Why I Raise Rare Rabbits


The Domestication of Cattle CaitIf you raise or own rabbits, then you’ve probably noticed a few main breeds dominating the industry – New Zealands, Californians, Mini Rex, Holland Lops – and for good reason. These breeds all do their jobs well. New Zealands and Californians are the most popular breeds for meat producers because they grow fast and have pretty large litters. They’re very well accustomed to intensive management because that’s what they are designed to do. Mini Rex, Holland Lops, and other little cute breeds like that, are incredibly popular in the pet industry because they are all just that – little and cute – exactly what pet owners want in a bunny.

I’m a bit of a non-conformist. I raise Silver rabbits. Although they are commonly confused with two other breeds – Silver Fox and Silver Marten – they are very different from both of those. Silvers are much smaller than Silver Foxes and have absolutely no characteristics in common with Silver Martens at all. The Silver is a very small breed, they can range from 3 to 7 pounds, but mine are on the small end. My biggest Silver is probably 4 to 4 1/2 pounds. And, see, I can’t really compare mine to others size wise because my Silvers are the only Silvers I’ve ever seen in person. At one point there was another breeder that I showed against, and then he gave his two Silver rabbits to me, so we’re back to “the only ones I’ve ever seen are mine.”

I don’t raise Silvers because they’re stellar meat producers, because they aren’t. I raise another heritage breed, the American Chinchilla, because they are stellar meat producers. I don’t raise Silvers for the pet market, because they’re sort of strange personality wise. It’d be like raising Border Collies for pet stores – it just wouldn’t work for a million different reasons. Nor do I raise Silvers for fur. Can you picture the pelt from a 4-pound rabbit? It’d make a nice half-a-mitten. I raise Silvers because when I am holding my little brown doe Minerva, I’m holding a piece of history.

Looking at me right now, in my yoga pants and pink hoodie and glittery toenails, you probably wouldn’t picture me being a history buff. I’m pretty sure I look like your generic blonde bonehead. Seriously, though, I love history. When I was a kid, my grandma took me to the American Girl store in Chicago. I didn’t want to see the American Girl of the Year, she was too modern for me. I wanted to wander around the historical section. I coveted the dolls’ record players and spinning wheels and authentic Nez Perce outfits. Back then, I did look like a nerd. I just discovered Glamour magazine, that’s the only difference from College Cattle Cait and Tween Cattle Cait.

Silvers are arguably the oldest domestic breed of rabbit. They were raised in warrens in the Middle Ages but breeders are uncertain of their exact origin. So, Minerva could be French, or Italian, or Chilean, but I’m going to go with my gut and assume she’s probably English or French. I hold Minerva, or her husband Murdoch, or my other Silvers, and for a split second I could be some random medieval woman grabbing supper. I probably wouldn’t turn Minerva into supper though, she’s too cute. Maybe her sister Bellatrix. We don’t hold Bellatrix, and for good reason (she’s evil). If I was a medieval woman getting supper, I’d eat Bellatrix. They are intelligent and have crazy fast reflexes, which make them ideal for free range and colony raising. Unfortunately, this is why they've been rapidly losing popularity because they never adjusted well to confinement systems. I often say that they're the most "rabbity" of domestic rabbits.

ForrestForrest enjoying the summer sun

5/11/2015 6:38:52 AM

There is something seriously wrong wtih you, Cait. These poor rabbits don't want to die, and you don't HAVE to eat them to live. There's plenty to eat without choosing meat. Try veganism. It’s tasty and there’s no death or pain to any animal. And get some help. Anyone who can kill an animal with such ease has something wrong with the compassion part of their brain.

1/13/2014 11:23:08 AM

Cait, I tried rabbit raising once. My family (wife and two kids) bought me a pair of rabbits for a Christmas present. Yeah, we named them Amos .... and Andy. Yes, they bought two boys. Not very productive for rabbit raising. They turned out to be pets that died of old age. They probably wouldn't have let me process any rabbits or eaten any rabbit meat any way. That became very clear after having them for a time. The homestead mentality just wasn't in the family DNA. Well, except for myself. Now my youngest daughter and grandson would certainly think I was a evil grandpa to kill the Easter bunny don't you know. (Big sigh) I guess I'll just stick to raising vegetables. ***** Have a great rabbit raising day.

1/12/2014 6:18:03 PM

I have considered raising rabbits. Mostly for meat. But I'm sure I'd end up going the route my buddy in Alabama went: sizable colony, can't kill a one. Lots of pet bunnies now. Interesting article, Cait, thanks.

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