Get to Know Interesting Facts About New Zealand White Rabbits (NZW)
Rabbit inhabit every continent with the exception of Antarctica. In the United States there are 12 species of rabbits and the eastern cottontail is the most common. The most popular breed of rabbit for meat production is the New Zealand White. In fact, it is estimated that 90% of rabbit raised for meat are of this breed. New Zealand white rabbits have a Mutation / genetic deviation called albinism. Albinism is caused by a lack of melanin, which is a vital pigment that gives all creatures, including humans, their skin-fur-hair-eye color.
- Rabbits raised for meat can weigh between 8-12 pounds.
- Rabbit meat is seasonal any month of the year. It’s actually recommended during the summer months, because it doesn’t contain the heating properties of most other meats.
- A NZW doe can produce up to 200 pounds of actual meat in a year (a 6lb. rabbit will produce about 3.5lbs. of meat). This is more than a cow can produce on 2 acres of land in the same time period.
- NZW rabbits will produce 6 pounds of meat on the same feed and water as a cow will produce 1 pound of meat on the same feed and water.
- NZW rabbits are an excellent meat breed and the hips tend to be well developed. As a bonus, its white fur can be dyed to any color.
- NZW fryers can gain weight quickly, reaching 5lbs. by 8-10 weeks.
- China raises more rabbits for food than any other country.
- The United States primarily raises rabbits for pets and medical research.
Reproductive and Nursing Habits
- NZW baby rabbits, when feeding off their mother’s milk, can double their weight in 6 days compared to a pig in 14 days and calves in 47.
- NZW does tend to nurse litters longer in the first 1-2 days because the milk has not yet come in and it takes longer to fill a litter up on colostrum. Adding calf mana helps with the does milk.
- A doe does not lie down in the nest to nurse her kits. She stands over them. She can then lick and clean them in this position.
- A NZW doe’s milk production (and a litter’s appetite) peaks at 3 weeks. After this the litter begins to consume solid food and the doe scales back production accordingly.
- A does milk is the richest milk of all domestic animals. It will contain 13 to 15% of protein, 12% of fat, 2% of sugar, and 3% of minerals.
- Rarely does a doe nurse her young right after giving birth. It usually occurs the night after the kindling.
- A doe’s rich milk sustains the kits for 24 hours at a time. The preferred feeding time is usually between midnight and 5:00 a.m.
- Mothers typically only feed their kits about 5 minutes a day.
- NZW does, being a larger breed, are blessed with 8 nipples and can have as many as 15 to 16 kits.
- The activity and noisy squeaking of healthy newborn kits help trigger the does “maternal instincts.”
NZW Rabbit Health
- Their most common health problems come from injuries due to fighting and mishandling.
- Their most common disease problems come from snuffles or coccidiosis; coccidiosis is a worm infection that chickens also get. If a rabbit does get this disease they will need to be quarantined or destroyed.
- They cannot vomit. They need hay in their diet because hay assists the digestive system and helps prevents fur balls. It can also help prevent diarrhea.
- They, unlike humans, only sweat through the bottom pads of their feet. They get rid of excess body heat thru their ears.
Baby NZW Rabbits
- They are born deaf, hairless, blind, and with no teeth. However, they do have a sharp sense of smell, which is how they find the doe’s nipples; the kits actually smell the milk.
- The size of a litter is usually directly proportional to the amount of milk a doe is able to produce. It also depends on the number of eggs she produces.
- Litters tend to decline in size once the doe reaches 3 years old or more.
- You can always identify a litter that has been fed because their stomachs are wide and full, like a frogs belly. You can also tell if you stick your hand into the nest and the babies do not ‘pop’ frantically at the disturbance.
- It is completely unnecessary to cover kits or arrange nest material over them after feeding. The litter does this automatically on it’s own according to how warm or cold it is outside.
- In the summertime, kits will leave a nest open on top and lay higher up (and closer to the surface) for better ventilation. Whereas in the winter, kits burrow much more deeply, covering themselves completely with wool and hay and retreating to the bottom of the nest.
- Kits will explore outside their nests as early as 10 days old.
- A kit that is failing to thrive (unable to compete or unable to consume milk) will be impossible to save in almost every instance despite every measure taken. It will usually expire anywhere from the third day forward. A kit is generally large enough at 3 weeks of age to walk safely on floor wire without slipping through and injuring itself.
- Kits, at the age of 3 weeks, begin to watch and imitate their mothers behaviors. When she eats, they will eat. When she drinks, they will drink, and when she grooms, they groom. These behaviors would certainly occur anyway if the doe were not present, but they do seem to be facilitated more quickly in the presence of the doe as soon as the litter is mobile and out of the box.
Characteristics of NZW Rabbits
- Rabbits have exceptional senses.
- They have upstanding ears and their eyes are pink or red.
- They tend to be farsighted, which explains why they may be frightened by an airplanes flying overhead, even if their human companion can barely see it. (It could be a hawk! Run!)
- Their eyes are placed high and to the sides of the skull, allowing the rabbit to see nearly 360 degrees, as well as far above their head.
- A male rabbit is a buck. Bucks grow to 9-11lbs.
- A female rabbit is a doe. Does grow to 10-12lbs.
- They have an average life span of 3 to 5 years in commercial production and 7 to 10 years as pets.
- When the doe gives birth, her babies are collectively referred to as a litter.
- A baby rabbit is called a kit.
- The gestation period for a rabbit averages 28 to 32 days.
- They cannot breed with wild rabbits.
- Their teeth never stop growing, which is why they constantly chew on things to keep them filed down. Their front teeth can actually grow up to 5 inches per year and they have a total of 28 teeth.
- They have 5 toes on their front feet but only 4 toes on their back feet.
- Even though quiet, rabbits communicate through their body language.
Rabbit Terminology (Facts About New Zealand White Rabbits)
- A group of rabbits is called a herd.
- A group of rabbits live in a warren.
- Rabbits are not true rodents, they are lagomorphs. They have two pairs of upper incisor teeth, whereas rats and mice only have one.
Physical Capabilities of NZW Rabbits
- They have been known to run as fast as 35 miles per hour.
- They can see up to 8 times better in dim light than daylight.
- They have a 3rd eyelid.
- They have an average heart rate of between 130-325 beats per minute.
- They do not hibernate.
- Rabbit wool is lighter and warmer than any other animal wool.
- Does have a dewlap, which is a flap of fur below the chin that is pulled for nesting during pregnancies.
- Their ears are mobile and independent, like radar scanners. The blood vessels in the outer ear also help to regulate body heat.
- They have a gland under the chin which produces droplets of scent. They will rub their chin over objects, releasing a secretion. This is called chin marking and is done when ready to breed and to mark their territory.
Things to Know if You Plan on Keeping NZW Rabbits
- They will perform a loud thumping on the cage with their hind feet when they are alarmed, excited or after breeding. This is called foot thumping.
- They don’t like strong smells such as sawdust, wood shavings, perfumes or cleaning agents.
- They are able to detect sounds inaudible to humans (ultrasound). Air conditioners or refrigerators might emit ultrasound and be stressful for rabbits.
- They enjoy background masking noise from a radio when no one is at home. It reduces stress and relaxes them.
- They prefer straw or hay over sawdust or shavings for bedding.
- They will usually urinate and defecate at the same location in a cage.
- They are transported easier if picked up by the scruff and supported under the hind legs.
- The buck is actually able to withdraw its testes when frightened or fighting with other males. The testicles descend at about two months.
- They’re not biters as many other breeds are.
NZW Rabbits as Pets
- They make good pets, are easy to teach tricks and enjoy being held. They can jump 36″ and higher.
- A four pound rabbit will drink as much water as a 20 pound dog.
- They will eat their own night droppings called cecotropes.
- NZW rabbits are excellent show rabbits.
The New Zealand white rabbit is the most commonly used breed in research. One of the most common uses of NZW rabbits in the laboratory is for the production of antibodies. Research Use for New Zealand White Rabbits also include:
- Biomedical Research
- Antibody production
- Cardiovascular Studies
- Renal Studies
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