by T.S. Dhaubhadel
Chickens in Nepal are traditionally reared by lower caste farmers and their husbandry is integrated within the whole farming system. In village communities, almost every farmer rears a few chickens near the homestead, and the birds are managed under a scavenging system. Very little time and money is spent in rearing them.
This scavenging system of chicken production provides high quality animal protein in convenient units for smallholder consumption in areas of dietary protein deficiency. Furthermore, surplus eggs and birds are sold in the market, generating cash to fulfil the immediate domestic needs of the family. However the organisation of poultry production is now altering rapidly as the attitude of people towards egg and poultry meat consumption is changing in response to improved education and the relaxing of religious and social constraints. Social groups, who did not previously allow chickens to scavenge near the home, now relish the taste of eggs and poultry meat, and realise the potential of poultry rearing for economic benefit.
As consumer acceptance is changing, so demand is causing an increase in the number of poultry birds being reared. At present the rate of increase is 4.25% annually (Basnet, 1989).
With increasing consumer demand, the necessity of increasing the productivity of individual birds is becoming apparent. Improvement in breed, nutrition, disease control, marketing and management can all play a role. However, to achieve this a new approach is needed so that poultry farming can become a profitable practice for farming households in the villages in hill districts as well as near to urban centres.
The poultry population of Nepal is estimated to be 9.8 million birds (DFAMS, 1988), of which nearly 20% are improved breeds and the other 80% are considered to be of the indigenous breed, Sakini.
A variety of exotic breeds has been introduced to Nepal such as New Hampshire, Rhode Island Red, White Leghorn, Australorp, Black Minorka and other synthetic breeds. They are reared under more intensive management systems with adequate housing, nutrition and health control. This more intensive production is normally situated near cities where a good, regular market is assured. The indigenous Sakini breed, on the other hand, is reared under a scavenging or semi-scavenging system with little control and, consequently high levels of mortality and a lower level of production output.
The country has 3.3 million laying birds, producing an estimated 265 million eggs, an average of 80 eggs/hen/year (DFAMS, 1988). This implies an annual per capita consumption of 15 eggs. With large regional variations in egg supply and with dietary requirements for the population put at around 180 eggs per capita (Sidhu and Rangi, 1980), it can be seen that in the less favoured mountain regions, there is great scope for increased egg production.
The minimum dietary requirement for animal protein in Nepal is estimated to be 23 g/head/day if an equal amount of protein is supplied by vegetable protein (Rajbhandari and Shah, 1981). Annual production of meat in Nepal is nearly 140,000mt (DFAMS, 1988) supplying an average of 20 g/head/day to the population as a whole. Poultry contributes only 4.5% of this. Again there is large variation in production, distribution and consumption depending upon physiographic region. In general, production is greater in the Terai and city areas, whereas consumption is lower in the less favoured hill and mountain regions. Assuming that meat production is lower in high altitude areas, there would appear to be scope for increasing egg production in this environment. The data for chicken, meat and egg production are given in Table 1.
Table 1: Poultry population, egg and meat production in Nepal.
|Number of birds||Meat Production (mt)||Egg Production||Average egg production per hen per year|
|Total poultry birds||6,472,675||2,871||-||-|
Source: DFAMS (1988)
This chapter will review poultry production systems in Nepal and, in particular, the hill and mountain regions, will consider the relative importance of each system, and will discuss ongoing methods of improvement, including breeding, nutrition, management and health.
Poultry production in Nepal has an important contribution to make in generating cash income and improving nutritional standards of the people. However, the lack of a national policy in the country regarding poultry production has hindered improvement. From personal initiatives a small number of synthetic poultry birds are reared in peri-urban areas under a high level of management on a commercial scale to produce both meat and eggs. However, no attention is paid to the improvement of Sakini birds under scavenging management system in hills and mountains where 80% of birds are reared. There is a general government policy to distribute New Hampshire dual purpose breeds in hill areas, but lack of health care, poor nutrition and high predation rates, have meant that this distribution policy has suffered adversely. In spite of this, the policy of distributing New Hampshire chickens is continuing.
POULTRY PRODUCTION SYSTEMS
Poultry production systems in Nepal can be categorised into scavenging, semi-scavenging and intensive.
The majority of farmers in hill villages rear birds under a free range system. In the daytime they scavenge for food, and they are kept indoors during the night to protect them from theft and predation. Unlike sheep and goats, which can easily be driven away by juveniles if left unattended, poultry birds are difficult to catch, and disperse into open areas. In scavenging poultry farming, the chickens roam freely picking up a variety of food such as insects, household waste, worms, grass and pebbles. They are less likely to suffer from nutritional deficiency if a small amount of cereal by-product is supplemented (Karki, 1984).
Nepalese farmers, particulary hill farmers, are busy during most of the year, so the keeping of a few birds under a scavenging system gives them extra income in the form of eggs and meat, without any involvement in their day to day management. Farmers do not need much technical knowledge regarding improved management, so it is easy for them to raise a few chickens under this system. The birds are free from the stresses imposed by other management systems, and because of the small flock size, farmers have no problem taking cace of the birds, and even the weakest bird in the group is cared for. Additionally because the birds forage freely outdoors, they are usually clean and free from external parasitic infestation (LAC, 1985a).
This system of chicken raising in the village is dominated by indigenous Sakini birds, but in the ECA of Lumle, exotic breeds such as New Hampshire, Black Australorp and Light Sussex are commonly seen. Among them the New Hampshire is the most popular.
The Sakini breed, is the bird which is preferred under the scavenging system, although they produce a smaller quantity of eggs and meat compared to New Hampshire. To increase productivity within this system a cross breeding programme of NH × Sakini could be a sustainable approach, if crossbred birds could protect themselves from predators and various diseases to which the Sakini has resistance.
In the hill and mountain regions, where food grain is in deficit, the scavenging system is an efficient method of chicken rearing. The flock usually comprises three to four indigenous Sakini birds per household. The eggs produced are consumed by the members of family and any surplus sold locally. Local consumers preference is for eggs and meat produced from Sakini hens maintained under scavenging system, even though they may be high priced. Hence the system rarely faces a marketing problem.
The scavenging system of small scale poultry production is suited to the fragile mountain ecosystem because the poultry birds can exist on waste products which helps to keep the environment clean. Therefore, in the less favoured mountain regions where road accessibility is limited, the keeping of Sakini hens under a scavenging system predominates.
This system implies that the birds are let loose to roam freely for part of the day but, when necessary, they are shut in and supplemented with extra feed. A number of factors may be responsible for farmers in village committees adopting this system. The chickens can be protected from inclement weather and can also be protected from predators by shutting them up when family members are engaged in activities away from the home. Farmers can also collect the manure with a view to maintaining soil fertility in areas where the use of chemical fertilisers is not practicable. This is a relatively new system, and only a small number of farmers have adopted it to date.
However, semi-intensive management requires the construction of a small house depending upon the size of the flock. The house is generally of low cost, constructed on the verandah or separately-erected and made from local materials like bamboo and thatch.
Whilst this system is practised with indigenous birds, the availability of improved breeds in the villages has meant that the system is becoming more popular, because of the susceptibility of improved birds to predation and diseases under the scavenging system. The system is adaptable to a range of flock sizes and is capable of producing a larger number of eggs compared to the scavenging system, if supplementary feed is provided (Oli, 1985). It is therefore particularly suited to those farmers who have a grain surplus or regular access to supplementary feed.
The disadvantage is that since the birds are reared indoors for a large proportion of the time, they are more prone to coccidial disease, and mortality levels can be high, especially when medicine is not readily available and vaccination is not carried out. The productivity of different breeds of poultry under this semi-intensive systems of rearing is given in Table 2.
Table 2: Performance of indigenous and crossbred poultry under a semi-intensive management system.
|Traits||Breed of Chicken Traits|
|LS × Local||BA × Local||NH × Local||Local|
|Age at first lay (days)||170||154||160||156|
|Average number of eggs produced/hen/year||160||171||188||125|
|Average weight of egg (g)||47.4||45.1||45.6||39.5|
|Total egg mass/bird/year (g)||7566||7712||8582||4929|
|Average number of clutch/year||11.6||10.8||11.3||11.6|
|Average clutch rest days/yeat||152||140.4||124.14||215.8|
LS = Light Sussex
BA = Black Australorp
NH = New Hampshire.
Source: Oli (1985)
It can be seen from Table 2 that the NH × Local cross performance shows better egg production compared to the other three breeds. The local breed is the least productive. Therefore, in areas where farmers have surplus grain and a ready market, the NH × Sakini bird can be reared for the production of meat and eggs under a semi-scavenging system.
Deep litter (intensive) system:
This system is a method in which chickens are reared entirely on deep litter. In this system a high standard of husbandry is required to realise the chickens' full potential.
In the village, deep litter poultry keeping would require a relatively large investment of money in housing and feed. The birds are reared indoors and hence need to be provided with a fully balanced diet. The rearing of chicks under intensive management in mountain regions requires the provision of cereal grain which is already in deficit. Under this type of management, it is necessary to rear exotic, high-producing commercial breeds under a high input/high output system. Therefore this kind of farm is found in the big cities and peri-urban areas where the market is assured, and is not generally to be recommended for the Hill farming situation.
However, improved technologies in agriculture and extended irrigation facilities in the rural areas has increased cropping intensity and, consequently cereal grain production (Gurung et al, 1990). This has created the possibility of operating small-scale (10–20 hens) deep litter poultry production in some villages.
A beneficial by-product is that deep litter poultry farming produces high quality manure which, when added to the soil enhances soil fertility in areas where the purchase of chemical fertilizer may be limited by availability and cost.
In small-scale intensive poultry production, the owner can take more care of the welfare of the chickens and limit stress. Therefore, in areas of high crop intensity, it is considered that small-scale intensive poultry farming could be sustained where a local market is available.
The comparative production potential of native Sakini and New Hampshire breeds under intensive management is given in Table 3.
Table 3: Comparative production characteristics of Sakini and New Hampshire chickens under intensive management.
|(1) Age of maturity (days)||169||150–210|
|(2) Body weight of adult hen (kg)||1.88||2.00|
|(3) Weight of egg (gm)||47||55|
|(4) Number of eggs per hen per year||74||180|
It is clear from Table 3 that the New Hampshire breed is superior in productivity characteristics compared to the native Sakini, and so intensification of the management system necessitates the introduction of exotic breeds.
Twenty layers in a deep litter system can produce nearly 500kg of manure in one year. The manure may contain up the 3% nitrogen, 2% phosphorus, and 2% potassium, and would be adequate for 0.7 hectare of land for rice or maize cultivation (McArdle, 1972). In addition, the provision of organic matter improves the soil structure, the decline of which can be a major problem if chemical fertilizers are used.
The disadvantage is that 75% of poultry feed is made up of grain by-products such as wheat bran, rice bran and different cakes. Only 25% of the feed is made up of cereal grain (McArdle, 1972). Therefore, a farmer with 20 laying hens would need to use nearly 200kg of cereal grain per year, if the birds are fed 110 gm of feed per day. However, one New Hampshire hen produces 180 eggs/year, and if each egg on average weighs 55gm, then 20 hens will produce nearly 200kg of egg protein in addition to the bodyweight gained by the hens (McArdle, 1972). This type of small scale intensive poultry enterprise could be beneficial in areas where land is scarce. Twenty hens in a deep litter system occupy only 20m2 to produce these products. Hence, in intensively cultivated areas, a small deep litter system with improved breeds is profitable. It also sustains agriculture production by supplying valuable composted manure and animal protein.
INTERVENTIONS IN POULTRY PRODUCTION
The productivity of both improved and indigenous breeds is influenced by many factors including nutrition, breeding and management. Farmers in Nepal are very traditional in their agricultural practices and are generally unaware of improved technologies in poultry production and management.
With this in mind, Lumle has implemented the following interventions in poultry production in its Extension Command Area (ECA) in an endeavour to increased productivity, but keeping the inputs to a minimal level.
Training in poultry production is one of the most popular programmes at Lumle, the purpose of which is to create an awareness of the importance of improved breeding and management techniques. Training is organised in such a way as to inform farmers of recent developments, and suitable technologies concerning small scale poultry production in the villages. Training is based upon management techniques, disease control and feeding practices. This kind of training is normally given on farm, in the villages, for one day to groups of around twelve people, including women. Care is taken to concentrate on basic, practical instruction for the selection of good layers and fertilized eggs, the management of broody hens, low cost housing methods, the formulation of rations based on local ingredients, and on vaccination and health care (LAC 1975; 1982).
Formal training on small-scale deep litter systems is also offered at Lumle Centre for 7–12 days. The trainees are encouraged to utilise Lumle and its facilities in deep litter poultry management. Teaching is based upon low-cost housing constructions and the formulation of feeding rations for different types of bird from starters up to layers.
The productivity of the indigenous Sakini breed under a scavenging system is poor at about 60 eggs/hen/year (LAC, unpublished data), and due to indiscriminate and uncontrolled breeding under this system, the Sakini breed continues to give poor productivity.
However, large variation can be noted in the productivity of the Sakini birds in farming households, which suggests that there is the possibility of selection within breed for increased productivity. The Sakini is a product of natural selection, and has survived for generations in a particularly harsh environment. It is able to survive and give some produce on a very meagre amount of food, and has a good instinctive ability to protect itself from predators, and is resistant to disease.
Therefore, in order to increase the egg laying performance of local poultry, it is necessary to improve by selection. Due to large population, short generation interval and large variation in production, this breeding tool could be successfully used by using a selection index based on high egg laying ability.
So far, only the introduction of improved breeds in Lumle's ECA has been tried for improving egg and meat production, and increases of the order of 43% and 33% respectively have been achieved (Karki, 1984).
In order to achieve the policy of increasing the number of New Hampshire and crossbred chickens in village communities, the programmes described below were organised.
Fertilised egg distribution: Fertilised eggs from pure New Hampshire hens produced at different government stations and at Lumle were distributed for hatching by natural brooding under local hens. Nearly 5,000 fertilised eggs were distributed up to 1982. Because of the difficulties arising from transportation, low hatching rates, and subsequent high mortality and predation, this programme was abandoned.
Cockerel distribution: A village extension approach was adopted in which two pullets and one cockerel of the New Hampshire breed were distributed to a household on the agreement that the local cockerels would be removed (LAC, 1982). Nearly 4,000 cockerels and twice that number of pullets were distributed up to 1987. This has created some impact by producing a small population of crossbred and pure New Hampshire chickens. However, it relied to a large extent upon Lumle supplying replacement stock, and again these birds suffered high mortality rates due to predation under scavenging systems in the villages. Furthermore, the temptation to sell the birds quickly for a better price than the Sakini meant that the multiplication of numbers was not as rapid as expected.
Pure bred chicken distribution: Nearly 25,000 exotic purebred New Hampshire chickens have been distributed to date (LAC, unpublished data) with the intention of replacing the indigenous Sakini birds. However, at present, only 22% of the poultry population of the ECA of 40,000 is crossbred.
These chickens have been distributed among farmers irrespective of the rearing system adopted in the village. The chickens distributed varied from day-old chicks to five month old birds at the point of lay.
Establishment of breeder farmers: This programme was developed with a view to establishing small deep litter units of New Hampshire chickens in convenient locations to serve three or four villages. Cooperative farmers from different localities were selected. Before starting rearing, the farmers were given training on small scale deep litter poultry management. At the end of the training, they were given ten New Hampshire pullets and one cockerel at a subsidised rate. More than twenty such units were opened, but in the end this programme was also terminated, the main problem being the provision of replacement stock. At present, distribution is centred on that of eight week old New Hampshire chickens from Lumle Centre.
Many factors are responsible for only partial success of these schemes to increase an improved population, including mortality, predation and selling. However, in spite of these, the number of crossbred chickens is slowly increasing.
Management of the flock is important in all three systems that prevail in the hills. However, since limited management is given to chickens, farmers in the ECA report only poor production levels. Therefore, improved management possibilities of flocks will be considered:
Nutritional management in scavenging system:
Very little supplementary feed is provided to chickens under this system irrespective of the breed. A small amount of supplement such as maize, millet or barley may be provided to improved or indigenous hens if they are laying. Their main source of nutrition comes from kitchen waste, grass, insects and worms. However, these resources are quickly exhausted when they repeatedly forage for a long time in the same place. Therefore, birds may cover up to 2 km/day in search of food in a 6–7 hour period (Oli, 1984), which wastes energy and results in reduced output.
Under such a system purebred and crossbred chickens are unable to express their full productive potential, and so they are often shut in primitive enclosures in the house, where light and ventilation is minimal. A small communal nest is provided for laying and the eggs are removed once every three to four days. Under these conditions there is soilage and breakage of eggs. Also, with the hen sitting on her eggs, further egg-laying is delayed, whereas frequent removal of eggs has been shown to increase laying performance (Oli, 1985).
Mortality and predation under scavenging system:
Mortality is the factor most limiting the poultry population under a scavenging system. Farmers face severe losses which have not been quantified on a national basis. Oli (1984) reported mortality figures in the order of 95%, 65% and 50% for pure exotic breeds, crossbred and indigenous breeds respectively in Eastern Nepal.
A recent survey (LAC, unpublished data) revealed a mortality rate of 31% in scavenging flocks in the ECA regardless of breed. Pure exotic breeds, and to a lesser extent crossbreds are more susceptible to various infectious diseases like Ranikhet and fowl pox. These are contracted when they come into contact with infected birds during scavenging. These losses could be considerably reduced if more attention were given to timely vaccination, and basic health care.
Predation is another cause of loss arising from faulty management. Pure exotic breeds are highly susceptible because of their distinct colour and slow reaction to the presence of predators. Oli (1984) reported large variation in predation rates according to season, it being low (7%) during winter, but rising up to 60% in the monsoon season when the environment is wet, vegetation is dense, and farmers are distracted by other agricultural work. This loss could be reduced by taking a few simple precautions, such as shutting the birds indoors if unattended, and providing some supplementary feed to make up for a shortage of scavenging time.
Nutritional management in semi-scavenging system:
Most improved and crossbred chickens are reared under this system, and so the birds are provided with a small amount of grain or grain by-products to supplement their scavenging. Consequently, the chickens are better nourished than under the scavenging system, are protected from extremes of weather, and lay a greater number of eggs (Oli, 1985).
They spend a larger proportion of time indoors and are therefore less vulnerable to predation, unless the house is badly constructed. On the other hand, they are more likely to suffer from coccidiosis and other housing-related diseases. Therefore, vaccination and other medication is necessary for the system to be successful.
Farmers should be able to provide some basic veterinary drugs and cheap cereals and by-products. Some information regarding local markets and about breed and hatcheries for the replacement stock is also necessary.
Nutritional management in intensive system:
Birds are housed throughout their life, and so all requirements for maintenance, production and reproduction are supplied by the farmer.
Nutrition is one of the most important requirements for increasing the productivity in this system, and a balanced ration should be provided to ensure sufficient energy, protein, vitamins and minerals are available. For this, adequate equipment like feeding troughs and a constant supply of drinking water must be arranged.
Adequate floor space, the provision of lighting, and a good ventilation system are essential. Secure housing is also important to prevent theft and predation.
However, under this system the chickens are liable to suffer from disease and parasitic infestation. Therefore, the provision of timely vaccination, medication and drenching against internal parasites should be part of a regular management programme.
The farmer should be aware of and have access to veterinary drugs, extension personnel, and information about marketing, feed supply and good replacement stock, in order for this system to be successful. It is not considered suitable for hill districts, other than on a very small scale.
Since the environment for poultry production can be artificially controlled, poultry birds can be farmed at different altitudes with a small investment. Moreover, birds can survive on crop by-products, grass, kitchen waste and limited amounts of other ingredients like maize, millet and soyabean. In return, they produce valuable protein and, by providing fertilizer, can increase soil fertility, hence improving cereal and vegetable crop production.
The poultry enterprise in the village can be looked after by women and young boys which utilises their time and to some extent solves the unemployment problem in the village community (Sidhu and Rangi, 1980). Therefore, it fits in well with the farming system adopted by the farmers in Nepal.
Small scale poultry rearing is particularly beneficial to smallholder farmers where cereal production needs land, labour, and irrigation. Furthermore, the income derived from crops is lower and the price is sometimes unsatisfactory whereas eggs and meat can be sold for higher prices in the market, particularly in major trekking areas where tourists are present and the hotel industry is expanding.
The Phoenicians are considered to have been the first community in the world to domesticate the wild rabbit (Oryctolagus cunniculus) in about 1000 B.C. During the 16th century, different breeds of rabbit were identified and extensive breeding work was carried out in France, Italy and England (Lebas et al, 1986). In the beginning, rabbits were kept only for meat but later, people realised the importance of their fur and hides for the production of various useful articles (Jiabi and Pelant, 1990).
Over 30 breeds of rabbit are identified as meat breeds. The Hyline Californian developed in the USA, is adapted to a wide range of climates. They produce white meat and an excellent carcass. The pelt is thick, so a number of different articles can be produced. Adults weigh about 3.5–5.0kg.
The New Zealand White grows fast and produces a pale yellow meat, attaining a live weight of 4–5kg at maturity. Similarly, the Giant Blanc and Flemish Giant are good rabbits for meat production. Table 4 presents the countries producing rabbit meat and their relative contribution to the world market.
Table 4: Major rabbit meat producing countries
|Country||Estimated Production |
(Thousand metric tonnes)
Source: Lebas et al (1986)
The rabbit is not a new species in Nepal and farmers have been known to rear them as pets for a long time. However, although wild hare hunting for food has been practised for many years all over the country, rabbit farming for meat production is a relatively recent innovation. As yet, a large proportion of the population are not familiar with eating rabbit meat, since it is not generally available.
Historically, commercial rabbit farming in Nepal was started by a retired soldier from the British Army in the late 1960s. Later Lumle supported him in this enterprise and started its own rabbit production unit in 1971.
IMPORTANCE OF RABBITS IN NEPAL
Nepal is a mountainous country with large variations in climate and topography. Because the country's economy is based upon agriculture, 93% of the population are directly involved in subsistence agricultural enterprises in order to survive and prosper. Livestock plays an important role in generating cash, and supplying draught power and manure to the cropping system (Dhaubhadel and Tiwari, 1991). However, farmers in Nepal cannot spare agricultural land to raise livestock specifically for animal protein production, due to the small size of the average land holding (Sharma and Pradhan, 1985). Animal protein in Nepal is therefore expensive and the average Nepalese diet contains only 20 g/head/day (DFAMS, 1988).
Agro-ecological variation, and transportation and communication constraints, mean that cattle and buffalo programmes are expensive to develop in the hill and mountain regions. For smallholder farmers, their production requires a large investment, a high level of fodder provision, and good standards of management. Pigs and poultry can be raised to increase meat production, but due to religious and social constraints, and other management factors such as predation, poor nutrition and disease, most farmers are not willing to rear them on a large scale. Moreover, they also compete directly with the human population for their feed (Hopkins, 1984).
For these reasons, rabbit keeping has become one method by which additional income can be generated from the concurrent sale of rabbit meat and pelts in the market, and so provide a source of animal protein for human consumption.
In the hills and mountains where food grain production is in deficit, rabbit farming can be a viable option, because they can be produced without competing for human food. Plenty of fodder from the forest in the form of fodder trees and other grasses occur naturally, and can form the basal diet for rabbits under a back yard system (Singh and Negi, 1986). Also, they can utilise a forage-based diet and produce protein more efficiently than ruminants, and they also maintain reproductive efficiency without impairing growth rate or health (Cheeke, 1980), Table 5 details the production of protein and energy from various crops and livestock from one hectare of land per year.
Table 5: Annual productivity per hectare of various crops and livestock.
|Protein (kg)||Energy (MJ)|
Source: Spedding (1975)
Although unable to compete with arable crops in terms of energy production, Table 5 clearly indicates the efficiency of rabbits in producing protein combined with energy when compared with poultry, pigs and sheep. An added advantage of rabbits is that the manure produced is highly valued for crop production. Table 6 presents an analysis of manures from different livestock species for major plant nutrients.
Table 6: Composition of manure from livestock (%).
Source: Lukefahr (1990); McArdle (1972
The data presented above reveal that rabbit manure contains the highest percentage of nitrogen and potassium of the species analysed. However, rabbit manure ranks low in phosphorus content but still higher than cattle. Rabbit farming could therefore be developed in order to bring economic and nutritional benefit to farmers where both these aspects are urgently needed to raise living standards.
Religious prejudice and public sentiment are obstacles to the acceptance of rabbit meat for human consumption in Nepal. Therefore, the production of this animal for meat purposes is limited at present, although wider availability may lead to higher levels of acceptance.
The domestic rabbit is a short life-cycle animal and is regarded as an efficient producer of meat due to its fast growth rate and high fecundity (Spedding, 1975). However, its prolificacy has yet to be exploited throughout Nepal. In urban areas, rabbit meat is slowly but surely gaining in popularity, and two commercial rabbit farms in Kathmandu are in operation (LAC, 1980). This implies that if, in the future, rabbit meat consumption can be promoted, there is the potential for greater development. Table 7 details some guidelines for economic rabbit meat production.
Table 7: Reproductive and productive parameters for the rabbit.
|Age at first breeding (months)||5–6|
|Gestation length (days)||31|
|Average litter size||8|
|Average weight at 56d (kg)||1.8|
|No. of offspring/litter at 56d||6|
|Meat yield/doe/annum (kg)||47.5|
|Edible meat percentage||68|
Source: Lukefahr (1990)
Small scale subsistence rabbit rearing has been successfully adopted in city and peri-urban areas in the Kathmandu Valley, and in the mountains where farmers can produce rabbit meat from limited inputs.
RABBIT DEVELOPMENT IN THE WESTERN HILLS
Lumle and its Extension Command Area (ECA) are located in the less favoured hill and mountain zones, and the area is dominated by Magar (37%), Brahmin (25%) and Gurung (16%) peoples. In their normal diet, animal protein is considered to be a luxury food (Karki, 1984), and because of the shortage of feed resources, there is little chance of increasing large animal numbers to increase the supply of animal protein. The alternative is therefore to increase the productivity of the individual animal.
Lumle introduced Hyline Californian rabbits in 1971 to achieve the goal (LAC, 1980), because this breed in particular can be reared over a wide range of different climates, and thrives under diverse environments and management systems.
Similarly, work also started at Pakhribas Agricultural Centre in the early 1970s in the Eastern Hills of Nepal. However, due to different communities and ethnic groups like the Rai and Limbu, the white colour of the rabbit, and the meat produced from them was not acceptable to the people. Furthermore, the traditional attachment of the people to the pig has led them to concentrate on that animal for meat production, rather than the rabbit.
As in other countries, rabbit meat in Nepal was not readily accepted for human consumption initially. By tradition and custom, people in Nepal are more accustomed to chicken, mutton, buffalo and goat meat. However, following an intensive extension programme, the Pun (Magar) Community accepted rabbit meat, and were then followed by the Gurung Community (LAC 1980). An additional advantage, which has encouraged production, is that the area is frequented by large numbers of tourists annually, which provides a ready market for the meat during the trekking seasons. To date, some 3,400 rabbits have been distributed throughout the ECA, and those farmers adopting rabbits, rear an average of 2.1 does in backyard kitchen gardens, housed in a purpose-built hutch.
In order to estimate the relative economic benefits between keeping rabbits or improved poultry, a comparative production study was conducted at Lumle. It was found that the rabbits reached a saleable live weight of 2.2kg at a cost of Rs.19.5/kg of live weight. New Hampshire chickens, on the other hand, weighed 1.35kg after the same time period and cost Rs.44/kg live weight. Moreover, rabbit meat is considered of better nutritional value as it contains high quality protein, iron and phosphorus and a lower amount of fat (Gebrimedhin, 1990).
Farmers in the ECA can sell about Rs.700 worth of live rabbit or rabbit meat per year in a local market from a single breeding doe. Small scale rabbit rearing is now gaining in popularity, due to its low input and management requirements. However, if large scale rabbit meat production were to be adopted, there would need to be a special extension approach, and the meat would have to be acceptable to all ethnic groups in the country.
The bulk of rabbit feed comprises grass, cereal by-products, kitchen waste and brewer's waste. However, there has been no quantitative study of its composition. Farmers spend very little money on food for rabbits, collecting fodder from the forest, terrace risers and fodder trees. The feeding of cereal grains to rabbits in the ECA is not common, so that available nutrients must be utilised efficiently from the food on offer. Generally, grass is given twice a day, whilst cereal by-products like broken rice, and pulses are offered once.
The nutrient requirements of two classes of rabbit are presented in Table 8.
The provision of adequate levels of minerals and vitamins does not seem to be a problem if rabbits are fed on grass, cereal by-products and good quality hay (Lukefahr, 1990). However, there is great variation in levels of management and nutrition (Karki, 1984) in Nepal, which can seriously affect productivity. The productivity performance of rabbits in the ECA is given in Table 9.
Rabbits suffer fewer disease problems than poultry. However, a high mortality rate is observed, associated with management variation. On-station at Lumle a 32% overall mortality has been recorded with the majority of deaths occurring during the monsoon (LAC, 1984).
Similar results were obtained from the ECA where 39% overall mortality was reported. Many contributing factors could be responsible, such as cleanliness of the hutches, mothering ability of the doe, or poor nutrition. In one study at Lumle, poor growth rate and a subsequent mortality rate of 100% were recorded when rabbits were fed with grass only. However, when rabbits were supplemented with 50% concentrate, mortality was reduced to 12.5% (LAC, 1985b). Therefore, for profitable rabbit farming a small amount of concentrate supplementation is considered essential.
Table 8: Dietary nutrient requirements of rabbits
|Nutrients||Class of Rabbit|
|Crude Protein (%)||15.0||18.0|
|Crude Fibre (%)||14.0||12.0|
|Digestible energy (Kcal/kg)||2.5||2.7|
Source: Cheeke and Patton (1981)
Table 9: Reproductive performance of rabbits in the ECA of Lumle Agricultural Centre.
|Weight at 15 weeks (kg)||2|
|Average weight of doe (kg)||3.14|
|Carcass yield (%)||68|
|Pelt weight (g)||100|
|Preweaning mortality (%)||26|
Source: Karki (1984)
The rabbit hutch is important for protection from predators. However, it should be simple, cheap, and constructed from local materials, ensuring adequate provision of ventilation. Most of the hutches constructed in the ECA fulfil the above requirements. The materials used are bamboo, wood, wire mesh, and thatch. The hutches are constructed to provide a floor space of 0.45 × 0.45 × 0.75m for an individual doe, and when they are pregnant, a nest box with an area of 0.4 × 0.3 × 0.3m is given to litter the doe. It can be noted that farmers in the ECA need to spend very little money on rearing their rabbits, so that capital input costs are low, and maintenance is easy where local materials have been used initially.
Rabbits can be easily reared in Nepal, and at the higher altitudes in particular. Because of their prolificacy, ease of rearing and efficient use of forage, this animal represents a good and cheap source of animal protein, in areas of protein deficiency. Religious prejudice and sentiment is also changing in its favour, with the result that rabbit production for meat offers a cheap and economically viable enterprise, that does not compete with human requirements for a cereal based diet. At present, rabbit meat is not familiar to many people in the country, and whatever is produced, is consumed locally, and supply cannot at present satisfy the demand in the ECA. Therefore, a good extension approach with feeding, management and disease control programmes is necessary to increase the rabbit and rabbit meat production to supply the available market. Only then will it be easy for the consumer to choose between rabbit meat or meat from any other animal.
Furthermore, there should be a national policy and guidelines from the Centre regarding the development of rabbit for meat, pelts and fibre production. Good breeds of rabbit like Angora could be reared to produce fur, and articles made from it sold in the market. Pelts can be used to manufacture articles such as gloves and jackets. This could open up a new area of employment and generate cash for rabbit producers.
So far, the rearing of rabbits for meat production in the area of Lumle's ECA and elsewhere in Nepal, has been done on farmers' personal initiative. There is at present no national rabbit development programme. To realise the species potential at a national level, official policy and guidelines need to be established.
Pig husbandry and pork production in Nepal is at an early stage of development compared to other livestock systems. Traditionally, pigs have been associated with low social groups, and so these animals have been neglected in improvement programmes. Religious prejudice has also imposed restrictions. Pigs are reared on a poor plane of nutrition with an indiscriminate breeding pattern and in poor housing. Consequently, the animals grow at a slow rate and the meat is of poor quality. As the pig is only reared by certain groups of people, its production does not combine well with the whole farming system, in the way that that of other livestock does.
However, for certain ethnic groups such as the Rai, Limbu, Magar, Kami and Damai living in the Eastern Hills of Nepal, the black pig has religious and social significance, particularly at sacrificial ceremonies. By contrast, in other parts of the country the white skinned pig is preferred at the market.
In Nepal, two main types of indigenous pig are kept, these are the Chwanche, which are small in size, black in colour and mostly reared in the hills, and the Hurra which are rust brown or black in colour, are relatively large in size and are reared in the Terai region.
Over the years, government institutions and non-governmental agencies have imported some exotic breeds like the Hampshire, Landrace, Tamworth, Saddleback and Fauyen, with a view to upgrading native swine.
The total population of pigs in Nepal is estimated to be nearly 550,000 of which 58% are Chwanche, 23% Hurra and 19% different improved breeds. The population of improved breeds is growing at an annual rate of 7% (LMP, 1990). This implies that the popularity of pork is increasing. It is estimated that the country produced 8,700mt of pork in 1988, contributing 6.2% to national per capita meat consumption (DFAMS, 1989).
There seems to be great potential for increasing the production of pork meat, and the productivity of pigs in the national system. Since its present contribution to animal protein supply is small, institutional development and “National Pig Policy” are required for the overall improvement of the pig industry in Nepal. Government institutions for pig production and improvement exist at Khumaltar, Jiri, Lampatan, Tarahara and Pakhribas Agricultural Centre. The last institute is placing most attention on the development of an improved black pig called the Pakhribas Cross by interbreeding with the Fauyen, Tamworth, Yorkshire, Saddleback and Hampshire pigs (Gatenby et al, 1990).
It is reported that about 350 improved piglets/year have been distributed throughout the country from different institutions since 1985 (LMP, 1990). Though this number appears to be very small in the national context, it does represent valuable genetic material if it can be effectively utilised, by linking distribution with breeding advice and concurrent improvements in management.
Traditionally two or three indigenous pigs are owned by resource poor farmers in Nepal. However, the recent introductions of improved breeds in different parts of the country have introduced the possibility of developing small piggeries to generate cash. Pigs are now reared under two systems in Nepal.
Both indigenous and improved pigs are allowed to roam freely by the road side, and many other open areas, rooting for available food. They are usually shut up at night to protect them from theft and predation. Under this system the opportunity for eating contaminated food and picking up disease is very high. Therefore, it is likely that they suffer from internal parasitic infestation and other disease problems.
In this system mostly improved pigs are reared, although some indigenous pigs may be reared in this way. Although the animals are protected from inclement weather they are confined in the same place until they are marketed. Therefore, they are prone to suffer from diseases associated with poor sanitation and crowded accommodation.
Pig rearing can be a profitable enterprise for the farmer if the numbers of farrowings per year, the litter size and the number of piglets weaned per sow per year is high. To achieve this consideration must be given to the management of pregnant sows, nutrition and health. Piglet mortality has not yet been quantified on a national basis, but the production of five weaned piglets per sow per year is considered to be the usual output from a pig farming enterprise at subsistence level in Nepal (Singh and Moore, 1982).
The productivity of indigenous, purebred exotic and crossbred animals is shown in Table 10. Specific breeds were not detailed in this study.
Table 10: The productivity of local, exotic and crossbred pigs.
|Age at first farrowing (months)||13||14||13|
|Average litter size||8.08||8.28||8.21|
Source: Oli and Morel (1985)
Formulated balanced rations are only available on Government Farms. A very small amount of purchased feed is fed to pigs under village conditions. If they are managed under a free range system, the diet comprises kitchen waste, garbage, roots and other green forage. Some supplement may be offered depending upon the availability of rice bran, brewers' residue, distillers' residue and other crop by-products. If they are reared indoors, the bulk of the diet will be cereal by-products like rice-bran, maize, husks and vegetable waste. However, no special provision of feed is made for pregnant or lactating sows or for flushing.
Pigs are kept inside a stall for a certain period under both systems. They are shut in at night under the scavenging system and for the intensive system, they are totally confined. Food and water are provided as necessary. Various types of house are constructed, such as purpose-built accommodation in peri-urban areas with a run area. However, most of the houses built in villages are low-cost, constructed from bamboo, wood and thatch. Bedding in the form of straw and leaf litter is added if available. No separate provision is made for farrowing, or mating.
Government farms operate sound breeding practices, but under village conditions negative selection is often practised due to lack of knowledge. In this way, vigorous and active male pigs are castrated to sell in the market, and ones which are weak, lean or small are retained for breeding.
No proper health care measures are taken in pig farming at the farmers' level. However, pigs are occasionally drenched against roundworm, and ascariasis, and treatment for skin diseases is sometimes carried out. Pigs suffer little from clinical disease, and parasitic burden is generally accepted by farmers, the treatment of which is probably uneconomic.
Pig production in Nepal has good potential to supply animal protein to the market. The increased adoption of improved breeds by village communities is a positive indication of the acceptance of pig meat in society. To popularise and include pork as a regular part of a family's diet, needs sound extension commitment and mass communication advocating the benefit of keeping a few pigs in the back yard. This could eventually lead to the development of piggeries on a commercial scale.
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