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The effect of dietary supplementation of organic selenium at different levels on reproductive performance of rabbit does was investigated using 16 (12 does and 4 bucks) rabbits. The rabbits were of New Zealand white, Dutch and chinchilla breeds. The twelve rabbit does were randomly assigned to four experimental treatment groups (T0, T1, T2 and T3) according to the amount of organic selenium supplementation in a completely randomized design (CRD). Rabbits in T0 served as the control and received 0.00mg/kg Se supplement diet daily, while those in T1, T2 and T3 were given 0.15, 0.30 and 0.45 mg/kg organic selenium yeast, respectively. Each rabbit in a treatment was housed in individual cage and served as replicate. Rabbits in each treatment were mated using four bucks (one buck per treatment). The parameters measured were: birth weight of the litters, body weight of the dam after kindling, litter sizes at birth including stillbirths, conception rate, gestation length, body weight of does during gestation, litter weight at weaning, litter sizes at weaning and growth rates of kits. . Haematological parameters and oxidative enzymes were also determined. Results  showed that selenium supplementation in the diets had no significant (p > 0.05) effect  on gestation length, litter size at birth, number of stillbirth, doe body weights at kindling and litter body weights at birth. However, selenium supplementation had significant effect (p < 0.05) on litter size at weaning, litter body weight at weaning and pre – weaning weight gain of kits during lactation. Doe weight gain during gestation and growth rate of kits were not significantly (p > 0.05) different among the treatment groups. Weight gain of kits at weaning was higher in treatment one with only two kits as the average kits weaned. Litter size at weaning was significantly higher at treatment 3 (6.50) and for treatment 2 (5.00).  The higher values in number of kits at birth, birth weight of kits and litter size weaned as recorded in treatment 2 showed the significant role of selenium as an anti-stress in the diets of the animal.  Inclusion levels of selenium had no significant (p > 0.05) effect on such haematological indices on RBC of rabbits. However, there were significant differences (p < 0.05) among treatment group on haematological values of Hb, PVC, Neutrophils and eosinophils. There was a significant difference (p < 0.0.5) among treatment groups on follicule stimulating hormone (FSH) secretion, however no difference was found in LH. Selenium in the diets of rabbit does had no significant effect (p > 0.05) on such oxidative enzymes like catalase, , selenium and reduced glutathione. However, there were significant differences (p < 0.05) among the treatment groups on oxidative enzymes of MDA, SOD and glutathione peroxidase, glutathione, and glutathione transferase with higher significant (p < 0.05) effect on SOD. It was therefore concluded that under good nutritional and other management practices, inclusion of selenium in diets of rabbit does at 0.30mg/kg feed will increase the number of kits per doe per year even though best results for weight gain of litters at weaning were obtained with 0.15mg/kg selenium supplementation in the diet and this will enhance maximum productive performance, thus maximum/higher economic returns from the enterprise.            


1.0                                                   INTRODUCTION

1.1       Background of the Study

It has been discovered that inadequate supply of animal protein from traditional livestock: cattle, sheep, goats, pigs and chicken is responsible for the decline in animal protein consumption in many developing countries of the world. According to FAO (2006), about 854 million people representing 12.6% of the world population are severely malnourished. To correct this, Biobaku and Ekpeyong (1991) indicated that non-traditional meat sources suitable for small scale farmer need to be explored.

Iheukwumere and Okoli (2002) defined a rabbit as a mini-livestock with high reproductive potentials. It has a unique ability which serves as a flexible financial reserve. It has short gestation length, exhibits early maturity, has high prolificacy and also has the ability to re-breed shortly after parturition. These attributes lead to short generation interval (Lebas et al., 1997; Effiong and Wogar, 2007).

Today, rabbit as a micro-livestock production is part of value chain development in the present agricultural transformation agenda (ATA). This is because of the huge potentials of rabbit production in supplying the much needed animal protein intake. Other such potentials include low capital outlay, good converter of feed (Biobaku et al., 2002). Furthermore, the characteristic small body, size, rapid growth and ability to live on forage has made rabbit production lucrative, especially where production is a very big business in some parts of Nigeria where the meat is receiving an encouraging patronage. It is an alternative livestock where trypanosomiasis has posed a threat to cattle and other livestock production.

Rabbit is a monogastric and its meat differs from other animals in protein content, (Aduku and Olukosi, 1990). The meat also contains low cholesterol, fewer calories and a low percentage of fats compared to beef, pork, chicken or lambs, (Aduku and Olukosi, 1990). Janieri (1987) reported that this attributes of low cholesterol value makes it a life saving animal protein source for people with high blood pressure. The meat is also tender and juicy, an attribute that makes it suitable for all categories of ages both young and old.

Apart from being a good source of white meat which is “pearly white”, rabbit can be used for heart patients, provides wool (fur), skins, manure and toys. It is the only farm animal which produces meat at 10 to 15 times or more of its weights in a year through progenies. Being such multiplier, it is expected to ease the demand of pressure in chicken and mutton (Banergee, 1998).

Rabbit has been observed to excel other livestock: cattle, sheep and goats, but ranks close to chicken in respect of growth rate, feed conversion efficiency (FCE) and meat quality. Of all the livestock species, rabbit is most efficient converter of feed to flesh (Agunbiade et al., 2001). One kilogram of rabbit meat only requires one quarter of the fed energy required to produce an equivalent quantity of lamb or beef and only 70 percent of the feed to produce the same amount of pork (Lebas and Matheron, 1982). Rabbit production is an ideal enterprise for young people because it requires limited capital investment for housing and equipment. A breeder with a pair of rabbit can produce 60 – 80 rabbits each year to sell or eat (Elmer, 1990).

The optimum exploitation of rabbit prolificacy and performance can be achieved through proper feeding (Iheukwumere et al., 2005), while poor nutrition will delay sexual maturity in rabbits, resulting in low financial return to the farmer (Asuquo, 1993). This suggests that increased feed and nutrient level be given to breeding rabbits as a means of increasing litter size, adequate maintenance of pregnancy and subsequent milk let down by the doe (Lebas, 1983; Effiong and Wogar, 2007). Also, dietary supplements such as selenium with intent to maintain healthy systems and support recovery and healing are necessary for better performance of the rabbit.

Selenium, essential trace mineral is necessary to maintain good health of animals but is required only in small amounts. Selenium (Se) has good properties in improving fertility parameters especially in females. They are antioxidants and have protective and preservative characteristics (Orffa, 2010). Hence, this serves as dietary supplements of breeding does for higher productive performance.

1.2       Objectives of the Study

The objective of the research was to determine the effect of organic selenium on the reproductive performance of rabbit does.

The specific objectives of the study were:

i.                    To evaluate the effects of different levels of organic selenium supplementation in the diet on the reproductive performance of rabbits.

ii.                  To determine the effect of dietary selenium supplementation on the pre-weaning growth rate of kits.

iii.                To determine the effect of dietary selenium supplementation on the hematological and oxidative enzymes release in the doe at the end of lactation.

1.3       Justification for the Study

Efficient production is one of the main factors that assure high productivity in rabbit farms. To achieve this, breeders need to take into consideration management practices that will promote the physiology, behavior and general well-being of the animal. Since appropriate feeding has been identified as the corner stone of a profitable rabbit production (Fielding, 1991), the exploration of the full potentials of rabbit as meat in our country requires an understanding of their nutritional requirements. There is therefore the need to evaluate the appropriate nutritional requirements including mineral supplements that will achieve high productivity per doe per year without negative effects on the litters and does. This will ultimately help to achieve sustainable animal protein supply to Nigerians.

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