Starting Grasscutter Farming
Many people want to know how to start a grasscutter/cane rat farming business. However, before going into the details about starting a profitable grasscutter farm, it is important to discuss grasscutters or cane rats.
Grasscutters (Thryonomys swinderianus), also called Cane Rats and Grass Cutter in English-speaking West African countries, Agouti in French-speaking West African countries and hedgehogs in Central Africa, are rodents that are widely found in wet or grasslands areas in Africa. Though these animals are widely hunted in Africa, they can be domesticated like other micro-livestock animals such as rabbits.
Some characteristics of grasscutters are:
Grascutters are placid and relatively prolific animal
They become sexually active and mature at 5-6 months. At this age, they can reproduce and give birth to as high as 12 young.
They can be easily reared or managed, and this made their domestication as an alternative to poaching them in the wild.
They can grow rapidly in intensive conditions
The meat of grasscutters is very rich in protein and economically valuable.
How to Breed or Raise Grasscutters
The best way to breed grasscutter is by raising them under an intensive system, i.e. keeping them in cages or pens inside a very safe shed. It is very important to choose a very good location as this is highly critical for successful grasscutter rearing.
Other conditions that must be met for a successful grasscutter rearing include:
The area/location should be easily accessible and free from flood
It must be well ventilated, secured, availability of a source of feed and water
The number of grasscutters kept and the objectives of production determine the size of the building or pen. However, the standard is that a family of grasscutters, comprising one adult male and four females should be provided a space of 1.6-2 m2.
How to Construct Rearing Sheds for Grasscutters
There are various materials used in constructing the rearing shed of grasscutters, Breezeblocks, bricks, straws and bamboo can be used for this purpose. It is always advised to use local materials to reduce construction costs. It is mandatory that the building have adequate light and ventilation. The long sides of the pen must be low-walled (1.5 meters high) and the upper half can be covered with a chicken net. Corrugated iron or other waterproof materials can be used for roofing the rearing shed.
How to Construct Rearing Pen for Grasscutters
Grasscutters are commonly kept and raised inside rearing pens. It is the production objectives that determine the number of pens to construct. One breeding female per pen is recommended and the surface area per adult grasscutter is 0.2 m2.
Your pen setup could be:
A pen for adults
A pen for mating
A pen for giving birth and feeding the young
A pen for fattening young grasscutters
The pen’s construction materials determine the layout of the pens. Brick pens are fixed and unmovable while metal pens are movable.
Using wood, bamboo, or straw to construct pens for grasscutters is not recommended because the grasscutters can eat them. Rearing pens can be opened or closed, and when constructing, it is important to have passages to move around between rearing pens.
These are enclosures that are not covered at the top and they have a surface area of 3m2 and height of 1.5m. The pens have openings in the side that facilitate access for the farmer to move in and out of the pens.
These are enclosures that are covered at the top with some appropriate roofing material. These pens may be partitioned into compartments. The surface area could be between 2-3 sqm and the height of 80cm.
If two compartments are created, they should have the same surface area. They should also be separated by partitions and have a 15cm opening for free movement of grasscutters to and fro the compartments.
Various materials can be used to make the covering and the floor of the building should be even and smooth, while the floor of the pens can be plastered.
How to Construct the Feeding and Drinking Troughs of Grasscutters
These can be constructed with clay or cement but should be heavy enough for the grasscutters. This is to prevent the animals from knocking the troughs over. The farmer can personally construct the troughs by molding them out of wood or metal. One trough should be for three grasscutters.
The squeeze cage
A squeeze cage is used for easy handling of grass cutters. It should have dimensions that are the same as the animal to be handled. A squeeze page can be made by building a rectangular cage with fine-meshed screening. When constructing this cage, the average weight of the animals and variety should be considered. It shouldn’t be built in a way that the animals can turn or move about inside the cage.
Note: Don’t move the male to the female pen because it may result to fight and mating may not occur. Also, avoid mating a male that is lighter than the female in weight.
There are two mating options in grasscutter farming:
- Permanent mating: Here, the male and female grasscutters are allowed to mate together in the same pen but the young are moved to another pen after they have been weaned.
- Temporary mating: Here, the female is placed together with the male until she is pregnant and she is moved to another pen.
Both permanent and temporary matings have their advantages and disadvantages.
Advantages of permanent mating
- Increased breeding cycle
Disadvantages of permanent mating
- Difficult to identify the mother of each offspring
- Less control over reproduction
- Risk of cannibalism
- Risk of exhausting reproductive females
- Under-exploitation of the male
Advantages of temporary mating
- Clear identification of mother and offspring
- Excellent management of the breeding process
- Reduced risk of adult male killing offspring
Disadvantages of temporary mating
- Increased investment (several pens needed)
- Need for larger space to house females
- Reduced number of litters per female and per year
The gestation period for grasscutters or cane-rats is 152 days. After your male and female grasscutters must have mated with each other, it is necessary to check if the female is pregnant.
4-8 weeks after mating, carefully insert a cotton bud into the genital of the female. If it changes color to red, then that grasscutter is pregnant. If there is no discoloration, then the female is not pregnant.
Newborn grasscutters resemble adult ones. Within a few hours, they can move around. After the female has delivered, she must be provided with enough feeds and water for adequate milk production.
You should wean your newborn grasscutters 40 days after they are born. This is necessary because any extension will make the mother grow weak due to prolonged breastfeeding. When weaning, separate the males from the females. You can identify a male grasscutter by distancing the genitals and anus, which is twice as large as those in the young females.
The feeds or foods that are given to grasscutters should meet all their daily nutritional requirements. Since the grasscutters would be in captivity, their diet should consist of majorly green forage, but fresh or dried food could also be provided. They can also be given concentrates rich in energy, proteins and minerals.
Feeds and Feeding in Grasscutter Farming
Grasscutters need a balanced diet daily. The green mistake some grasscutter farmers make is given their animals only green forage. That is one of the reasons for the slow growth and low milk production in nursing female grasscutters. On the other hand, if they are not fed with green forage such as grasses or legumes, they would suffer digestive problems. A balanced diet would produce an average weight of 3.5kg and 2.8kg in male and female cane-rats respectively.
Some of the forage and concentrates that grasscutters could be fed with as presented below:
- Edible grasses and legumes
- Agricultural by-products such as garden wastes, leftover vegetables, ripe or unripe fruits, coconut, leaves, pawpaw, and bamboo shoots.
- By-products from agricultural processing like Brewers dried grain (BDG), corn bran, wheat bran, and groundnut cake (GNC).
- Tubers and roots: Yam, yam peels, cassava, cassava peelings, potato, potato peels, cocoyam, and cocoyam peels.
- Cereals grain such as rice, millet, sorghum, and corn
- Shells like eggshells, oyster shell, or bone meal
Grasscutters should be provided with food always. Also, the grasscutters should be fed with fodder 2 hours before feeding them concentrate in the morning and evening. It is also very important to provide water always to animals. Hence, grassy fodder needs to be dried in the sun for 1-2 days before feeding them to animals.
Concentrate could be combined with fodder. The concentrate can be made from just one ingredient or several ingredients. It is advisable to alternate the concentrate if single ingredient concentrate is used. If the concentrate is a mix of more than one ingredient, then it could be given to the grasscutters continuously.
Importance of Conserving and Storing feeds
Conservation of feeds and stocking the feed barn is another aspect of grasscutter farming that should be considered. The fodder for the animals should be air-dried or sun-dried and kept in a dry place. Planting and cultivating fodder could be done to have sufficient fodder in the period of scarcity.
Concentrates should be stored in a dry place and avoid storing them for long because a concentrate feed is very sensitive to changes in humidity, temperature, and/or oxidation. It could also be attacked by insects, rodents, mites, bacteria, fungi, or mold.
Health Management in Grasscutter Farming
Health management is very important in all aspects of livestock farming. As a grasscutter or cane rat farmer, the health of your big rats should be very important to you because if they come down with diseases, you would be spending additional money to combat those diseases. Of course, your cost of production is increasing. To protect your grasscutters from diseases, the following measures should be done:
- Inspect grasscutters daily in order to detect any sick animals early.
- Giving your animals the appropriate feed and taking basic hygiene measures help in reducing potential losses to diseases.
- Avoid rough handling of your animals and unnecessary noise
- Regularly disinfect the pens, sheds, cages its environment and materials. Wash the feeding and drinking troughs twice a week.
- Quarantine new grasscutters for 2 weeks before joining them with the main stock.
- Keep feed away from rodents by making the feed store rodent-proof.
- Give minerals and vitamin supplements bi-weekly. You can also give sweetened lemon juice which has been recognized as an immune system strengthener. To make this juice, get 400 ml of pure lemon juice and add 55 cubes of sugar and mix with 20 litres of water.
How to Identify a Sick Grasscutter
To know if a grasscutter is sick, there are some observable signs you will see. These include:
- Loss of appetite
- Dull-looking or matted fur
- Social withdrawal or isolation from others
- Inability to escape capture
- Liquid or soft faeces
- Inflammation of certain parts of the body
- Abnormally long incisors