the branch of animal husbandry whose main products are rabbit meat, fur, and down. Rabbit meat is a nutritious food product; the pelts are a valuable raw product for the fur industry, used both in their natural form and to imitate expensive furs; and the down, as good in terms of heat conduction as merino wool, is used to make knitted goods, felt, and velour.
The yearly production of rabbit pelts in prerevolutionary Russia never exceeded 200,000. The pelts were treated by primitive methods. Rabbit breeding began in the USSR in 1927–29, when a number of pedigree-rabbit breeding sovkhozes, kolkhozes, and state pedigree breeding establishments were created.
Special privileges were granted to kolkhozes and individuals engaged in rabbit raising. About 38 million pelts were produced in 1935. The greatest production year in rabbit breeding in the postrevolutionary period was 1961 (56.7 million pelts, including 21.6 million in the RSFSR and 26.4 million in the Ukraine).
Homestead rabbit breeding has become very popular in the USSR, in certain years before 1970 producing about 95 percent of the total output. Associations and societies of amateur rabbit breeders have aided the development of homestead rabbit breeding by helping homestead breeders to acquire pedigreed animals of the best breeds and the necessary grain feeds and by arranging for livestock specialists and veterinarians to service their farms. Amateur rabbit breeders raise rabbits to five or six months of age, when the pelts are at maximum value. The animals are kept in individual or group cages made of local materials (wood, adobe, brick), outdoors in summer and in suitable accommodations in winter. Consumer cooperatives and meat-packing enterprises are engaged in producing rabbit products for the state.
Rabbit breeding farms at kolkhozes and sovkhozes have meat-and-pelt and down divisions. Certain farms raise rabbits for meat only (Cherkassy and Poltava oblasts). On the meat-and-pelt farms, each female of the main breeding stock yields an average of 20 young, or 20 pelts and 50 kg and more of meat per year. Farms that fatten young broilers raise them with their mothers until they are 2–2.5 months old (with a liveweight of about 2 kg). On farms raising rabbits for down, each adult rabbit yields 350–700 g of down per year.
The number of kolkhoz and sovkhoz rabbit breeding farms in the USSR is growing rapidly. In 1970 there were about 400 of the farms in the country, producing up to 5 percent of the rabbit products; in 1972, about 4,000 kolkhozes and sovkhozes also had rabbit farms, responsible for 10–15 percent of the country’s total production. In 1971, 47 million rabbit pelts and 38,000 tons of meat were produced in the USSR. New techniques for keeping and feeding rabbits, which should ensure the gradual transition of rabbit-meat production to an industrial basis, are being developed and tested at a number of farms to accelerate growth rates in rabbit breeding. These methods include keeping the rabbits in batteries of cages equipped with automatic feeders (containing a three- to five-day supply of food) and automatic water troughs, set up in closed rooms with a regulated microclimate. Nutritionally balanced granulated feeds are used. Rabbit breeding farms using this new technology produce 90–100 kg of meat from each main-stock female per year with minimal animal loss.
Most of the rabbit meat in the USSR is produced in the traditional rabbit breeding regions: the RSFSR, the Ukrainian SSR, the Moldavian SSR, and the Uzbek SSR. There are 300 pedigree farms on kolkhozes and sovkhozes providing the rabbit farms with animal stock. The pedigree stations include 20 stud-type farms, raising the best breeds: the Soviet Chinchilla, the White Giant, the Silver, the Gray Giant, the Viennese Blue, the Black-Brown, the White Downy, the White New Zealand, and the California. The Biriulia Breeding Sovkhoz in the Tatar ASSR has the highest-producing rabbits. The Research Institute of Fur Farming and Rabbit Breeding is working on the scientific problems involved in rabbit breeding. The Ministry of Agriculture of the USSR publishes the journal Krolikovodstvo i zvero-vodstvo (Rabbit Breeding and Fur Farming).
Outside the USSR, rabbit breeding is most developed in France, Italy, the USA, Great Britain, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Poland, and Bulgaria. The world’s largest producer of rabbit meat is France (401,000 tons in 1970); Italy is second (180,000 tons), and the USA, third (60,000 tons). Industrial technology (keeping the rabbits in mechanized batteries of cages in closed quarters, air-conditioned for optimum microclimate) is widely used in foreign rabbit breeding, and the animals are given only balanced granulated feeds. A significant number of rabbits (as many as 40 percent of those in France) are raised in the major rabbit breeding countries by nonfarmer amateurs.
REFERENCESKrolikovodstvo. Moscow, 1960.
Osnovy krolikovodstvo. Moscow, 1961.
Aitken, F., and W. Wilson. Kormlenie krolikov. Moscow, 1966. (Translated from English.)
Vagin, E. A., and N. S. Zusman. Priusadebnoe krolikovodstvo. Moscow, 1968.
E. A. VAGIN