Care and Management of Rabbits/Chapter 3
THE DOMESTICATED RABBIT
THE DOMESTICATED RABBIT
The domesticated rabbit has been bred for more than one hundred years in an extensive fashion. It has centered largely in Belgium and other Continental countries of Europe. Germany produced a variety of large rabbits having a white pelt dotted with black spots. This rabbit was an offshoot from the old Belgian giant.
It seems that most of the breeds coming from Europe have originated from the Belgian hare which, in fact, is not a hare at all but a rabbit. It takes its name from the fact that the breeders in England attempted and partially succeeded in breeding the Belgian rabbit to such a state that it closely resembled the wild English hare. Hence the name.
About thirty years ago there was a tremendous craze over the Belgian hare in this country. It swept the nation like a forest fire. People everywhere invested large sums of money in breeding stock, all expecting to get rich overnight.
But it soon fell down. People discovered that the Belgian hare of those days was a very delicate animal and that it was subject to many diseases. It had been inbred so long in order to produce show animals that its vitality was nearly gone. Then, again, ignorance as to the manner in which it should be cared for led many breeders to disaster.
In the meantime those who naturally loved rabbits and kept a few for hobby sake, persisted in raising them. They managed to market a few for pets for children.
Others breeds were from time to time discovered by fanciers. From Asia we got the Himalayan rabbit, a little fellow of pure white with black ears and nose. He was so small that he did not make a strong commercial appeal, but he was quite a rabbit for fancy purposes and for fur.
From Holland came the Dutch family. There are about three varieties of these fellows due to the laws of breeding and they are divided entirely according to color.
But the most important development in the history of the domesticated rabbit came with the introduction in 1912 of the New Zealand Red to the fanciers of this country. This rabbit was brought to the Pacific Coast by sailors who had gotten them in New Zealand. They were the natural wild rabbit of that country and had been so desirable from a commercial standpoint that breeders in that country had taken them up for commercial purposes.
Our breeders soon saw the possibilities of the breed and took them up with the idea of increasing the size a trifle and in improving the color. That this has been accomplished is evidenced by the fact that the New Zealand Red is probably the most popular rabbit in existence today.
In size it is about half way between the trim little Belgian hare and the large and imposing Flemish Giant. It has a standard weight of nine and ten pounds at maturity, which is twelve months. It is a rapid grower, breeds true to color, has a reddish buff color, which is always popular with fanciers.
The important thing to note about the domesticated rabbit is that it is a decidedly different animal from the wild cotton tail or the jack rabbit, which most of us are more or less familiar with.
It is a made rabbit in many respects. The New Zealand Red is probably the only rabbit extensively bred at the present time, both for commercial purposes and for show purposes, that breeds exactly true to color and shape. This is because it is not the result of breeding as is the case of the Flemish Giants and the Belgian hares.
The domesticated rabbit, being an entirely different animal from all other rabbits with which most of us are familiar, naturally requires different attention and care. And unless this fact is kept in mind and it is handled intelligently there is slight chance of success.
The domesticated rabbit compares well with sheep as to its likes and dislikes. It eats about the same ration, loves quiet and freedom from disturbance. It does not, however, require a large run or pasturage, and the green element in the ration should be considerably less than generally supposed. In fact, most successful breeders feed very sparingly of green food and give it only as a sort of tonic to the heavy grain and hay ration.
The domesticated rabbit is a very clean animal, if given the opportunity to express its natural desires. It does not thrive in filth and likes to have a clean hutch, sweet air to breathe and good clean food to eat.
It is not the puny animal that many people suppose. It is subject to many diseases, all of which are traced either to poor housing conditions or to improper feeding. I do not know of a single other disease that can be traced to any other quarter. The domesticated rabbit is naturally a hardy fellow if he is bred right. It will thrive equally well in the coldest climate. I have kept rabbits during the winter in open hutches and not had the slightest trouble with them. It isn't the coldness of the atmosphere that causes the trouble; it is the dampness.
The hutch rabbit must be kept free from dampness and if you can keep the hutches clean and dry you have won more than half of the battle. The other part consists in feeding intelligently and wisely.
The domesticated rabbit likes a ration of clover or alfalfa hay, whole oats, hard bread and milk occasionally, root crops such as carrots, lettuce and green food, loves dandelions and chicory or ordinary grass clippings. That is about the extent of the variety of feed it requires.
By feeding mashes and special combinations as recommended in a later chapter, the cost of feeding the rabbit can be materially reduced and it is in this sort of feeding that the rabbit makes its greatest gains.
It needs and demands thorough and systematic care. It should not only be fed properly, but it should be fed with regularity. It is regularity that gives it the greatest gains. Haphazard feeding at irregular intervals will not produce any exceptional success. But since the rabbit, like the horse, will eat at all hours of the night, the busy business man can feed them when he comes home from work, even if it happens to be after dark.
Only two feedings a day are required, morning and night and since any man can care for two dozen rabbits in about fifteen minutes morning and night, there is no reason why the business man or woman should hesitate to breed rabbits because of lack of time to take care of them.
It isn't the time spent on them that counts so much as it is the thoroughness and the promptness of the care given. But where they are only half taken care of, more time is necessary in the end than if the work was done properly from the start.
The hutches should be cleaned out every morning, if they have solid floors and sawdust sprinkled over the floor to absorb the moisture. Once a week the inside of the hutches should be sprayed with a good rabbit disinfectant to kill such germs as may be lurking there. This could be done Saturday afternoons or Sunday mornings.
The domesticated rabbit, once he is understood, should appeal to all busy people as the one animal that can be kept with the minimum of effort and attention, provided the details are correct as to housing and feeding in the beginning.
And because he is a profitable animal and a clean animal, a thing of beauty as well as of commercial value, is the large reason he has won more than 900,000 friends in the past two years, for the recent statistics of a breeding association shows that more than that number of people are now breeding the domesticated rabbit.