The New Zealand is a breed of rabbit, which despite the name, is American in origin. The breed originated in California, possibly from rabbits imported from New Zealand. New Zealand rabbits are available in five ARBA-recognized colors: white, red, black, blue, and broken (color mingled with white). Crossbreeding can result in many different combinations of the three basic pigmentations. The most common of these variations are gold tipped steel and chestnut agouti. They average 10 to 12 lb (5 kg) with the does being slightly larger than the bucks. New Zealands are bred for meat, pelts, show, and laboratory uses, being the most used rabbit breed both for meat production and animal testing. They are also bred as pet rabbits.
Physiology Of New Zealand White
New Zealand white have well-rounded bodies; slender and muscular faces with round cheeks; large, long back feet; and small, short front pectoral muscles (Rubins). They have long perforated ears that stand straight up. Unlike the thick, snowy fur on their bodies, their ears have shorter fur that allows the delicate pale pink of their skin to show through. The most noticeable characteristic of New Zealand White rabbits is their bright eyes, which are a ruby pink color. Due to their eye colour their colouring is often referred to as REW (ruby eyed white). REW is a recessive trait, and generally REWs aren’t bred to the other varieties of New Zealands (blacks, reds, brokens or blues) as that can result in “steel” color New Zealands, which are not a recognized color of New Zealand. White New Zealands are the most common variety, and have been bred the most extensively for meat.
New Zealand rabbits have large, broad, and muscular bodies. Bucks (males) weigh 9–11 pounds, while the does (females) weigh 10–12 pounds (Verhallen 23-35). In addition to their greater size, females are distinguished by the presence of a dewlap, which is a flap of fur below the chin that stores fat to be used as extra energy if needed during pregnancies and lactation. Large males can also have dewlaps, but it is less common. Males also tend to have a broader face, and larger cheeks.
Origin Of New Zealand White Rabbits
New Zealand whites descended from New Zealand Reds, which were likely developed in California and developed from a mix of breeds, possibly including Belgian hares and Flemish giants. New Zealand Reds were developed for their quick growth rate and meat type, and were added to the US rabbit standard in 1916. The white variety was created in 1917 by William S. Preshaw out of some white New Zealands born in a litter of reds. While the reds remained more popular for meat for some time, whites quickly caught on because of their white pelt, which could be easily dyed and was more valuable in the fur market.
New Zealand White rabbits have a genetic deviation called albinism. Albinism is caused by a lack of melanin, which is a pigment that gives all creatures, including humans, their skin/fur/hair/eye color. The snowy coat of a New Zealand white rabbit is a normal length like other rabbit breeds. Most New Zealand rabbits also have a white/pink/light brownish tint to their noses.
New Zealand rabbits were not bred to be a domestic pet. Instead they were bred for their excellent fur and meat. Fryers are slaughtered at 8-12 weeks and older rabbits are sold as roasters. White rabbits are preferred for fur, because it’s easier to dye. The rabbits with high grades of fur are used to make fur coats and fur trimmings. The lower grades are used to make felt hats and glove linings (“Commercial Rabbit Raising”). The New Zealand is an excellent meat rabbit with a high feed to meat ratio with fine bones. New Zealand white rabbits are the number one meat rabbit in the United States (Bare 63-65). Production rabbits are fed more protein (18-20% rather than the typical 16-18% for non-production rabbits), and sometimes alfalfa hay.
Along with commercial purposes, New Zealand White rabbits are also used for laboratory purposes. Rabbits react similarly to humans to diseases and medications. This reaction allows them to be used at pharmaceutical laboratories, the U.S. Public Health building, cancer research centers, and university hospitals. New Zealand white rabbits have been used to develop tests and drugs for diseases like diabetes, diphtheria, tuberculosis, cancer, and heart disease. The effects of skin creams, cosmetics, special diets, and food additives have also been tested on New Zealand white rabbits. (Bare 63-65)
Breeding New Zealand White Rabbits
A doe (female rabbit) becomes fertile between 8-12 weeks of age and can be safely bred at 16-17 weeks of age. Breeding before this age can cause harm or death to the doe and/or kits. Does are fertile all year long although day length can affect that some. The gestation period is around 28–35 days, although most will kindle (give birth) at 31-32 days. A nest box should be provided for the new mother two to five days prior to the expected kindling date. The doe will pull fur from her abdomen and dewlap and along with hay or other materials provided she will create a nest. The young are born hairless, deaf, and blind. Fur begins to grow in by day 3 to 5 and after 7 to 10 days the kits’ eyes will open by 2 weeks they may begin exploring and sampling outside food sources. At the age of three to four weeks their mother will begin to wean them off milk, meanwhile the kits will switch to eating hay and pellets. The average number of bunnies per litter is seven but commonly range from one to fourteen. Because rabbits are induced ovulators a doe can become pregnant by the simple act of mating if conditions are right. A doe can get pregnant within 24 hours after giving birth.
Cannibalism is rare but can happen. In the wild it is a defensive mechanism to remove all blood and dead tissue from the nesting area to avoid detection by predators. Cannibalism can also be brought on by a severe lack of fluids and feed. Make sure the rabbits always have access to fresh clean water and feed to prevent this. If young are stillborn or die after birth, many times the doe will ingest the remains. Bucks have little to no part in raising the young. They do in some cases act as babysitters and a heat source for the young kits in group settings known as a colony. Contrary to popular belief bucks do not kill and eat kits under normal circumstances.
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