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 about 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 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 high critical for successful grasscutter rearing.
Other conditions that must be met for a successful grass cutter 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 so as 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 moulding 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 with 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.
Reproduction in Grasscutter Production
Some basic facts about grasscutter with regards to reproduction are as follows:
- Sexual maturity: Male grasscutters mature in 8 months or 32 weeks and they have a minimum body weight of 2.5kg while the female grasscutters mature in 6.5 months or 26 weeks having a minimum body weight of 1.8kg.
- Sex ratio: 1 male can service 4 to 10 females.
- Ovulation: Just like female rabbits (does), female cane-rats start ovulating on sighting a male
- Gestation period: 152 days
- Numbers of litters per year: 2 litters
- Number of young per litter: 3-11 young
- Suckling period: 40 days before weaning
Selection for Breeding
In grasscutter production, random selection should be avoided. You should procure the best animals from the nearest breeding center or another grasscutter breeder. Additionally, when making your selection, it should be based on body weight. All the females within a family should be having almost the same body weight and the male grasscutter should be 0.5-1kg heavier than the females. Don’t buy or breed closely related mating pairs; that is, a male closely related to the females.
Mating in Grasscutters
A male grasscutter is capable of mating with many females grasscutters in a single period. The male should be placed in the mating pen and the female grasscutter is moved from her own pen to the male’s pen. Leave both in the pen.
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
Disadvantage 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 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 discolouration, 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 to 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:
1. Edible grasses and legumes
2. Agricultural by-products such as garden wastes, leftover vegetables, ripe or unripe fruits, coconut, leaves, pawpaw and bamboo shoots.
3. By-products from agricultural processing like Brewers dried grain (BDG), corn bran, wheat bran and groundnut cake (GNC).
4. Tubers and roots: Yam, yam peels, cassava, cassava peels, potato, potato peels, cocoyam and cocoyam peels.
5. Cereals grain such as rice, millet, sorghum and corn
6. Shells like egg shells, oyster shell or bone meal