September/October – 2010
Author: Sue Korevaar
Meat rabbit farming is one of Australia’s fastest growing new industries. While its size may not rival traditional meat industries, it is providing a useful source of income diversification for a number of people in regional and rural Australia. SUE KOREVAAR reports on the installation of a mini hydroponic fodder production system at Highthorpe Rabbits in Northern Tasmania, which has reduced feeding costs and increased production for this small producer.
Graeme and Shirley Harris of Highthorpe Rabbits in Northern Tasmania are counting rabbits in their sleep, literally. Six years ago, they started a commercial rabbit breeding operation, selling fresh rabbits to local butchers and restaurants as a part-time operation to supplement their income. The rabbits they breed are a special variety called New Zealand White Californians and the breed has been developed for commercial purposes.
Meat rabbit farming is one of Australia’s fastest growing new industries.
Graeme, a bushy for 35 years, had been breeding parrots and finches as a hobby, but the cost of feed made it a very expensive hobby, so he looked around for something else to do and maybe break even with the feeding costs. He decided that he could use the old bird sheds to breed rabbits and the rest is history.
Graeme Harris says demand for rabbits is outstripping supply.
At the 2009 AgFest Agricultural show in Northern Tasmania, Graeme visited the site of FodderTech, which sell commercial fodder growing systems for large and small scale operations. It didn’t take Graeme long after listening to Peter Doyle (inventor of the fodder growing system and part-owner of FodderTech) to work out that a mini system could be just what the doctor ordered with regard to increasing his rabbit population.
The mini fodder modules have been developed to suit the hobby farmer or person with smaller livestock quantities. This mini unit will produce approx 30kg per day.
The FodderTech System can convert 1kg of barley seed into 7-8 kg of fodder in a 7-day cycle. This unit produces approximately 20 kg per day of sprouts.
“The demand for our rabbits is outstripping supply, but the food costs are increasing too, so for us it is a balancing act between costs and making a profit from increased production,” says Graeme.
The long and the short of it was that Graeme ordered a small unit from FodderTech, which was delivered to his site just before Christmas 2009. He set up the unit in a section of his shed and started growing sprouted barley grain.
“I can’t believe it, I put the grain into the channels and 7 days later I take it out and feed it to the rabbits, it really is that simple,” says Graeme. “Sure, it is a bit of work, but the proof is in the pudding.”
Prior to installing the fodder system, Graeme was spending approximately $760 every 3 weeks for pellets. This was feeding approximately 50 – 60 does and their kids, together with maybe 60-70 young ones. He now spends around the same amount of money but he has increased his does to nearly 90 and doubled his young ones.
Housing is a critical issue for rabbit health.
The young kids are taken from the mothers at around 4 weeks of age and it takes another 8–10 weeks before they are ready to sell at around 1kg to 1.5kg dressed weight. The sell price is per kg, so the bigger the rabbits, the better the return. He would like to double his production and decrease the time it takes to get the rabbits to saleable size and he believes the fodder system is the answer.
Just born. Normally a doe will produce 8-10 kids.
One-week old. The young kids are taken from the mothers at around 4 weeks of age.
2.5-weeks old. It takes 8–10 weeks before they are ready to sell.
“It took only a couple of days for the does to get into eating the sprouts and now they can’t wait and they are looking for it every morning. I believe it will increase milk production and give the young ones a really good start.”
Recently, a mother on the fodder produced 15 babies, which has never happened before.
“This was a tough one, because a doe only has 8 teats, so we had to foster the others onto a couple of other mothers. Normally, a doe would produce 8-10 kids, so 15 was a bit of a shock.”
Currently, the mothers each receive approximately 200gms of sprouts per day together with good quality hay and pallets. Graeme keeps a breeding mother for approximately 1 year and she would have between 10–12 sets of babies. Graeme’s fodder system produces around 30 kg of sprouted barley per day and what is left over after feeding the does is given to the young ones in conjunction with dry feed. The green feed helps prevent scours in the young ones when they leave the mothers and go onto the hard feed. If not treated or prevented, the mortality rate from scours can be high.
Graeme and Shirley hope to be able to work their rabbit production facility full time in the near future, growing to just over 200 does to make it viable.
“I can see we are going to have to buy another fodder system before too long, probably the big one, but that’s ok, I’ll just make the shed bigger,” laughs Graeme.
Highthorpe Rabbits is in Northern Tasmania and you can contact Graeme on and FodderTech on or visit their website www.foddertech.com
About the author
Sue Korevaar was formerly a commercial hydroponic grower of tomatoes, capsicums, lettuce and herbs for the last 14 years and has been heavily involved with key hydroponic industry bodies for the last 10 years. From 2000 – 2007 Sue was President of the Hydroponic Farmers Federation (HFF). Today, Sue is General Manager of Foddertech, designer and manufacturer of commercial fodder productions systems. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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September/October 2010 / Issue 114