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MEKARN Workshop 2008: Organic rabbit production from forages


Rabbit production development un

Rabbit production development under bird flu situation in Indonesia

Yono C Raharjo

Indonesian Research Institute for Animal Production
PO Box 221 – Bogor 16002. Indonesia



Bird flu caused by highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) virus subtype H5N1 has become a global concern for its deadly effect on poultry and especially as a potential threat to cause a possibility of human pandemic. Its outbreaks is disastrous to poultry industry, causes huge economic loss, unemployment, including less meat supply and death to human.  Within the last 5 years, cases of H5N1 infections were reported to occur in more than 60 countries and in human cases in 14 countries, mostly in Asia and South East Asia.  Among infected countries, Indonesia is the worst hit. Two hundred ninety three out of 493 regencies/cities were infected, caused death to more than 13 millions birds  and 110 people.

While various efforts to control and eradicate the virus are carried out, most control are successfully applicable in the commercial production system, but no assurance for this backyard system situation. This backyard poultry farming activity (referred as Sector 4 by FAO) is practiced by more than 50 % people living in the village in the SEA countries, in which close co-existence of human with poultry occurs and may pose  a serious spread of the virus. Unless strict control is implied it is unlikely that H5N1 HPAI viruses will be eradicated from Asia within the next 10 years, and remains a threat to the poultry and human health.

In Indonesia, bird flu caused a great loss of USD  463 million, reduction on (i) number of poultry farmers 6.7 – 48.5 %, (ii) number of birds raised (3.3 – 65 %) and (iii) farmers income (13.2 %). It raises concern to the further living (income, work opportunity, food supply and eco-health) of village people, and therefore there is a need to set up a policy to restructure backyard livestock system, generating choices of work activity. In this situation, rabbit farming may become a potential alternative.

Rabbit farming fits the requirements of rural farming activity. Rabbit can be raised in a small number, yet may contribute a significant amount of organic meat and income to the farmer. In the last 4 years, rabbit farming in Indonesia grew and spread very rapidly to many areas. It is a very profitable rural farming activity, with the B/C ratio of 1.42 – 3.55. the scale is small in size (mostly 5 – 15 does per family), the animals are fed mostly by forages, sold as pet, meat and breeding stock and always short in supply. A recent short quick survey, carried out to 3 areas, each of 10 rabbit farmers, indicated that rabbit was preferred over other animals because of its small size, easy to handle, fast reproduction, easy to feed and , most importantly profitable and give additional cash income to the family. Some farmers do prefer rabbit over the chickens, because there is still some fear to the bird flu, beside a high increase  of feed ingredients caused high cost for chicken production. Therefore, rabbit farming could be a feasible alternative of rural farming activity, especially in the case of uncontrolled bird flu still occurs. Development of small scale rabbit production based  on forage feeding system is also discussed in this paper.

Keywords: bird flu, rabbit production, Indonesia


Among livestock and poultry species farmed in Indonesia, chickens and ducks industry are the most leading sector. Most of available meat is supplied by chickens (64.38 %) and ducks (10.77 %), while the ruminant animals share 25.79 % of the total (DGLS 2006). Not only it gives substantial contribution to the national economy, poultry industries, large or especially small scale, are also important to socio and economic of the rural people, by providing many work opportunity. Of particular interest is the farming of native chickens, which represents 24.2 % of the total chicken meat supply, which is the domain of rural family activities, characterized by small in scale or most often is found as a type of backyard farming (referred as Sector 4 by FAO).  

This backyard farming, in which native chicken is usually included, although small in scale, plays a significant role as a saving of cash income and food supply for the rural family (Yusdja dkk 2008) and is reported to be practiced   by more than 50 % of people living in the village in the SEA countries (Darminto et al 2008). The backyard farming is usually characterized by free ranging/scavenging birds around the area, close contact with human or other animal species, and market system is selling the live birds. This system is enormously risky for contagious disease, such as the bird flu, to spread (Rushton 2008), because it is difficult to imply a tight control or prevention of the disease.

Continuing outbreaks of bird flu have been disastrous to the poultry industry in the SEA countries and have raised serious global concern on public health (McLeod et al  2008). This outbreak, together with (i) local government regulation to imply control on the bird flu, such as prohibition to raise birds around the settlement or eradication of birds, and (ii) high price of feed ingredients for poultry causes increasing rate of unemployment, less income for people, short of meat supply especially for the low-income community (Basuno 2008),  creating a great difficulty to people living in the village. Therefore, there has to be efforts to restore the socio-economic situation in order to bring the better living for the people in the rural. Among many, farming rabbits could be a feasible alternative, which is true to some areas in Indonesian situation.

This paper discusses the bird flu, its impact and efforts to control and prevention, its further possible threat, potential of rabbit production in Indonesia as an alternative to restore the socio-economic loss and development strategy of rabbit production in the rural community. Some of the data presented are results of a recent survey in 3 areas (Brastagi,-North Sumatera, Semarang-Central Java, Sleman-Yogyakarta), where the rabbit production grows rapidly nowadays. At least ten rabbit farmers, from each location, were interviewed.

Bird flu

Bird flu is a popular term for avian influenza (AI), a term used to refer to an infection caused by avian influenza viruses, that may infect birds, waterfowls (Bunn and Haynes 2008), pigs, horses and even human (Easterday et al  1997). The virus is classified as  A, B and C according to antigenic differences  in nucleoprotein (NP) and matrix protein (M) and all bird flu viruses are from the type  A virus, which  have the widest range of host organisms (Darminto et al  2008). Further sub-typing is based on antigenicity on two surface glycol-proteins, haemagglutinin (HA) and neuroamidase (NA). There are 15 subtypes of HA and 9 subtypes of NA from the influenza viruses (Murphy and Webster 1996). Among these subtypes, H5N1 attracts global concern for its pathogenicity and zoonoticity, causes severe illness, and is also reported to easily mutate and hence could be transmitted among people to cause a potential pandemic (Schwabenbauer  et al  2008, Butcher and Swick 2008).

Darminto etal. (2008) and Krisnamurthy (2008) reported that historically, was first identified in China (1996) and in Hong Kong (1997), followed by H9N2 virus in Hong Kong (1999),  H7N7 in the Netherland (2003). Starting 2003, there were outbreaks of H5N1 in South East Asia (Vietnam, Thailand,  Lao, Cambodia and Indonesia) and East Asia (PR China, Korea and Japan). Butcher and Swick (2008) also reported that H9N2 AI, a low pathogenic virus has been endemic in several Middle East and Asian countries, including India (Chaharaein et al  2008). Figure 1 shows the countries hit by the AI virus (WHO 2006).  


Figure 1: Countries hit by the bird flu (WHO 2006)


On the human cases, from December 2003 – April 2008, 60 countries reported H5N1 infections in birds and 14 countries reporting human cases, in which 216 human deaths out of 340 cases (  Data on the human death due to AI up to 2006 is illustrated in Figure 2.

AI outbreaks in poultry was first erupted primarily in Sectors 1, 2 and 3 (commercial large scale poultry industries –  by FAO definition) although most human cases do not appear to have connected with these sectors. Subsequently the disease spread to Sector 4 (backyard farming) and become one of the disease reservoir, which causes large viral load present in the countryside and gives a higher likelihood of virus recombination, raising the chance of human-to-human transmission possibility (Darminto et al  2008). In support to this, Nidom (2008) reported A, B, C and C* genotypes that infected human from 2003 - 2008.



Figure 2: Human cases infected by bird flu until 2006

Sector 4 or backyard farming is practiced by 50 – 70 % of the farmers living in the village in the Less Developed Countries, and is particularly true in the  South East Asia situation (Darminto et al. 2008). This farming, is characterized by small in scale, usually raising native chickens, the animals range/scavenge freely around the areas and sold in the live form. Although small in scale, this farming plays a significant role for saving of cash income and supply of emergency meat need for the poor family. However, in case of the HPAI H5N1, this sector is more difficult to control due to the nature of this free ranging practice, and the way birds are collected, transported and marketed and other various factors such as lack of services by local authorities, poor infrastructure and poverty. Unless there is a serious effort for this sector to control and prevent the disease to spread, this sector could be a potential source of AI viruses to respread. The effort should include the restoration of work opportunity for people as their income source.

 Effect of the bird flu on the socio economic situation

 At the time being, the highly pathogenic AI virus subtype H5N1 is already panzootic in poultry, with huge economic consequences (Chaharaein et al  2008a) and its continuing outbreaks of HPAI in SEA has been disastrous to poultry industry in the regions (McLeod et al  2008). The AI outbreaks did not only cause dramatic decrease of poultry population in a short time, but also decrease more welfare of poor people and will require great amount of cost to control.

 In China, until 2006, 317,000 fowls were infected and and more than 35 million poultry were culled (Liang et al  2006; OIE 2007). Vietnam, underwent first HPAI–H5N1 outbreak in 2003-2004, in which 45 million birds were culled, in the second (2004-2005) and third (2005-2006) outbreaks, losses were 1,8 million and 4 million birds were culled, respectively. The fatality rate on human, in 2003 – 2005, were 87 cases and 34 of them died Bong (2006) First outbreak in Thailand took place in January-May 2004 and spread to 42 provinces and the last outbreak occurred in 2007, where more than 1,7 million birds were destroyed and a total of 17 human cases were reported (CDC. 2007).

Outbreaks in Indonesia has occurred 4 years, first major outbreaks (end of 2003 –early 2004) caused death to more than 7,650,000 chickens due to infection by HPAI (Wiyono et al  2004) and further 2,798,000 were culled by selective depopulation. Figure 3 shows mortality of birds in 2003 – 2007.



Figure 3: Mortalities of chickens in Indonesia due to AI (Yusdja et al  2008)


Up to April 2008, as many as 293 out of 493 regencies/cities  in all of Indonesia are bird flu endemic areas, areas that have been hit by the virus and there is always potential for this to reoccur (Memed 2007) and caused death to more than 13 millions birds  and 110 people (with the case fatality rate = 81 %, which is highest human fatalities in the world). Citing the National Committee on the Bird Flu Control and Prevention Yusdja etal (2008) reported that  economically, bird flu caused a loss of USD  463 million, reduction on number of poultry farmers 6.7 – 48.5 %, number of birds raised (3.3 – 65 %) and farmers income (13.2 %), depending on the location. Chicken meat and egg consumption also decreased 10.8 – 40 %, due to fear of the AI infection, the increase of meat price and the decrease of income.

Control and Prevention

Being aware of the danger of the HPAI H5N1, efforts on control and prevention through modification of high risk production and marketing practices or other appropriate measures and control have been implied in many countries (Simms 2008). However, it seems to be successfully applicable in the industrial production system, but not in the case of small scale/backyard sector, where HPAI virus tends to become endemic in some countries (Schwabenbauer et al  2008).

Nine steps of action, i.e. (i) implementation of strict biosecurity, (ii) Selective depopulation in the infected areas, (iii) Vaccination, (iv) control of transportation, (v) surveillance and investigation, (vi) increase community awareness, (vii) refarming – restocking of the farm, (viii) stamping out in new area, and (ix) monitoring, evaluation and reporting with additional of local government regulation to prohibit raising birds around the settlement (Darminto 2008) is expected to be effectively control and prevent the disease to spread.

 Further threat

 Highly pathogenic H5N1 (Grimmes 2008), high prevalence of H9N2 viruses with the ability to infect human and co circulating with the H5N1 (Chaharaein et al  2008b), high tolerance of poultry industries in the regions to H9N2 (Butcher and Swick 2008), make use of extensive vaccination (Butcher and Swick. 2008), together with the difficulty to control the backyard farming (close so-existence of birds and human) (Rushton 2008), and traditional farming practices  scavenging, moving flocks from one to other places), environment (river delta and rice fields) (Martin et al  2006) will likely cause the disease to still occur  and spread and therefore it is unlikely that H5N1 viruses be eradicated within the next 10 years (Simms 2008). Besides, possibility of mutation or recombination of the viruses (Nidom etal 2007) together with the fact that H5N1 is able to infect other mammals (dogs, cats, civets etc). ( causes more fear of possibility of pandemic to becoming real (Atmosoekarto 2008).

For Indonesia in particular, challenges for the control of HPAI in Sector 4 in Indonesia include: (1) presence of asymptomatic infection among farmed and wild birds, (2) questions of vaccine efficacy and vaccination program, (3) illegal poultry slaughter house in rural areas, (4) problems associated with wet poultry markets, (5) problem with compensation program, (6) issues related to restructuring of poultry farms and (7) low participation of farmers and industry in the prevention of sick bird trade (Darminto et al  2008). In addition, in some areas, raising poultry is a tradition, pride and backbone of family economy.

Restoration or restructuring of small scale poultry/livestock farming is a must in order to provide jobs for the people and consequently reduce poverty, nutritional shortages and also reduce the flow of urbanization (Yusdja et al  2008)

 Rabbit production and development as an alternative

The potential of rabbit to fit the small scale farming system in the rural areas has been reported elsewhere (Owen 1976, Cheeke 1983,1986, Lukefahr 2007). The animals are small, grow and reproduce rapidly, able to live in simple hutches, feed is cheap from forages or by-product feed, easy to handle, need only small capital to start with, and known to have no zoonotic diseases, including the bird flu (Darminto 2007). Although originally raising rabbit is aimed at providing meat for family consumption in the rural areas, this last 3 – 4 years, with a wide open market,  is shifted to a more cash income orientation, which is true in the case of Indonesian situation (Raharjo 2008). Raising rabbits, for whatever the product is (meat, fancy, fur, laboratory animals) is very profitable (Table 1). Uses of premixed diet, full or limited plus forages gave Benefit/Cost (B/C) ratios from 1.42 to 3.55. Therefore, rabbit could be  an animal of choice  for a small scale farming in the rural areas, especially when the bird flu outbreaks still occurs. and/or the  feed price is high.


Table 1: Economic analysis of raising 100 does + 20 bucks with or without forage feeding every 2 months (Raharjo 2007)

Type of rabbit


Litter size


Price (Rp000)

Profit (Rp000)/2 mo

B/C ratio


Premixed, 100 %



24/kg carcass

1.5/ft fur




Premixed, 50 % + forages





Meat + Fur

Premixed, 100 %



24/kg carcass

20/ft fur




Premixed, 50 % + forages






Premixed, 100 %

Premix 50 % + forages




20/3 mo-old






Premixed, 100 %

Premixed, 50 % + forages








Premixed, 100 %



35/kg live



* TCP = Total Cost Production, FC = feed cost

Rabbit production development in Indonesia

 In the last 3 – 4 years, rabbit production has been growing very rapidly in Indonesia, not only in the number of farmers, but also in the scale of farming and number of areas, spreading from the North Sumatera  to Papua (Raharjo 2008). This situation is supported by the unique situation of Indonesia, i.e. large rural population, shortage of protein consumption by village people, high rate of unemployment, yet abundant availability of forages (especially in Java), together with potential characteristics of rabbit, i.e. being small in size, grow and reproduce efficiently from forages and by-product feeds (Owen 1976; Cheeke 1983), and the open market for rabbit products. It probably also, coincidently triggered with outbreaks of HPAI, which was started in August 2003 (Wiyono et al  2004). .  

A recent short and quick survey (August-September 2008) was carried out to find out the reason of choosing rabbit for farming. Group rabbit farmers in 3 areas (Brastagi-North Sumatera, Semarang-Central Java, and Sleman-Yogyakarta), each of 10 farmers as respondents, except for Semarang (32 respondents) were interviewed through the help of keyperson (committee member of IB-WRSA) in each area. Results are shown in Table  2.


Table 2: Survey results on the reason of farming the  rabbit


Brastagi –

North Sumatera

Semarang –

Central Java

Sleman - Yogyakarta

Age of farmer

41 (32 – 55)

35 (23 – 57)

41 (27 – 60)

Starting Year


(2002 – 2008)


(2001– 2008)


(2004 – 2008)

Monthly income/farmer (Rp000)


( 375 – 8000)


(60 – 4500)


(180 – 1200)

Number of does owned

67 (14 – 450)

22 (4 – 121)

29 (5 – 150)

Number of animal sold (monthly)

131 (25 – 400)

118 (3 – 975)

24 (6 – 30)

Reasons for farming rabbit, (%)




- Additional/main income




- More profitable than other livestock




- Easy to manage




- small investment




- free from bird flu




- easy access to market




- feed is easy to find/cheap




- hobby/killing time




- fear of bird flu




- alternative to chicken meat




- small cost of production




- rapid to multiply




- cases of bird flu in the area




- organic fertilizer




* number in the parenthesis is a range; USD 1 = Rp. 9200


Results showed that farming rabbit is relatively new in these areas, averagely started in 2006, mostly after 2003. Farmers, who are working with rabbits, are in the productive age, meaning that many of them have no formal job, and become dependant to the results from rabbit. This condition is supported by the answer on the reasons of farming, i.e. for additional or even main income of the family (100 %). Two interesting reasons were (i) raising rabbits was more profitable than other  animals and (ii) easy access to market. These reasons indicate a  potential for rabbit development toward rabbit industry. Other reasons were somewhat classical, that raising rabbit is cheap, need only small investment, easy to manage and the animal is multiply rapidly. Fear of the bird flu did not seem to be the first reason for rabbit farming. However, most of the farmers, especially the new farmers, do consider to avoid the bird flu.

Most rabbit farming in Indonesia is micro or small in scale, although there are farmers with more than 300 - 500 does. The above data on the number of does owned, 22 – 61 heads/family is already higher than  the 2007 data reported (11 – 18 heads) (Herawati and Juarini 2007; Raharjo 2008). Rabbits are raised in the backyard, cages from available cheap local materials, feed from forages and/or agriculture waste, and using family labour - a typical of small scale operation as also indicated by Becerril-Perez and Pro-Martinez (2007) and Lukefahr (2007). In the micro scale operation, where feed is almost entirely depended on cut-and-carry forages or vegetable waste, rabbit usually has only 4 litters in a year. In a vegetable centre area, carrot leaf, cabbage and cauliflower waste are often fed. Occasionally, a limited amount of by-product meal, such as rice bran and/or soybean curd waste is given.  Farmers, who raised more than 50 does, involving almost 400 – 500 animals in a time,  has already used external inputs such as, buying materials for cages and hutches, using hired labor and feed is partly using commercial pellet diet. For this scale, the breeding system is intensified to have 6 litters per year. In respect to the feed cost, Sastrodihardjo and Raharjo (1992) suggested that combination of limited concentrate diet with ad lib forages is more pofitable than feeding concentrate diet alone. Some available forages (Raharjo et al. 1986 1988; Tangendjaya et al. 2007) and by-product feeds, such as rice bran (Raharjo et al  1988), peanut meal (Raharjo et al  1992a), coconut meal, palm kernel meal (Raharjo et al  1988; Sartika and Raharjo. 1994; Iskandar and Raharjo 2007), were studied, in term of their potential, based on their chemical composition, and nutrient digestibility for rabbit.

Most breeds of rabbits raised are crossing of meat type (FG, NZW, English Spot, etc), meat and fur type (Rex and Satin), and pet rabbit (dwarf, Angora, Hotot, Tan, Lops, Fuzzy, Dutch, etc). Performance of various breeds of ‘local’ rabbits from various areas is presented in Table 3.


Table 3: Rabbit performance raised in some areas in Indonesia 2006


Litter size

Litter size








at weaning, g

weight, g





(8 wk)

(16-20 wk)

Cross, Magelang





1800 - 3200-a

Rex, Ciawi





1760 - 2205

Satin, Ciawi





1795 - 2310

Reza, Ciawi





1690 - 2170






1700 - 2200

Rex, Brebes





2200 - 2400-c

FG cross, Ciawi





2870 - 3660

NZW cross, Batu-d






Rex, Batu






Flemish Giant cross, Batu






a = sold from 14 week-old - old culled rabbit, b = cross from many breeds,

slaughter weight 16 - 22 week-old; c = raised by farmers, fed mainly forages

d = weaning age was 5,4 week-old,


Problems faced by the farmers nowadays are (i) availability of quality breeding stock, (ii) availability of cheap commercial diet, since many farmers shift their farming scale to small and medium and the need for forages may not be fully met, (iii) high mortality during lactation and after weaning.

 Rabbit Development Strategy

Current rabbit production in Indonesia, as shown above, indicates a strong aim for commercial purpose, yet size of farming are mostly small. Therefore a cooperative type operation is strongly suggested. A concept of strategy for development of rabbit production for this purpose should involve  (i) cooperative/group, (ii) availability of breeding centre, (iii) training of farmers, (iv) strengthening the program and management of the organization, and (v) creating market and promotion of rabbits, (vi) own-rabbit meat consumption, and (vii) support from the Government. This concept is termed as ‘Kampung Kelinci’ (Rabbit Village) concept and is applied to an area that is interested in developing rabbit farming. Following this concept is to industrialize the small scale rabbit farming.

A cooperative group is formed within farmers interested in raising rabbits. This can be done through a Participatory Rural Appraisal model, in which a meeting is set with the rural farmers and any programs, personal appointed, including the appointment of ‘first generation trainees’ to become ‘cadres’  (Lukefahr 2007), are decided by the group. This meeting is usually led by Government Officials or NGO person. Being in a group, several benefits may be gained.

Village breeding is built to improve breeding stock and acts as a core to supply rabbit to the farmers (member of the cooperative). A training on simple breeding management should be done. Village breeding may be built through support, including financial, from the members or from other source, including Government or Social Groups. This has to be a commercially-based activity. Profit earned should be returned partly to the member-farmers.

Training of farmers is carried out through a ‘Training for trainers’ system. A group of appointed farmers are trained and these farmers will train the other farmer groups. Training materials include proper farming, management of the cooperative, product processing, marketing and promotion.  Strengthening program and management of the cooperative is usually conducted through periodic meetings. Program in which objective, planning, operation, control and finance should be set by the group. This managerial skill is usually lack in the group of small scale operation.

Market is a very critical aspect. For this time, market is wide open. However, high price of pets and meat may soon be competed by other commodities. Pet market is very fluctuatif, and it may become a danger if this market declines in a sudden, especially because pet market nowadays is much higher than for meat. Market for meat is more stabil. Attempt to develop markets should be done through group of farmers to (i) have at least one rabbit meat restaurant in their area. Supply of rabbit comes from the member, (ii) create market for live animals in a certain area at a certain time, (iii) produce and sell processed meat, e.g. frankfurters, meat ball, burger, etc. These products are very well sold especially during exhibition or festivity, (iv) have a mobile marketing tent. This tent should present in any exhibition or festivity and sell the meat, processed meat or cooked meat. The meat is purchased from or supplied by the members, the organization should arrange and/or rotate the person in charge in this activity. Any profit gained should partly be going to the Cooperative, and (v) carry out periodic Contest and Exhibition of food from rabbits and live animals. In every activity carried out by the organization, the benefit or advantage of rabbit farming or rabbit meat should always be promoted.

The importance of consuming rabbit meat by the family  first goes for the nutrition of family, then the family can promote the benefit of rabbit meat or rabbit raising and further, especially for ‘new comers” in rabbit raising,  where market may be less available, they still can ‘use’ the rabbit for own consumption.

One of the most important support functions of government is to offer small farmers or smallholders the technology to expand their productivity  and incomes. The current system of research and extension suffers from several weaknesses  which constraint  its effectiveness in addressing the need of the small farmers  According to the World Bank report (1990) firstly, it is estimated that only half of Indonesian farmers are reached by the extension services. Secondly, since research and extension target is primarily monocropped farms, similar attention has not been paid to livestock and the diversity of farming systems followed by farmers in other areas. Thirdly, little attention has been given in research to the special need of the farmers, who are often unable to adopt the optimum.

In conclusion, bird flu do occur in the regions including Indonesia, threats of the HPAI still exists and enormous loss on the economic, unemployment, poverty, short of meat, especially for rural people is shadowing. In this situation,  rabbit can be an alternative as a farming activity of the rural family. Rabbit farming offers work opportunity, additional income, quality meat and organic fertilizer. It also has potential to be a ‘small scale industry’. The case in Indonesia, during the bird flu (2003 – 2008), the rabbit production grows rapidly, number of farmers and rabbit population increased drastically in this last 3 -4 years. The orientation has been shifted from self-consumption of the meat to a commercial operation. Attention however, should be paid to this booming market. A strategy for sustainability of farming is thus required.


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