Care and Management of Rabbits/Chapter 4
THE COMMERCIAL BREEDS
THE COMMERCIAL BREEDS
While there are many breeds of the domesticated rabbit there are only three which have a distinct commercial appeal. These are the Flemish Giant, the New Zealand Red and the Belgian hare. They are named in the order of their size, the Flemish Giant being the largest at maturity.
The Flemish Giant originally came from a large rabbit known as the Patagonian giant. This rabbit was a giant in every sense of the word in his native state, but being bred down for various purposes, the Flemish has sacrificed something in size and weight. The natural Flemish is a sandy gray color, while the fancy breeds which have sprung up from it are known as Steel Gray, Dark Steel Gray and Black. There are many shades and colors in one litter. Oftentimes they come pure white. This failure to breed true to color is due to the fact that many breeds have been crossed with the sandy giant in order to work out color combinations for various show purposes.
The Flemish Giant should not weigh less than 13 pounds and the breeders at the present time are working to make it weigh as much over 15 pounds as possible. Some specimens have been entered in shows which weighed as much as 22 pounds each and it is not unlikely that even heavier weights will soon be reached.
Because of his great size the Flemish Giant is a large boned animal and more or less slow in developing. This is not to be taken as a drawback but a natural fact which cannot be escaped. He could not be a quick grower and retain his natural vitality.
He is, however, subjected to much criticism because of this very fact. At ideal market age, he has more bone than any other animal and even though he does weigh more than other commercial breeds it is doubtful if he has as much meat on him. This is because Nature has been giving first attention to the development of a heavy frame and he has not produced meat first, as the smaller breeds, having less frame to grow, will do.
For heavy animals, however, to be marketed at maturity for meat there is no doubt but that the Flemish Giant will be the meat breed of the future, especially when there is an established meat market for the rabbits over the country. It is in every sense the Hereford of the rabbit family.
The New Zealand Red has already been mentioned in previous chapters. It came originally from New Zealand where it had been extensively bred for commercial purposes.
This rabbit is hailed at the present time as the ideal commercial rabbit, because it is of medium weight, quick maturing and has more meat at marketing age than any other breed. Having less waste in the form of bone, it would naturally appeal to all householders who desired to buy young rabbit frys.
At maturity the does weigh ten pounds and the bucks nine pounds, according to the Standard for the breed. The youngsters are hardy, quick maturing and will easily dress one pound for each month of their age up to six months. I rarely find one that will not beat this record by a long ways. They are of a delicious flavor and texture, having white meat all over, similar to the breast of a chicken. There isn't a single rabbit of the domesticated breeds that has dark meat.
The Belgian hare is the smallest of the commercial breeds. It should weigh eight pounds or under. For years it was bred more for appearance and style, it being thought highly ideal to have as small and trim an animal as possible. It springs from the same source as the Flemish Giant, but the English breeders sacrificed its splendid commercial possibilities in order to make a show animal of it.
It is long and racy in appearance and is not quite so chunky and solid as the New Zealand Red, but it makes a splendid commercial animal when bred for that purpose. It is a quick grower and takes on weight readily and if properly handled will make as good a commercial rabbit as any that can be bred.
It has a good quality of flesh, fine texture and flavor and because of its great popularity is in demand everywhere. In fact, the Belgian craze of a generation ago so well advertised it that many people today suppose that all rabbits bred in hutches are Belgian hares.
In picking a commercial rabbit, it is not wise to let sentiment rule your reason. If the enterprise is to be for meat, pick a breed that will mature fast and bring you more at market age than any other. If you are breeding for both meat and for fancy purposes, it is well to choose a breed that combines these qualities as much as possible.
And, in the end, it isn't the breed that counts for so much after all, as it is the strain and the breeding vitality back of the animals you choose. It is the individual and not the breed that counts in the long run.