About the Author
Daniel Johnson (Phelps, Wisconsin) and his sister, Samantha, have collaborated on a number of rural-living guidebooks, including How to Raise Rabbits and Beginner’s Guide to Beekeeping. Both are 4-H alumni and live on the family farm, Fox Hill Farm, in far northern Wisconsin. Daniel is a professional photographer whose work can be seen at www.foxhillphoto.com.
Read an Excerpt
WHAT DREW YOU TO RAISING RABBITS? YOU ARE THE ONLY ONE WHO CAN ANSWER THAT QUESTION.
It may be as simple as knowing that you've always loved Rex rabbits and promised yourself that if you ever had the opportunity to raise rabbits, Rex would be your number-one choice. Or it might be a bit more complex. Perhaps you want to raise a popular breed so that you will have plenty of competition at the shows. Maybe you want to raise a breed that is recognized in a multitude of colors, or you might want to raise one specific color so that you can focus on achieving perfection in that particular shade. Perhaps you love lop-eared rabbits, or you don't. Maybe you love the idea of raising an Angora breed for the wool, or you can't imagine the grooming commitment. Perhaps you want to raise rabbits for meat, or you want to raise them for showing purposes.
Or perhaps you just don't know what's right for you. It is always good to start with the basics, which is why our first chapter is devoted to discussion of the forty-nine breeds recognized by the American Rabbit Breeders Association (ARBA), as well as information on the various sizes, shapes, fur types, and colors that you may encounter along the way. We'll also take a look at some of the rare-breed rabbits and discuss why you may want to consider raising them in your rabbitry. Let's get started.
NAVIGATING THE WORLD OF RABBITS
One of the first things that often surprises newcomers to rabbits is the vast array of breeds and varieties. With forty-nine breeds currently recognized by the ARBA, there are rabbits of every shape and size imaginable, and in every color, too. The scope of these breeds cannot be fully explored within the limitations of this chapter. I recommend my previous book, The Field Guide to Rabbits, to anyone wishing to gain knowledge of the details and history of each of the forty-nine rabbit breeds. In this chapter, however, we can certainly give each breed a quick overview.
If you're looking for the cute factor (and many of you probably are), then you can't go wrong with the Holland Lop, the American Fuzzy Lop, the Netherland Dwarf, or the Polish. With weights ranging from 2 to 4 pounds, these petite bunnies are inevitable crowd-pleasers and very popular with those who like to show. Entries for Holland Lops and Netherland Dwarfs usually outnumber most of the other breeds at shows.
If the lop-eared look catches your fancy but you would like something larger than a Holland Lop or an American Fuzzy Lop, you might want to consider one of the other lop-eared breeds, such as the Mini Lop, the English Lop, or the French Lop. Mini Lops are a midsized rabbit with an ideal weight of 6 pounds, while the English and French Lops are larger breeds, often 10 pounds or more.
If you like the fuzzy appearance of the American Fuzzy Lop but would prefer a rabbit breed without lop ears, then you might consider one of the other wooled breeds, such as the French Angora, the English Angora, the Satin Angora, the Giant Angora, or the Jersey Wooly. Of these breeds, the Jersey Wooly is the smallest, with the Giant Angora (you guessed it) the largest, and the French, English, and Satin breeds ranging in between. All of these breeds boast the gorgeous angora fur that makes these rabbits unique.
Some breeds are particularly noted for their distinctive color patterns. These breeds include the Dutch, the Californian, the Checkered Giant, the Hotot and Dwarf Hotot, the English Spot, the Harlequin, the Himalayan, and the Rhinelander. The Californian and Himalayan breeds have similar patterns that feature a creamy-white body accompanied by dark points (ears, nose, tail, feet) to create a distinctive look. The Himalayan, however, exhibits an extremely different body type than the Californian, so don't worry about confusing the two breeds. The Hotot and Dwarf Hotot are entirely white with eyes encircled by a dark ring. The Harlequin is unique in that it is an unusual combination of calico coloring, accompanied by orange in the Japanese color variety and white in the Magpie color variety. Spots are the distinctive features of the Checkered Giant, the English Spot, and the Rhinelander, with each breed's standard differing slightly with regard to the placement of the spots. And finally, there is the one-of-a-kind Dutch, with its tuxedo-type coloring of a white chest and darker colored body.
Two breeds have developed over time that are well known for their white coloring: the Florida White and the New Zealand White. Both breeds are commercial in type and are very popular. The New Zealand is also found in other colors, including Red, Broken, and Black, but White is the predominant color. On the opposite end of the color spectrum, you will find the Havana, which is similar in build to the Florida and New Zealand Whites, but is found in Black, Chocolate, Blue, Broken, and Lilac.
Historically, chinchilla coloring was so popular that three ARBA-recognized breeds evolved with this specific coloring. These include the American Chinchilla, the Standard Chinchilla, and the Giant Chinchilla. Of these, the smallest is the Standard Chinchilla, with the American Chinchilla being a bit larger and the Giant Chinchilla larger still. The American Chinchilla was an extremely popular breed during the 1920s but is now listed in the "threatened" category on the Livestock Conservancy's list, meaning that few American Chinchillas remain, although the population has risen a bit in recent years.
If you like the full arch variety of rabbit type, then you will definitely want to take a closer look at the Belgian Hare and the Britannia Petite. The Belgian Hare has the distinction of being the foundation of domestic rabbit interest in the United States during the rabbit boom at the turn of the twentieth century. The Britannia Petite is exactly as its name implies — petite — yet it is a very charming creature in spite of (or perhaps because of) its small size.
THE SUCCESS OF THE LIONHEAD
In recent years, the Lionhead breed has taken the United States by storm, appealing to a broad base of rabbit enthusiasts and increasing in popularity practically overnight. But achieving recognized breed status with the ARBA took many years and extensive efforts by enthusiasts.
The Lionhead is a charming little breed, characterized by its trademark wooly mane. This distinctive trait is believed to have been the result of a genetic mutation that was first observed in the 1960s. The first examples were brought to the United States in 1998 and were approved at their first ARBA presentation in 2005. Subsequently, they failed their second and third presentations in 2006 and 2007, and though the Black, Tortoise, and Ruby-Eyed White varieties did pass their first presentation with a new Certificate of Development (COD) holder in 2010, the varieties failed at their 2011 presentation. The Tortoise and Ruby-Eyed White varieties passed their second presentation at the 2012 convention, and then passed their third presentation at the 2013 convention, achieving official breed recognition with the ARBA.
The Lionhead is extremely popular as a show rabbit, and thanks to the widespread admiration and support for these unique rabbits, it is probably only a matter of time before many additional colors are also recognized.
WHAT'S BEST "FUR" YOU?
Fur type is one more factor to consider when you are choosing a breed of rabbits to raise. Most breeds of rabbits possess what is known as normal fur, but there are several breeds with unique fur types that merit your consideration.
Satin fur is remarkable because of its luster and sheen. This is due to the hair shell's transparency. Satin fur is believed to have developed as the result of a mutation and was originally discovered in the Havana breed. Today the Satin is a breed in its own right, and the Mini Satin is a luminous smaller version.
Angora fur (or wool) is very distinctive, due in part to its length and in part to its woolen consistency. Six breeds exhibit angora fur: the French Angora, the English Angora, the Giant Angora, the American Fuzzy Lop, the Jersey Wooly, and the Satin Angora, which is particularly unique because of its interesting combination of satin and angora fur.
Rex fur, with its ideal length of 5/8 inch, is a particularly dense fur type, noted for its velvet-like softness and thickness. This density is due to the fact that the undercoat is the same length as the guard hairs, giving a very uniform appearance and extra softness. As is obvious from the name, Rex fur is found in the Rex breed as well as the Mini Rex breed.
Of course, you might be satisfied with normal fur on your rabbits, in which case you have thirty-seven rabbit breeds to choose from. One difference you will see within the various breeds with normal fur is that some breeds possess what is known as a "fly back" coat, meaning that the fur "flies back" into the original position after being brushed in the opposite direction. When a coat stays fluffed up, it is called a "roll back" coat. This is just one of the differences between fur types.
A bit of silver will brighten your day — and your rabbitry. The Silver, Silver Fox, Champagne d'Argent, and Silver Marten breeds are slightly different in coloring, but each features a very dramatic coat pattern that is extremely lovely. Of these, the Silver Marten is the most popular, while the Silver and the Silver Fox are the most endangered. Both are on the Livestock Conservancy's threatened list. The Silver is also the smallest, weighing in at only 4 to 7 pounds. The Champagne d'Argent's name is French and translates to "the Silver rabbit from Champagne."
If typical rabbit fur doesn't interest you, there's always the possibility of getting started with Rex or Satin rabbits. Rex rabbits are sometimes known as velveteen rabbits because of their luxurious 5/8-inch coats, while Satin rabbits have coats that exhibit a luminous sheen. Both breeds conveniently come in smaller versions as well, the Mini Rex and the Mini Satin. All four breeds are enormously popular and well worth your consideration.
How about a midsized rabbit in an attractive color? You might consider the Tan or the Thrianta. The Tan is a beautiful combination of dark fur with lighter points and is found in four varieties. The Thrianta is a deep orangered and is rapidly gaining in popularity. If a larger rabbit catches your fancy, don't overlook all 13-plus pounds of the Flemish Giant. Of course, we mustn't forget the more unusual breeds that we have not yet covered. These include the American, the American Sable, the Creme d'Argent, the Beveren, the Cinnamon, the Lilac, and the Palomino. Not all of these are on the Livestock Conservancy's list, but they are all considered unusual and are not always easy to find.
And then of course if you'd like to dabble in something "new," then you won't want to overlook the two breeds that are the newest additions to the breeds recognized by the ARBA: the Lionhead, and the Argente Brun. Both of these are exquisite breeds with many excellent qualities.
PETITE TO GIANT, WEIGHING IN ON SIZE
Although you needn't feel obligated to restrict yourself to only one breed, chances are that you're going to start out with only a few breeds in your rabbitry. As you consider all of the various breeds that are available for you to choose from, how do you determine the size that will be the most appropriate for your needs?
Contrary to the understanding of many rabbit newbies, the Giant breeds are not the breeds of choice if you are intending to raise meat rabbits. Their feed/meat conversion ratio is not nearly as good as that of the breeds that are slightly smaller, such as the New Zealand, the Satin, or the Champagne d'Argent. The Giant breeds are the ultimate in impressive show animals and are not as common as many of the smaller breeds, so they are often raised as breeding stock to maintain its presence.
The larger-end rabbits that are not Giant breeds are the most popular with breeders who are looking to raise rabbits for the purpose of meat. If this is your aim, then you will want to consider the breeds that have long track records of optimum results in this area.
Medium-sized rabbits, although sometimes used for meat, are more often used as pets and show (fancy) rabbits. Again, rabbit breeders often raise these medium-sized breeds as breeding stock to sell to other enthusiasts.
The small breeds, which include the adorable dwarf breeds, are the most popular as fancy rabbits and are very popular as pets. Obviously, the smaller breeds require less feed to maintain than a large or Giant breed, which can be a consideration if you're raising rabbits on a budget.
From the most petite to the most massive, rabbit breeds span a size range from 2 pounds to 20. Many people end up choosing rabbits that are one of the sizes in the middle range, but there are enthusiasts and breeders of rabbits of all sizes who enjoy their breeds and wouldn't trade them for anything. Let's take a quick look at the breeds in order by size, from the smallest to the largest.
BRITANNIA PETITE (up to 2½ pounds)
NETHERLAND DWARF (not more than 2½ pounds)
DWARF HOTOT (up to 3 pounds)
JERSEY WOOLY (not more than 3½ pounds)
POLISH (not more than 3½ pounds)
LIONHEAD (not over 3¾ pounds)
HOLLAND LOP (not more than 4 pounds)
AMERICAN FUZZY LOP (not more than 4 pounds)
HIMALAYAN (2½ to 4½ pounds)
MINI REX (3 to 4½ pounds)
MINI SATIN (3¼ to 4¾ pounds)
DUTCH (3½ to 5½ pounds)
FLORIDA WHITE (4 to 6 pounds)
TAN (4 to 6 pounds)
THRIANTA (4 to 6 pounds)
HAVANA (4½ to 6½ pounds)
MINI LOP (4½ to 6½ pounds)
SILVER (4 to 7 pounds)
ENGLISH ANGORA (5 to 7½ pounds)
STANDARD CHINCHILLA (5 to 7½ pounds)
ENGLISH SPOT (5 to 8 pounds)
LILAC (5½ to 8 pounds)
BELGIAN HARE (6 to 9½ pounds)
SILVER MARTEN (6 to 9½ pounds)
SATIN ANGORA (6½ to 9½ pounds)
HARLEQUIN (6½ to 9½ pounds)
RHINELANDER (6½ to 10 pounds)
AMERICAN SABLE (7 to 10 pounds)
FRENCH ANGORA (7½ to 10½ pounds)
REX (7½ to 10½ pounds)
ARGENTE BRUN (8 to 10½ pounds)
CALIFORNIAN (8 to 10½ pounds)
CREME D' ARGENT (8 to 11 pounds)
HOTOT (8 to 11 pounds)
PALOMINO (8 to 11 pounds)
CINNAMON (8½ to 11 pounds)
SATIN (8½ to 11 pounds)
BEVEREN (8 to 12 pounds)
AMERICAN (9 to 12 pounds)
CHAMPAGNE D' ARGENT (9 to 12 pounds)
AMERICAN CHINCHILLA (9 to 12 pounds)
NEW ZEALAND (9 to 12 pounds)
SILVER FOX (9 to 12 pounds)
GIANT ANGORA (9½ pounds and up)
ENGLISH LOP (9 pounds or more)
FRENCH LOP (10½ pounds or more)
CHECKERED GIANT (at least 11 pounds)
GIANT CHINCHILLA (12 to 16 pounds)
FLEMISH GIANT (13 pounds and over)
Circle, triangle, square, oval? Not quite. Rabbits are found in five shapes: full arch, semi-arch, compact, commercial, and cylindrical.
The most common shape of rabbit is the commercial shape, which is the type most found in breeds used for meat purposes. The breeds that fall into the commercial shape category include the following: the French Angora, the Giant Angora, the Satin Angora, the Champagne d'Argent, the Californian, the Cinnamon, the American Chinchilla, the Creme d'Argent, the French Lop, the Harlequin, the Hotot, the New Zealand, the Palomino, the Rex, the American Sable, the Satin, the Mini Satin, the Silver Fox, and the Silver Marten.
Next we have the compact shape, which is somewhat similar in looks to the commercial but distinguished by a shorter, more compact body, hence the name. Breeds that exhibit the compact shape include the American Fuzzy Lop, the English Angora, the Standard Chinchilla, the Dwarf Hotot, the Dutch, the Florida White, the Havana, the Holland Lop, the Jersey Wooly, the Lionhead, the Lilac, the Mini Lop, the Mini Rex, the Netherland Dwarf, the Polish, the Silver, and the Thrianta.
Breeds that exhibit the full arch shape are notably taller than they are wide, accompanied by longer limbs. Full arch breeds include the Belgian Hare, the Britannia Petite, the Checkered Giant, the English Spot, the Rhinelander, and the Tan. As a side note, it is interesting to observe that the Checkered Giant, the English Spot, and the Rhinelander all exhibit the same shape, as they are also somewhat similar in pattern and background.
Semi-arch breeds are also known as the mandolin type, due to their pear-shaped similarity to a mandolin. Only a few breeds exhibit the semi-arch shape: the American, the Beveren, the English Lop, the Flemish Giant, the Argente Brun, and the Giant Chinchilla.
Last but not least, there is the cylindrical shape, which is exhibited by only one breed: the Himalayan. As implied by the name, the cylindrical-shaped rabbits have lengthy, slender bodies.
If you thought that there were a lot of rabbit breeds, just wait until you discover the array of colors in which rabbits can be found. It is truly a dazzling spectacle, and one that often surprises newcomers to rabbits.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "How to Raise Rabbits"
Copyright © 2019 Daniel Johnson and Samantha Johnson.
Excerpted by permission of The Quarto Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
1 Getting Started 6
2 Establishing Your Rabbitry 34
3 Housing Your Rabbits 50
4 Feeding Your Rabbits 74
5 The Healthy Rabbit 86
6 Rabbits for Meat, Fur, or Fancy 104
7 Your Pet Rabbit 120
8 Managing Your Rabbitry 134
9 Kindling, Kits, and Care 150
10 Showing Rabbits 172
About the Authors 192