A&M-Kingsville expert presents findings at World Rabbit Congress in Egypt
KINGSVILLE - September 27, 2012
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Texas A&M University-Kingsville Regents Professor Dr. Steven Lukefahr is past president of the World Rabbit Science Association and is currently serving as general secretary for developing countries, but all those titles don’t get him out of making important presentations at the prestigious 10th World Rabbit Congress held earlier this month in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, a tourist city on the Red Sea. He is a faculty member of the animal, wildlife and rangeland sciences department in the Dick and Mary Lewis Kleberg College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Human Sciences at A&M-Kingsville.
The first paper Lukefahr presented was an update on the rabbit project development in Haiti that he implemented after the devastating earthquake. He spent two weeks in Haiti in the summer of 2010 training students, professionals and local residents to build their own rabbit hutches and raise rabbits as a source of meat and extra income for families who at that time were still living in tent cities.
He said many of the residents in the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere had moved to the rural areas because they deemed it safer than cities, but often times, the men of the family stayed behind in the cities to work, while the women and children moved to the country with very little to eat.
To that end, Lukefahr took his knowledge to Haiti to assist in training Haitians to raise their own rabbits. Two years later, he reports that farmers are enthusiastic toward the rabbit projects and that the residents are most willing to raise rabbits and consume the meat on a regular basis.
To date, over 1,700 rabbit producers maintain nearly 1,250 units which consist of nearly 32,650 breeding rabbits benefiting nearly 7,000 participants. This adds up to a 142 percent increase in the number of breeding rabbits in the past two and a half years.
Lukefahr said the average increase in monthly income from rabbit sales is $19.55 per family with some earning over $200 a month from sales. This translates into over $400,000 in rabbit sales in the past three years.
“A positive sign is that most rabbits are sold for breeding rather than for meat because of the growing popularity of rabbit farming,” he said. “Despite major challenges, much progress has been realized towards strengthening the foundation of the rapidly expanding meat rabbit industry in Haiti.”
While the people of Haiti were working to strengthen their rabbit industry, Lukefahr was working with fellow faculty and graduate students to study a new food source for his herd of rabbits at the university farm – sweet potato leaves and vines.
Lukefahr presented the results of his research to the gathering in Egypt. He was assisted in the research in Kingsville by Dr. Greta Schuster, associate professor in the agriculture, agribusiness and environmental sciences department; Dr. Kimberly McCuistion, assistant professor in the animal, wildlife and rangeland sciences department; and graduate student Matt Garza.
The sweet potato research has been done the last four summers when the South Texas climate resembles that of the tropical climate in many developing countries. The leaves and vines of the sweet potatoes were gleaned from the plants at intervals so that the plant was not damaged and the developing sweet potatoes were able to thrive. When used as a food source for rabbits and humans in developing countries, it is important to protect the actual sweet potato, so it is suitable for human consumption.
After being picked, the leaves and vines need to be dried slightly, Lukefahr said, because they have too much water content. For purposes of the research, the sweet potato tubers were sliced and dried and used as well.
Lukefahr said that rabbits eating commercial pellets and those eating sweet potato leaves and vines both grew well. There is virtually no cost in feeding the sweet potato forage to rabbits, thus making it a good option for farmers with rabbit projects in developing countries, as well as for families in the U.S. with gardens.
About Dr. Steven Lukefahr
Dr. Steven Lukefahr worked with Heifer International in Cameroon from 1983-1985, developing grassroots-level meat rabbit programs for rural farmers in the northwest province. He has been at Texas A&M-Kingsville since 1994 starting as associate professor and receiving a promotion to full professor in 1996. He was named Regents Professor by The Texas A&M University System in 2004. Prior to that, he was associate professor of animal breeding and genetics and coordinator of the International Small Livestock Research Center at Alabama A&M University.
He earned his bachelor’s degree in animal science from Texas A&I University, and his master’s and doctoral degrees in animal breeding and genetics from Oregon State University.
While at Texas A&M-Kingsville, Lukefahr has received the Distinguished Teacher and Researcher Awards from the Javelina Alumni Association, the Senior Teaching Award from the Dick and Mary Lewis Kleberg College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Human Sciences, and the Chancellor’s Teaching Excellence Award. He also presented the Annual Faculty Lecture in 2003.
He is a member of the American Society of Animal Science, the American Branch of the WRSA and the European Association for Animal Production. He has published over 150 articles in national and international journals and papers in conference proceedings, and has been an invited speaker at numerous conferences around the world. He is author of the book, Developing Sustainable Rabbit Projects (Heifer International) and co-author of another book, Rabbit Production (CABI Publishers).
Lukefahr spends much time during the work week assisting rabbit scientists around the world, mostly by e-mail. Each day he receives numerous such e-mails, including those from families and producers in the area, state and nation.
This page was last updated on: September 27, 2012