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A plague for some, a panacea for others, the rabbit has been the subject of a general revival of interest since the 1960s. This animal was domesticated rather recently compared to other farm animals, and systematic research on rabbit meat production has only been undertaken in the last two decades.

The rabbit occupies a niche midway between ruminants and monogastric animals. It can utilize cellulose-rich feed, and can still produce satisfactorily with a ration containing as little as 20 percent of grain. The rabbit accordingly competes less directly with man for food than do hogs or poultry. This is a fundamental point given the fact that most developing countries are now importing grain to feed people. The rabbit's biological characteristics-its short life cycle, its prolificacy and feed conversion capacity-make it, immediately after chickens and turkeys, the best animal protein machine.

Finally, rabbits are especially well adapted to backyard rearing systems in which capital and fodder resources are usually limiting factors in animal production. When rabbits are reared according to the techniques appropriate to the environment they can do much to improve the family diet of many of the most needy rural families, while at the same time supplying them with a source of income. With more advanced technology rabbit production can also help to supply big city meat markets.

Of course rabbit cannot be eaten by certain peoples for religious reasons, but the more usual motive for rejecting rabbit meat is ignorance. Rabbit meat is in fact very bland, and can be prepared in a great variety of ways. Nutritionally speaking, it is one of the very best meats.

Considering the interest in rabbit breeding displayed by many FAO member countries, this seemed the right time to bring together as fully and objectively as possible all the data available on the subject. This monograph is also intended to help technical experts and extension workers devise and carry out rabbit development programmes.

Wherever the information was available developing country problems have been stressed, especially tropical problems. Still, we recognize that a great deal of research remains to be done before these are solved.

A team of scientists from the Institut national de la recherche agronomique (INRA), a world-renowned rabbit authority, was marshalled to cover the many and varied aspects of rabbit production for this publication. Led by Francois Lebas, Director of INRA's Rabbit Research Laboratory in Toulouse, the team featured among its main authors:

Pierre Coudert, Rabbit Diseases Laboratory, INRA. Tours Centre;
Roger Rouvier, Animal Genetics Improvement Station, INRA, Toulouse Centre;
Hubert de Rochambeau, Department of Animal Production . Institut national agronomique, Paris-Grignon, Paris Centre.

The main focus of the work of these authors has been on intensifying production in industrial-scale rabbitries in temperate climates, but these men have also had the opportunity of dealing directly with problems of developing rabbit production in Third World countries.

FAO expresses its thanks to the full INRA team and all the volunteer helpers whose work made possible the publication of this monograph. We hope its usefulness will match the enthusiasm and expertise of its authors.

Chief, Animal Production Service Animal Production and Health Division

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