Farmer’s price tag now J$700/lb
Tameka Gordon, Business Reporter
Commercial production of rabbit for meat is not widely done locally, but one St Thomas farmer, Irvince Reynolds, is hoping to tap into the discerning palate of Jamaicans to improve the output of his rabbit farm as he embarks on a mission to “grow what we eat”.
But even as the Government, through the Ministry of Tourism and the Ministry of Agriculture, charges hoteliers to strengthen linkages with their communities, Reynolds said he has found it difficult to break into the hospitality market.
“The ideal situation would be to sell to the hotels, supermarkets and restaurants but I have not really been able to get into that market. I have spoken to quite a few hotels and restaurants but nothing has come through as yet,” Reynolds told Sunday Business.
“I contacted a few hotels and supermarkets before I started and I was told that they are interested in the meat but they are asking for a minimum of 500 to 1,000 pounds, so I have been getting myself to a certain level so I would be able to provide that quantity,” he said.
Located in Cedar Valley, St Thomas, Reynolds’ rabbit farm, which he started in 2012 with two rabbits obtained at the Denbigh Agricultural Show, has so far produced a mere 150 pounds of meat, the majority of which was sold to residents of the community.
“I first got into farming because I wanted to embark on a healthier lifestyle, to eat what I grow and grow what I eat,” Reynolds told Sunday Business, noting he also produces cash crops such as broccoli, sweet peppers, purple cabbage as well as honey and is a registered farmer with the Rural Agricultural Development Authority.
For December, Reynolds produced 100 pounds of meat from 38 rabbits.
“I had about 130 young ones but I butchered some when they got to roughly four pounds because that’s the market weight. I have a bunny barn with the capacity to produce up to a thousand pounds per month but the market is one of the issues that I have to get sorted out first.”
The farmer touts the nutritional value of rabbit meat, noting its high protein content. “Rabbit meat contains fewer calories than other meats and is the best white meat available on the market today,” he claims.
Additionally, he explains that there is a high meat-to-bone ratio, “meaning there is more meat on the carcass than even a chicken”.
His goal, he said, “is to provide it to the average individual as a normal protein source. I am doing some market research through an online survey … to determine how people feel about eating rabbit meat and how much they would be willing to pay for it.”
He currently sells the meat for $700 per pound.
“The current price somewhat rules out the average person who would want to buy the meat,” Reynolds said.
“The market response to the meat will also determine if I increase how much I produce,” he said, noting “the cute syndrome” as the biggest hurdle to commercial acceptance of the meat.
“It’s difficult for some people to get over how cute the rabbits are, so some people find it difficult to eat it,” Reynolds explains.
“When I was starting up, I spoke to quite a few rabbit raisers and the talk really was that there is a good market for it but I haven’t found that good market as yet,” the farmer said.
Reynolds has so far made a $375,000 investment in setting up the rabbit farm.
“The bunny barn cost about $225, 000 to build and material such as the wire and the rabbits cost about another $150,000,” he said.
“The rest of the cages that have to go into bring me to full capacity will cost about $500,000 in total,” the farmer said, adding that financing has come from income generated “little by little” from the farm.
“I have been doing it for over a year and a half, so every month I do a little bit and whatever I sell I put the profits back into either buying rabbit feed or buying material to improve the pens,” he said.
“I am also using the skin to see what can come from that because you can either use the fur to make coats or the skin for craft items,” Reynolds said.
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