RABBITS have become much more important during the present century than they have ever been before, owing to the great development of the use of their skins in the fur trade as substitutes for the more expensive pelts, while they are none the less suitable for pets or for the table than they were when the skin was rarely of much value.
Although rabbits originated in the dry regions of the western end of the Mediter-ranean, where the ancients spoke of them as little burrowing hares, they have long become pcrfeotly established in our damp climate; but they still suffer in damp winters, and in captivity should at all costs be accommodated with a perfectly dry hutch, raised off the ground and quite watertight.
Bedding and Food
Except in the case of the long-wooled Angora breed, which must be kept on a straw bed for the sake of its coat, there should be a thick layer of sawdust, chaff, or such-like litter on the floor of the hutch. A does hutch will also need a retiring-room at one end, where she may make her nest undisturbed; it docs not do to leave the pair in the same hutch.
Some hay, especially clover hay, should always be at the disposal of the rabbits, to nibble at as well as to nestle in; but they should also have a daily meal of oats, bran, or such mash as is made up for fowls. Green food is also an important part of their diet, but must be given with discretion. If they have been kept short of it, they will eat too much if they receive as much as they would like at once, and it will likewise disagree with them if given wet, withered, or frosted.
Not too Much Cabbage
Vegetable trimmings, grass, saw-thistle, etc., all can be got for nothing and by balancing the green rations with a supply of dry food the rabbits can be kept very cheaply. It is best not to overdo cabbage leaves, and if any green food is short, to give some stale bread well soaked in water.
If no such moist food is given, water must be supplied in a vessel that cannot be upset. This should also be seen to when a doe is expected to litter, as one of the causes which may make her eat her young is want of moisture: another is disturbing her by looking at them, which should only be done when she is in the outside compartment and busy feeding.
The gestation period of the rabbit is thirty days, and the young are born not only blind, but naked. They are kept warm in the nest by a lining of fur which the doe pulls from her own coat for the purpose. After the ninth day they can see, and will begin to eat and hop about at a month old, but they must be left with the mother for a month longer before removal. A bread and milk diet is a good one to wean them on.
Rabbits for Fur
Their colour may alter very much with age; for instance, silver-grey rabbits are black in their first fur. The best rabbits for fur are the new Rex breed, which have plush-like coats resembling that of the mole, and can now be had in various colours, including chinchilla-grey, which is remarkably like the real and valuable fur of that kind. White Angoras
The long-wooled white Angoras are, however, very popular, as they yield a crop of woo! Every year. This is taken at Bhedding-time, when it comes away easily BO as to leave no Hushing of the skin, and if in tip-top condition is worth twenty shillings per pound for manufacturing fancy articles of dress. Angora rabbits need to be brushed and combed every day.
To hold a rabbit, by the way, it should not be picked up by the ears unless the body is supported by the hand; it is better to hold the loose skin at the back.
It is a curious thing that there are no dwarf rabbits – no tame breed is so small as the wild one, which weighs about three pounds; but there are some very big ones, such as the Patagonian, which will reach five times that amount. Does run bigger than bucks of the same breed.
Belgian hares, so called, are true rabbit3, but are bred to look like a hare as much, ns possible; in fact, at first sight the only noticeable difference between the two-species is that the hare-rabbit lacks the decided black tips to the ears found in the true hare. These are fine table rabbits, but of course lack the flavour of the true hares dark meat.
Such rabbits, being of an active type, are good for turning out to improve the wild breed in size, while not boing too easy for enemies to see. The real hare and the rabbit do not associate at all, much less interbreed.
Many people, while eating wild rabbits, refuse tame ones under Hie impression that they will taste hutehy, but this is a mistake, as the much-esteemed Ostend rabbits are captive bred. There is little noticeable smell about rabbits if well kept.