Tuesday, May 24, 2011
Breed of the Day: Belgian Hare
The Belgian Hare rabbit is the breed responsible for the domestic rabbit movement in the United States. Although the original rabbits can be traced to Belgium, the credit for their perfection must be given to the British. The London Zoological Gardens imported a few rabbits for display as early as 1865, but it was Winter "William" Lumb and Benjamin Greaves who had the greatest impact on the development of the breed after their importation of several animals from Antwerp in early 1873. Some claimed the Belgian Hares were actually a fertile mule (a cross between a rabbit and a European hare), however, Winter Lumb prevailed in his stand that it was a rabbit, pure and simple, that was bred to resemble a wild hare.
The first Belgian Hares reached America in 1888, when E.M. Hughes, of Albany, New York imported a few animals. Hughes, along with W.N. Richardson of Troy, New York and G.W. Felton of Barre, Massachusetts, sounded the first rabbit club in America, The American Belgian Hare Association. The club only lasted a year and was later replaced by another club, which was organized in 1897. What became known as the "Belgian Hare Boom" took this country by storm. From 1898 to 1901, many thousands of Belgian Hares were imported into America. The British firm, Sutton & Company, alone "safely conveyed" over 6,000 Belgian Hares to the United States in 1900. Rabbits were changing hands for hundreds and thousands of dollars, with a record price of 5,000 dollars paid for one male in 1900. Large companies dealing with Belgian Hares were established and Belgian Hare clubs could be found in nearly every major city. Millionaires of the day, such as J.P. Morgan, Rockefeller, H.M. Flagler, Dupont and the Guggenheims, saw the money making potential of this popular rabbit. Los Angeles County alone boosted over 60,000 animals in 1900. The market had become so heavily saturated, however, that prices for stock dropped to less than $25.00 for a fine exhibition animal. Despite the fact that Belgian Hare was a common menu fare, the breed continued to decline due to the development of other, more commercial breeds. By the 1940s, Belgian Hares became a scarce animal in the showrooms of this nation, as it had throughout the world. Dedicated fanciers worldwide struggled to keep the breed from extinction.
Belgian Hares are a very racy and fine-boned breed of rabbit, with a deep rich red color that has a black-waved ticking to the fur. The type and fur qualities are lost when crossed with other breeds. While not considered the hardiest of breeds, they are an active rabbit that typically requires wooden floored hutches heavily bedded shavings and straw. Belgian Hares do not do well with extremely high humidity and temperatures. They are fair mothers and litters will average four to eight kittens. Youngsters are slow to mature. Mature bucks and does will weigh 6 to 9 pounds.