By Teresa Pilegaard, Lone Rose Homestead
We went to a farmers market. The farm had a rabbit and that was it, my one year old was in love. We thought she’d grow out of it, but we’d visit that rabbit almost weekly. When the farm gave the rabbit away to a pet home she was so distressed. My almost two year old always checked to see if the bunny was coming back and talked about him. So, we decided it was time for a pet of her own.
I had a rabbit when I was little, my only pet other than fish, Strawberry Snowball Chapstick Boak. That was her official name. I have no idea what type of rabbit that doe was other than a red-eyed white. That rabbit got out in a snowstorm once and “my heart was broken and could never be fixed.” She came back, luckily. Maybe obsession and drama are traits my daughter and I share.
On our daughter’s second birthday we took a drive to a friend’s house. She raised silver foxes as meat rabbits but had a rabbit she thought would be a perfect pet. And boy was he perfect. That rabbit never threw a fit about being carried around by a two year old. Consider how difficult it is for a two year old to carry an eight-pound meat rabbit. It couldn’t have been comfortable for him. He had free range of the back yard in our townhouse, but liked to come inside to hang out in the kitchen while we chopped veggies. He knew exactly where to stand to get his veggie treats. He would snuggle with us on the couch and hang out with me outside.
When we finally had a true backyard, meat rabbits were first on the agenda. We bought a young buck and doe even before we closed on the house and added a pregnant senior doe soon after. Now, less than a year later, we have ten breeding does and four breeding bucks with more stock coming. I don’t think “rabbit math” is about the amount of babies that ensue, but about the inability to cut oneself off from buying more rabbits.
I’m really shocked that we’ve only been raising meat rabbits for nine months. There is so much I could say about this breed, getting good stock, keeping records, culling hard, and chasing escaped rabbits around with a net, but I want to share a little bit about the importance of education to our rabbitry.
This month I had the opportunity to attend Silver Fox Nationals at the North Carolina rabbit show. I have never showed a rabbit and to say the idea was overwhelming was an understatement. It is a world of it’s own. But, it is an incredibly important, helpful world for those of us with good goals for our rabbitries. Unfortunately, raising rabbits in your backyard isn’t just letting them “do what bunnies do”, especially if you want to be frugal in raising your own meat and/or care about profits. We’ve learned that here the hard way. So, I made the five hour drive to meet good breeders and learn as much as I could about the commercial type and improving our stock. I want to share some of my takeaways with you.
First, silver fox breeders are pretty awesome people. This breed almost went extinct thirty years ago and, while it is no longer considered endangered, is still in recovery and definitely not common. These breeders are very passionate about the breed and improving it. They are fun to be around! So are the bunnies! This breed is well known for it’s pleasant temperament, incredible fur, and great, fast-growing meat production (if you get good stock, but that is a story for another time).
Second, the hands-on experience working with some of the best breeders and rabbits in the country was crucial for my understanding of the breed. The American Rabbit Association has a book full of the “Standard of Perfection” for each recognized breed of rabbits. Silver fox are a “commercial type” breed and judged accordingly. The idea is that good type should equal better meat production.
While we discuss this standard of perfection on silver fox groups, it is hard to visualize and work through your own stock unless you’ve handled a great rabbit. I’m so appreciative to the breeders that stood by me as we watched the judging, pointed out what the judge was looking for as well as positive and negative traits of each rabbit, then, handed me their rabbit right off the table to feel what the judge saw. Half of our rabbitry is very much lacking in width, but I didn’t know how large silver fox’s hind-ends could be until that show, solidifying our second goal for the year, breeding for width. That is where all the meat is…
Third, our homesteads are not just about the physical labor. There is so much importance to educating ourselves to do things right. If you are also raising meat rabbits, go check out a show, buy the standard of perfection, and try to improve your stock. If you are considering raising rabbits for meat, go learn before you buy! You won’t have to make mistakes I made and wonder what to do with the poor quality breeding stock you are attached to (there are a couple I just can’t bring myself to cull, but won’t keep any offspring as breeding stock) and you’ll make connections with good breeders (who may have loooong wait lists).
If you aren’t improving you aren’t doing justice to the frugality of raising your own meat, the breed you are working with, or future breeders. We are stewards of the animals on our properties and we should practice good animal husbandry. Don’t breed haphazardly, you will end up with poor, slow-growing stock quality stock. As you hear in the show world, “show the best and eat the rest.” It is just as important in the meat world, “breed the best and eat the rest.” It is really hard to breed good width, growth-rates, size, etc. back into your stock once it is lost. And this is particularly important for a recovering breed like Silver Fox.
If you are in Virginia (or surrounding states) and interested in learning more about Silver Fox rabbits or commercial type, please join me at Virginia Silver Fox Rabbit Breeders. We will have a session on learning commercial type at one of the chicken swaps in June. I hope to see you there!
About the Author:
Teresa Pilegaard is a wife and mother of two in the Piedmont region of Virginia. She grew up reading James Herriott books and dreaming of working with horses or becoming a veterinarian, but never of being a farmer. She works part-time at Whiffletree Farm in Warrenton, VA as the Marketing Assistant and Farm Tour Director. Inspired by the farmers there, she started Lone Rose Homestead where she raises pastured animals: silver fox rabbits, quail, and sheep. She started the group Virginia Silver Fox Rabbit Breeders and hopes to flood Virginia with education on commercial type and good quality breeding stock!
Find all of Teresa’s HOA blog posts here.
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