Cuniculture

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Cuniculture is the agricultural practice of breeding and raising domestic rabbits, usually for their meat, fur, or wool. This differs from the simpler practice of keeping a single or small group of rabbits as companions, without selective breeding, reproduction, or the care of young animals. Some people, called rabbit fanciers, practice cuniculture predominantly for exhibition. The distribution of rabbit farming varies around the globe, and while it is on the decline in some nations, in others it is expanding.

History[edit]

Rabbits kept in cages for scientific experimentation

Early husbandry[edit]

Phoenician sailors visiting the coast of Spain c. 12th century BC, mistaking the European rabbit for a species from their homeland (the rock hyrax Procavia capensis), gave it the name i-shepan-ham (land or island of hyraxes). A theory exists that a corruption of this name, used by the Romans, became the Latin name for Spain, Hispania – although this theory is somewhat controversial.[1]

Domestication of the European rabbit rose slowly from a combination of game-keeping and animal husbandry. Among the numerous foodstuffs imported by sea to Rome during her domination of the Mediterranean were shipments of rabbits from Spain.[2] Romans also imported ferrets for rabbit hunting, and the Romans then distributed rabbits and the habit of rabbit keeping to the rest of Italy, to France, and then across the Roman Empire, including the British Isles.[3] Rabbits were kept in both walled areas as well as more extensively in game-preserves. In the British Isles, these preserves were known as warrens or garths, and rabbits were known as coneys, to differentiate them from the similar hares (a separate species).[4] The term warren was also used as a name for the location where hares, partridges and pheasants were kept, under the watch of a game keeper called a warrener. In order to confine and protect the rabbits, a wall or thick hedge might be constructed around the warren, or a warren might be established on an island.[5] (see: Rabbit islands) A warrener was responsible for controlling poachers and other predators and would collect the rabbits with snares, nets, hounds (such as greyhounds), or by hunting with ferrets.[6] With the rise of falconry, hawks and falcons were also used to collect rabbits and hares.

Domestication[edit]

While under the warren system, rabbits were managed and harvested, they were not domesticated. The practice of rabbit domestication also came from Rome. Christian monasteries throughout Europe and the Middle East kept rabbits since at least the 5th century. (Pope Gregory stated in a Papal Edict of the year 600 C.E. that fetal rabbits were permissible to eat during the Lenten fast, greatly enhancing their popularity, and it is from this date that the true domestication of rabbits is counted.)[7] While rabbits might be allowed to wander freely within the monastery walls, a more common method was the employment of rabbit courts or rabbit pits. A rabbit court was a walled area lined with brick and cement, while a pit was much the same, only less well-lined, and more sunken.[8] Individual boxes or burrow-spaces could line the wall. Rabbits would be kept in a group in these pits or courts, and individuals collected when desired for eating or pelts. From these pits, which did not allow for easy cleaning, ready handling of rabbits, or for selective breeding, rabbit keepers transitioned to individual hutches or pens, which were originally made of wood but are now more frequently made of metal in order to allow for better sanitation.[9]

Early breeds[edit]

Rabbits were typically kept as part of the household livestock by peasants and villagers throughout Europe. Husbandry of the rabbits, including collecting weeds and grasses for fodder, typically fell to the children of the household or farmstead. These rabbits were largely ‘common’ or ‘meat’ rabbits and not of a particular breed, although regional strains and types did arise. Some of these strains remain as regional breeds, such as the Gothland of Sweden,[10] while others, such as the Land Kaninchen, a spotted rabbit of German, have become extinct.[11] Another rabbit type that standardized into a breed was the Brabancon, a meat rabbit of the region of Limbourg and what is now Belgium. Rabbits of this breed were bred for the Ostend port market, destined for London markets. (Whitman, pg 10) The development of the refrigerated shipping vessels led to the eventual collapse of the European meat rabbit trade, as the over-population of feral rabbits in Australia could now be harvested and sold.[12] The Brabancon is now considered extinct, although a descendant, the Dutch breed, remains a popular small rabbit for the pet trade.[13]

In addition to being harvested for meat, properly prepared rabbit pelts were also an economic factor. Both wild rabbits and domestic rabbit pelts were valued, and it followed that pelts of particular rabbits would be more highly prized. As far back as 1631, price differentials were noted between ordinary rabbit pelts and the pelts of quality ‘riche’ rabbit in the Champagne region of France. (This regional type would go on to be recognized as the Champagne D’Argent, the silver rabbit of Champagne.) [14]

Among the earliest of the commercial breeds was the Angora, which some say may have developed in the Carpatian mountains. They made their way to England, where during the rule of King Henry VIII, laws banned the exportation of long-haired rabbits as a national treasure. In 1723, long haired rabbits were imported to southern France by English sailors, who described the animals as originally coming from the Angora region of Turkey. Thus two distinct strains arose, one in France and one in England.[15]

Expansion around the globe[edit]

European explorers and sailors took rabbits with them to new ports around the world, and brought new varieties back to Europe and England with them. With the second voyage of Christopher Columbus in 1494, European domestic livestock were brought to the New World.[16] Rabbits, along with goats and other hardy livestock, were frequently released on islands to produce a food supply for later ships.[17] The importations occasionally met with disastrous results. (See Rabbits in Australia) While cattle and horses were used across the socio-economic spectrum, and especially were concentrated among the wealthy, rabbits were kept by lower-income classes and peasants. This is reflected in the names given to the breeds that eventually arose in the colonized areas. From the Santa Duromo mountains of Brazil comes the Rustico, which is known in the United States as the Brazilian rabbit.[18]) The Criollo rabbit comes from Mexico.[19]

International commercial use[edit]

With the rise of scientific animal breeding in the late 1700s, led by Robert Bakewell (among others), distinct livestock breeds were developed for specific purposes.[20] Rabbits were among the last of the domestic animals to have these principles applied to them, but the rabbit’s rapid reproductive cycle allowed for marked progress towards a breeding goal in a short period of time. Additionally, rabbits could be kept on a small area, with a single person caring for over 300 breeding does on an acre of land.[21] Rabbit breeds were developed by individuals, cooperatives, and by national breeding centers. To meet various production goals, rabbits were exported around the world. One of the most notable import events was the introduction of the Belgium Hare breed of rabbit from Europe to the United States. This led to a short-lived “boom” in rabbit breeding, selling, and speculation, when a quality breeding animal could bring $75 to $200. (For comparison, the average daily wage was approximately $1.00.)[22] In 1900, a single animal export company recorded 6,000 rabbits successfully shipped to the United States and Canada.[23]

Science played another role in rabbit raising – this time with rabbits themselves as the tools used for scientific advancement. Beginning with Louis Pasteur's experiments in rabies in the later half of the nineteenth century, rabbits have been used as models to investigate various medical and biological problems, including the transmission of disease and protective antiserums.[24] Production of quality animals for meat sale and scientific experimentation has driven a number of advancements in rabbit husbandry and nutrition. While early rabbit keepers were limited to local & seasonal foodstuffs, which did not permit the maximization of production, health or growth, by 1930 researchers were conducting experiments in rabbit nutrition, similar to the experiments that had isolated vitamins and other nutritional components.[25] This eventually resulted in the development of various recipes for pelleted rabbit diets. Gradual refinement of diets has resulted in the widespread availability of pelleted diets which increase yield, reduce waste, and promote rabbit health, particularly maternal breeding health.[26]

Rise of the fancy[edit]

The final leg of deliberate rabbit breeding – beyond meat, wool & fur, and laboratory use - was the breeding of ‘fancy’ animals as pets and curiosity. The term ‘fancy’ was originally applied to long eared ‘lop’ rabbits, as the lop rabbits were the first rabbits bred for exhibition. They were first admitted to agricultural shows in England in the 1820s, and in 1840 a club was formed for the promotion and regulation of exhibitions for “Fancy Rabbits”.[27] In 1918, a new group formed for the promotion of fur breeds, originally including only Beverans and Havana breeds. This club eventually expanded into the British Rabbit Council.[28] Meanwhile, in the United States, clubs promoting various breeds were chartered in the 1880s, and the National Pet Stock Association was formed in 1987. This organization would become the American Rabbit Association.[29] Many thousand rabbit shows occur each year and are sanctioned in Canada, Mexico, Malaysia, Indonesia and the United States by the ARBA.[30]

With the advent of national organizations, rabbit breeders had a framework for establishing breeds and varieties against recognized standards. Thus rabbit exhibition breeding began to rapidly expand. Organizations and associations were also established across Europe, most notably in Germany, France, and Scandinavia,[31] allowing for the recognition of local breeds (many of which shared similar characteristics across national borders) and for the preservation of stock during such disruptions as World War I and World War II.

Closely overlapping with expedition breeding and fur breeding has been the breeding of rabbits for the pet trade. While accurate production records are not readily available, rabbits have been kept as pets for centuries. The sale of rabbits as pets rose in the last half of the twentieth century, as rabbits could be kept in smaller living areas than more traditional companion animals such as dogs and cats, but did not require as specialized housing as gold fish.[32] Several strains of rabbit – such as the Holland Lop, the Polish rabbit, the Netherland Dwarf, and the Lionhead – have been specifically bred for the pet trade. Traits common to many popular pet breeds are small size, “dwarf” features, and patterned coats.

Modern farming[edit]

Outside of the exhibition circles, rabbit raising remained a small scale but persistent household and farm endeavor, in many locations unregulated by the rules that governed the production of larger livestock. With the on-going urbanization of world-wide population, rabbit raising gradually declined, but saw resurgences in both Europe and North America during World War II, in conjunction with victory gardens.[33][34][35] Eventually, farmers across Europe and in the United States began to approach cuniculture with the same scientific principles as had already been applied to the production of grains, poultry, and hoofstock. National agriculture breeding stations were established to improve local rabbit strains and to introduce more productive breeds. National breeding centers focused most on developing strains for production purposes, including meat, pelts, and wool.[36] These gradually faded from prominence in the United States,[37] but remained viable longer in Europe. Meanwhile, rabbit raising for local markets gained prominence in developing nations as an economical means of producing protein. Various aid agencies promote the use of rabbits as livestock. The animals are particularly useful in areas where women are limited in employment outside the household, because rabbits can be kept successfully in small areas.[38] These same factors have contributed to the increased popularity of rabbits as ‘backyard livestock’ among locavores and homesteaders in more developed countries in North America and Europe. The addition of rabbit breeds to the listing of endangered heritage breeds by the American Livestock Breeds Conservatory has also led to increased interest for livestock conservationists. In contrast, throughout Asia, and particularly in China, rabbits are increasingly raised intensively and sold for export around the world.[39]

In addition to the previously mentioned national ministries and associations, the World Rabbit Science Association was formed in 1976, as a venue for distributing the most current information in rabbit psyology, medicine, and husbandry. The association puts on a conference every four years, most recently 2012 in Egypt.[40]

Present day[edit]

In more recent years and in some countries, cuniculture has come under pressure from animal rights activists on several fronts. The use of animals, including rabbits, in scientific experiments has been subject to increased scrutiny in developed countries. Increasing regulation has raised the cost of producing animals for this purpose, and made other experimental options more attractive. Other researchers have abandoned investigations which required animal models.[41] Meanwhile, various rescue groups under the House Rabbit Society umbrella have taken an increasingly strident stance against any breeding of rabbits (even as food in developing countries) on the grounds that it contributes to the number of mistreated, unwanted or abandoned animals.[42] Some of these organizations have promoted investigation and prosecution of rabbit raisers on humanitarian concerns. Some rabbit raisers have protested these investigations as being biased and conducted on illegitimate grounds.[43] Finally, the growth of homesteaders and small holders has led to the rise of visibility of rabbit raisers in geographic areas where they have not been present previously. This has led to zoning conflicts over the regulation of butchering and waste management. Conflicts have also arisen with House Rabbit Society organizations as well as ethical vegetarians and vegans concerning the use of rabbits as meat and fur animals rather than as pets.[44] Ironically, many homesteaders cite concern with animal welfare in intensive farming of beef, pork and poultry as a significant factor in choosing to raise rabbits for meat.

The specific future direction of cuniculture is unclear, but does not appear to be in danger of disappearing in any particular part of the world. The variety of applications, as well as the versatile utility of the species, appears sufficient to keep rabbit raising a going concern in one aspect or another around the planet.

Aspects of rabbit production[edit]

Meat rabbits[edit]

Commercially processed lean rabbit meat
Meat-type rabbits being raised as a supplementary food source during the Great Depression

Rabbits have been raised for meat production in a variety of settings around the world. Small-scale smallholder or backyard operations remain common in many countries, while larger scale commercial operations occur in Europe and Asia. For smaller operations, local breeds of various types may be used. Many local, 'rustico', landrace or other heritage type breeds may be used only in a specific geographic area. Sub-par or cull animals from other breeding goals (laboratory, exhibition/show, wool, pet) may also be used for meat (particularly in smallholder operations). However, dwarf breeds are rarely primarily used for meat production, due to the small size, slow growth, and low numbers of offspring per litter. Likewise, the giant breeds (fourteen pounds and up at adult size) are not commonly used for meat production, due to extended growth rates that lead to high feed costs and large bone size that reduces the dress-out percentage.

In contrast to the multitude of breeds & types used in smaller operations, breeds such as the New Zealand and Californian, as well as hybrids of these breeds, are most frequently utilized for meat in commercial rabbitries. The primary qualities of good meat rabbit breeding stock are growth rate and mothering ability. Uniform growth rates & size at slaughter are also considered important factors. Specific lines of commercial breeds have been developed that maximize these qualities - rabbits may be slaughtered as early as seven weeks and does of these strains routinely raise litters of 8 to 12 kits. Other breeds of rabbit developed for commercial meat production include the Florida White and the Altex.

Rabbit breeding stock raised in France is particularly popular with meat rabbit farmers internationally, some being purchased as far away as in China in order to improve the local rabbit herd.[45]

Larger-scale operations attempt to maximize income by balancing land use, labor involved, animal health, and investment in infrastructure. Specific infrastructure and strain qualities depend on the geographic area. An operation in an urban area may emphasize odor control and space utilization by stacking cages over each other with automatic cleaning systems that flush away feces and urine. In rural sub-tropical and tropical areas, temperature control becomes more of an issue, and the use of air-conditioned buildings is common in many areas.

Breeding schedules for rabbits vary by individual operation. Prior to the development of modern balanced rabbit rations, rabbit breeding was limited by the nutrition available to the doe. Without adequate calories and protein, the doe would either not be fertile, would abort or re-adsorb the foetuses during pregnancy, or would deliver small numbers of weak kits. Under these conditions, a doe would be re-bred only after weaning her last litter when the kits reached the age of two months. This allowed for a maximum of four litters per year. Advances in nutrition, such as those published by the USDA Rabbit Research Station, resulted in greater health for breeding animals and the survival of young stock. Likewise, offering superior, balanced nutrition to growing kits allowed for better health and less illness among slaughter animals. Current practices include the option of re-breeding the doe within a few days of delivery (closely matching the behavior of wild rabbits during the spring/early summer, when forage availability is at its peak.) This can result in up to eight or more litters annually. A doe of ideal meat-stock genetics can produce five times her body weight in fryers a year. Criticism of the more intensive breeding schedules has been made, on the grounds that re-breeding that closely is excessively stressful for the doe. Determination of health effects of breeding schedules is made more difficult by the domestic rabbit's reproductive psychology - in contrast to several other mammal species, rabbits are more likely to develop uterine cancer when not used for breeding than when bred frequently.

Rabbit fryers are rabbits that are between 70 to 90 days of age, and weighing between 3 to 5 lb (1 to 2 kg) live weight. Rabbit roasters are rabbits from 90 days to 6 months of age weighing between 5 to 8 lb (2 to 3.5 kg) live weight. Rabbit stewers are rabbits from 6 months on weighing over 8 lb. Dark fryers (any other color but whites) are typically lower in price than albino fryers because of the slightly darker tinge of the fryer (purely pink carcasses are preferred by consumers) and because the hide is harder to remove manually than the white albino fryers.

Commercial The highest prices per pound of live weight in the United States are offered for fryers. In Europe, however, a sizable market remains for the larger & older rabbits. As the name implies, rabbit meat that comes from older animals is cooked differently from that of young fryer rabbits.

By some estimates, world's annual rabbit meat production stood at around 1.5 million tons in 1990.[46] In 2014, the number was reported by some sources as at around 2 million tons.[45] China is among the world's largest producers and consumers, accounting for some 30% of the world's total rabbit meat consumption. Within China itself, rabbits are raised in many provinces, most of it (about 70% of the national production, i.e. some 420,000 tons annually) being consumed in the Sichuan Basin (Sichuan Province and Chongqing), where it is particularly popular.[45]

Well-known chef Mark Bittman says that domesticated rabbit tastes like chicken because both are blank palettes upon which any desired flavors can be layered.[47]

Wool rabbits and pelt rabbits[edit]

Wool rabbits[edit]

Rabbits such as the Angora, American Fuzzy Lop, and Jersey Wooly produce wool. However, since the American Fuzzy Lop and Jersey Wooly are both dwarf breeds, only the much larger Angora breeds such as the English Angora, Satin Angora, Giant Angora, and French Angoras are used for commercial wool production. Their long fur is sheared, combed, or plucked (gently pulling loose hairs from the body during molting) and then spun into yarn used to make a variety of products. Angora sweaters can be purchased in many clothing stores and is generally mixed with other types of wool. In 2010, 70% of Angora rabbit wool was produced in China. Rabbit wool, called Angora, is 5 times warmer than sheep's wool.[citation needed]

Fur rabbits[edit]

Dried rabbit pelts

All rabbits produce fur. Rabbits such as the Palomino, Satin, Chinchilla rabbit and Rex rabbit are commonly raised for fur. Each breed has unique coloring and fur characteristics. The rabbit is fed a diet especially balanced for fur production and the pelts are harvested when they have reached prime condition. Rabbit fur is widely used throughout the world. China imports much of its fur from Scandinavia (80%) and North America (5%) according to the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service GAIN Report CH7607.

Exhibition rabbits[edit]

Many rabbit keepers breed their rabbits for competition among other purebred rabbits of the same breed. Rabbits are judged according to the standards put forth by the governing associations of the particular country. These associations, being made up of people, may be distinctly political and reflect the preferences of particular persons on the governing boards. However, as mechanisms to preserve rare breeds of rabbits, foster communication between breeders and encourage the education of the public, these organizations are invaluable. Examples include the American Rabbit Breeders Association and the British Rabbit Council.

Laboratory rabbits[edit]

Rabbits have been and continue to be used in laboratory work such as production of antibodies for vaccines and research of human male reproductive system toxicology. Experiments with rabbits date back to Louis Pausture's work in France in the 1800s. In 1972, around 450 000 rabbits were used for experiments in the United States, decreasing to around 240 000 in 2006.[48] The Environmental Health Perspective, published by the National Institute of Health, states, "The rabbit [is] an extremely valuable model for studying the effects of chemicals or other stimuli on the male reproductive system."[49] According to the Humane Society of the United States, rabbits are also used extensively in the study of bronchial asthma, stroke prevention treatments, cystic fibrosis, diabetes, and cancer.

Rabbit cultivation intersects with research in two ways: first, the keeping and raising of animals for testing of scientific principles. Some experiments require the keeping of several generations of animals treated with a particular drug, in order to fully appreciate the side effects of that drug. There is also the matter of breeding and raising animals for experiments. The New Zealand White is one of the most commonly used breeds for research and testing. Specific strains of the NZW have been developed, with differing resistance to disease and cancers. Additionally, some experiments call for the use of 'specific pathogen free' animals, which require specific husbandry and intensive hygiene.

Animal rights activists generally oppose animal experimentation for all purposes, and rabbits are no exception.[improper synthesis?] The use of rabbits for the Draize test,[50] which is used for, amongst other things, testing cosmetics on animals, has been cited as an example of cruelty in animal research. Albino rabbits are typically used in the Draize tests because they have less tear flow than other animals and the lack of eye pigment make the effects easier to visualize.[citation needed] Rabbits in captivity are uniquely subject to rabbitpox, a condition that has not been observed in the wild.

Husbandry[edit]

Rabbits being raised on pasture at Polyface Farm

Modern methods for housing domestic rabbits vary from region to region around the globe and by type of rabbit, technological & financial opportunities and constraints, intended use, number of animals kept, and the particular preferences of the owner/farmer. Various goals include maximizing number of animals per land unit (especially common in areas with high land values or small living areas) minimizing labor, reducing cost, increasing survival and health of animals, and meeting specific market requirements (such as for clean wool, or rabbits raised on pasture.) Not all of these goals are complementary. Where the keeping of rabbits has been regulated by governments, specific requirements have been put in place. Various industries also have commonly accepted practices which produce predictable results for that type of rabbit product.

Extensive cuniculture practices[edit]

Extensive cuniculture refers to the practice of keeping rabbits at a lower density and a lower production level than intensive culture. Specifically as relates to rabbits, this type of production was nearly universal prior to germ theory understanding of infectious parasites (especially coccidia) and the role of nutrition in prevention of abortion and reproductive loss. The most extensive rabbit "keeping" methods would be the harvest of wild or feral rabbits for meat or fur market, such as occurred in Australia prior to the 1990s. Warren-based cuniculture is somewhat more controlled, as the animals are generally kept to a specific area and a limited amount of supplemental feeding provided. Finally, various methods of raising rabbits with pasture as the primary food source have been developed. Pasturing rabbits within a fence (but not a cage) also known as colony husbandry, has not been commonly pursued due to the high death rate from weather and predators. More commonly (but still rare in terms of absolute numbers of rabbits and practitioners) is the practice of confining the rabbits to a moveable cage with an open or slatted floor so that the rabbits can access grass but still be kept at hand and protected from weather and predators. This method of growing rabbits does not typically result in an over-all reduction for the need for supplemented feed. The growing period to market weight is much longer for grass fed rather than pellet fed animals, and many producers continue to offer small amounts of complete rations over the course of the growing period. Hutches or cages for this type of husbandry are generally made of a combination of wood and metal wire, made portable enough for a person to move the rabbits daily to fresh ground, and of a size to hold a litter of 6 to 12 rabbits at the market weight of 4 to 5 pounds. Protection from sun and driving rain are important health concerns, as is durability against predator attacks and the ability to be cleaned to prevent loss from coccidious. Medical care and the use of medicated feed are less common.

Intensive cuniculture practices[edit]

Intensive cuniculture involves a greater density of animals per unit of land and a generally higher rate of reproduction. Labor required for each hide, kilogram of wool or market fryer may be higher or lower than for extensive methods. The amount of supplemented feed is generally higher, and may be grain mixes or a complete pelleted feed. The total number of animals may be in the thousands or may be less than ten adult animals, depending on the particular operation. Housing may be highly climate controlled (inside housing) or nearly completely outside, with minimal temperature control. Outdoor housing may consist of a single or group of cages, hutches, or lined pits. One example of intensive rabbit keeping may be a household rabbitry of a buck and two does, set under protection from the sun and with a windbreak, where each rabbit had their own cage and are fed fodder that is gathered by family members from the yard or roadside. Another might be a barn that is completely enclosed and climate controlled, to include constant air exchange, where several hundred individually housed does are fed a complete pelleted ration and are subject to weekly weight checks and daily health inspections. While a small rabbitry may make use of solid floors, wire or slat floors are more common in larger barns in order to ensure adequate hygiene. A higher level of routine preventative medical care and a more strict application of biosecurity principles are more common in intensive cuniculture, but the level of clinical intervention on individual animals is unlikely to be high.

Challenges to successful production[edit]

Specific challenges to the keeping of rabbits vary by specific practices. Losses from coccidiosis are much more common when rabbits are kept on the ground (such as in warrens or colonies) or on solid floors than when on wire or slat cages that keep rabbits elevated away from urine and faeces. Pastured rabbits are more subject to predator attack. Rabbits kept indoors at an appropriate temperature rarely suffer heat loss in comparison to rabbits housed outdoors in summer. At the same time, if rabbits are housed inside without adequate ventilation, respiratory disease can be a significant cause of disease and death. Production does on fodder are rarely able to raise more than 3 litters a year without heavy losses from deaths of weak kits, abortion, and re-adsorption, all related to poor nutrition and inadequate protein intake. In contrast, rabbits fed commercial pelleted diets can face losses related to low fiber intake.

Exhibition and fancier societies[edit]

Checkered Giant at an exhibition

In the early 1900s, as animal fancy in general began to emerge, rabbit fanciers began to sponsor rabbit exhibitions and fairs in Western Europe and the United States. What became known as the "Belgian Hare Boom", began with the importation of the first Belgian Hares from England in 1888 and soon after the founding of the first rabbit club in America, the American Belgian Hare Association. From 1898 to 1901, many thousands of Belgian Hares were imported to America.[51] Today, the Belgian Hare is considered one of the rarest breeds with less than 200 in the United States as reported in a recent survey.[52]

The American Rabbit Breeders Association (ARBA) was founded in 1910 and is the national authority on rabbit raising and rabbit breeds having a uniform Standard of Perfection, registration and judging system.

Conformation shows[edit]

Show rabbits are an increasingly popular activity. Showing rabbits helps to improve the vigor and physical behavior of each breed through competitive selection. County fairs are common venues through which rabbits are shown in the United States. Rabbit clubs at local state and national levels hold many shows each year. On any given weekend one may be able to find a show in most regions of the United States and the United Kingdom. Although only purebred animals are shown, a pedigree is not required to enter a rabbit in an ARBA-sanctioned show but is required to register your rabbit with the American Rabbit Breeders Association (ARBA). A rabbit must be registered in order to receive a Grand Champion certificate.[53] Children's clubs such as 4-H also include rabbit shows, usually in conjunction with county fairs. The ARBA holds an annual national convention which has as many as 25,000 animals competing form all over the world. The mega show moves to a different city each year. The ARBA also sponsors youth programs for families as well as underprivileged rural and inner city children to learn responsible care and breeding of domestic rabbits.

Genetics[edit]

Reference: Rabbit Coat Color Genetics: Gene List

There are 10 color gene groups (or loci) in rabbits. They are A, B, C, D, E, En, Du, Si, V, and W. Each locus has dominant and recessive genes. In addition to the loci there are also modifiers, which modify a certain gene. These include the rufus modifiers, color intensifiers, and plus/minus (blanket/spot) modifiers. A rabbit's coat only has two pigments, pheomelanin (yellow) and eumelanin (dark brown). There can also be no pigment, causing an albino or white rabbit.

Color Genes[edit]

Within each group, the genes are listed in order of dominance, with the most dominant gene first. In parenthesis after the description is at least one example of a color that displays this gene.

Note: lower case are recessive and capital letters are dominant
Chinchilla
  • "A" represents the agouti locus (multiple bands of color on the hair shaft). The genes are:
    • A= agouti ("wild color" or chestnut agouti, opal, chinchilla, etc.)
    • a(t)= tan pattern (otter, tan, silver marten)
    • a= self or non-agouti (black, chocolate)
  • "B" represents the brown locus. The genes are:
    • B= black (chestnut agouti, black otter, black)
    • b= brown (chocolate agouti, chocolate otter, chocolate)
Blue
  • "C" represents the color locus. The genes are:
    • C= full color (black)
    • c(ch3)= dark chinchilla, removes yellow pigmentation (chinchilla, silver marten)
    • c(ch2)= medium (light) chinchilla, Slight reduction in eumelanin creating a more sepia tone in the fur rather than black.
    • c(ch1)= light (pale) chinchilla (sable, sable point, smoke pearl, seal)
    • c(h)= Himalayan, body white with extremities ("points") colored in black, blue, chocolate or lilac, pink eyes
    • c= albino (ruby-eyed white or REW)
  • "D" represents the dilution locus. This gene dilutes black to blue and chocolate to lilac.
    • D= dense color (chestnut agouti, black, chocolate)
    • d= diluted color (opal, blue or lilac)
  • "E" represents the extension locus. It works with the 'A' and 'C' loci, and rufus modifiers. When it is recessive, it removes most black pigment. The genes are:
    • E(d)= dominant black
    • E(s)= steel (black removed from tips of fur, which then appear golden or silver)
    • E= normal
    • e(j)= Japanese brindling (harlequin), black and yellow pigment broken into patches over the body. In a broken color pattern this results in Tricolor.
    • e= most black pigment removed (agouti becomes red or orange, self becomes tortoise)
Dutch
  • "En" represents the plus/minus (blanket/spot) color locus. It is incompletely dominant and results in three possible color patterns:
    • EnEn= "Charlie" or a lightly marked broken with color on ears, on nose and sparsely on body
    • Enen= Broken rabbit with roughly even distribution of color and white
    • enen= Solid color with no white areas
  • "Du" represents the Dutch color pattern, (the front of the face, front part of the body, and rear paws are white, the rest of the rabbit has colored fur). The genes are:
    • Du= absence of Dutch pattern
    • du(d)= Dutch (dark)
    • du(w)= Dutch (white)
Czech Red
  • "V" represents the vienna white locus. The genes are:
    • V= normal color
    • Vv= Vienna carrier, carries blue-eyed white gene. May appear as a solid color, with snips of white on nose and/or front paws, or Dutch marked.
    • v= vienna white (blue-eyed white or BEW)
  • "Si" represents the silver locus. The genes are:
    • Si= normal color
    • si= silver color (silver, silver fox)
  • "W" represents the middle yellow-white band locus and works with the agouti gene. The genes are:
    • W= normal width of yellow band
    • w= doubles yellow band width (Otter becomes Tan, intensified red factors in Thrianta and Belgian Hare)
  • "P" represents the OCA type II form of albinism, P is because it is an integral P protein mutation. The genes are:
    • P= normal color
    • p= albinism mutation, removes eumelanin and causes pink eyes. (Will change, for example, a Chestnut Agouti into a Shadow)

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Anthon, Charles. A System of Ancient and Mediæval Geography for the Use of Schools and Colleges pg.14. Books.google.com. Retrieved 2012-10-10. 
  2. ^ Whitman, Bob D. (2004). Domestic Rabbits & Their Histories: Breeds of the World. Leawood, KS: Leathers Publishing. p. 450. ISBN 1-58597-275-4. 
  3. ^ Dunlop, Robert H.; David J. Williams (1996). Veterinary Medicine: An Illustrated History. St Louis, MO: Mosby. p. 42. ISBN 0-8016-3209-9. 
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