Historic Meat Rabbit Breeds

Find the perfect historic meat rabbit breeds for your patch of paradise.

| May/June 2011

The domesticated rabbit movement hit the United States in the early 1900s, but it wasn’t until World War I that people really began to take the rabbit industry seriously. During wartimes, food prices increased, and domestic-bred rabbits became an affordable delicacy. People also discovered the protein value in rabbit meat was higher than that in chicken, beef, veal and other meats.

The animal’s history is ancient, but in this day and age, many rabbit breeds are disappearing from the agricultural landscape. Requiring little space and producing many byproducts such as meat, fur and fertilizer, rabbits can be a great option for the small sustainable farm.

American Rabbit
Status: Critical

A true American original, the American is one of only six rabbit breeds developed in the United States. It was first exhibited in 1917 by Lewis H. Salsbury of Pasadena, California. While Salsbury is credited with creating the breed, the American’s exact origins are uncertain. It’s thought that much like “America the melting pot,” the American breed is a melting pot of a variety of breeds including the Blue Vienna, Blue Beveren, Blue Imperial and Blue Flemish Giant. The American rabbit was originally named the German Blue Vienna. With the United States’ entrance into World War I against Germany, the name was changed to the American Blue.

The American is a large breed, with mature bucks weighing 9 to 11 pounds and does weighing 10 to 12 pounds. Americans are recognized in both blue and white varieties. Both colors should have mandolin-shaped bodies. The American is a hardy, docile breed that produces large litters. It’s an ideal choice for anyone looking for food, fur or fancy. Americans are a fast-growing rabbit, reaching market weight fairly quickly, and they are easily kept in wire-bottom hutches. Since the 1950s, breeders and the public have lost interest in the American, and it is one of the rarest rabbit breeds in the United States.

Belgian Hare
Status: Threatened

Anna Belt
4/15/2011 2:22:50 PM

Nice article on heritage breed rabbits. Another great heritage breed is the American Chinchilla which is currently listed as critical along with the Silver Fox and American. For more information on rare livestock breeds check out the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy http://albc-usa.org/

Cathy Payne, Broad River Rabbitry
4/15/2011 9:27:50 AM

Thank you for highlighting these heritage meat breeds! It is so important to the diversity of our food system not to lose any of this genetic material forever. I am proud to be involved in the conservation of American blue and white rabbits, Silver Fox black and blue varieties, and the blue-eyed white Beveren rabbit. All are very rare and valued for both meat and fur. The manure from rabbits can be used to make solid or liquid garden fertilizer or feed for red wiggler worms. What a versatile animal for the small or large homestead or sustainable farm! I can hardly keep up with the demand for these wonderful livestock and am building cages and barns to build my stock here in NE Georgia.

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