chicken.
“More importantly, rabbit meat has a market potential,” Wanawan stressed.
There is now a niche market for rabbit meat in exotic and high-end restaurants in the country, most especially in Baguio City, where a kilo of a dressed rabbit can be sold from Php250 to Php 350.
She, however, admitted that since rabbit meat has not been well promoted yet to the public – especially its nutritional value – there are few market outlets at the moment outside of Baguio.
But there are also other potential sources of income for rabbit production besides it meat, the CIARC noted.
“Rabbit manure is another potential source of income. Given the focus on organic farming, many farmers now are in need of vermicast to enrich their crops,” Wanawan said.
“Another market potential are household owners who would like to venture into organic fertilizer production because the rabbit manure is very rich in potassium and nitrogen. They can produce organic fertilizer out of this manure,” she added.
According to the CIARC, rabbit manure makes excellent compost because it is rich in organic matter and nutrients.Compared with cattle, poultry and swine, manure from rabbit has the highest percentage of potassium content while its nitrogen content is second to poultry.
Wanawan said that vermiculture is ideal for rabbit production since worm bins can be placed right under the rabbit hutches, thereby maximizing space.
Worms and their casts can be utilized as organic fertilizer for crops or can be sold as vermicast providing additional source of income.
Meanwhile, biodegradable waste including vegetable trimmings and fruit peelings can be fed to the rabbits and the worms, thus lessening the bulk of household and garden biodegradable wastes.
The CIARC project has already began to bear fruit in terms of farmer-beneficiaries.
Wanawan said that since the start of the project in 2012, a total of 258 offspring were produced in controlled breeding.
From these, 102 rabbits were dispersed to farmer-cooperators along with the technologies and interventions on rabbit production.
“To date there are 20 farmer beneficiaries who have benefited from the project and are now starting their own production in their own backyards. We have also taught them the technologies and interventions upon giving them their rabbits,” Wanawan said.
Among them is Agustin Himiwat Montecillo of Camp 7, Baguio City.
He is one of the 12 members of the Baranggay Agriculture and Fishery Council (BAFC) who was given a pair of rabbits.
After a few months it reproduced to two pairs of rabbits which gave birth to five kittens.
“Maganda ito sa aming kabuhayan. Nakakaaliw din ang mag-alaga ng rabbits. Plano ko na maglagay na vermiculture bed sa kulungan kapag naparami ko ang mga rabbits,” the 66-year old farmer said.
Another farmer-beneficiary and also a member of BAFC is George Ramos, from Camp 7, Baguio City who attested to the benefits of raising rabbits.
“Kapag mabenta, dagdag kita din ito sa aming pamilya. Naging libangan na rin para pamilya lalo sa mga bata ang pag-aalaga ng mga kuneho. Isa pang benepisyo ay yung vermiculture production kung saan yung vermicast na napo-produce namin mula sa dumi ng kuneho ay nagagamit naming abono sa aming mga pananim,” said the 60-year old farmer.
Meanwhile, Juan Baldo, founder of BAFC and a beneficiary of the project, attested to the market potential of rabbit meat.
He said that BAFC have clients who buy their rabbits and bring them to SM malls where they are sold them as pets.
Baldo said the association is not yet selling rabbit as meat yet because they are still in the production stage.
“If we have enough production, we will promote it as meat source by next year. But at the moment we sell them as pets. If we promote it as meat, we need to ensure there is enough supply first especially if our clients are restaurant owners,” Baldo said.
The BAFC leader said that one of the obstacles they faced in production is the reproduction rate of their rabbits.
“Although rabbits are easy to raise, reproduction can be difficult especially if you only have a few breeds. A pair of rabbit can give birth to 6-8 kittens but not all will survive. Some will have 2-3 kittens per birth so the production can be staggered,” he explained.
However, he can attest anytime as to how tasty rabbit meat is.
“Masarap ang karne niya. Mas masarap pa sa manok, lalo na pag inadobo. Yung balat pwede pa naming gawing sombrero,” Baldo said.
In the meantime, Wanawan acknowledged the slow progress made so far with the project.
“Although rabbit production in the Philippines has great potentials as an enterprise, its progress is slow as there are only a few takers,” she noted.
One of the major problems identified by the CIARC is the inadequate promotion and lack of awareness of the public on the healthful benefits of rabbit meat.
“Our future plan is to promote this rabbit and vermiculture integration project as a productive and profitable enterprise through the production of information materials as well as strengthening capacity building through the provision of trainings to interested clients,“ Wanawan said.
“We are also promoting the ‘adopt a client’ scheme wherein those farmers who were given rabbits will also provide to other farmers to sustain the production and the project itself,” she said.
Through these measures, the CIARC is hoping that rabbit production would hop its way all over the country in due time. (PNA)