By New Zealand Rabbit Breeder Club
You probably think of bunnies as cute, cuddly creatures that have a lot of babies. And while some people keep rabbits as pets, others breed them for their meat and fur. Also, allegedly bunny meat tastes like chicken! Today, we’re going to look at a specific variety – the New Zealand rabbit breed. The breed was first spotted in California, so let’s learn a little more!
New Zealand Rabbit Colors
The American Rabbit Breeders Association – ARBA – has five variants of New Zealand rabbits in its books. They’re classified by the color of their pelt, and you can crossbreed them to get additional variants. The most common categories of these Kiwi bunnies are:
1. New Zealand White Rabbit – White fur with pink eyes, confirmed in 1920
2. New Zealand Red Rabbit – Reddish brown fur, the original kiwi bunny confirmed in 1913
3. New Zealand Black Rabbit – Black fur, confirmed in 1958
4. New Zealand Blue Rabbit – Bluish-grey fur, confirmed in 2016
5. New Zealand Broken Rabbit – Mixed fur or white + another color, confirmed in 2010
You can also find crossbred bunnies like the chestnut agouti and the gold-tipped steel bunny. Apart from pets and meat, rabbits can also be kept for use in laboratory experiments, just like mice. Some farms raise show rabbits for competitive purposes. And that common white bunny with bright pink eyes is sometimes called a REW rabbit, meaning ruby-eyed white.
A female rabbit is called a doe and a male rabbit is called a buck. The birthing process for rabbits is called kindling, so some people refer to baby bunnies as kindlings. But breeders refer to the babies as kittens or kits. Curiously, bunny isn’t a formal name – it’s just what kids call these fluffy creatures. Among adults, the term has evolved into something … sultry.
In many spaces, the colors of New Zealand rabbits are counted as different breeds. All New Zealand rabbits have muscular features and round haunches. Does typically have a dewlap, and some bucks do as well. The dewlap is a fatty flap under the chin, and breeders prefer to keep it small for females. Bucks that have a dewlap are largely avoided by rabbit breeders.
Dewlaps are thought to be a functional feature – does can use them to make nests for their kits. Another notable characteristic of New Zealand rabbit breeds is their flyback fur, which means if you run your hand against their bodies, the fur immediately springs back into place. White rabbits are the most popular, and they get their snowy complexion from albinism.
New Zealand Rabbit Background
If the New Zealand rabbit breed is Californian, where did it get its name? Anecdotes suggest the original bunnies came from the Kiwis. American breeders combined Flemish Giant, Golden Fawn, and Belgian hare breeds to come up with the New Zealand rabbit. The breed was officially accepted in 1916. In 1917, William S. Preshaw perfected the white mutation.
The first New Zealand rabbit breeds were red. They grew quickly and had a high meat ratio, so they were a big hit. But a few albino rabbits popped up among their litters, and these lily little ones caught the eye of rabbit buyers. They have all the benefits of New Zealand red rabbits and you could dye the pelt, making them popular with fur traders. They’re cute too!
|5 to 8 years
|9lbs to 12lbs
|Broad body, erect ears, colors include white, red, black, mixed
|Timothy hay, alfalfa grass, fruit, vegetables, leafy greens, pellets
|Mild-mannered, enjoys gentle physical handling
|Raised enclosure, 30”x 36” with wire sides, metal or plastic base
|Sawdust, shredded paper, or hay; must be changed weekly
|Ear mites, worms, flystrike, overgrown teeth aka malocclusion
Because New Zealand rabbit breeds have such fine flyback fur and a high feed-to-meat ratio, they’re among the most popular commercial rabbit breeds. New Zealand rabbits are gentle, docile, and hardy. Good health and temperament make them a favorite for lab work. A New Zealand White rabbit is ideal for testing beauty products. And they make great pets too.
Also, while this breed isn’t prone to disease, you should offer a high-quality hay diet to stop your rabbit’s teeth from getting too big – they never stop growing! Deworm your bunnies twice a year and look at their teeth once a week. You should also inspect their ears for mites and their bottoms for fly eggs. A vet can easily solve both problems, so check in every week.
Two other issues are wool-block and GI stasis. Think of wool-block as a hairball, except that rabbits can’t cough it out like cats. Weekly brushing helps because you reduce the loose fur that will end up in your bunny’s tummy as it grooms. As for GI stasis, it’s a digestive thing. Both these issues can cause lethargy, low appetite, and no stool, but a vet can resolve this.
Breeding New Zealand Rabbits
Like all commercial livestock, rabbits are divided by size and age. A doe can grow to be 12lbs while a buck can get to 11lbs. And meat rabbits are sold in cycles. Some buyers prefer young rabbits called fryers. At 12 weeks or less, these bunnies have tender flesh and are slaughtered at 1.5lbs to 3.5lbs. But other palates opt for older rabbits called roasters, 6 months or older.
Roasters might be called stewers and are slaughtered at +4lbs. Their flesh is darker and tougher, so it takes longer to cook – hence roasting or stewing instead of frying. And while it may seem counterintuitive to most people, rabbits are a profitable product because they bear so many babies and convert food to flesh efficiently. 4lbs of food can give you 1lb of meat.
This is known as the feed-to-meat ratio or the feed conversion ratio (FCR). For New Zealand rabbit breeds, it’s 4:1. For comparison, beef has a higher ratio of 6:1 and can get as high as 10:1. The FCR for pigs is about 3:1 and can hit 5:1. For commercial chicken, fish, and shrimp, the ratio is about 2:1. Another key advantage is that rabbits are fertile throughout the year.
Does can start having babies while they’re still fryers – that’s 8 to 12 weeks. But experts say you should wait until 5 to 8 months before you breed your bunny girls. Their gestation is roughly one month and each litter has anything from one kit to a dozen! Plus, a doe can get pregnant as early as 24 hours after she gives birth! She weans her babies off milk at 4 weeks.
New Zealand Rabbits as Pets
If you’re keeping a New Zealand Rabbit breed as a pet, let them out to play, but supervise them on the ‘playground’. This is crucial because lots of innocent household items can be harmful. You should neuter your pets too. It stops the boys from spraying urine to mark their territory, and it can reduce your girls’ risk of uterine cancer. It can also cut down aggression.
This aggression is largely reproductive, so fixing your bunny should help. While a doe gets fertile at around 2 months, don’t spay her before she’s 6 months old or you may hurt her. For your bunny boys, you can neuter them as young as 3 months. If you’re keeping both sexes and you don’t fix these cuddly pets, you could end up with a dozen cuddly kits every month!
Their flyback fur means New Zealand bunnies don’t need much grooming, but you can brush them every week or two to minimize shedding. Never bathe your bunny though – it’s bad for the heart and can be stressful. A damp spot-cleaning will do the trick for visible smudges, but as long as rabbits have food, space, and clean bedding, they will happily groom themselves.
Pet rabbits have a different breeding line that emphasizes cuddly bodies and soft, fluffy fur. But whether it’s a pet or a product, your bunny needs hay every day, and the portion should be roughly the size of your bunny’s body. Once you neuter your bunny, it can live up to 10 years! But avoid sugary foods since obesity is a risk. Regular exercise and fresh water are essential.
Caring for your New Zealand Rabbit
In nature documentaries, rabbits seem skittish and nervous. But the New Zealand rabbit breed was developed for fur and meat, which means it would need to be handled a lot. That’s why the breed was designed to be gentle and touchy-feely. So as long as you get the bunny at a young age and coddle it, this rabbit breed will stay warm, easy-going, playful, and friendly.
One thing to consider is litter training. Commercial rabbits always have a substrate at the bottom of their cages, and pets aren’t easily house-broken. Plus, as cute as they are, their droppings can reek! But bunnies tend to have a favorite’ toilet spot’ so identify the corner and put a litter box there. Spread several more litter boxes around the house, just to be safe.
It helps to note that rabbits can take a few months to be litter trained, so you’ll need patience and wholesale cleaning products! Also, while rabbits are herbivores, they can benefit from a high-protein diet. Hay and fortified pellets are a good choice. And if you opt for kitchen scraps, make sure they’re clean and raw. Apples are acceptable but avoid overly-sweet fruits.
Their high-calorie content can cause issues. For leafy dishes, pick high-fiber variants and offer them sparingly, since they can block up the bunny. Cabbage and romaine lettuce both work well. And while bunnies don’t eat meat, they may ‘clean up’ a stillborn as a defensive instinct, so if your pet is kindling, make sure she feels safe, calm, and sheltered throughout.
What’s Up Doc?
The New Zealand rabbit breed is among the most popular member of the bunny space. Their calm nature makes them great pets, and they’re perfect for kids because they’re fun to play with and don’t need much attention. Meanwhile, farmers love them for meat and fur. They rarely get sick and have a high feed-to-meat ratio. Just make sure they have room to stretch.