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The Flemish Giant is a breed of domestic rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) known for its large size.
The Flemish Giant originated in Flanders. It was bred as early as the 16th century near the city of Ghent, Belgium. It is believed to have descended from a number of meat and fur breeds, possibly including the Steenkonijn (Stone Rabbit – referring to the old Belgian weight size of one stone or about 3.76 kg (8 lb 5 oz)) and the European "Patagonian" breed (now extinct). This "Patagonian" rabbit, a large breed that was once bred in Belgium and France, was not related to the Patagonian rabbit of Argentina (Sylvilagus brasiliensis), a separate wild species weighing less than two pounds (about 1 kg), nor the Patagonian hare (Dolichotis patagonum), a species in the cavy family of rodents that cannot interbreed with rabbits. Thomas Coatoam, in his Origins of the Flemish Giants, tells us, "The earliest authentic record of the Flemish Giant Rabbit occurred about the year 1860."
The first standards for the breed were written in 1893. The Flemish Giant is an ancestor of many rabbit breeds all over the world, one of which is the Belgian Hare, imported into England in the mid 19th century. The Flemish Giant was exported from England and Belgium to America in the early 1890s to help improve the size of meat rabbits during the great "rabbit boom".
It received little attention until about 1910 where it started appearing at small livestock shows throughout the country. Today, it is one of the more popular breeds at rabbit shows because of its unusually large size and its varying colors. It is promoted by the National Federation of Flemish Giant Rabbit Breeders, which was formed in 1915. The Flemish Giant has many nicknames, first and foremost the "Gentle Giant" for its uniquely docile personality and also the "universal rabbit" for its varied purposes as pet, show, breeding, meat and fur animal.
As one of the largest breeds of domestic rabbit, the Flemish Giant is a semi-arch type rabbit with its back arch starting back of the shoulders and carrying through to the base of the tail giving a "mandolin" shape. The body of a Flemish Giant Rabbit is long and powerful with relatively broad hindquarters. Bucks have a broad, massive head in comparison to does. Does may have a large, full, evenly carried dewlap (the fold of skin under their chins). The fur of the Flemish Giant is known to be glossy and dense. When stroked from the hindquarters to the head, the fur will roll back to its original position. ARBA standard has seven different colors, black, blue, fawn, light gray, sandy, steel gray and white. Their minimum weight for a senior doe is 14 lbs (about 6.4 kg), and the minimum weight of a Senior buck is 13 lbs (about 5.9 kg) (ARBA Standards of Perfection). A senior doe can take 1 year to reach full maturity. A senior buck can take 1.5 years to reach full maturity. It is not unusual to see a 10 kilo (22 pound) Flemish Giant.
Behavior and Lifestyle
Flemish Giants can be docile and tolerant of handling; frequent interaction with humans is a requirement for this to occur. Flemish Giants, like all rabbits, can become fearful, and sometimes aggressive, if handled incorrectly or irresponsibly. Their larger frame requires special attention paid to the spine alignment when handling a Flemish Giant, or any rabbit for that matter. Consequently, potential owners should consider these factors in addition to their size, level of food consumption, and substantial waste production before buying. The well-being of a Flemish Giant, like all rabbits, is dependent upon the care of a responsible owner. Consequently, rabbits may not be an ideal pet for younger or immature caregivers.
Due to its large size, the Flemish Giant needs substantial living quarters that provide ample opportunity for physical movement. The House Rabbit Society recommends keeping rabbits inside the home in a very large pen or room(s) in the home. Larger dog crates are often more appropriate than traditional rabbit and small-pet cages, which tend to be smaller and shorter. In the United States Department of Agriculture's standards for animal housing, rabbits over 12 pounds must have at least 5 square feet of floor space. The size of appropriate living quarters increases with size of the rabbit.
Cages with incorrectly sized wire gauge bottoms (as opposed to small gauge wire or solid bottoms) can harm the feet of a Flemish Giant more so than smaller house rabbits due to their increased weight. A resting board may be required to prevent sore hocks for a larger breed rabbit. The Flemish Giant will require larger quantities of food compared to smaller breeds of domestic rabbits. Like some other short hair breeds of rabbits, the Flemish Giant will usually require mild attention to grooming due to its shorter hair. Shedding during the spring and fall transition periods tend to be the most dramatic, with smaller sheds often occurring in between.
Flemish Giants can be fed like other rabbits, with the amount increased to match their larger size. ARBA recommendations include hay and occasional treats.
In supplementing a commercial diet, care must be taken to avoid excess protein, calories, and minerals such as salt and calcium, which in excess can cause kidney stones. Overfeeding leading to obesity is a major health concern for both commercial and pet rabbits.
The House Rabbit Society recommends 2 cups of chopped leafy vegetables per 6 pounds (3 kg) of body weight and no more than 2 tablespoons of fruit or carrots per 6 pounds of body weight daily.
The American Rabbit Breeders' Association (ARBA) recommends delaying breeding of female rabbits until they reach the senior weight range. For Flemish Giants, this is 14 pounds, and a typical rabbit will reach this weight when they are about 9 months to one year. The breeding lifespan of a rabbit is variable. Some breeders prefer not to have any more litters after the age of three years  while others continue to produce quality litters for five to eight years. The gestation period is between 28–31 days. On average they give birth at 30–32 days. The Flemish Giant rabbit can produce large litters, usually between 5 to 12 in a litter.
Apart from being kept as a pet, the Flemish Giant is used for meat, fur, show, and education as well as animal assisted therapy. One such example of a Flemish Giant being used for therapy can be found at The Suitcase Project.
4-H and Show
Flemish Giants, due to their uncomplicated grooming requirements and docile personalities, lend themselves naturally to a starter rabbit for the myriad of different 4-H programs throughout the country, teaching children responsibility and care of farm animals and pets.  Another very popular youth programs outside of 4-H which promote responsible show breeding is the National Federation of Flemish Giant Breeders Youth Program. Flemish Giants are the second oldest domesticated rabbit breed in the United States, following behind the now rare Belgian Hare.
Raising for pets, profit, substance
Flemish Giants are not typically regarded as "meat" rabbits because much of the commercial rabbit market focuses on young rabbits, usually around 70 days of age. At this time, Flemish Giants are developing bone mass rather than muscle. However, when raised to roasting (under 6 months) and stewing (over 6 months) age, the size of the Flemish makes them desirable. They are also often bred with other meat rabbit breeds, such as the New Zealand, to increase both meat-to-bone ratio and litter size.
- Buresh, J. 2004. "Sylvilagus brasiliensis" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed June 30, 2012
- Bass, Gary, 'Feed', Raising Better Rabbits & Cavys, American Rabbit Breeder's Association, 2000
- Bennet, Bob, Storey's Guide to Raising Rabbits, Storey Books, North Adams Massachusetts, 2001
- Rabbit - Flemish Giant
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