Looking for any agribusiness that requires low cost with big returns, you need to consider grasscutter farming; it is one of the unexplored opportunities in agriculture. Grasscutter breeding is highly lucrative; the market opportunities of grasscutter is yet to be fully explored.
Grasscutter, botanically called Thryonomys swinderianus and commonly called the Greater cane rat, is a micro-livestock widely found in the grasslands, wet or marshy areas in Africa. They used to be widely hunted but they can now be domesticated for commercial purpose.
Of all grasscutter products, the meat is of high economic importance. The grasscutter meat is very low in cholesterol and high in protein and other essential minerals needed by the body. The demand for grasscutter meat is increasing on a daily basis; this calls for more grasscutter farmers on board for a proper exploration of this untapped opportunity.
Grasscutters are highly prolific animals as they are sexually matured and able to reproduce at around five to six months, with a litter size of about twelve (12) in a year. They are easy to manage and grow faster under an intensive system with the production of quality protein.
To start up a grasscutter business, certain requirements must be met to enhance their welfare for smooth production. Housing, feeding, and health management are key factors that any grasscutter farmer must give ardent attention. This is a comprehensive guide on how to farm grasscutter; take your time to read through and share your thoughts at the end.
Grasscutter Housing Requirement
Grasscutter housing is the first factor you must consider in keeping grasscutter. Housing is key to grasscutter production; the type of house used in rearing grasscutter is not the same as those used in rearing other micro-livestock like rabbits. Grasscutter pens are usually very strong and firm; the floor of a grasscutter pen is usually made with reinforced concrete.
The grasscutter house must be well ventilated and spacious. Grasscutters are best raised under intensive housing system, this increases their growth rate. The capacity of the house depends on the size and numbers of the grasscutters to be reared. The space requirement for a group of reproductive grasscutters comprising one adult male and four females is 1.6m² to 2m² and The recommended surface area per adult animal in the pen is 0.2 m².
Materials for construction of grasscutter pen.
To construct a grasscutter pen that is conducive for the growth and well-being of the animals, the structure should be well ventilated and facilitates enough light to enhance rearing activities. The long sides of the structure are made of a low wall of about 1.5 m high, with the upper half covered with chicken wire. The roof can be made out of corrugated iron, straw or any other kind of waterproof material. The layout of the pens depends on the type of material used for their construction. Metal pens can be moved around, whereas brick pens will be fixed.
| Grasscutter cages
It is not recommended to use materials such as straw, bamboo, wood or matting because they can easily be eaten away by the grasscutters. There are basically two types of grasscutter farming cage; they are:
- The open pen
- The Closed pen.
The open pen: Open pens are those pens that are enclosed without any covering on top, and with a surface area of about 3 m² and 1.5 high. There is an opening in the side that gives easy access to the farm and animals.
The closed pen: These are pens that are covered with appropriate roofing material, and may be divided into different compartments. The height of the wall is lower (80 cm) and the surface area can vary between 2 and 3 m². The floor inside the building should be smooth and free from holes and crevices.
Also, there is a particular grasscutter cage designed for easy handling, it’s called the squeeze cage.
The squeeze cage is a compacted cage used to handle grasscutter more easily. The cage is designed such that its dimension is almost the same as the animal to be handled. The farmer can design this cage by building a rectangular cage with fine-meshed screening. The size of the cage should base on the average weight of the animals in question. The squeeze cage should be built in such a way that the animal cannot turn around inside the cage.
Feeders and drinkers are components of any animal pen; feeding and drinking troughs can be made of cement or clay and should be heavy enough so that the grasscutters cannot displace them. These are easy to make; all that is needed is to make a mold out of wood or other scrap material. Design one trough per three grasscutters.
Grasscutter Rearing and Management
Growth and maturity are quite crucial in this venture because it aids reproduction processes and planning; the fast growth rate of grasscutter breeds makes it highly profitable.
A male grasscutter is sexually matured at 8 months reaching a minimum weight of 2.5kg. By nature, female animals mature rapidly. A female grasscutter is sexually matured at 26 weeks with a minimum body weight of 1.8kg.
In grasscutter breeding, a male is enough to serve 10 females as the presence of male triggers the ovulation of the female. The gestation period of a grasscutter is approximately 22 weeks, meaning, a grasscutter can only reproduce twice in a year. A Grasscutter reproduces at least four offsprings per reproduction. These young animals suckle for 49 days before weaning.
It is crucial to select good grasscutter breeds for stocking; breed selection should not be done at random. The selection should be made on the basis of weight; the male should be 0.5 to 1 kg heavier than the females. Male and female that are closely related should not mate, but females of the same parent can be bred alongside with a male of another parent. Only grasscutters in good conditions should be stocked, anyone with a rough coat or skin should be avoided, as well as weepy eyes.
The male grasscutter can mate with several females in a single period. The male, who can be identified by his wrinkled and brown genitals, is placed first in the pen so that it can mark his territory and thereby reduce the risk of fighting. The female, identified by the closeness of the anus to the genital area, is put in the pen with the male for 24 hours.
During the mating session, make sure the male is heavier than the female. There are generally two options for mating in captivity:
- Permanent mating: In this option, the male and females are kept together in the same pen, and only the young are removed after weaning.
- Temporary mating: In this type, The female is placed in the same pen with the male at a particular point in time, and removed once the female is pregnant.
Each of these options looks interesting but comes with individual pros and cons depending on production goal. In permanent mating, the breeding cycle of the female grasscutter is increased but the associated problems are:
- High rate of cannibalism.
- Inability to identify the mother of each offspring.
- There is less control of over production as there is regular mating among animals.
However, in temporary mating, there is little sense of organization here; there is full control of the animals’ affairs. The advantages of these options are:
- There is reduced risk of cannibalism.
- The mother of each offspring can be traced for other management practices.
For this to effectively take place, there are some basic prerequisites which are termed disadvantages, they include:
- It requires space, thus, increasing the cost of production and maintenance.
- There is a reduced number of litter per female per year due to the controlled mating between animals.
Management of pregnant grasscutter.
After mating, pregnancy is expected. The period of gestation for a grasscutter is about 5 months. Pregnancy can be tested using this simple method. It involves the use of cotton bud. After about 5-8 weeks of mating, insert the cotton bud inside the genital (vagina) of the female grasscutter. If the cotton bud turns reddish in color, it means the animal is pregnant but if the color if the cotton bud doesn’t change, it means the animal is not pregnant. Such animal can be introduced to the male again for servicing.
After about 5 months of pregnancy, the doe delivers. After parturition, the female needs special care and attention. It must be served high-quality feed and provision of clean and adequate water to aid milk production. After forty days of parturition, weaning generally takes place. Weaning is the separation of the mother from its younger ones or offspring, this is necessary because the mother will grow weak as a result of the prolonged feeding of its offsprings.
During weaning, the young males are separated from the females and put together with other males of the same weight. The male can be identified by the distance between the genitals and the anus, which is twice as large as that of the young female.
At this juncture, I must confess to you. Handling grasscutter is not an easy task; they can be harmful if not properly handled. The mode of handling depends greatly on its size.
- To handle a young grasscutter:
It is first lifted with its tail and holding the base of its tail and then grabbing its back slightly with the other hand. The animal is therefore turned to its back while its tail is stretched out at the same time.
- To handle a medium sized grasscutter:
This is quite technical; the animal is lifted with its tail and supported by grabbing the back with the other hand so that the weight is not much on the tail. The animal is then turned to its back.
- To handle a large grasscutter:
This cannot be lifted easily so it is recommended to handle it with aid of a squeeze cage.
In grasscutter production, feeding is key. It accounts for about 70-75 percent of the total cost of production. Grasscutter feeds are mainly green forage but it can be supplemented with concentrate, high in energy, protein and minerals. Examples of grasscutter feeds are:
- Cassava peels and scraps.
- Powdered oyster
- Snail or egg shells, with bone meal
- Dry bread
- Corn or sorghum bran
- Groundnut and palm kernel cakes
- Wheat bran
- Brewers’ dried grain
- Cores from the crowns of palm, coconut or pineapple trees or banana plants
- Green papaya
- The trunk of the papaya
- Bamboo shoots
- Leaves and tops from pineapples
For proper feed utilization, the grasscutters should be served fodder two hours before serving concentrates, once or twice a day, preferably in the morning and evening. Do not give damp fodder, Grassy fodder should be sun dried at least 24 hours before being served.
Concentrate can be served singly or in combination with fodder. It could be one ingredient or in mixtures. If using single ingredient concentrates, make sure to alternate when you give them. However, if the concentrate is a mix of two or three ingredients, then the same concentrate can be given every time. Any changes in concentrates should be made over four to five days in order to allow the digestive system to adapt. Bones, shells and pieces of wood help to wear down the teeth. After burning, bones can be given in powder form, mixed in with the concentrate, and can provide a source of minerals, especially phosphorus and calcium.
Clean and fresh water should be made available at all time.
Just like all creatures, grasscutters also face health threats that tend to affect their performance. Routine and regular inspection of the pen facilitate the exposure of any health threat or deviation in the health condition of the animal. Inspection starts from the pen facilities, to detect any threat or changes in the environment that can be detrimental to the animal health. Also, careful observation of the animal is another form of inspection that helps to detect change in the physiology of the grasscutter.
Proper hygiene and biosecurity measures must be maintained in the grasscutter farms. The feeding and drinking equipment have to be managed and kept clean as fine as possible, to prevent the invasion of harmful microorganisms and pests. Regular washing of the equipment has to be done to ensure good health management. Repellants should be used on the farm to chase away any hardened and surviving pathogen.
Increase in the immunity of the grasscutter colony is key and has to be achieved, this can be achieved through the administration of vitamins, sweetened lemon juice and mineral supplements at a regular interval, say every two weeks.
Signs of sickness or diseases in grasscutter
Every disease condition comes with a sign, they include:
The fur is the outermost covering of the grasscutter; it indicates the health status of the animal. When the grasscutter is healthy, the fur looks shiny and tender but when you start to notice an irregular pattern or rough coat; it means there is an issue. To curb this condition, check the feed quality; also check the housing for dampness and cold, because these might be the reason behind the rough fur.
- Death of suckling babies:
This is a big disaster in grasscutter farms, seeing the young animals drop dead is so displeasing. This can chiefly be caused by cold but if not, check the quality of the feed you are serving the lactating female. Disinfect the pen and relocate the doe and the kids to another pen.
This is a common sign of illness; the grasscutter becomes emaciated and less active. This is normally caused by poor quality of feed or a sore in the teeth of the grasscutter. However, if any of these is not the reason behind the ailment, deworm the animals and give them long acting antibiotics. Also, disinfect the pen.
- Unmoving animal prostrate:
When you observe this in your grasscutter ; cull the grasscutter and do a thorough examination of the animal, check for cuts, sores, abscesses etc. Give sweetened lemon juice or antibiotics.
- Lump under the skin of a grasscutter:
This is called abscess; it is the accumulation of waste in the blood. To treat this, puncture the abscess with a needle and evacuate it completely. Apply powered antibiotics and inject long acting antibiotics.
To prevent such from occurring, check the quality of feed served, disinfect the pen and always serve the animals sweetened lemon juice.
If you notice the anus of your grasscutter is always dirty and defecates are watery, it means the grasscutter has diarrhoea. It is commonly caused by poor feed quality and sudden change in the concentrate feed. To curb this; check the feed quality, serve the animal antibiotics and reintroduce roughages or fibre feeds.
- Coughing and nasal discharge:
This is caused by powdered feed and damp environment; apply fat to the feed to check the powdery and ensure the floor is dry at all times.
- For any wound or injury sustained through fighting or mishandling, treat the wound and apply antibiotics
Sweetened lemon juice is very good for animals; it improves their immune system and protect the grasscutter colony from any infection or disease. It is used as a curative and preventive measure; it can be added to the drinking water on a daily basis.
As a grasscutter farmer, proper record keeping is pivotal to the success of the business; it helps determine the productivity of the business and reduces excesses in the cost of production. To run a successful animal production business, the animals have to be in good condition with the support of a proper management practice.
Agriculture is a very lucrative profession; everyone needs food because food is one of the basic needs of life; if I say food, not just any food but quality food. This is what the body needs to serve us better. This is why farming is the profession for all and sundry, we are just pretending.
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