It is a remarkable fact in many respects that modern man incorporated the rabbit into the series of animals that provide him with satisfaction and that he wished to exploit it on the same scale as other farm animals. Rabbit roast, which was known to large sectors of the population in this century only in times of war and famine, has gradually become a popular food.

All the research carried out has shown that the domestic rabbit descended from the European wild rabbit, a species that has existed since ancient times in the countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea and later spread to Central Europe and reached the British Isles. The rabbit has provided man, since time immemorial, with food, skins for clothing and has had an important influence on the culture of the people.

The Chinese, Hindus, Egyptians, and Greeks bred rabbits for consumption. Subsequently, its breeding became important in Spain, where it is believed that they already existed abundantly in the wild since the word Spain comes from Spanija which means "land of rabbits". The first attempts to reproduce the wild rabbit were carried out a long time ago, but it was not until 1930 that serious thought was given to its domestication, obtaining excellent results in countries such as France, Belgium, Holland, and others.

In Mexico, historians report that the conquerors found rabbits on American soil, which were called tochtli by the Mexica. Some chroniclers say that this animal was an important part of the offerings made to the gods such as Quetzalcoatl and that they were highly appreciated by our ancestors not only for their meat but also for their fur, which was used in the manufacture of blankets and many other articles of clothing that were offered in the markets.

Some stories tell that the emperor Moctezuma had cooks who prepared delicious dishes based on rabbit meat. In the Aztec and Toltec calendars, the rabbit represented the entrance of a new cycle of the year and the earth as an element, being a cardinal point and one of the four seasons. It was used in many mystical rituals and was part of the constellations, according to their beliefs those born under the sign Ce tochtli (a rabbit), would be very fortunate and prosperous because they would become great workers, good farmers, and time takers.

In modern times, the exploitation of the rabbit was affected by other more popular species such as cattle, pigs, and poultry and it was only at the beginning of this century, due to the scarcity of food because of the wars which devastated mankind, that thought was given to its breeding at a productive level.

Rabbit farming in Mexico

Rabbit farming is the process of reproduction, breeding, and economically fattening rabbits to obtain the maximum benefit from the sale of their products and by-products. Rabbits are herbivorous animals that can be fed cheaply with plants from the region and because of this can bring great economic benefits to the families that dedicate themselves to raising them.

In Mexico, it was in 1970 when this species was promoted with great intensity to offer the people, especially in marginalized areas, a cheaper option of animal protein and thus obtain a better diet. Rabbit breeding centers were created in San Luis Potosí, Colima, Tlaxcala, and Irapuato, to provide quality animals and training producers.

These programs were successful at the beginning, but various reasons, such as lack of information and deeply rooted customs in the population, first caused a decrease in production and stagnation in the following years. Livestock statistics show that until 1986 there were only a few productive farms in the country. From that time on, interest in the species began to grow again, which was reflected in a notorious increase in production and, above all, in consumption.

Consumption increased so significantly that production was not sufficient and the main retailers in the country had to resort to importing rabbit meat from China. With the imported carcasses, in 1988 the Rabbit Viral Hemorrhagic Disease was introduced which caused great losses in the national rabbit farms. In January 1991 the country was declared free of the disease and a period of repopulation began.

As a result of this problem, rabbit breeding has undergone important changes and has been given a new impulse. The National Commission for the Rescue of Rabbit Farming has been created with the collaboration of the National Livestock Confederation, the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Rural Development, and manufacturers of feed and implements for rabbit farming.

There are currently approximately 10 breeds of rabbits in the country, including New Zealand White, California, Chinchilla, Satin, Rex, Black Aztec, Flanders Giant, Dutch, and some dwarf breeds. In backyard production, Criollo rabbits are frequently bred with good results. Most of these breeds are used for meat production.

Rabbit as food

It is very important to promote the consumption of rabbit meat since it has excellent qualities as food. It is white meat, with a high content of highly digestible protein, has little fat and very low cholesterol content; it can be prepared in a very varied way and does not need to be defoliated as many people believe, since the meat of rabbits raised on farms does not acquire a strong flavor as opposed to that of wild specimens.

The reasons to be optimistic about the future production of rabbit meat are varied, among them: they can be fed with fodder that is not used in human food, the labor required is low (if we are talking about technologically advanced farms, a single person can handle 200 breeding females in a full-time working day), the meat has excellent nutritional properties and by-products such as skins, fur and fertilizer can be obtained.

Bearing in mind that a rabbit, in a traditional breeding system, can produce up to 30 offspring per year, if a family has 3 females and a male, it could consume up to 6 rabbits per month. Due to the above characteristics, rabbits can become part of the diet of families, especially in rural areas.

Author: Magdalena Zamora Fonseca