Livestock development is the only way of tackling protein deficiency as plant protein source alone cannot meet the body’s performance needs (Ibeawchi et al., 2002). The superiority of animal protein to plant in terms of nutritional value is quite obvious because animal proteins are rare digestible, the essential amino acids are complete and balanced to meet human nutritional needs than those from plant origin (Ibeawchi and Fayuyitan, 1986).
It is important that animals which posses a high level of biological and economic efficiency be involved in the expansion of meat — protein supply, factors to be considered include, maturity rate, generation interval, production cost, etc. rabbits being short-cycle animals can satisfy these needs (Ibeawchi and Fayuyitan, 1986).
Food and Agricultural organization (FAO, 1987) has estimated annual increase of five to seven percent (5-7%) growth-rate for meat consumption. Such increase cannot be met easily by large animal like poultry, pigs and rabbits. Poultry and pigs require food sources which are in serious competition with man. Whereas rabbit can be produced on forage alone, although, production can be improved by addition of other food by-products, increased rabbit production could bridge the supply and demand protein gap and it is by far the most appropriate type of production system for subsistent meat production (Ozuo et al., 2009).
Rabbits (Orytolagus cuniculus) is in the group of animal that exist in the borders line between ruminants and monogastric (non-ruminant) animals. Hence, they are regarded as “monogastric ruminant” due to the fact that they feed on both vegetable and concentrate. Rabbits convert grain food and vegetable to meat efficiently. They exhibit a phenomenon called coprophagy, recycling their soft faecal pellets there by supplementing protein quantity, quality and B-vitamins. By recycling the soft faeces they also improve the digestibility of the food that was undigested the first time (Ozuo et al., 2009).
Forage could play important role in being converted into useful products (meat and pelt) (Ozuo et al, 2009), forages are currently being relished by small ruminants and could be offered to rabbits for improved performances, they may be eaten directly from the natural growth of the plant or as coppice (cut and carry) (Ozuo et al., 2009). One of such plants is Aspilia africana (Etim et al., 2011).
Aspilia africana is a rapid growing semi-woody herb producing usually annual stem about two meters tall from a perennial woody root stock. It has a somewhat aromatic carroty smell (Etim et al., 2014a). In Nigeria, Aspilia africana is one of the widely available forages suitable for feeding rabbits. It is a high in protein, vitamins and minerals. It is reported that Aspilia africana contain ascorbic acid, riboflavin and thiamin. It is a good source of animals such as calcium (Ca) potassium (K) phosphorus (P) magnesium (Mg), sodium (Na), iron (Fe) and zinc (Zn) (Etim et al., 2013). The plant is also reported to be high in anti-nutritional factors such as alkaloids, saponins, flavonoids, phenols and tannins, some of which might be reduced through drying/wilting (Etim et al, 2013).
1.2 Statement of the Problem
Due to incessant rise in the cost of conventional animal feed and the resultant shortage in animal protein supply, it becomes imperative to search for cheap and readily available feed source, such as forages, e.g. Aspilia africana.
1.3 Objectives of the Study
The objectives of the study were:-
To assess the growth performance of rabbit does fed different dietary levels of Aspilia africana leaves.
To examine the blood profile (haematological and serum biochemical indices) of rabbit does fed different dietary levels of Aspilia africana.
To evaluate the carcass characteristics of rabbit does fed different dietary level of Aspilia africana.
1.4 Justification of the Study
Aspilia africana has been reported to be a growth promoter but there are concerns about its adverse effect on reproductive performances of animals (Etim et al., 2013), if supplementing it with other forages will neutralize its anti-fertility potential while boosting the growth of rabbits, its use will be encouraged, because it is highly nutritional, cheap and locally available.