1.1                                                      INTRODUCTION
The animal protein consumption level has direct influence on the general well – being and health status of any populace. The overwhelming animal protein deficiency common in most rural families in the developing countries are yet to be alleviated. Report from Ojating (1997), using Nigeria as a case study, advocated the rearing of short cycle micro – livestock such as rabbit in order to maintain sustainable animal protein sufficiency in development countries. Obike and Ibe (2010) reported that domestic rabbits serve as cheap source of high quality protein that can substantially improve the level of animal protein production and consumption in these countries. Lebas et al., (1997), stated that rabbits have high reproduction potentials and fast growth rate due to their high feed utilization ability.

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            Rabbits keeping has gained ground among Nigerian households and researchers as an alternative source of animal protein and experimental material and its potential in cushioning the effect of world food shortage has been stressed (Chen et al.,1978). The productive efficiency of rabbits is measured by the number of young raised to weaning or slaughter per unit time. In rabbits, individual birth weight is about 60-70 grams. But can also range form 35-40 and 80-90 grams (Poigner et al., 2000). Characteristics such as litter size at birth and litter size at weaning. Kit weight at birth and kit weight at weaning are some of the trait of economic importance that need to be studied before  any management system can be profitable in the rabbit industry. Evaluation of productive performance of animals constitutes essential parts of successful breeding plans for sustainable genetic improvement. Therefore, consideration of pre-weaning performance of domestic rabbit in the humid tropics is important for their genetic improvement for better future performances particularly for the commercial meat type rabbit.
            This study was conducted to:
1.         Evaluate the effect of breed type on litter size, pre-weaning and weaning body weight of rabbits
2.         Determine the correlation between the litter size and body weight at different ages.
3.         Estimate the weaning weight using litter size, and birth weight of rabbits.
1.3       JUSTIFICATION OF THE STUDY                              
            Rabbit producers are interested on the relationship that exists between litter size, birth weight and the pre weaning performance and some time post weaning performance of rabbit, since this information would reflect in their future performances. Breeders need to establish the relationship that exists between these parameters in order to organize accurate breeding programme so as to achieve an optimum combination of body weight for maximum economic returns. Rabbit is highly prolific animal with short gestation period of about 30-32 days (Louise, 1996) and cable of breeding or reproducing up to three or more litters in a year. Rabbit meat is popularly known as Lagomeat, is reach in protein and very low in cholesterol, hence capable of reducing any adverse health condition to the consumers. It is easy to establish and require little capital for starting hence can be established with minimal cost requirement. The breed with the best record in terms of disease resistance, better litter size and weight at birth and weaning should be used for production. This in turn will give the best productive performance, increase the farmer’s revenue, reduces unemployment and enhance the standard of living of the farmer, reduce rural to urban drift and above all bring about development to the rural farmers who embark on such venture. There is need for people to encourage rabbit production as they do not fully compete with man in the conventional feed ingredient such as grains rather they feed on kitchen waste materials and some forages which are not consumed by man and other animals as this in turn will help reduce the cost of productions.

2.0                                      LITERATURE REVIEW
            Domestic rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) is a descendant of wild rabbits of Europe and North Africa. This animal (rabbit) is thought to have been discovered by Phoenicians when they reached the shores of Spain about 1000BC (Lebas et al.,1998). During the time of Romans, rabbit was emblematic of Spain. It appears that the Romans spread the rabbit throughout the Roman Empire as a game animal. In their natural habitat, rabbits are gregarious and prolific. They are also completely herbivorous (eat only plants) and mostly forage in the twilight or in the dark. The average life span of a rabbit is 5-10 years (potential life span of 15 years is possible).
            Rabbits are ideal for small livestock projects in peri-urban or rural areas, especially in developing countries such as Nigeria with a significant proportion of citizenry living below poverty datum line (World Bank, 2003). Rabbits are quite clean and relatively odourless. The raising of rabbit can be anything from a profitable hobby to a full-time living rabbits fit well into a balanced farming system. Rabbits production complement well with vegetable growing. Excess and waste from vegetable gardens and kitchen goes to feeding of rabbits, whereas their manure is used to fertilize gardens thus forming a profitable cycle and aiding the balance of nature. The reasons for raising rabbits are manifold. Rabbits are important source of food, particularly in Europe and Asia. Rabbits produce white meat that is high in protein, low in fat, highly palatable, low in cholesterol and can substitute poultry in most recipes. Rabbit carcasses are only 20% bone. In the United State, rabbits are raised mainly for non-food purposes. High quality rabbit skins are used in fur garments (clothing, hats), to cover bicycles seats, etc. and their use could spark a village industry/crafts projects. Another significant use of rabbits is in cosmetic, medical and pharmaceutical research laboratories.
            Rabbits are generally classified according to size, weight and type of pelt. Small rabbits weigh about 1.4 to 1.8kg at maturity, Medium breeds weigh about 4.1 to 5.4kg and large breeds weight 6.4 to 7.3kg. The two most popular breeds for meat production are the New Zealand white and the California. These breeds are the most popular because they have white fur preferred by processors and good growth characteristics.         New Zealand white is slightly larger than the Californian, 4.1 to 5.9 versus 3.6 to 4.5kg. The New Zealand rabbits has a completely white, red or black body whereas the Californian is white with coloured nose, ears and feet.

            In 1994, world’s production of rabbit meat was estimated to be 1.5million tons per annum, this would mean per caput annual consumption of 280g per person per year. The six major world’s rabbit producing countries are Italy, Russia, Ukraine, France, China, and Spain (Akinmutimi and Onwukwe, 2002). In Africa, the leading rabbit producing countries are Morocco and Nigeria and these are reported to produce 20000 to 99000 tons of meat per year (Moreki, 2004). For over three decades now, the contribution of smallholder rabbit units to food security in developing countries has been clearly recognized (Lukefahr and Cheeke, 1991). Rabbit production in Nigeria is largely traditional, non-commercially oriented, family consumption targeted and small holder type comprising 2-7 does and 3 bucks (Taiwo et al., 1999). About 3.4-5.2% of the Nigeria population may be keeping rabbits with women and children being mostly involved (Egbunike, 1997).  Rabbit keeping is both intensive and semi intensive, though some scattered free range backyard rabbit keeping has been recorded (Isaac et al., 2010).Backyard rabbit rearing in Nigeria provides additional income and supplies additional protein for poor rural and urban households with low investment and labour inputs.

            Rabbits have a potential as meat producing animals in the tropics due to their characteristics such as small body size, short generation interval, rapid growth rate and ability to utilize forage or agricultural by-products (Iraqi, 2003). The wastes from products grading before selling to the market, such as vegetable wastes, are well utilized as feed resources for rabbits and the manure from the animal could be used as an organic fertilizer for crops (Mikled, 2005).Rabbits could contribute significantly to solving the problem of meat shortage (Lebas, 1983; Taylor, 1980). Production systems with small or large ruminants usually need a long time to give a saleable product and with high cost, especially for feeds.
            According to Ruiz-Feria et al., (1998), rabbits can subsist on inexpensive diets based on forages under small-scale farm conditions in arid and tropical regions. Agricultural by-products, foliages and weeds such as controsema pubescent, cassava root meal, rice bran, natural grasses and leucaena can be used as dietary ingredients for rabbits (Lukefahr and Checke, 1991, Ruiz-feria et al., 1998).                  
            The rabbit plays a role as an alternative food source, particularly for people in developing countries. It is claimed that there are far traditional/ social taboos concerning the eating of rabbit meat (Mamattah, 1978).According to (Elemele et al, 1980). Dry rabbit manure contains 18.8% crude protein, 9.0% moisture, 13.5% crude fibre and 19.2MJ gross energy per kg. In the same study, 100g of rabbit manure per kg of diet can be fed to broiler chicks and there will be no decline in growth rate as compared to performances when placed on standard diet. Rabbit manure has also been experimentally fed to rabbits (Swick et al., 1978) and could be fed to ruminants as well. Rabbit and other animals manures can be used to produce methane gas as a household sources of alternative energy (SIC Waten and Stahl, 1982, Jacobs, 1986; Trujillo et al., 1991). Scientist use the animals in experiments dealing with nutrition and medical research; manufacturers use them for testing of products and in addition, the animal is being used as pet.

2.5.1               CRUDE PROTEIN
            Protein is perhaps the most frequent nutrient lacking in the diets of rabbits primarily because the common energy source such as maize and other cereal grains and tuber crops are low in protein. Rabbits make its own particular proteins from the proteins and amino acids they obtain from their food (Fielding, 1991, Kellems and Church, 2006). This protein synthesis uses up energy.
            The ten essential amino acids which must be provided in the diet for rabbits to survive and grow are, lysine, methionine, arginine, phenylalanine histidine, valine, threonine, tryptophan, leucine, isoleucine, (Fielding, 1991). Essential amino acids need to be included in the ration for rabbits. Lysine and methionine are usually the amino acids that are found to be deficient in rabbit ration (Gillespie, 1998). While there is bacterial protein synthesis in the caecum, it is not enough to meet the essential amino acid requirements of rabbits.
            For rabbits, the recommended crude protein level in the dry matter of the ration is over 18% for newly weaned rabbits, 16-18% for rabbits from 12-24 weeks, 15-17% for breeding does, and 12-14% for all other stock (Fielding, 1991). Several researchers have investigated the protein requirement of growing rabbits. In an experiment in which Martina and Damianan (1983) fed rabbits with decreasing crude protein levels of 18.08, 16.32, 14.22 and 12.50%, they found that crude protein could be reduced to 16.32% with lysine and methionine supplementation without affecting weight gain and feed efficiency. Different results were obtained when Carregal and Nikuma (1983) used diets with increasing crude protein levels, 14.3%, 17.2% and 21.4%, as they found no significant difference among groups of rabbits with regard to body weight, feed intake or feed conversion efficiency. According to Pond et al., (1995) dietary protein quality is particularly important for rapidly growing weaning rabbits, which may not have well developed caecal fermentation. Recent research has demonstrated that the amino acid requirements are age dependent and change during the reproduction cycle of the does. In early growth state (4-7 weeks of age), rabbits need a higher amino acids is more pronounced (Taboada et al., 1994)
            Many research reports have shown that a reduction of the level of protein and essential amino acids in the diets, from an optimum level for growth in animals, is associated with a decreased growth rate and efficiency of feed utilization and concomitant increase in body fatness (Wahlstrom and Libal, 1974, Noblet and Henry, 1977, Russell et al., 1983). Dietary protein level is one of the several non-genetic factors that influence the amount of body fat in animals (Marks, 1990 and Wang et al., 1991) Forbes (1995) reported that if the amino acid content in the feed of animals differed widely from animal’s requirement for amino acids, feed intake would be depressed and that if the deficient amino acid was supplemented, intake would be increased.

2.5.2               ENERGY
            Although energy is not a nutrient, but Rabbit requires 10% energy, hence this can be met by the microbial protein and energy of the cecotrophs, it is a property of carbohydrates, fats and proteins when they are oxidized during metabolism (Stephen, 2009). The energy needed by rabbits for organic synthesis is usually supplied by carbohydrates and a lesser extent by fats. When there is an excess of protein, a process of diminution will take place and energy will be supplied.
            Rabbits adjust their feed intake as a function of their dietary energy concentration (Part ridge, 1989). According to partridge (1989), this regulation of intake to achieve constant daily intake is only possible at a dietary digestible energy concentration above 2250kcal/kg. Several factors influence the energy requirements of rabbits (Kellems and Church, 2006). These include productive function (growth, lactation, maintenance, etc), sex, age, body size and environment (Temperature, humidity, air-movement). As temperatures decrease, the rabbit requires more energy to maintain normal body temperature (Gillespie, 1998). And to compensate for this increase energy, either the intake level of fed must be increased or the energy content of the ration must be increased.
            Average maintenance requirement determined in growing rabbits is about 100kcal DE/Kg 0.75 (Maertens, 1992). Fed on energy-concentrated foods, rabbits can satisfy their requirements, but this is not possible on forages alone because forages are usually dilute source of energy (Fielding, 1991); hence when fed only on forages they cannot obtain as much energy as those fed on concentrated foods such as maize grains or cereal grains. Rabbits according to Cheeke, (1986) require a diet of 2200kcal DE/Kg DM; 2.4-3.5MJDE/Kg DM; or 2.0-3.0MJ ME/KgDM. Products of microbial degradation of dietary fibre which contributes to the energy demand of the host animal, are the volatile fatty acids (VFAS). An effective absorption of VFAS from the large intestine has been demonstrated in all non-ruminant herbivores which have been investigated (Hintz et al., 1972).
            In rabbits, about 10-20% of maintenance energy expenditure comes from VFA (Hoover and Heitman, 1972). Despite the apparently poorer utilization of fibre by rabbits than by horses or ruminants, VFAS absorbs 30% of the maintenance energy requirement (Parker, 1976). Pond et al., (1995) reported that digestible energy levels in typical rabbits diets are quite low, being in the range of 2400-2800kcal/kg weight diet. They further indicated that higher energy levels impair animal performance and result in reduced energy intake.
            Rabbits are efficient users of starch in cereal grains and preter barley to corn (Gillespia, 1998) when given a choice of cereal grains. Diets that are based on corn have produced  poorer growth rates as compared to barley or oat-based diets (Gillespia, 1998). About 3% fat is recommended in rabbit diets, dietary fat is well utilized by rabbits and improved diet palatability and increases energy level without causing carbohydrate overload of the hindgut (Pond et al., 1995). The rabbit, for instance the breeding doe, adjusts its feed intake according to the energy concentration of the feed as well as the protein and other dietary components present (Lebas et al., 1986); to around 220-240kcal of digestible energy (DE) per kg metabolic weight.

2.5.3               CRUDE FIBRE
            According to Martens (1988), although fibre is not considered a real nutrients in rabbits because of its low digestibility (average dietary digestibility is less than 20%), it is considered a nutrient to maintain the gut motility. Cell-wall constituents from feedstuff having low lignin content or young plants having a considerable higher digestibility than highly liquefied sources, 40-70% versus 5-20% respectively. It is not clear what the minimum fiber in take for prevention of diarrhea in rabbits should be. Research report from Blas et al., (1994) and Gidenne and Jehl, N. (2000) examined the effect of low fibre diets to rabbits, and observed that a sharp decrease in fibre level from 9-19% in the diet doubled the risk of digestive trouble.
            The population of cellulolytic bacterial decreased in the caecum and the microbial ecology system in the caecum become unbalanced which may cause death from diarrhea. Feeding of rabbits with a diet low in fibre and high in energy or a finely ground concentrate diet. Can result in high mortality due to intestinal disorders such as enterotoxemia (Lukefahr and Checke, 1991). The significant role of dietary lignin (ADL) on the rate of passage and its protective effect against diarrhea has been demonstrated by the French INRA (Institute national de la Recherche Agiono Mique) team.
The mortality rate as a result of digestive disorders was closely related (r=0.99) to the ADL level in their experiments. The relationship was expressed as follows: mortality rate (%) = 15.8-1.08 ADL(%) n>2,000 rabbits.
            Quite similar effects were observed by the same team of researchers with various cellulose (ADF-ADL) levels. They clearly indicated that the recommendations in terms of dietary safety cannot be expressed as a single fibre fraction. Furthermore, recommendations of dietary fibre are age dependent. Young rabbits require higher minimum levels that fattening or breeding does, probably because of their lower daily intake to reduce enteritis. An excess of dietary fibre is also not desirable because digestible energy (DE) content decreases and a too high protein-to-energy ratio is commonly the result. Such a situation is favourable for the proteolytic flora that produces ammonia with an increasing risk of digestive disorders (De Blas, 1981; Lebas, 1989).
            Besides dietary fibre, starch also plays a key role in the nutrition-enteritis interaction. Young rabbits have an immature pancreatic enzyme system that can lead to significant amount of starch reaching the caecum when using high starch diets, especially dietary starch with higher resistance (corn) against hydrolysis could lead to starch overload. The risk of destabilization of the caecal flora is higher if the increased ileal starch flow is not accompanied with a similar increase of fibre intake (Gidenne et al., 1998). Rabbits use crude fibre less efficiently due to a faster rate of passage of digesta and smaller holding capacity, compared to grazing ruminants. Rabbits are therefore more selective in their diets than ruminants (Jarvis C., 1976).
            Optimal fiber balance also includes a dietary recommendation for particle size.    A sufficient amount of large-size particles is required for optimal performance and to reduce the risk of digestive disorders. According to De Blas et al, (1999) a minimum proportion of 25% of large particles (>0.315mm) is required. Chemical composition and form of fibre not only affected its susceptibility to digestion but can also influence feeding habits.

2.5.4               MINERALS AND VITAMINS
            Pond et al., (1995) stated that the major mineral elements of concern in rabbit diet formulation are calcium and phosphorus (Ca and P), and that the other minerals are usually provided in adequate amounts by the ingredients used plus the addition of trace mineral  salt. Studies on the calcium and phosphorus requirements of growing rabbits have shown that they need these minerals much less than lactating does. The amounts excreted through the milk are significant. However, excess of calcium (>40g/kg) or phosphorus {>19g/kg) induce significant alternation of fertility and prolificacy or higher proportions of still births. Total dietary phosphorus intake ranging from 0.45 to 0.76% did not affect any of the does’ reproduction performances (Lebas and Jouglar, 1990).
            The lack of response to low-dietary phosphorus levels has been confirmed with fatteners (Lebas et al., 1998). The Ca:P ratio does not seem to be critical for rabbits (Lebas et al., 1998) and is usually  2:1, however, rabbits can tolerate much higher ratios copper sulphate which is often used as a non-nutritive feed additive aids.
In preventing enteritis (Pond et al.,1995). Fielding (1991) stated that rabbit are born with high level of mineration in their livers, sufficient for their pre-weaning growth. Rabbits require water-soluble (B group and C) as well as fat-soluble vitamins (A,D, E and K). According to Lukefahr and Cheeke (1991) the major vitamins needed in rabbit diets are vitamins A,D and E and that protein and carbohydrate dietary sources, fed in good variety, may largely meet the mineral and vitamin requirements.
            Micro organisms in the digestive flora synthesize sizeable amounts of water soluble vitamins which are utilized by the rabbits through caecotrophy. Vitamin K and the B vitamins are not required in the diet, since they are synthesized through coprophagy and fermentation in the caecum or hindgut; likewise vitamin C (Lukefahr and Cheke, 1991). Under practical conditions, the B-Complex vitamins are not dietary essential for rabbits; however, under stress situations and at high performance levels deficiencies can occur (Ismael, 1992).
            Gillespie (1998) has indicated that the use of iodized salt at the rate of 0.5% of the diet will supply the needed sodium, chlorine and iodine for rabbits. The vitamin A requirement of rabbits has not been adequately determined and a level of 10,000IU/Kg of diet is adequate while levels in excess of 40,000 IU/Kg diet may adversely affect reproduction Pond et al., 1995). They further stated that vitamin A-deficient rabbits exhibit poor growth, leg deformities, increased susceptibility and a high incidence of enteritis. Vitamin C supplementation is recommended for rabbits under stress (Verde and Piquer, 1986).

            Water is normally considered a nutrient, although its properties and functions are quite different from other nutrients found in feeds. Water is the major component of the rabbit’s body, making up 70% of the lean body mass (Maertens, 1992). Maertens (1992) further indicated that rabbits will die more rapidly from water deprivation than from food deprivation.
            Restricted drinking water or limited drinking time leads to reduced feed intake that is directly proportional to the amount of water being consumed (Szendro et al., 1988). They further reported that water and feed consumption varies with changes in environmental temperature and humidity.
            An excessive temperature rise will reduce feed intake and increase water consumption. According to Pond et al., (1995) water plays an essential role in a number of functions vital to an animal such as digestion, nutrient transportation, waste excretion and temperature regulation.
            One of the most important properties of water in nutrition is its remarkable ability to dissolve substances. It is said that this property is due to its dielectric constant, which in turn is due to its hydrogen bonding. (Lassister and Hardy, 1982).

Studies in pre – weaning growth performance is important since in breeding all stages of growth are inter - related and cannot be viewed as isolated traits. Osinowo et al., (1993), noted that pre-weaning performance traits such as weight gain till weaning, weaning rate and weaning weight influenced herd productivity. McNitt and Moody (1988) and Lukefahr et al., (1990), identified pre – weaning variables as major factors affecting post – weaning performance of rabbits. This means that improvement of economic traits at pre – weaning stage, could lead to better weaning and post – weaning performance of rabbits.  McNitt and Lukefahr (1993) suggested that heavy weaving weight is important as it could lead to attainment of market weight at an early age. Therefore consideration of pre – weaning performance of the domestic rabbits in the humid tropics is important for their genetic improvement for better future performances particularly for the commercial meat type rabbit. Information on pre – weaning differences in terms of growth trails of rabbits rarer in the tropics mostly in Nigeria is scant in literature. Research interest has majorly been on pre – weaning litter traits. This investigation was, therefore, aimed at evaluating, the relationship between weaning, litter size, pre – weaning and post – weaning body weight of the domestic rabbit such a study will lend tips towards developing efficient breeding programmes for breeding heavier and early maturing rabbits, more so in Nigeria where little effort towards a planned breeding programme for genetic improvement of the domestic rabbit has been made
            According to Obike and Ibe (2010) in the result of an experiment conducted, between Chinchilla x Chinchilla and New Zealand white, Chinchilla showed superior genotype in the pre – weaning growth performance compared to the New Zealand white. This corroborates the result of Chineke et al (2000) who reported superior performance of Zealand white x Zealand white over others, including Chinchilla x Chinchilla in body weight and all linear body parameters studied.
Prayaga and Eady (2002) reported significantly better individual weight performance of Zealand white and Flemish Giant pure bred over Californian crossbreds. However, the observed superiority of purebreds over crossbreds in the study is contrary to the observations of Odubote and Somade (1992) and Chineke et al., (2002) that pre-weaning growth characteristics of crossbred’s rabbits were significantly higher than those of purebreds. These authors attributed the higher performance of crossbreds to heterosis, indicative of preponderance of non-additive genes for these growth traits. The observed superiority of purebreds over crossbreds according to Obike and Ibe (2010) may be due to low number of genotypes used in their study. On the other hand, it could suggest a preponderance of additive genes for the pre-weaning growth traits since no selection had been carried out in the population from which the experimental animals were taken. With this observation made, the genetic relationship among these populations in terms of these growth traits could be studied.
            Lukefahr (1987), observed that growth parameters are highly heritable traits, suggesting that differences among different genotype are expected and selection based on individual performance could successfully improve these traits. Factors causing variation in growth rates of rabbits have been reported to include breed and nutrition (Balogun and Ekukude, 1991). Dutch is a small breed (Fielding, 1991) compared to Chinchilla and Zealand white. Thus, breed might have accounted for differences in body weight and linear body traits observed among the purebred genotypes, CHIN x CHIN, NZW X NZW and DUT x DUT.
The New Zealand white rabbit has been noted for as a dam breed based on its outstanding maternal genetic merits for litter size, milking and general maternal ability (Lebas et al 1997; McNitt et al, 2000). Okorie (1983) earlier reported that Chinchilla breed of rabbit is characterized by fast growth rate and good mothering ability and is therefore used extensively for breed. The implication of this is that Chinchilla and New Zealand white breeds of rabbits have high milk yielding capacity for maintenance of their kits and the genetic potential to transmit desirable genes for fast growth rate. This is important in making fast genetic progress when considering growth trails.
            Obike and Ibe (2010), concluded in their study, that the performance of Chinchilla is better compared to the other genotype in terms of pre-weaning growth traits, followed by New Zealand white. Therefore the two genotypes could be considered as choice genotype for improvement of rabbits in this region.

Litter size and body weight of rabbit is the most Important economic character in rabbit production (Abou-Khadiga 2004 and Notal et al., 2005). Diversity of rabbit breeds offer opportunity to increase the efficiency of commercial meat production through crossing (Piles et al., 2004). Weaning mortality percentage of kit rabbits is vital, importance in commercial rabbit farming, where it plays a  major role in determining the net financial income of the farms (Rashwan and Marai, 2000). With the increase of Litter size and decrease of mortality, income becomes more elevated (Szendro et al., 1996). Litter weight at weaning is controlled by the number of  kits survived at weaning (Risam et al., 2005) California rabbits are heavy and their litter growths make. It is a good meat rabbit and can be exploited especially in crossbreeding (Lebas et al., 1986).
   Ayyat et al., (1996), reported that addition of probiotic lacto-sacc to the normal protein diet (18.4%) of New Zealand white does rabbits, increased litter size and weight, pre-weaning litter survival rate doe milk yield. In offspring’s, post-weaning growth showed positive response with normal protein  (16.3%) diet supplemented with 0.1% Lacto-sacc. According to Ozimba and Lukefahr (1996) litter size was anticipated to an important source of explained variation within breed type, which otherwise would have existed, in part as among - litter residual variation.
            Hassanien and Baiomy (2011)  reported that breed  had significant effect on litter weight at birth, at 14 day and at 28 days (at weaning) This indicates that the highest values of litter weight at birth were recorded for   Baladi Red (368+27g)  followed by California(364+22g). while the values of litter weight at for Rex and New Zealand white  where 357+ 25g  and 351 + 25g respectively. The highest values of litter weight at 14days recorded for California(1525+ 49g) followed by Newzealand white (1494 + 63g) while those for Rex and Baladi Red (1450+69g and 1426 +57g) respectively. The lowest values of litter weight at weaning were recorded for Rex (2057+16g), (Hassanien  and Baiomy, 2011).
            Generally, California breed showed   highest litter weight at birth at 14 days and at weaning Hassanien and Baiomy 2011). These results agreed with those obtained by  Seleem (2005). Litter weight of California results were similar to those of Prayaga and Eady (2002) and Reddy et al., (2003).

This study was conducted at the Rabbitry Unit of the Teaching and Research Farm in the Department of Animal Science, Faculty of Agriculture and Natural Resources Management, Ebonyi State University, Abakaliki. The experiment lasted for 8 weeks.
            18 in-does mixed breed were selected from the population of does’ at the rabbitry unit and allocated into individual breeding cages. Six Dutch, six Chinchilla and six Newzealand white were used. The in-does were monitored from conception till kindling. They were fed ad-libitum with commercial feed (Vital feed) supplemented with Tridax (Tridax procumbence) and centrosema (Centrosema pubescence). Strict medication as well as adequate sanitation was maintained throughout the period of the experiment. The breeds of rabbits for the experiment are the Newzealand White, Chinchilla and Dutch.

Litter size and individual litter weight were obtained immediately after kindling using liver bell sensitive scale with minimum graduation of 0.01 grams. Using the same weighing scale, bi-weekly body weight was also measured for 2nd, 4th, 6th, and 8th week.
            The data generated were subjected to analysis of variance (ANOVA) using general linear model (GLM) of SPSS (2009) version 16.0. Significant mean differences observed were separated to DUNCAN’S Multiple Range Test. Phenotypic correlation between litter traits and pre weaning weight were estimated using pooled data from the different breeds. Similarly regression analysis was carried out to estimate the weaning weight using litter size and birth weight of rabbits.  

4.0                               RESULT AND DISCUSSION
Result of the effect of breed type of the litter size, pre-weaning, weaning weight as well as the Pearson correlation co-efficient.
Table 4.1:  Pre-weaning litter trait and body weight performance of Rabbits

Birth weight
mean  2weeks
mean 4weeks
Mean 6weeks
Mean 8weeks 
Litter size at birth
Litter size at weaning
ab Means on the same row followed by different superscripts.
BW                             =          Body weight
Unit of measurements         =          (g)
   There were no significant (p>0.05) difference in all the parameters except for 8 weeks (weaning age) which shows a significant difference among the breeds, Chinchilla breeds is observed to have the highest value (530.64g) at weaning (8 wks). This may be
due to the greater numeric value (48.31g) obtained of birth weight and all through the pre-weaning stages. This finding are in agreement with the study of Shokoohmend et al., (2007) who worked with Japanese quail and indicated that selection for body weight at early ages had positive effect on body weight at later ages. Similarly, McNitt and moody (1988) and Lukefahr et al., (1990) identified pre-weaning variable as major factor that affects post-weaning performance of rabbits. This implies that an improved economic traits of pre-weaning stage, could lead to better weaning weight. This result may also be attributed to a greater heritable traits in growth parameters of chinchilla as reported by Lukefahr (1987) since chinchilla breed of rabbit is characterized by fast growth rate and mothering ability Okorie (1983) the implication of this is that chinchilla breed of rabbit have high milk yielding capacity for maintenance of their kits and the genetic potential to transmit desirable genes for fast growth rate.  However the birth weight (43.43-46.92g) obtained from this findings does not agree with Poigner et al., (2000), who reported that individual birth weight is about 60-70g but can also range from 35 -40g and 80-90g which may be determined by litter size.
            There were no significant (P>0.05) difference in the litter sizes at birth and weaning respectively. But numerically, Dutch (5.83g) is better of than New Zealand (5:67g) and chinchilla (5.17g) Whereas, in the litter size at weaning Dutch (4.50g) and Chinchilla (4.33g) had a higher value as against Newzealand white (4.00g). This implies that greater mortality was recorded for both Dutch and Newzealand white as compared to chinchilla. The lower rate of mortality observed in chinchilla may be attributed to its high milk yielding and good mothering ability which may have boosted the survival rate of the kits. This confirms the observation made by Okorie (1983).
Table 4.2: Pearson correlation co-efficient between the litter traits and body weight at different ages

Size at birth
Size at weaning
Body wt
8wks (weaning)
Littersize at birth
Littersize at weaning
*Correction is significant at the 0.05 level (2-tailed).
** Correction is significant at the 0.01 level (2-tailed).

The Pearson correlation co-efficient of Birth pre- weaning body weights, litter size at birth and at weaning of rabbits. Body weight at 2nd(0.531*) 6th(0.381*) week shows a positive (p<0.05) correlation co-efficient. A very high positive (p<0.01) correlation co-efficient in weaning weight (0.095** and 0.938**) was recorded. The litter size at weaning also showed a positive (p<0.05) correlation co-efficient of 0.525**.
Table 4.3:      Regression Coefficient for Litter Size And Birth Weight of Rabbit.
Model 1
Un-standardized coefficient
Standard coefficient

95% confidence intervals
Lower bound
Upper bound


Litter size at birth

Weight at birth

Significant (P>0.05)
Regression equation (weaning = 253.887+12.09(Litter size birth) + 3.258(weight at birth).

            The regression analysis for litter size at birth and birth weight (table 3) shows no significant (P>0.05) difference and had a low coefficient of determination (R) which is 0.305a, for the litter size at birth and birth weight. This indicates that the prediction equation obtained in this study may not be effective in predicting the litter size at birth weight at birth and weaning (8wks) weights for the breeds of rabbit. This equation disagrees with the models established by Adenowo and Omoniyi (2004), and Adeleke et al., 2004).

Rabbit rearing has several unique advantages over other farm species including poultry, ruminants and pigs (Berepubo, 1994). These advantages are;
The undue emphasis on poultry, ruminants pig and other so-called “conventional” livestock to produce the much needed animal protein for the teeming populace has not yielded expected dividends. In each case, the constraints have been either prohibitive feed and input costs or a relatively slow production cycle. On the contrary, rabbits are very prolific (producing at least 4-5 litters per year of 6-8 kittens/litter under the traditional management system). Also, the cost of housing, equipment and feeding is relatively low.
Rabbit do not compete with man completely for scarce grains; they could rely solely or largely on rich forages and kitchen waste to satisfy their basic nutritional needs,

The delicious rabbit meat (Lagomeat) is much lower in fat/cholesterol content as reported by Berepubo (1994), but much  higher in good quality protein than most other known meat.

Rabbit pelts (ie, their preserved skins with the fur on) are used in the manufacture of small valuables like ladies purses, table mats, hand bags and bed-room slippers.

The Breed performance is one the major factors farmers should consider in establishing rabbit industry. In this study, the performance of Chinchilla breed of rabbit gave the best results in terms of birth weight, weaning as against that of Newzealand white and Dutch. The improvement and sustainability of rabbit production in this part of the country will depend on how best selection is made as regards to choice of genotypes and how well the breeding programme is planned. Breeders need to exploit population to bring about improvement in the growth traits. The impact on the animal protein production and consumption of the citizenry will justify the effort. However, further investigation is required for the study with larger numbers or rabbits. With larger mating population and possible higher parities and resulting progeny, it can be argued that more significance could be found.

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R square
R Square
Std. Error of the estimate
a.  Predictors: (constant), WT@BRT, LITASIZ@BRT
Sum of
Degree of freedom


a.  Predictor: (constant), WT@BRT, LITASIZ@B, LITASIZ@B
b.  Dependent Variable: EightWk WT

B Std. Error
Std. error
1.  (constant) litasiz@birth wt@birth



1.      Dependent variable: Eightwk wt
Regression Equation
Weaning Eightwk wt(weaning weight) = 253.887 + 12.097 (Litasiz@birth + 3.258 (wt @ birth)

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