Laboratory technician Lesego Morapeli was looking for a side hustle when rabbit farming caught her eye. She went out and started a business that makes her this week’s SoilSista. Powered by Corteva Agriscience, we’re highlighting some of the extraordinary female farmers participating in Corteva Women Agripreneur Programme 2021, a year-long blended development programme at the Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS) Entrepreneurship Development Academy (EDA).
When a newbie thinks of going into farming, they tend to consider the time-proven commodities first. They think of crop, poultry or livestock farming, and often start off with cows, sheep, pigs or goats. This is because these industries have been explored successfully by other farmers, and the newcomer thinks that it might be easier to feed a family while making profit.
It is also exactly why Lesego Morapeli, a 39-year-old wife and mother of two daughters from Mahikeng, North West decided not to go down that path, choosing to start rabbit farming instead.
“I wanted to try something different in farming, not chicken or beef,” says Morapeli. Rabbit farming is one of the few relatively unexplored forms of livestock farming in South Africa. Not so many people know that we can eat rabbit meat, that it has great health benefits. Few farmers know how to generate income with it.
Morapeli started farming in 2016, wanting to spread her wings after a successful career in analytical chemistry. She had graduated from Tshwane University of Technology with a national diploma in analytical chemistry in 2005, which opened a door for her to work in the cement industry as a laboratory technician at AfriSam, a supplier of construction material and technical solutions. While working she also earned a B.Tech in chemistry at the Vaal University.
By 2016 she was ready for a new challenge and decided to take on a side hustle in the agriculture space. She decided to go into farming in an extraordinary way, spotting a gap in rabbit farming. “Other farmers focus on crops, sheep and cattle, but rabbit farming is not too full and not so many people are into it,” she states.
She attended rabbit farming training from Daisy Moleko. This was a fuel of motivation to her as she met a church mate, Linda Mashigo, there. Mashigo would became her business partner two years later and they registered their business Linlestin Agricultural Projects and Services in 2018.
The advantages of rabbit farming
Morapeli says that it was during this training that she learnt that rabbit meat is a healthy white meat, high in protein and with health benefits for people with chronic diseases.
One of the advantages of rabbit farming that Morapeli is thankful for is that rabbits are pregnant for only 31 to 33 days and they can breed up to twelve kits (baby rabbits) per litter. Morapeli says “this is why (farmers) should give rabbit meat a chance, compared to chicken which are sensitive and die easily”.
Another advantage is that though the business is self-funded, they are able to support their rabbits, afford food and vaccines and pay their employees. The business is growing – from starting with 30 rabbits they now have 100. “It is easy to make an income from rabbit farming, because not only is the meat healthy and full of nutrients, but you can make money from the fur and wool,” she says.
Not only is the competition in rabbit farming not as stiff as in other commodities, but it is also easy to manage. Morapeli he has two employees that run the day to day of the farm while she continues earning her livelihood. However, she cautions with a smile, “you cannot be a farmer and not want dirt on you. You need to set an example for your employees and show them how it’s done. And you cannot decide you want to be a rabbit farmer and be afraid of them because you need to be the one that nurses them when they’re sick, be their mother”.
The relative obscurity of rabbit farming and rabbit meat makes it hard for Morapeli’s family to take her enterprise seriously. This includes her daughter, who thinks rabbit farming is just one of her mom’s hobbies!
Morapeli and Mashigo are currently educating people in local shopping centres about rabbit meat. Their long-term goal is not only to grow the market but to get South Africans informed about the health benefits of this meat so that ordinary people can purchase it for their families.
Morapeli says “I am grateful that I started rabbit farming hobane e tshwere leruo la rona (because it holds our wealth)”.
Lesego Morapeli’s 5 rules for livestock farmers:
- Believe in your product.
- Be consistent in production.
- Be passionate.
- Get your hands dirty.
- Check your animals regularly.