Agriculture Project Topics

Growth and Carcass Characteristics of Weaner Rabbits Fed Moringa (Moringa Oleifera) Leaf Meal.

Growth and Carcass Characteristics of Weaner Rabbits Fed Moringa (Moringa Oleifera) Leaf Meal.

Growth and Carcass Characteristics of Weaner Rabbits Fed Moringa (Moringa Oleifera) Leaf Meal.

Chapter One


This research work was aimed at investigating the response of weaner rabbits to diets containing graded levels of Moringa oleifera leaf meal.  The specific objectives of the study were as follows:

  1. To assess the growth performance of weaner rabbits fed graded levels of Moringa oleifera leaf meal.
  2. To evaluate the effects of the diets on the carcass characteristics of the rabbits.
  3. To determine the haematological properties of rabbits fed Moringa oleifera leaf meal.
  4. To determine the cost implication of feeding graded levels of dietary Moringa oleifera leaves to rabbits.



Origin and Biology of the Rabbit

Rabbits (Oryctolagus cunniculus) are non ruminant herbivores.  The origin of the wild rabbit, from which the domestic variety was derived, is a subject of speculation.  There is no doubt however that the rabbit was well known in the Mediterranean area some two thousand years ago, for it was depicted on many of the coins of the Roman emperor Hadrian in the years A.D. 120-130 (Standford, 1979).  Fielding (1991) and Aduku and Olukosi (1990) reported that, rabbits were first known in South West Europe and North Africa.  Domestic rabbits are reared mainly for meat and the skin is of secondary importance.

Fielding (1991) and Aduku and Olukosi (1990) stated that all the domesticated rabbits found in different parts of the world were developed from the European/North African wild rabbits distributed to various parts of the world by sailors leaving Europe to explore the world in the 18th century. These sailors took rabbits on their ships and often released them in the countries where they berthed.  The purpose of this, was to allow rabbits breed and multiply in those areas and the resulting offsprings would be available as a source of fresh meat when they mature, whenever the sailors returned again to these parts of the world. In this way, rabbits were introduced to many parts of the world and this must be the most probable means of early introduction of rabbit to Nigeria.

One contribution of rabbit to animal production is their ability to convert feed such as forages, most agricultural by-products, grasses, kitchen waste etc, that human beings cannot consume directly into highly nutritious meat.

Their ability to convert these products into meat is made possible by their well adapted dental formula.  Standford, (1979) stated that the teeth of the rabbit are well adapted to its normal foods.  All the teeth of rabbit grow continuously throughout life, the teeth surfaces constantly wearing down in order to maintain the correct length.  Standford, (1979) further stressed that, leading into the mouth are several ducts from the especially well developed system of salivary glands which secrete saliva when the rabbit is eating.

From the mouth, a slender tube, the oesophagus, carries food to the stomach, which is a thin walled organ having little power of contraction.  Food passes from the stomach through a muscular band of tissue known as the pylorus, which controls the entrance of the food into the small intestine.  The first part of the small intestine is looped to form the duodenum, and within this duodenal loop lies the pancreas. This is a diffuse irregular organ which supplies certain fluids to the duodenum.  Also entering into the duodenum from the gall bladder in the liver, is a bile duct which carries bile from the liver where it is produced.

The small intestine continues until it enlarges into the sacculus rotundus, an enlarged sac peculiar to the rabbit.  From the sacculus rotundus arises the large intestine consisting of the caecum, the colon and the rectum. The caecum meets the colon at the sacculus rotundus and is a relatively very large organ, with the appendix attached to the end (Standford, 1979).  Microbial symbiosis exists towards the end of the gastro-intestinal tract.  That is, fermentation is posterior to intestinal digestion and absorption, efficient absorption of high quality feedstuff occurs after the intestinal digestion and absorption process.



Materials and Methods


The research was conducted at the Grasscutter and Rabbitry unit of the Department of Animal Science, University of Nigeria, Nsukka.

Nsukka lies within longitude 6o251N and latitude 7o241E (Ofomata, 1975) and at an altitude of 430m above sea level (Breinholt et al., 1981).  This study area is in the derived savannah zone.

The climate of the study area is typically tropical with relative humidity ranging from 65-80% and mean daily temperature of 26.8oC (Agbagha et al., 2000).  The rainy season is between April – October and dry season between November – March, with annual rainfall range of 1680 – 1700mm (Clark, 1981).

Experimental Materials and Duration of Study

Twenty four (24) cross bred rabbits of both sexes were used for this study.   Some of the rabbits were bought from the open market, while others were bought from a rabbit farmer at Enugu.

The rabbits were made up of twelve (12) males and twelve (12) females. Six (6) rabbits were randomly assigned to each treatment in the ratio of three (3) males and three (3) females per treatment. There were four treatments in all. And the experiment lasted for twelve (12) weeks after a one week of prefeeding trial.

The Moringa oleifera leaves were harvested from household gardens, fence and fields, dried inside an open airy room for 4-5 days to reduce the moisture content.  The leaves were later collected and ground into powder before incorporating it into the rabbits diets.




Table 14.0 shows the effect of Moringa oleifera  leaf meal on the growth performance of rabbits.

Table 14.0: Growth performance  of rabbits fed Moringa oleifera leaf  meal (MOLM)



The results of this experiment are shown in Table 14.0, 15.0 and 16.0. The result of the growth study is shown in Table14.0. Significant difference (p<0.05) were noticed in final average body weight and average daily weight gain across treatments. Growth performance was highest in T3 (20%), but rabbits in treatment T1 (control) had the least performance on all parameters.

Average daily feed intake increase linearly from T1 to T3 as the energy content of the feed decreased, except in T4, where there was a slight decrease in feed intake. This shows that rabbits eat to satisfy their energy requirements. The lower performance observed in T4 is similar to the results of Bhatnagar et al., (1996) and Kakengi et al.,(2007) who observed that feed utilization was low in laying birds fed 20% levels of MOLM and above  in their diets. This could be attributed to the low availability of energy and crude protein, arising from low digestibility of crude fibre (CF) and crude protein (CP) components of the leaves when MOLM  was high in the diet. Energy, crude protein (CP) and crude fibre (CF) contents of the diet have been shown to influence feed intake and weight gain in animals (Makkar and  Becker, 1997). Research results have also shown that at higher levels of inclusion, unconventional feedstuff may alter the texture, colour, taste and odour of diets. Feed consumption and ultimately utilization might be affected by each of the factors above, independently or in combination (Uchegbu el al., 2004).

Daily weight gain was observed to be highest in rabbits on T3 (20%) MOLM diet with a daily weight gain of 9.45g compared with 9.03g, 7.54g and 6.65g for T2, T4 and T1 respectively. This shows that diets containing 20% MOLM produced rabbits with higher body weights and higher weight gain than rabbit in the control and other diets. This could be attributed to the high content of methionine, cysteine and other sulphur containing amino acids which are available in Moringa oleifera leaves. These surlphur containing amino acids are found limiting in livestock feeds. This is in line with the report of Oluyemi  and Roberts (1988), who stated that methionine supplementation improves the efficiency of feed utilization and weight gain of poultry. The higher weight gain of rabbits fed moringa diets might be an indication that the diets were more palatable and easily assimilated by the rabbits. These results are in agreement with (Kakengi et al., 2007). These authors reported that moringa leaf meal diets were highly preferred by chickens because of its palatability. The energy available to the rabbits per unit diet decreased from treatment 1 to 4. Similar results have also been reported by Onimisi et al., (2007),  when they fed MOLM  to rabbits. The authors attributed this to the similar ability of the rabbits to convert the feed materials into flesh across the dietary treatments. This also implies that the diets were similarly digestible.


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