Whether your goal is to raise one rabbit or a larger herd, the expert advice in How to Raise Rabbits (Voyageur Press, 2008) will tell you all you need to know. With more than 200 color photographs, the book covers all aspects of raising rabbits, including organic and free-range rabbitries. Learn how to house and feed rabbits, breed your rabbits, show rabbits at fairs and more. In this excerpt from Chapter 1 “So, You Want to Raise Rabbits,” learn how to choose and buy the right rabbit breeds for you.
Which rabbit breeds are right for your needs?
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 have always 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 this article is devoted to discussion of the forty-seven 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. We’ll also have a brief discussion of some of the newest rabbit breeds that have not yet received ARBA recognition. Let’s get started!
Navigating the world of rabbit breeds
One of the first things that often surprises newcomers to rabbits is the vast array of breeds and varieties. With 47 breeds currently recognized by the ARBA, there are rabbits of every shape and size imaginable, and in every color, too! While the scope of these breeds cannot be fully explored within the limitations of this article, I would recommend my previous book, The Field Guide to Rabbits, to anyone wishing to gain knowledge of the details and history of each of the 47 rabbit breeds. In this article, 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 mid-sized rabbit with an ideal weight of 6 pounds, while the English and French Lops are larger rabbit breeds, often 10 pounds or more.
If you like the fuzzy appearance of the American Fuzzy Lop but would prefer a rabbit breed with more traditional 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 rabbit 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 very 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 quite 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 rabbit 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 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, and broken.
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 has since slipped into the critical category on the American Livestock Breed Conservancy’s (ALBC’s) list, meaning that very few American Chinchillas remain.
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.
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 Fox is the largest and the most endangered. The Silver is on the ALBC’s threatened list, and it is also the smallest, weighing in at only 4 to 7 pounds. The Champagne d’Argent’s name is French
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 mid-sized rabbit in an attractive color? You might consider the Tan or the newly recognized Thrianta. The Tan is a beautiful combination of dark fur with lighter points and is found in four varieties. The Thrianta is a deep orange-red 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 rabbit 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. While not all of these are on the ALBC list, they are all considered unusual and are not always easy to find. The American and American Sable breeds, both of which are on the ALBC’s critical list, are particularly difficult to locate.
This excerpt has been reprinted with permission from How to Raise Rabbits by Samantha and Daniel Johnson, published by Voyageur Press, 2008.