New Zealand Rabbits
New Zealand rabbits were developed in 1916 by W. S. Preshaw in the United States. The goal was to develop a rabbit that was perfect for both meat and fur.
The breeds used in development are not clear, though angoras are thought to have been used at some point because to this day, occasionally you can get wooled kits in a litter.
New Zealands come in four colors: ruby eyed white, black, red and broken. In rabbit terminology, broken means spotted like a pinto horse. The brokens have only recently been accepted by the American Rabbit Breeders' Association.
The most common color you'll find is white. Since they were developed primarily for meat and fur, white was the obvious choice. White fur can be dyed any color and it also washes off the meat easier than colored fur.
New Zealand rabbits are known for their large, muscular bodies. Bucks weigh between 8 and 10 pounds, while does can weigh between 9 and 12 pounds. Fryers grow quickly and reach slaughter weight between 8 and 12 weeks of age. Rabbits processed at an older age are known as roasters.
The thick, lustrous fur was used to make fur coats and trimmings while lesser quality fur was used to make felt for hats and glove linings. These rabbits have also been used in laboratories, though now the smaller Florida Whites are more popular for this due to their smaller space requirements.
New Zealand whites are often crossbred with Californians to create hybrid fryers. The mixture is popular because the New Zealand produces large litters while the Californian makes sure the fryers grow fast. This combination is known as a smut in reference to the dark smudge on the nose that the babies inherit from their Californian parent.
New Zealand rabbits are also used for showing and for pets. To show, they must conform to the breed's standard. They must hit a certain weight and must have a certain body type. Only the accepted colors can be shown. While the whites are used for meat as well as show, the red, black and broken are mostly bred for show. The white variety seems to be slightly larger than the other varieties because there are so many lines being bred.
Every ARBA rabbit show across the country will have classes for them. There will be more or less competition depending on your location. The national breed club, the American Federation of New Zealand Rabbit Breeders, puts on a national specialty show in a different place every year. In the fall, the American Rabbit Breeders Association puts on their annual show and convention. This breed has won Best in Show several times over the history of the association.
New Zealands are shown in four class weights; pre-junior, junior, intermediate and senior. Best of Breed and Best Opposite of Breed are chosen from the winners of these classes.
They are also popular choices for meat pen classes. This is a class where three rabbits the same age are entered together. The winner of this class is the group of three rabbits that are the most alike and fit the definition of a trio of matching fryers. They are often entered in fur classes where they are judged on the quality of their coats.
New Zealand rabbits are also great pets. When handled as babies, they grow up to be friendly and easy going. Larger rabbits like these often make great house rabbits because they tend to be mild mannered. They still need a safe cage to stay in when you can't supervise them, but they will love to snuggle up to your feet and keep your toes warm.
One thing to remember about New Zealand rabbits: don't let the red eyes on the white rabbits freak you out. They are not evil. They are not possessed. These whites are albino. Their eyes are red because they lack the pigment to have dark eyes. Genetically, the genes are recessive. The rabbit must have two of these genes to be albino.
The rabbit still has all its other genes that express color, but when this recessive gene is dominant, it is like you threw a white sheet over the rabbit... all you can see is white. Other colors the rabbit carries will be expressed if the rabbit is bred to a colored rabbit.
You might also be interested in our New Zealand Red Rabbits page.
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