Exploitation of unconventional protein sources in the feed of weaner rabbits (Oryctolagus cunniculus Linn.)
An experiment was conducted to explore the use of some leguminous shrubs, commonly accepted as protein sources for feeding ruminants but rarely considered as feed for micro livestock animals such as rabbits. Thirty two weaner rabbits of heterogeneous population, aged 4 weeks and balanced for sex, were randomly allotted to four experimental diets, in a completely randomized design, containing Moringa oleifera, Leucaena leucocephala and Gliricidia sepium, with Centrosema pubescens serving as control. Total feed on offer was done at 4% body weight with concentrate supplementation at 25% of the total feed while forages were fed fresh. Results indicated that the crude protein content of the forages ranged from 21.64 g/100g DM to 26.88 g/100g DM in Centrosema pubescens and Moringa oleifera, respectively. Similarly, the crude fibre contents of the forage ranged from 14.47 g/100g DM to 21.89 g/100g DM Centrosema pubescens and Moringa oleifera, respectively. Although rabbits on Centrosema pubescens had the least weight (P<0.05) throughout the experiment, yet they recorded the highest total feed intake (P<0.05) of 6.348 kg, while the least feed intake was recorded for rabbits on Gliricidia sepium (5.48 kg). Rabbits on Moringa oleifera and Leucaena leucocephala gave the best (P < 0.05) daily weight gain of 10.52 and 10.38g/d respectively, followed by those on Gliricidia sepium (10.05g/d) and least for rabbits on Centrosema pubescens (9.90g/d). The feed conversion ratios of rabbits on the forages were similar (P>0.05) except for rabbits on Centrosema pubescens (P>0.05). Nitrogen intakes of the rabbits from the different forage sources were similar (P>0.05) but the nitrogen utilization differed significantly (P<0.05) with rabbits on Leuceana leucocephala recording the highest value (78.52%), closely followed by rabbits on Moringa oleifera (76.46%) but the nitrogen utilization of rabbits on Gliricidia sepium and Centrosema pubescens are similar (66.23% and 66.11%, respectively). It can therefore be concluded that the unconventional forage shrubs hold potential as alternative feed sources for grower rabbits and Moringa oleifera and Leucaena leucocephala can conveniently replace Centrosema pubescens in the feeding of rabbits especially where the latter is depleted in stock.
Key words: Forages, Leguminous shrubs, Micro livestock, Nitrogen utilization