Livestock Research for Rural Development 28 (9) 2016 Guide for preparation of papers LRRD Newsletter

Citation of this paper

Influence of weaning age on profitability of rabbits rearing on smallholder farms in Kenya

S J S Mahunguane, M K Ambula1 and B O Bebe1

Curso de Engenharia Zootecnica, Instituto Superior Politécnico de Gaza, P. O. Box 1, Lionde, Mozambique
1 Department of Animal Sciences, Egerton University, P O Box 536-20115, Egerton, Kenya


Commercial rabbit production in Kenya is characterized by a long interval of 8 to 12 weeks between kindling and next mating, which yields fewer rabbits for sale and therefore likely to have influence on returns to producers. This study assessed profit attainable with 4 or 8 weeks of age at weaning from farm record data of 100 rabbit farmers randomly selected among members of the Rabbit Breeders Association of Kenya (RABAK).

Profit margins were 13.8% higher when weaning at 4 weeks compared to weaning at 8 weeks and when feeding pellets compared to feeding mixed diets. Sensitivity of profit was assessed to varying weaning age (4 to 12 weeks), effect of levying 16% VAT on feeds and the market price of slaughter rabbit. Early weaning at 4 weeks could produce 7 litters per doe per year and on mixed diet weaning at 4 weeks of age had 125.04% more profit than 8 weeks weaning age (KES 53639 vs 23835) while on pellet diet, the profit was 131.71% more for 4 weeks weaning age compared to 8 weeks weaning age (KES 106776 vs 46082). Profit improved by 9.5% when feeding mixed diets and by 13.8% when feeding commercial pellets while inclusion of 16% VAT on commercial pellets would reduce annual profit by 6% for rabbits weaned at 4 weeks and by 8% for 8 weeks weaning age. A change in price from KES 518 to 700 will increase the annual profit for farmers by 35% for rabbits weaned at 4 or 8 weeks on pellet diets while a drop in price from KES 518 to 350 decreases the annual profit by 32% for 4 or 8 weeks weaning regime.

Key words: diets, doe, litters, profit, simulation


Commercial rabbit production is expanding in Kenya with more than half (53%) of smallholders keeping rabbit prioritizing earning income in contrast to the remainder who prioritize home consumption (37%) or pet (10%) roles in rabbit keeping (Mailu et al 2013). However, management practices are less market-oriented to be able to offer a producer enumerative rewards. The average number of litters/doe/year is between 4 and 5, because producers have a long kindling interval ranging from 4 to 12 weeks period of parturition to mating (Borter and Mwanza 2010), though commercial rabbit production has the potential to attain 8litters/doe/year (Lukefahr and Cheeke, 1990). It is desirous for smallholder commercial rabbit producers to invest more in improving management practices for successfully early weaning age and feeding practices that keep cost of production low because feeds account for 60 to 70% of the total production cost (Maertens, 2009).

Previous studies show that profitability in rabbit production may be influenced by the type of breed kept, the objective of the enterprise, the flock size, the feed and feeding patterns, housing system and marketing strategies (Baruwa 2014). The breed aspect on profitability was considered (Olagunju and Sanusi, 2010) together with the production technology (Mokoro et al 2015). Influence of weaning age on profit is less studied, though has potential influence and therefore is the subject of this study on smallholder rabbit farms affiliated to the Rabbit Breeders Association of Kenya (RABAK), an organization promoting commercial rabbit production for smallholder farmers in Kenya.

Materials and Methods

Data source and sampling procedure

The data for testing the hypothesis of this study was collected from smallholder rabbit farms and slaughter houses in Nakuru and Kiambu Counties where commercial rabbit production is prominent with Rabbit Breeders Association of Kenya (RABAK) actively operating. The two Counties have RABAK registered rabbit breeders, in Nakuru County the concentration is in three sub-counties (150 in Njoro, 269 in Molo and 180 in Gilgil) and in Kiambu County the farms are concentrated in Thika Sub County (100 rabbit farmers).

The required sample size was estimated from Kish (1965) formula:

Where n is the minimum sample size; SD is the standard deviation of weaning age; ME is margin of error and 1.96 is the confidence interval at 95% level of significance. From a preliminary survey of smallholder rabbit farms, the standard deviation of weaning age was 3.75, which was substituted in the formula with a marginal error of unity, corresponding to unity (1) to the ability to identify 1 week change in the weaning age as being significant at the 5% with 80% power. The computed sample size (84) was inflated by 20% to account for possible non responses and the number distributed proportionately to the number of registered farmers in each County (Table 1).

The sample farms were selected through stratified random sampling procedure designed to account for heterogeneity in management practices among RABAK farmers in Nakuru and Thika, who practice; weaning age (4 and 8 weeks), diets (mixed pellet and roughages, pellets only) and breeds (California white, New Zealand white, Chinchilla)

Table 1. Sample size estimate



Number of
rabbit farms

Feeding diets




Mixed diets



Commercial pellets




Mixed diets


Commercial pellets




Mixed diets



Commercial pellets




Mixed diets


Commercial pellets





Data collection

Farm records extracted were on production performance, inputs use and management practices related to weaning age, feeding, breeding and health. Measurements were weighing of feeds offered which were fresh, dry forage or commercial pellets to compute the dry matter using feed tables of various feeds. Flock inventory and diagnosis captured sales, purchases and mortalities.

Data analysis

Profit was computed from the difference between revenues and cost, applying the concept that maximizing revenue and minimizing costs yields profit maximization. The revenues were from sales of rabbits and rabbits consume while the costs were incurred in feed, veterinary, labour, marketing, purchase of breeding stock and the fixed costs of housing and equipment. The derived profit and its components were then used as model inputs in simulation modeling to perform sensitivity analysis of profit to changes in weaning age varied from 4 to 12 weeks, removal 16% VAT charged on commercial pellet feeds, and increase in price of slaughter rabbits from KES 350 to 700 corresponding market price variations. The simulation modeling of these intervening options used STELLA software platform version 10.0.2


In Table 2, the summary of profits margins for weaning ages and diets offered show that on mixed diet, weaning at 4 weeks of age had 125.04% more profit than weaning at 8 weeks (KES 53639 vs 23835) and on pellet diet, the profit was 131.71% more for 4 weeks of age weaning compared to 8 weeks age weaning (KES 106776 vs 46082). At 4 weeks weaning age, pellet had 99.06% more profit compared to mixed diet (KES 106776 vs 53639) while weaning at 8 weeks on pellet diet yielded 93.34% more profit compared to mixed diet (KES 46082 vs 23835).

Table 2. Economic returns of rabbit farms for weaning age, breed and diets

Weaning management options

8 weeks

4 weeks





Output value (KES)

Rabbit sales





Rabbit consumed










Input costs (KES)

Feed Cost















Rabbits Purchase

























Profit (KES/year)





Sensitivity of profit margins to weaning age was evaluated with base situation at 4 or 8 weeks by a change of 2 weeks (Table 2). For those weaning at 8 weeks, a reduction to 4 weeks improved profit margins by 13.8%, and 7.4% when weaning is at 6 weeks on pellet based diet compared to improvement by 9.5% when weaning is at 4 weeks and by 5% when weaning is at 6 weeks on mixed diet.

Sensitivity of profit margins to charging 16% VAT charged on animal feeds was evaluated for feeding a diet of pellets (Table 2) and results show a decrease of 6% when weaning is at 4 weeks and a decrease of 8% when weaning is at 8 weeks of age.

Rabbits are sold for slaugheter or for breeding at variable prices ranging from KES 350 to 1200 depending on body weight. Sensitivity of profit to changes in market price of rabbits was evaluated (Table 3) with results showing huge increases of up to 35 % when the carcass is sold at KES 700 up from KES 350.

Table 3. Sensitivity analysis for profit from changes in weaning age, removal of 16% VAT on feeds and change in rabbit prices


Sensitivity Analysis

Profit (KES or % Change)

Mixed Diets

Pellets diets

1. Weaning Age

Base 8 weeks



Base 4 weeks



8 vs 6 weeks



8 vs 4 weeks




2. Charging 16%
VAT on pellets

8 weeks


4 weeks



3. Rabbit Price

Base 8 weeks, KES 518



8 weeks, KES 350



8 weeks, KES 700



Base 4 weeks, KES 518



4 weeks, KES 350



4 weeks, KES 700




Weaning age can have influence on the profits through the number of litters produced per year (Kovitvadhi et al 2016; Lukefahr and Cheeke, 1990). According to Usda, (2002) a rabbit doe can produce up to 8 litters per year depending on the intensiveness of the management. Under smallholder rabbit rearing in Kenya, weaning at 4 weeks compared to weaning at 8 weeks contributed to improved profit by over 125% when on mixed diet and by over 131% when on feeding a diet of pellets, essentially from more rabbits weaned for markets. From sensitivity analysis, a reduction in weaning age from 8 weeks to 4 weeks will improve profit by between 13.8% (on pellet diets) and 9.5% (on mixed diet).

Early age at weaning demands for utilization of quality pellet feeds. In Kenya, 16% VAT is charged on animal feeds, which consequently increases feed costs and lowers profit margins for farmers (Njagi et al 2013) because feeding accounts for over 60% of production costs (Maertens 2009). Feeding rabbits on pellet diet proved more profitable than feeding mixed diets, whether at early weaning (4 weeks: KES 106776 vs 53639) or late weaning (8 weeks: KES 46082 vs 23835), and the increase being over 90% in either diet. From sensitivity analysis, charging a 16% VAT on animal feeds will discourage commercial rabbit production through decrease in profit, by about 6% to 8%.

Market price of rabbits is very variable in Kenya, depending on whether farmer is selling for slaughter or for breeding. Slaughter rabbits are sold on weight basis while bucks sold for breeding attract higher prices not based on weight (Gono et al 2013; Mutisya, 2014). A change in price from KES 518 to 700 will increase the annual profit for farmers by 35% for rabbits weaned at 4 or 8 weeks on pellet diets while a price change from KES 518 to 350 decreases the annual profit by 32% for 4 or 8 weeks weaning regime. Carcass weight is important for slaughter rabbits because carcasses weigh between 1.43 and 2 kg in Kenyan markets. Farmers specialized in selling breeding stock will earn more while those selling slaughter rabbits have to attain higher market weights at early age on competitive quality feeds, which requires that farmers keep quality records to inform management decisions (Moreki 2007). These results show that farmers would realize more profit with a weaning regime of 4 weeks on pellets compared to feeding mixed diets if 16% VAT levy is removed.


This work was supported by NICHE/MOZ/150-ISPG project (Nuffic). The authors wish to thank the Rabbit Breeders Association of Kenya (RABAK) in particular Mr. Waiganjo and Mr. Peter Kagi, and Nakuru Rabbit Meat Center especially Mr. Moses Gathua for their valuable assistance during data collection.


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Received 8 August 2016; Accepted 10 August 2016; Published 1 September 2016

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