The Rabbit Research Program at TAMUK

Director: Steven D. Lukefahr

 

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The Facility Design

A rabbit research program was established in 1994 at Texas A&M University-Kingsville. The facility is 80 feet long and 17 feet wide. The building is narrow to help improve air flow to keep the rabbits cool. The barn faces a southeast direction to maximize the prevailing wind air flow for better circulation. Engineers have designed the barn to be 10 F cooler inside than the outside temperature. This facility has a metal roof with insulation underneath to help keep inside temperature cooler. These interventions are especially important with the extreme high temperature that do occur quite often in south Texas. During the cooler months there are adjustable plywood panels on both the southeast and northwest sides of the barn that can be lowered to protect the rabbits against drafts or storms.

Management

The rabbit stock (capacity of 40 bucks and 100 does) is managed as a commercial enterprise. A commercial pelleted diet is fed to the rabbits. Our commercial line of New Zealand White does have the genetic potential to produce 8 litters/year that result in approximately 40 market fryers  per year (assuming no crossfostering). For example, a doe will be bred and 14 days later she will be palpated for pregnancy. If the doe is pregnant, 14 days later a nest box will be placed in her cage. The same doe would be serviced again 14 days postpartum. If the doe is not pregnant, she will be bred back immediately and palpated again 14 days later. The replacement does and bucks are first mated at 5 or 6 months of age. All rabbits are housed in commercial wire cages that are equipped with an automatic watering system. A part-time student manager maintains the research facility and keeps the operation going smoothly. Graduate students conduct research experiments as part of their specialization training.

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Breeds of Rabbits

New Zealand White - The Ozark line of the New Zealand White (NZW) breed, specifically developed for the commercial meat rabbit industry, was obtained in the mid-1980's from Pel-Freez. However, over the years, this line was crossed with commercial lines from Florida and Louisiana. This composite maternal line is well adapted under hot and humid conditions. There is little to no fancy or show NZW breeding in this line. Does exemplify desirable maternal characteristics, such as large litters, well developed nests, good milking ability, and strong maternal instincts, for which commercial selection has been applied. The recommended breeding management regime involves a 14-day breed-back system that allows for 8 litters per doe per  year. When purchasing NZW stock, always ask to see production and pedigree records. Avoid show stock when breeding rabbits commercially for meat.  Do not be impressed by show ribbons and trophies. We sell young NZW rabbits (2-3 months of age) for $35 each at the door. These rabbits have been very productive for both families with small backyard operations and large commercial operations in many states. Inquiries can be sent by e-mail to Dr. Lukefahr (s-lukefahr@tamuk.edu).

 

Altex - This is a commercial sire breed of rabbit that was first developed at Alabama A&M University and later at Texas A&M University-Kingsville by Dr. Lukefahr and his former students. Foundation breeds were Flemish Giant, Champagne d' Argent, and Californian.  The Altex was genetically selected for heavy 70 day market weights for over 20 generations. Color markings are that of a Californian (CAL), but weights are heavier ranging from 10 to 20 pounds. Altex x New Zealand White crossbred fryers typically reach market weight a week earlier than NZW purebred fryers. Another recommended cross is the mating from an Altex buck to a CAL X NZW crossbred doe.

It is emphasized that the Altex is a commercial-bred rabbit. They were not developed for exhibition at rabbit shows. Rather, these rabbits are long-bodied with large ears, non-dense fur, etc., so as to be more heat tolerant to allow for better production. For more information about the Altex breed, the following paper can be read which was published in Domestic Rabbits Magazine (Sep.-Oct. 1996, 24(5):20-21).

Altex breeding stock:  My university is not in the breeding stock business, but rather has the mission of teaching students and doing research. We sold out the last of our Altex stock to commercial breeders a few years ago, mostly so that we would have more cages available to initiate more research projects. There are two major breeders and suppliers of Altex breeding stock in the U.S. The first is Debbie and John Mays. Their business is located near Clarksville, Tennessee. They prefer to sell at the door, but they do know of an area driver who can ship by road transportation. The May's e-mail address is info@chiggerridge.net and their phone number is 615-219-3204. The other breeder is Beth and Dave Seeley who are from Ocala, Florida. Their e-mail address is seelyark1@aol.com and their phone number is 352-489-8353. They too prefer to sell only at the door.

It is emphasized that the Altex is a commercial-bred rabbit. They were not developed for exhibition at rabbit shows. Rather, these rabbits are long-bodied with large ears, non-dense fur, etc., so as to be more heat tolerant to allow for better production. For more information about the Altex breed, the following paper can be read which was published in Domestic Rabbits Magazine (Sep.-Oct. 1996, 24(5):20-21).

 
bulletDevelopment of a New Commercial Sire Breed: The Altex
bulletFigure 1. Schematic representation of the breeding plan leading to the development of the Altex commercial sire breed
bulletFigure 2. Genetic trends for unselected and selected lines for 70-day body weight
bulletPhotograph of an Altex rabbit

Also, Dr. James McNitt (Professor, Southern University and A&M College, Baton Rouge, LA) has developed a PowerPoint Presentation on the Altex.

Genetically furless rabbits - A rare line of furless rabbits is maintained at TAMUK. The original Mini-Lop rabbit, "Fuzz", who was furless (left photo), was owned by Harold and Melba Schuetze, who own The Pet Center in El Campo, Texas. The Schuetze's kindly loaned Fuzz to TAMUK. A month later, over 100 of his offspring were born to NZW does. About 6 months later, matings of his offspring (half-brother to half-sister) resulted in about 1 out of four furless rabbits, suggesting a recessive gene mode of inheritance. Although these rabbit's appearance is something that only a mother could love, our research has demonstrated that furless rabbits are more comfortable and perform better during hot summer conditions in south Texas. Of course, they are house indoors, so there is no risk of the animals being sun-burned, which is a common question we are asked. Here is a link for more information from our research: http://users.tamuk.edu/kfsdl00/operation_fuzz.htm. In the summer of 2012, we sold all of our furless rabbits to a lab company (Sinclair) in Missouri.

 

A new breed - Over 25 years ago, Dr. Lukefahr began crossing different breeds for backyard meat production to feed his own family. Another objective was steady production, which is enhanced by hybrid vigor due to crossbreeding. Yet another aim was choosing breeds that harbor major genes for coat color. As a result of crossing seven breeds over the years (in chronological order: New Zealand Red, Siamese Satin, Californian, New Zealand White, Dutch, Champagne d’Argent, Harlequin, and Havana), this composite breed now possesses all of the major genes for coat color. In the photo to the left, nine rabbits from the same litter are each of a different color! Examples of colors in this population include agouti and black, blue, chocolate, and lilac, creme and opal, seal and siamese, chinchilla, himalayan and albino, and steel, harlequin (japanese and magpie), and red. As a family activity, this color feature will hopefully pique the curiosity and active interest of children. Also, the skins can be tanned using the natural colors (without dyeing) and made into products that can be sold, for example, at farmers markets. Lastly, this population was recently crossed with our commercial NZW stock to infuse genes for production for vital traits such as fertility, litter size, milk production, and growth, while adding some additional hybrid vigor. We have sold all our composite rabbits, and now this stock has evolved as a 1/2 composite: 1/2 NZW base. It should also be pointed out that these rabbits are heat tolerant with adaptive characteristics that include long ears and thin fur coats. Several breeders now in different states are reporting good production success with this new breed when compared to their commercial stock. Try a breeding trio!

Photos of colors:    Blue-eyed white     Chocolate    Chinchilla    Magpie    Steel

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Outreach Programs - Workshops are held regularly on rabbit management. Assistance is also provided to 4-H and FFA youth preparing for the county livestock shows. Dr. Lukefahr regularly consults with clubs and organizations involved in rabbit production.

Additional Topics Useful to Backyard or Commercial Rabbit Raisers

bulletAppropriate breeding stock
bulletBenefits of backyard rabbit production
bullet Heat stress management

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WORLD RABBIT SCIENCE ASSOCIATION

 

 

 

 

 

 

AMERICAN BRANCH - WORLD RABBIT SCIENCE ASSOCIATION

  Visit the AB-WRSA homepage! 

 

Photos from 2011 visit of the rabbit industry in China (link to photo slide show)

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A Guide to Developing Successful Rabbit Projects for Poverty Alleviation:

  

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Lukefahr, S.D. 2004. Sustainable and alternative systems of rabbit production. (Invited paper). Proc. 8th World Rabbit Congress, Sept. 7-10, 2004. Puebla, Mexico. (http://world-rabbit-science.com; Section: Alternative and Sustainable Production Systems).

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Lukefahr, S.D. 2007. The small-scale rabbit production model: Intermediate factors. (Paper presented at the 3rd Rabbit Congress of the Americas, Aug. 21-23, 2006. Maringa, Brazil). Published in Livestock Research for Rural Development. Volume 19, Article #69. (http://www.lrrd.org/lrrd19/5/luke19069.htm).

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Lukefahr, S.D. 2007. Strategies for the development of small- and medium-scale rabbit farming in South-East Asia. (Paper presented at the International Conference on Rabbit Production, July 24-25, 2007. Bogor, Indonesia). Published in Livestock Research for Rural Development. Volume 19, Article #138. (http://www.lrrd.org/lrrd19/9/luke19138.htm).

 

Developing Sustainable Rabbit Projects

A Heifer International Publication. This book was written as a series of lesson plans for professionals (e.g., extension workers, missionaries, Peace Corps volunteers, and social workers) who train poor people, especially in the lesser developed countries, how to start small-scale, backyard rabbit operations that are supported by on-farm resources to produce inexpensive meat, to improve small farms, and to increase family income. A section of the book covers the steps in designing and implementing sustainable, grassroots level rabbit projects. Copies are available by directly contacting Heifer International. The website is https://shop.heifer.org. From the menu, click on Books and DVDs, then scroll down and click on page 2 where the book appears. Heifer sells the book for only 10 USD.

 

 

 

The Rabbit - Husbandry, Health and Production

A popular book by the eminent French rabbit research team: Drs. F. Lebas, P. Coudert, H. deRochambeau and R.G. Thebault (1997, 2nd Edition).  This is an outstanding text that covers technical aspects of rabbit production (published by the FAO).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rabbit Production - 9th Edition Now Available!

By McNitt, J.I., S.D. Lukefahr, P.R. Cheeke, and N.M. Patton

A new publisher (CABI) has just published the 9th edition of Rabbit Production. Link to contents and order form for new 9th edition.

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Sample Publications

Oseni, S.O., and S.D. Lukefahr. 2014. Rabbit production in low-input systems in Africa: Situation, knowledge and perspectives – A review. World Rabbit Sci. (Spain) 22:147-160.(Link)

Dalle Zotte A., A. Sartori, S. Lukefahr, and G. Paci. 2013. Performance characters and health status of dwarf rabbits from weaning to maturity. World Rabbit Sci. (Spain) 21:227-233. (Link).

McNitt, J.I., S.D. Lukefahr, P.R. Cheeke, and N.M. Patton. 2013. Rabbit Production. 9th Edition. CABI. Oxfordshire, UK.

Garza, M.T., S.D. Lukefahr, G.L. Schuster, and K.C. McCuistion. 2012. Developing sustainable diets for rabbits: Effect of sweet potato forage on growth and feeding traits. Proc. 10th World Rabbit Congress, September 3-6, 2012. Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt.

Lukefahr, S.D., M. Kaplan-Pasternak, B. Jasmin, M. Olivier, and J.I. McNitt. 2012. Present status of the WRSA-supported rabbit development project in Haiti. Proc. 10th World Rabbit Congress, September 3-6, 2012. Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt.

Lukefahr, S.D. 2010. Developing Sustainable Rabbit Projects. Heifer International. 2nd Edition. Little Rock, AR.

Lukefahr, S.D., M. Kaplan-Pasternak, B. Jasmin, M.  Olivier, and J.I. McNitt. 2012. Present status of the WRSA-supported rabbit development project in Haiti. Proc. 10th World Rabbit Congress, September 3-6, 2012. Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt. (pdf version).

Lukefahr, S.D., Garza, M.T., Schuster, G.L., and K.C. McCuistion. 2012. Meat rabbits finished on sweet potato forage looks good in Texas research. Stockman Grass Farmer, May, 2012 (pdf version).

Lukefahr, S.D., G. Schuster, K.C. McCuistion, T. Verma, and R. Flores. 2010. Self-sustaining rabbit projects: A pilot study involving feeding of sweet potato forage. Proc. 4th Rabbit Congress of the Americas, September 21-24, 2010. Cordoba, Argentina. (pdf version).

Lukefahr, S.D. 2010. Partners of the Americas/Farmer to Farmer Trip Report. (Status of Rabbit Project in Haiti). July 24-August 4, 2010. (pdf report version).

Lukefahr, S.D.  2010.  Planning Sustainable Rabbit Projects (2nd Ed.). Heifer International Publishers.  Little Rock, Arkansas.

Samkol, P., and S.D. Lukefahr. 2008. A challenging role for organic rabbit production towards poverty alleviation in South East Asia. (Invited paper). Proc. 9th World Rabbit Congress, June 10-13, 2008. Verona, Italy. http://world-rabbit-science.com/WRSA-Proceedings/Congress-2008-Verona/Papers/M0-Samkol.pdf 

Lukefahr, S.D. 2007. Strategies for the development of small- and medium-scale rabbit farming in south-east Asia . Livest. Res. for Rural Dev. Volume 19, Article # 138. http://www.lrrd.org/lrrd19/9/luke19138.htm 

Lukefahr, S.D. 2007. The small-scale rabbit production model: Intermediate factors. Livest. Res. for Rural Dev. Volume 19, Article #69. http://www.lrrd.org/lrrd19/5/luke19069.htm 

Gonzalez-Mariscal, G., J.I. McNitt, and S.D. Lukefahr. 2007. Maternal care of rabbits in the lab and on the farm: Endocrine regulation of behavior and productivity. Horm. Behav. 52:86-91.

Jackson, R., A.D. Rogers, and S.D. Lukefahr. 2006. Inheritance of the naked gene and associations with postweaning performance and thermotolerance characters in fryer rabbits from an F2 generation. World Rabbit Sci. (Spain) 14(3):147-155.

Rogers, A.D., C.J. Lupton, and S.D. Lukefahr. 2006. Fiber production and properties in genetically furred and furless rabbits. J. Anim. Sci. 84:2566-2574.

Lukefahr, S.D. 2005. Genetics of the Commercial Meat Rabbit: The U.S. Experience. (Invited paper). Baromfi Agarat 4(Dec.):77-80. (In Hungarian).

Lukefahr, S.D., P.R. Cheeke, J.I. McNitt, and N.M. Patton. 2004. Limitations of intensive meat rabbit production in North America. Can. J. Anim. Sci. 84:349-360.

Lukefahr, S.D. 2004. Sustainable and alternative systems of rabbit production. (Invited paper). Proc. 8th World Rabbit Congress, Sept.7-10, 2004. Puebla, Mexico. (http://world-rabbit-science.com).

Linga, S.S., S.D. Lukefahr, and M.J. Lukefahr. 2003. Feeding of Lablab purpureus forage with molasses blocks or sugar cane stalks to rabbit fryers in subtropical south Texas. Livest. Prod. Sci. (The Netherlands) 80:201-209.

Lukefahr, S.D. 2002. Opportunities for rabbit research and human development in the Western Hemisphere:  A rabbit revolution? World Rabbit Sci. (France) 10(3):111-115.

Lukefahr, S.D, and C.A Ruiz-Feria. 2002. Rabbit growth performance in a subtropical and semi-arid environment: effects fur clipping, ear length, and body temperature. Livest. Res. for Rural Development (Colombia) 15(2):HTML version. (http://www.lrrd.org/lrrd15/2/luke152.htm)

Medellin, M.F., and S.D. Lukefahr. 2001. Breed and heterotic effects on postweaning traits in Altex and New Zealand White straightbred and crossbred rabbits. J. Anim. Sci. 79: 1173-1178. (http://jas.fass.org/cgi/reprint/79/5/1173)

Rastogi, R.K., S.D. Lukefahr, and F.B. Lauckner. 2000. Maternal heritability and repeatability for litter traits in rabbits. Livest. Prod. Sci. (The Netherlands) 67:123-128.

Linga, S.S., and S.D. Lukefahr. 2000. Feeding of alfalfa hay with molasses blocks or crumbles to growing rabbit fryers. Livest. Res. for Rural Development (Colombia) 12(4):HTML version. (http://www.lrrd.org/lrrd12/4/ling124.htm)

Lukefahr, S.D., H.I. Nkwocha, H. Njakoi, E. Tawah, J.M. Akob, F.A. Kongyu, R.M. Njwe, and D. Gudahl. 2000. Present status of the Heifer Project International-Cameroon rabbit program: Back to the future. World Rabbit Sci. (France) 8(2):75-83.

Lukefahr, S.D. 2000. The National Rabbit Project population of Ghana: a genetic case study. In: Workshop on Developing Breeding Strategies for Lower Input Animal Production Environments, September 22-25, 1999. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, Rome. ICAR Tech. Series No. 3:307-318.

Lukefahr, S.D. 1999. Teaching International Animal Agriculture. J. Anim. Sci. 77:3106-3113. (http://jas.fass.org/cgi/reprint/77/11/3106.pdf)

Lukefahr, S.D., and T.R. Preston. 1999. Human development through livestock projects: alternative global approaches for the next millennium. Wld. Anim. Rev. (Italy) 93(2):24-35.

Lukefahr, S.D. 1998. Review of global rabbit genetic resources: Special emphasis on breeding programs and practices in the lesser developed countries. Animal Genetic Resources Information (FAO, Rome). 23:49-67.

Brzozowski, M.L., S.D. Lukefahr, A. Frindt, H. Jasiorowski, and J. DeVries. 1998. Factors influencing rabbit production on small farms in Poland. Wld. Anim. Rev. (Italy). 90:47-53.

Lukefahr, S.D., H.B. Odi, and J.K.A. Atakora. 1996. Mass selection for 70-day body weight in rabbits. J. Anim. Sci. 74:1481-1489.

Lukefahr, S.D., and P.R. Cheeke. 1991. Rabbit project development strategies in subsistence farming systems: 1. Practical considerations. Wld. Anim. Rev. (Italy) 68:60-70.

Lukefahr, S.D., W.D. Hohenboken, P.R. Cheeke, and N.M. Patton. 1983. Characterization of straightbred and crossbred rabbits for milk production and associative traits. J. Anim. Sci. 57:1100-1107.

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Back to Steven Lukefahr's Faculty Page

Updated: August 28, 2014