Rabbits 101- "Selecting a Breed" by Tex Thomas
Updated: Sep 10
For those just starting to raise rabbits or are in the planning stages, a wonderful array of options are afforded. There are 49 breeds recognized by the American Rabbit Breeders Association (ARBA), varying in size from the 2 pound Netherland Dwarf to the 20 pound Flemish Giant. If you're unfamiliar with the specifics of each breed, I would recommend obtaining a Standard of Perfection from the ARBA and read the specifics of the descriptions of the different breeds. Once you have narrowed the search to the breeds that interest you, try to attend an all breed rabbit show. This gives you a chance to actually see the breeds you might be interested in the flesh and give you an opportunity to talk to exhibitors about the individual characteristics of that breed. The most important thing here is to find a breed that appeals to you and fits your limitations for raising the rabbits.
One must remember that not all of the 49 breeds are going to be appropriate for every circumstance. Hyperactive breeds are not really recommended for very young breeders who are just starting out. Also, keep in mind that the more hyper breeds are not necessarily tied to size. Several of the very small breeds are more challenging for a first time breeder to handle than their 10 pound counterparts. By the same token, several of the large breeds are extremely mild mannered and easy to handle for youth.
Consider your ultimate purpose for raising rabbits. Do you want to just raise show rabbits for competition or usage as agriculture projects (4-H or FFA)? Do you want to raise rabbit strictly for meat production for the family? Do you want an option of the show meat options? In any case you can find a breed that fits your goals. Many fancy breeds make great projects for those desiring to show, but you have to know their limitations. Many small breeds are most difficult to raise, throw small litters, and often do not display the best of mothering instincts. Their advantage is that they take up much less space than the meat breeds, reduce feed costs, and are usually very appealing to youngsters just starting out in rabbits.
If you only wish to raise rabbits for meat, then you need to look at commercial rabbits. These normally medium sized animals, with the primary breed being commercial New Zealands. If you elect to go this way, just realize this this commercial breed has the same title as the show breed but they are entirely different in their body confirmation. They are extremely easy to breed, make good mothers and turn out an abundance of fryers, but they will not be animals for you to exhibit or use to raise competitive meat pens for fairs or meat competitions at a show level.
If you desire a combination show/meat production breed the options that generally fall between 7 and 11 pounds. These are regular show animals that are raised primarily for the judging table, with those animals, which fall short of the Standard of Perfection going to the fryer market. They will not be as prolific as the commercial rabbits, but they offer much better options in the fact that you can show your rabbit in addition to putting meat on the table.
With the wide array of breeds and various varieties within many of these breeds, there is something for everyone in rabbits. Find what appeals to you and best fits your needs.